AMU Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Analyzing Facts in the Murder of Jennifer Servo – Part 2

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By Jennifer Bucholtz
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice and Forensic Science

This is the second of two articles reviewing and analyzing the facts and evidence related to the death of Jennifer Servo.

In the first article, I introduced the unsolved murder of Jennifer Servo, a 22-year-old newscaster living in Abilene, Texas. For nearly 19 years, her case has gone unsolved and her family has received no resolution.

Sharon Newman Edwards is the producer and host of the podcast Justice…Delayed, which is covering Jennifer’s murder in detail. I met Edwards recently at CrimeCon 2021 and was inspired by her dedication to the case. We have spoken at length about it since then and my goals in helping Edwards are to raise additional awareness of the case and to provide some new analysis of the known facts and evidence.

Was This Murder Premeditated?

Jennifer was killed on a Monday sometime after 1:30 in the morning. This is an uncommon time for the murder of a woman who did not have a roommate or partner.

The arrival of her killer during the very early morning hours may be indicative of some earlier planning. However, the person must have been confident Jennifer would open her door and allow her murderer inside. It’s doubtful a stranger could have gained access to her apartment without Jennifer’s consent. Friends reported that she was very safety-conscious and would not have opened her door to a stranger.

There must be a reason her killer chose to confront her at that time of the morning but that remains unknown. It’s possible the killer thought Jennifer would be sleeping and that her guard would be down but felt capable of talking his or her way into the apartment.

The murderer may have also known her sleeping habits and assumed she’d still be awake. She had worked late that evening, and then she went to pick up a coffee table she bought from a coworker. Afterward, she went to a Walmart and headed home.  

Although police have focused on Jennifer’s ex-boyfriend and male coworker as persons of interest, there are other scenarios about her murder that must be considered. For instance, a neighbor or other tenant of the apartment complex might have had a reason to knock on Jennifer’s door at that hour. Maybe a nearby resident thought Jennifer was being loud or disruptive in the middle of the night?

Another plausible scenario is that an apartment employee or neighbor was engaged in some illegal activity in the days prior to her death that Jennifer inadvertently had witnessed and that person believed Jennifer was an existential threat.

Generally, when people plan to murder someone, they bring a weapon to the scene with an intent to use it. Jennifer suffered five blows to her skull and was strangled. Either or both injuries could have caused her death.

Although someone may intend to injure another person via blunt force trauma or strangulation, it is not a common cause of death in premeditated homicides. Therefore, this aspect of the crime does not indicate the perpetrator intended to kill Jennifer upon arrival in her apartment.

The Significance of Post-Mortem Observations

Jennifer’s autopsy report states that the lividity to the front of Jennifer’s body was fixed, meaning her body had lain in a prone position in the days prior to its discovery. This fact indicates that when she was rendered unconscious during the attack, she went down face first with the front of her body to the ground. The blood stains and bloody drag marks on her carpet are consistent with this scenario, because she did not have any bleeding injuries to the back of her skull.

If it is correct that she fell face down, that provides some clues about how Jennifer was attacked. Since we know she was strangled, the killer may have put her in a chokehold from behind. This would account for the evidence of strangulation in the soft tissues of Jennifer’s neck and also the absence of a broken hyoid bone, a horseshoe-shaped bone between the chin and the thyroid.

She probably struggled but was unable to escape the arm of her killer. While continuing the chokehold with one arm, the perpetrator would have been able to grab her hair and force her head into nearby structures, causing the injuries to Jennifer’s face and front half of her skull.

If the above scenario is correct, Jennifer’s killer was able to ambush her from behind. A potential victim will not turn her back on someone who is threatening her or whom she fears.

Petechiae was observed in Jennifer’s eyes and soft tissues of her throat area. This bodily reaction occurs when tiny capillaries burst, causing blood to leak into surrounding areas. Petechiae are commonly found in cases of strangulation and indicate the victim was struggling and conscious while being strangled.

Jennifer was likely fighting her attacker as he/she attempted to strangle her with an arm or hands. Therefore, the attempt at strangulation probably occurred before the blows to her head and face or they occurred simultaneously.

Related link: Seizing Digital Evidence: Best Practices for Police Officers

The Importance of Other Crime Scene Details

Investigators found no sign of forced entry, so she likely opened her door to her attacker. From this fact, we can deduce that her killer was probably someone she knew or recognized or who had a believable ruse to enter her apartment, such as a maintenance employee.

Jennifer’s apartment was located in the interior of the complex and was not visible from any nearby street (see the red square marking Jennifer’s apartment in the Hunters Ridge apartment complex). Her attacker had to have previous knowledge of the location of Jennifer’s residence. Therefore, it is doubtful her murder was the result of a random stranger’s attack. 

Bloody drag marks indicate that Jennifer’s killer moved her body from the living room, through the bedroom and into the bathroom. The most logical reason the perpetrator went to this extra effort was to delay the discovery of Jennifer’s body. Her living room was visible through her front window and although the shades were drawn, the killer may have been concerned that someone could peek through the slats and see Jennifer’s body. The bathroom, however, was not visible to anyone looking through the front window.  

The blood stain on the carpet in the living room is indicative of Jennifer having been attacked in or near her kitchen (see the floor plan of Jennifer’s apartment). Notice that the only difference in the layout of Jennifer’s apartment is that her front door was situated on the top wall, noted with a blue arrow; known blood evidence is depicted in red.

The kitchen was on the far side of the living room from her front door, which means her killer was well inside the apartment when the altercation began. This, again, suggests that Jennifer allowed the person inside and did not immediately feel threatened.

Overall, Jennifer’s killer exhibited primarily disorganized behaviors during the commission of the crime and did not appear to have a detailed plan in place for this murder. The killer struggled to quickly subdue Jennifer and was forced to use more than one method to achieve that goal. It does not appear the killer brought a weapon to the scene of the crime. Additionally, the crime scene was chaotic in nature, perhaps indicating that killer had no plan for removing or disposing of the body.

What Was the Motive?

Although Jennifer’s purse and a couple of other incidental items were stolen from her apartment, the jewelry she was wearing was not taken and no other items of value were reported stolen. It’s doubtful that the motive was robbery. 

In past years, news reports have stated that Jennifer was sexually assaulted. However, her autopsy suggests this was untrue. She reportedly did have a bruise to the outer area of her genitals, which could have easily occurred during her struggle with her killer.

No other internal or external signs of sexual assault were found. Jennifer was discovered with her underwear and shorts on. Although there have been cases when a rapist or killer redresses the victim, it is rare for them to do so.

If a perpetrator does redress his victim, this is often evidenced by the improper placement of garments on the victim’s body. There was nothing unusual about the position of Jennifer’s underwear or shorts. This, combined with the lack of any of the traditional signs of sexual assault, indicates that she was not raped.

So sexual assault and robbery can probably be ruled out as motives for this crime. The most likely reason Jennifer was killed were personal reasons. It’s probable she knew her attacker and that her murder occurred as a result of an argument that turned physical and escalated.

Readers Are Urged to Stay Involved

Anyone who lived at the Hunters Ridge apartment complex at 5550 Texas Avenue in 2002 is asked to reach out to Sharon Newman Edwards at 210-836-8680. She is interested in the overall atmosphere of the complex at the time of the murder and would like to talk to anyone who might remember Jennifer when she lived there. Edwards has assured me all conversations with other residents and tips they provide will be kept confidential.

Readers who wish to follow Jennifer’s case are encouraged to join Sharon Newman Edwards’s Facebook group, Justice…Delayed Podcast Discussion Group, visit her website, and follow her on Twitter. She will continue to post updates and topics for discussion. Anyone who has information about Jennifer’s murder is asked to please call the Abilene Police Department at 325-673-8331 or for those who wish to stay anonymous Abilene Crime Stoppers at 325-676-TIPS.

Jennifer Bucholtz is a former U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent and a decorated veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice, a master of arts in criminal justice and a master of science in forensic sciences. Bucholtz has an extensive background in U.S. military and Department of Defense counterintelligence operations. While on active duty, she served as the Special Agent in Charge for her unit in South Korea and Assistant Special Agent in Charge at stateside duty stations. Bucholtz has also worked for the Arizona Department of Corrections and Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. She is currently an adjunct faculty member and teaches courses in criminal justice and forensic sciences. Additionally, she is an instructor for the Department of State’s Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance and a licensed private investigator in Colorado. You can contact her at Jennifer.Bucholtz@mycampus.apus.edu.

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