Richmond Times-Dispatch

November 30, 2008

What Happened To Jennifer Evans?

• Part 1 - A college student on vacation in Virginia disappears
• Part 2 - The SEAL trainees' stories don't add up
• Part 3 - The trainees go on trial
• Part 4 - A mother's desperate quest to clear her son
• Part 5 - One man changes his story, but will it free the other?

A college student on vacation in Virginia disappears

VIRGINIA BEACH The last revelers cleared out of the nightclub parking lot around 4 a.m., their laughter fading into the muggy air.

In the quiet that followed, Jennifer Evans' friends felt their anger turn to alarm.

She wasn't there.

Andria Burdette and Michelle McCammon had left Jennifer at the hot, loud Bayou 2½ hours earlier so she could spend a little more time with a handsome guy who claimed he was a Navy SEAL.

But Jennifer failed to appear at the pickup point at closing time. They sat in the car in the big, dimly lit, gravel parking lot and stewed. It was not like Jennifer to be so selfish.

Then it hit them: It was not like Jennifer to take off with a strange guy like this. It just was not her. Andria's and Michelle's minds raced. Neither of the friends wanted to say the words that something might be wrong, but they knew.

They just didn't know how wrong.
Jennifer Evans

Jennifer's disappearance the early morning of June 19, 1995, began a nightmarish case of murder and betrayal. The case has spanned 13 years and could undergo a dramatic reversal, thanks to a change in Virginia law, a mother's devotion, and a killer's newest confession.

Jennifer Lea Evans was the kind of victim whose disappearance would dominate cable television news today.

The 21-year-old pre-med student at Emory University in Atlanta flew to Virginia Beach in June 1995 to spend a week at a beach house in Sandbridge with the family of Andria, her former college roommate.

Jennifer, 5-foot-3 and 135 pounds, was a high school gymnast until a spinal injury forced her to stick to coaching young children.

She volunteered in a children's medical facility and planned to become a doctor. She brought her medical school application to the beach house so she could work on it there.

"Jennifer was no party girl. None of us were," Andria recalled recently. "She was a sweet, Southern Baptist girl who loved Disney movies," especially "The Lion King."

The more streetwise Andria considered Jennifer "a woman-child, she was so trusting of everyone. She gave everybody the benefit of the doubt."

Jennifer had had a total of two boyfriends, Andria said, and her darkest secret was that she had once been caught by police stealing a street sign.

Jennifer spent the last 24 hours of her life swimming, sunbathing and joining Andria's family for a barbecue on the deck of the beach house. Around 10 p.m., she, Andria and Michelle set out for the clubs, with Michelle as designated driver. Jennifer wore a form-fitting brown vest and a skirt, with her shoulder-length auburn hair slicked back in a scrunchie.

Unfamiliar with the club scene at the Beach, the women drove around and finally ended up at The Bayou, a large dance club on the ground floor of a hotel on 19th Street several blocks from the ocean.

The Bayou, now defunct, was a hot, loud place where young people converged to drink, dance to live music, and meet members of the opposite sex. It attracted tourists and locals, including several of the SEALs based at nearby Little Creek Amphibious Base.

Andria and Jennifer bought beers, and Andria immediately spilled most of Jennifer's by accident. Then Jennifer noticed a good-looking man with sun-streaked brown hair, wearing a green T-shirt. "That's a lovely color shirt, don't you think?" she asked Andria.

Her friends returned from a bathroom break to find Jennifer standing beside the man, who introduced himself to her as Dustin Turner, a SEAL.

Andria, who had grown up in Virginia Beach, warned Jennifer that half the men in local bars claimed to be SEALs to impress women. But Dustin's driver's license seemed to confirm his claim, listing his address as the SEAL team's headquarters. He and Jennifer seemed absorbed in talking with each other.

. . .

Dustin was wondering how to ditch his best friend and fellow SEAL trainee Billy Joe Brown, who had ridden with him to The Bayou.

Billy had gone home from the club with a woman the previous night, but on this night, he seemed interested only in getting drunk, as he often did. Billy was downing beers, mixed drinks and shots of bourbon at a dizzying pace. He later testified he consumed more than 50 drinks that day.

About 1 a.m., Jennifer's friends insisted she leave with them. She dragged her feet, nursing her second and last beer. Her friends were tired. They disliked Dustin, who seemed to ignore them.

Finally, Andria held up the car keys, jingled them and informed Jennifer, "We're leaving."

Jennifer followed her out through the parking lot to Michelle's car, and she got into the left-rear passenger seat, behind the driver's seat. Dustin stood by the car. He said he would call her as soon as she got back to the beach cottage. Andria said no -- that a ringing phone would wake her family.

Dustin volunteered to drive Jennifer home. Andria said no, Jennifer was going home with them. Jennifer suggested a compromise: She would stay for another hour, until closing time at 2 a.m., and her friends would go get some coffee and then return to pick her up.

Jennifer got out of the car. "Y'all better be here at 2 o'clock," she told her friends. Michelle noticed that as Jennifer and Dustin walked back into the club, Jennifer looked so happy "she was almost skipping."

Her friends never saw her again.

. . .

A few minutes later in the club, Dustin asked his friend Kristen Bishop to give the drunken Billy a ride home. Bishop, an off-duty bartender at the Bayou who had dated Billy, agreed as long as Billy understood that the favor would not include sex.

As the lights flickered for last call, Bishop told Dustin to use a condom if he planned to take Jennifer home. His only response was a smile. Bishop saw Dustin and Jennifer walk out the door toward the parking lot, holding hands.

A few minutes later, Billy, agitated and unsteady on his feet, declared he was ready to go home. Bishop said she had to wait for a girlfriend to finish her shift at the club. Billy said he was going to find Dustin, and he set out toward the parking lot.

It was 1:45 a.m.

Jennifer's friends did not feel like drinking coffee. They killed the time sitting on the beach, talking about their plans for life after college. They returned to The Bayou a few minutes before 2 and looked for Jennifer in vain.

They drove down to the beach and looked up and down for footprints. They scanned the booths of a 24-hour restaurant. They went back to the parking lot.

At dawn, they drove to the beach house, hoping Jennifer had beat them there, but the house was still.

They waited an hour before awakening Andria's family. Then they began calling local emergency rooms, ambulance services and the police. The Virginia Beach police -- who receive more than 400 unfounded missing-persons reports every year -- saw no urgency.

But Andria and Michelle knew better. They called Jennifer's parents, Al and Delores Evans, who quickly set out in their car for Virginia Beach.

The next day, Al and Delores began contacting local news organizations. They went on TV and pleaded for their daughter's return.

Andria and Michelle plastered the oceanfront with fliers bearing Jennifer's photograph. The beach house became a command post for the family's search.

A week passed with no trace of Jennifer. No ransom demands came. No one used her credit cards. Jennifer simply had disappeared from a busy nightclub in the heart of the tourist season.

But tips were flooding in to detectives. The most promising one came from Kristen Bishop, who had been startled to see a police sketch of Dustin in the newspaper. She remembered seeing Jennifer leave The Bayou with him.

It looked like the break investigators needed. But finding Dustin would be the easy part.

• Part 1 - A college student on vacation in Virginia disappears
• Part 2 - The SEAL trainees' stories don't add up
• Part 3 - The trainees go on trial
• Part 4 - A mother's desperate quest to clear her son
• Part 5 - One man changes his story, but will it free the other?


Innocent Imprisoned
Truth in Justice