ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — For three decades, nobody knew for certain what happened to 12-year-old Jennifer Odom after she got off a school bus on a typical day in 1993. The girl was found dead in a Florida orange grove not long after.
Now, authorities in Hernando County say a DNA match has identified her killer as Jeffrey Norman Crum, 61, who is already serving two life sentences for a 2015 sexual battery and attempted murder conviction. State Attorney Bill Gladson said Thursday prosecutors will seek the death penalty in the Odom case.
“This is every parent’s nightmare,” Gladson said at a news conference in Brooksville, a city of about 7,000 people roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Tampa. “I have confidence we have the right person and we have the right aggravators in this particular case to treat it as a death penalty case.”
A grand jury indicted Crum on first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery charges, Gladson added. It wasn’t immediately clear if Crum had a lawyer to speak for him about the case.
Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said detectives never stopped working on the case even as the decades passed.
“I can tell you the investigation never stopped,” Nienhuis said.
On Feb. 19, 1993, the day she disappeared, Jennifer got off her school bus at around 3 p.m. in Pasco County, just south of Hernando County. She waved to her friends and began walking the roughly 200-yard (183-meter) distance to her home, but she never made it.
Children who were on the bus told investigators they saw a faded blue pickup truck slowly following Jennifer as she walked home. Six days after she disappeared, her body was found in an orange grove in Hernando County after a massive search that the media closely followed.
Crum has a violent crime history, including a 1981 robbery and a 1985 sexual battery case in Hillsborough County, according to court records.
“This is not someone who should be taken lightly,” Nienhuis said. “This is a bad guy who enjoyed violence.”
Nienhuis said DNA collected from Crum’s past sexual battery case gave them the evidence they needed to charge him in Jennifer’s killing.
“All of us, especially those of us in law enforcement, can think of Jennifer as our sister, our niece, our granddaughter and realize, man, this is a tragedy beyond tragedy,” Nienhuis said.