OAN’s Shawntel Smith-Hill
4:06 PM – Friday, July 28, 2023
A Florida man has been charged with murder on Thursday, three decades after the death of 12-year-old Jennifer Renee Odom, a Tampa-area girl who went missing after getting off a school bus near her home in Pasco County, authorities.
Close to what would have been Odom’s 43rd birthday, 61-year-old Jeffrey Norman Crum was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and sexual battery in connection to the killing, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said.
Crum had already been serving two life sentences after he was convicted of sexual battery and attempted murder in a separate case that took place in Pasco County in 1992, according to state prison records.
It was Crum’s conviction in this case that made him a person of interest, prompting an investigation where the evidence against him was substantial enough that the jury was able to indict him in Jennifer’s death.
In the separate case where Crum was identified as a suspect through DNA analysis, investigators found similarities shared with Odom’s homicide, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said.
After stepping off her school bus and waving goodbye to her friends, Odom was abducted. Her body was found six days later near a horse trail off Powell Road south of Brooksville, amid a cluster of pine trees in an orange grove. About 10 miles from where she was seen, in Hernando County, it appeared as though she had been brutally attacked, Nienhuis said.
“We’re not exactly sure how long her abductor kept her captive or when exactly the murder took place, but we are relatively confident the murder took place in that field,” Nienhuis told reporters during a press briefing. “The M.O.s in both cases were almost identical, with the exception of Jennifer, who, as we know, was abducted and found six days later.”
Over the course of investigation, thousands of pieces of evidence had been amassed in order to try and find some clue that would point to who was responsible for Odom’s murder. Several law enforcement agencies aided in the search for a blue truck that classmates of Odom’s say they saw at the time she was walking away from the school bus.
The evidence gathered in the case had been retested several times in hopes that new methods of identification would prove useful in giving investigators a lead. Despite COVID-19 giving a brief pause in efforts to solve the case, they remained persistent using a DNA procedure known as familial searching, which allowed law enforcement to find Crum as a suspect by comparing his DNA left at the scene with that of family members.
“Dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of items, were tested and retested every time a new technology came out, thinking that little glimmer of hope that we might be able to get that smoking gun,” Nienhuis said.
Nienhuis continued that the biological evidence gathered overwhelmingly pointed to Crum as the number one suspect in the investigation, which is what led to his arrest and indictment in the Odom case. However, officials were unable to provide more details, citing the active investigation.
“So (Crum) quickly, quickly, almost instantaneously, became our number one suspect in the Jennifer Odom case,” Nienhuis said.
Bill Gladson, state attorney for Florida’s 5th judicial circuit, said in a news conference, “I have confidence that we have the right person and that we have the right aggravators, in this particular case, to treat it as a death penalty case.”
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