Car of missing Orlando woman found near condo
Compiled from staff and wire reports
Police won't speculate who abandoned the Gaither High School grad's car before going to her home.
Published January 27, 2006
ORLANDO - The discovery of a missing Orlando woman's car Thursday morning raised hopes that she might still be found alive, three days after she vanished.
By midafternoon, Jennifer Kesse's father spoke to more than a dozen TV, radio and newspapers reporters from across Florida before delivering the same message on national TV.
"She's out there. She's strong. She's smart," Drew Kesse said. "Just hang in there. We're close. And we'll get you."
Kesse grew up in Tampa, and attended local schools since at least second grade, childhood friends said. She graduated from Gaither High School in 1999.
The mystery of her disappearance expanded within an hour of the car's recovery at 8:10 a.m. not far from Kesse's residence. Orange County sheriff's bloodhound Bo took a sniff of the driver's seat and pulled handler Sgt. Jeff Brown at a loping pace for a mile.
The scent led straight to the front door of Kesse's home in Mosaic at Millenia, an upscale, gated and fenced condominium complex with 24-hour security. The trail bypassed the complex's only entrance and led to a stretch of fence separating the public sidewalk from its private grounds. Once the 6-year-old bloodhound entered the grounds, the dog picked up the scent inside the fence and went directly to a staircase leading to Kesse's second-floor condominium.
Orlando police homicide detectives would not speculate on who abandoned Kesse's Chevrolet Malibu and then walked or ran back to her home.
"Obviously, we get more concerned as time passes but we certainly are going to keep our hopes up," said Sgt. Barbara Jones, police spokeswoman.
Missing persons cases are relatively common in Central Florida with more than 3,000 listed at least briefly each year in Orange County alone.
An impromptu search for the 24-year-old financial analyst began Tuesday when she failed to go to work at Central Florida Investments or answer her cell phone.
Her uncharacteristic absence alarmed family members in Bradenton and more than a dozen former classmates at the University of Central Florida. By Tuesday night, they began distributing posters asking the public to help find the 5-foot-8, 135-pound blond with green eyes.
Mary Ferris Hyde, 24, a close friend of Kesse's in high school, described her as a responsible, popular and assertive woman who wasn't afraid to share her opinions.
"She was just a very strong person," Hyde said. "She was not shy in the least bit. She would tell you what she thought. It kind of threw me by surprise that something like this could happen to her."
The last time anyone heard from Kesse was about 10 p.m. Monday when she called Rod Allen, her boyfriend who lives in Fort Lauderdale, her friends and police said.
Allen, 29, and Kesse met last year when she and several of her friends went to the Tiki Bar, a popular meeting place in downtown Orlando's nightclub district, said Cari McKibben, a former roommate of Kesse's.
On Thursday afternoon, Allen, McKibben and about 20 of Kesse's relatives and friends from as far away as Boston gathered at her condominium to wait for news from police.
At Gaither High School, she belonged to the Fellowship of Christian Students and the Spanish Honor Society, principal Brenda Grasso said. "She left us with a very high GPA. ... What an awful shame."
"Beautiful. Smart. She was in all the gifted classes," said Teresa Hulsander, whose son Luke accompanied Kesse to school dances.
Kesse received a bachelor's degree in finance in the spring of 2003, UCF officials said. Her parents owned a home in Odessa until 2002, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office. They now live in Bradenton.
Thursday's investigation in Orlando included searches of storage closets in the three-story building where she lives, and a search of scrub pines and brush at the back of the property, and the condominium property where the Chevy Malibu was found parked between a white Dodge pickup and a Jeep Cherokee.
Information from the Orlando Sentinel and Times staff writer Justin George was used in this report.
[Last modified January 27, 2006, 06:17:02]
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