20-year-old Jenna Verhaalen was a freshman studying law at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas. She was independent and determined to pay her own way, working full-time as a waitress at a nearby bar and grill. Jenna lived in Autumn Woods, an apartment complex mere blocks away from campus. Her long-term boyfriend, 20-year-old Spencer Hood lived in the same complex.
On April 9, 2008, Spencer stopped by Jenna’s apartment at 11:00 am to pick up a textbook he had forgotten there the night before. Instead, he was met with a grisly scene; Jenna was lying on the floor of her living room, cold to the touch.
Spencer frantically pounded on a neighbour's door and screamed for them to call 911. When emergency services arrived, it was far too late. Jenna had already been dead for at least ten hours. An autopsy showed the cause of death was manual strangulation.
Jenna had fought for her life. She scratched away at her killer, causing tiny specks of their blood to drop on the collar of her shirt and on the carpet next to her body. Skin cells were found underneath Jenna’s fingernails.
There were no signs of forced entry, leading detectives to believe that Jenna’s killer was the last person to be in her apartment, her boyfriend Spencer.
The night before she was killed, Jenna had worked a shift at Wings N’ More until 9 pm. At 9:30, she returned to her apartment with Spencer where the couple studied together for three hours. At 12:30 am, Spencer walked back to his apartment, calling Jenna 15 minutes later to say goodnight. This was the last known contact Jenna had with anyone before her murder.
It was uncovered that Spencer and Jenna, who were high school sweethearts, had broken up and gotten back together several times in the past, dating others in-between. Could Spencer have killed his girlfriend in a jealous rage? Jenna’s friends and family didn’t think so. In fact, everyone who knew the couple said they adored one another and that Spencer would never have hurt Jenna, who he referred to as the love of his life.
Spencer cooperated with the investigation and even provided a DNA sample, which did not match the DNA evidence found at the crime scene. He was cleared and so were fifty other persons of interest, consisting of Jenna’s neighbours, co-workers and friends. Detectives were stumped and time slowly trickled by with no leads in the case.
A couple of months later, a relative remembered something Jenna had told her two months prior to her murder. Early one morning in February, Jenna had walked out of the shower and was startled to find the apartment building’s maintenance man, 27-year-old Jeremiah Rosser, standing in her living room.
Jenna, who was wearing nothing but a towel, demanded to know why he was in her apartment and screamed at him to get out. Jeremiah told her he hadn’t heard the shower running and thought the apartment was empty, but never explained why he had entered it in the first place. After he took off, Jenna called his boss and reported the incident, but nothing was ever done.
Jeremiah was the son of a pastor and a divorced father of two with no criminal record. His ex-wife told detectives that on the night of the murder, he had shoved her to the ground and choked her during an argument.
Suspiciously, Jeremiah had stopped showing up for work at the apartment complex only days following Jenna’s murder. When questioned, he was calm, polite and even agreed to provide detectives with a DNA sample.
At first, detectives thought they had the wrong guy due to his willingness to cooperate with the investigation, but when they searched his truck they found his maintenance work uniform, a laptop that had been reported stolen by a tenant who lived at the Autumn Woods complex and keys to several of the apartments. The only key missing was Jenna’s.
It turned out Spencer wasn’t the last person inside Jenna’s apartment. Jeremiah was. His DNA sample matched DNA evidence found at the crime scene. He was arrested and charged with her murder.
Jeremiah has never revealed his motive behind the murder, but detectives believe he entered Jenna’s apartment while she was out to steal from her. When she returned home with Spencer, Jeremiah hid in her spare bedroom for three hours until he left. He then either killed Jenna after she caught him in her home or because of her striking resemblance to his ex-wife.
Jeremiah pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 55 years in prison. He will be up for parole in 2036 after serving half of his sentence.