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Death in a graveyard

Dec 15, 2021

Wouldn't it be nice if real life crime stories worked the way they do on television? Consider a show like Law and Order. It takes you from the crime scene to the prosecution and finally the conviction. Everything happens within an hour! And if you remove the commercials, law enforcement solves the crime even sooner!

But that's Hollywood for you. As we all know, that's not what happens in real life. Homicide cases don’t get solved in under an hour or less. In fact, it can sometimes take years for law enforcement to solve a crime. Technology and DNA testing, however, have made the process more efficient. But trying to solve cases from decades ago can be challenging for law enforcement.

Not only do witnesses die or forget what they saw, but a lack of evidence is another obstacle. Sometimes, it’s not stored properly or becomes lost. This week's story involves Jessica Keen, a 15-year-old murdered teenager. Jessica was a Westland High School student from Weinland Park, Ohio. She participated in cheerleading and did well academically. However, things changed after she met a high school dropout named Shawn Thompson, 18.

After meeting Thompson, Jessica stopped caring about her grades and cheerleading. Eventually, she quit cheerleading and began skipping school. Jessica believed she had fallen in love and disobeyed her mother, who tried to restrict her from seeing Thompson. Her mother didn’t approve of her daughter seeing an 18-year-old man. She wanted her daughter to focus on school and her future after high school.

Jessica didn't take this well. Despite her mother's well-meaning intentions, Jessica ignored her mother and continued seeing Thompson. In March 1991, Jessica’s mother placed her in a foster home for troubled teens called the Huckleberry House. On March 15, Jessica had planned to meet Thompson at a local mall. Jessica was last seen around 6 p.m. waiting at a bus stop for a ride to the mall. She never made it to the mall or ever saw her boyfriend again.

Jessica had vanished.

Authorities questioned Thompson; he claimed they were supposed to meet at the mall, but she didn’t show up. Two days later, Jessica was found dead at the Foster Chapel Cemetery in West Jefferson, Ohio, about twenty miles from her home. An unknown person had brutally raped and murdered Jessica. It is also believed Jessica’s killer held her hostage for around six hours after abducting her from the bus stop.

DNA solves a cold case

Somehow, Jessica managed to escape. She fled towards the cemetery and tried to hide behind different gravestones. While hiding, she could see a farmhouse in the distance. She tried to run to it. Unfortunately, she ran into a fence post which knocked her down. Her attacker caught up with her and then killed her.

Shawn Thompson was the original suspect until DNA evidence cleared him from any involvement. The case remained unsolved for nearly two decades until DNA testing identified Marvin Lee Smith in April 2008.

Smith had assaulted two other women in Columbus, Ohio. His DNA was collected after his conviction. After his DNA was entered, it was immediately matched to the Jessica Keen murder case. Initially, police believed two people had committed the crime. According to Smith, he was the only person involved in killing and raping Jessica. He admitted to beating Jessica to death with a 70-pound tombstone.

He received a life sentence for killing Jessica Keen. He will be eligible for parole in 2038. Most likely, he will die in prison. Jessica’s story has been told on Unsolved Mysteries, On the Case with Paula Zahn and an Investigation Discovery program called Dead Silent.

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