November 1, 2013

Chris Jenkins Homicide: Someone Knows Something

Chris Jenkins with friends,
Halloween 2002
Do you have any information in this homicide?

Christopher Jenkins disappeared eleven years ago today. His homicide is unsolved. The article below has been modified reprint from the original. Additional details, photographs and links have been added. 


Eleven years ago tonight, University of Minnesota student Christopher Jenkins and his friends left a keg party and headed to the Lone Tree Bar and Grill in downtown Minneapolis to celebrate Halloween. The group arrived a little after 10:30 pm and parked just south of the bar. An hour and a half later, two off duty police officers working security for the bar, ejected Chris and instructed staff to not allow him back inside. Chris found himself on the street in 20-degree weather wearing only an American Indian costume. He did not have his coat, wallet, cell phone, or the keys to the car and his apartment. No one is sure exactly what happened to Chris after that.

When the Jenkins family got the call that Chris was missing, they knew something was dreadfully wrong. The police believed that Chris may have attempted to walk home across the Hennepin Avenue bridge, then went off on his own somewhere. But Chris was very responsible; he was not known to stay away from his apartment without calling anyone.

When little progress was made by local authorities in finding their son, Jan and Steve Jenkins decided to take matters into their own hands. They tracked down surveillance footage of the Hennepin Avenue bridge and had it reviewed.

"There were two surveillance cameras on the Federal Reserve Bank pointing to the Hennepin Avenue Bridge," says Jan. "This was post 9-11, clearly good equipment. We have written documentation from the supervisor that more than one person viewed the tapes from both cameras late on the 31st and early on November 1. Chris was not seen on the tape. We do not believe Chris walked across that bridge. The supervisor told the FBI that it would be almost impossible for a person to sprint across that bridge and not be seen." (See 360-degree panoramic aerial view of the bridge in relation to the bank.)

Around the time Chris disappeared, I was working about a block from the Lone Tree Bar and Grill. The 6th and Hennepin bar was a hot spot for lunch or happy hour for the younger crowd working in downtown. Halloween 2002 fell on a Thursday, and I had no special plans, so I opted to head home after work. By late fall in Minnesota, it begins to get dark around 6 pm, so my commute played a large part in my decision; I didn't want to be stuck at my creepy bus stop. My stop sat on 5th and Hennepin, one building away from the Lone Tree Bar and Grill, in front of a darkened parking lot that extended to the corner. Despite the upscale boutiques, financial firms and banks nearby, this particular section of Hennepin Avenue has been plagued by crime for years. Walking from the then newly built Block E shopping center on 7th and Hennepin (a mecca for theft and scams and now largely defunct), past the Lone Tree, the bus stop and then down to 5th Street near Augie's Bar (a bar with a reputation for having a rougher sort of clientele), it was not uncommon to see working girls or drunks on the sidewalk. Drug handoffs also happened more than once in front of the bus stop, even with the local police cruising by. It was no place to be alone at night.

This photo taken in 2010 shows the general area where Chris was last seen in 2002.

Witnesses told Chuck Loesch, a private investigator hired by the Jenkins family, that a gang of at least 10 men attacked a man in front of Times Square Pizza & Subs (now closed), possibly as part of a gang initiation, on the night Chris disappeared. Though the time of the incident has not been confirmed, Times Square Pizza sits kitty corner to the Lone Tree and just across the street.

On two separate occasions, a bloodhound picked up Chris's scent on the sidewalk in front of the pizza joint, then followed the scent into the parking garage next door. The dogs, who did not work together on the same day, each took their handler to the same parking stall. Blood drops and a red feather, possibly from Chris's Native American costume, were later found inside the garage. But Chris's trail on the night he disappeared just stopped there.


2013 Google Map photo showing parking garage. The blue awning is
about where Times Square Pizza stood and where the assault took place.
Four months later, Chris's body was found on the east side of the Mississippi River near the spillway of the St. Anthony Falls Hydroelectrical Laboratory at 30 SE 3rd Street (See aerial photo). It could be seen from the 3rd Avenue bridge, floating on its back with its arms in front.

Police initially believed Chris either died accidentally or must have have committed suicide. But all those who knew Chris felt differently. Chris was a two-time team captain of his lacrosse team and an honor student at the U of M's prestigious Carlson School of Management. He was gearing up to graduate, and he had job interviews lined up. He was happy, easy going, and he had plans for the future. The medical examiner initially ruled the death an accidental drowning

The Jenkins family consulted with global experts in water rescue and recovery and renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden. They learned that the appearance of Chris's body did not fit with the suicide or accident theories held by the police. Due to a natural reaction to try to swim, most drowning victims are found face down, arms out toward their sides, clothing disheveled, and one or both of their shoes missing. Chris was found on his back with his arms crossed in front. His shirt was still tucked in to his drawstring pants. He was also still wearing both oversized slip-on shoes, a necklace, and a ring on each hand.

Faced with these new findings, the city's new police chief, Tim Dolan, agreed that the case had not been thoroughly investigated. Dolan reopened the case in 2006 and it finally seemed that the case was moving forward. Ultimately, the medical examiner changed the official cause of death from accidental drowning to homicide. Chief Dolan offered the Jenkins family a public apology.

That same year, a man in jail facing felony charges for another crime came claimed that he was present when Chris was thrown off a bridge. The inmate told investigators that an acquaintance had robbed Chris and thrown him off the Hennepin Avenue bridge. But the mention of the Hennepin Avenue bridge was problematic.

According to Loesch, the killer would have had to stand on the brightly lit bridge in heavy traffic without being spotted by passerbys or the bank security cameras with a full view of the bridge. The killer would then need to lift a grown man (an athlete) over a high safety railing and throw him 4- to 5-feet out over a steal support beam, avoiding the vertical cables in the process--a nearly impossible feat, even with help. (See 360-degree panoramic view of the bridge.) Chris's body was not found to have any broken bones, nor did anyone report seeing anything unusual on the bridge that night, making the claim all the more unlikely.

Hennepin Avenue Bridge, 
September 26, 2008.  Courtesy of
photographer Susan Lesch. 
Loesch, in fact, believes it unlikely that Chris was thrown from a bridge at all. Given the fall and the river's current, Chris's shoes would not have stayed on his feet. (Watch video clip for more information.)

In July 2007, Hennepin County declined to press any charges against the inmate, citing lack of evidence. Chris's case remains unsolved.

Eleven years ago, the slogan on Chris's missing poster was, "Someone Knows Something." If you have any information about the night Chris Jenkins disappeared or his death, please call the Minneapolis Homicide Unit at (612) 673-2941, send an e-mail to police@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, or call 612-692-TIPS (8477).


Additional Links
http://solvemymystery.tumblr.com/page/2
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21134540/vp/38593446#38593421
http://www.legacyofcourage.com/

5 comments:

tennessee111 said...

Killers like to take trophies and souvenirs from their victims. Keeping some memento — a lock of hair, jewelry, newspaper clips of the crime — helps prolong, even nourish, their fantasy of the crime.

Here’s what to look for in an investigation: Is there anything missing that belongs to the victim? Often police will mistakenly look for valuable missing items. But I’m not talking about a stereo component — that’s an impersonal item. I’m talking about something more personal — a ring, earrings, even costume jewelry — something the victim was wearing at the time of the crime.

Maybe they’ll keep the victim’s driver’s license. Some will leave it intact. Others will get rid of everything but the picture, so they just have a little wallet photo of the victim, as if they had some kind of relationship going.

In the more sadistic cases, some killers will take locks of the victim’s hair, or even go so far as to cut off the head or other body parts.

Turbo said...

I've been to MPLS quite a few times, and I'm familiar with the area where Chris was last seen. While Hennepin Ave. is full of people partying in the bars up and down that strip, the Lone Tree was situated at a point where the area becomes rather sketchy, especially late at night.

As you head toward the Hennepin Ave. bridge, the nightlife thins out very quickly. The Brass Rail has a view of the street, while The Gay 90s has little to no vantage point. I can easily see Chris being a target if he were wandering around there intoxicated.

Lisa said...

@ Turbo,

Very good observation--the nightlife does thin out as you get closer to Hennepin. I also want to thank you for opening up the discussion about this area and Chris's case.

Like many big cities, in parts of Minneapolis, there are pockets of areas that are not as good as others. In general, it is still very safe, and it isn't the kind of place where you have to worry about accidentally driving into the wrong part of town. No one bothered me at that seedy bus stop. With that said, given enough time, or had I seemed more vulnerable/less aware of my surroundings, things could be different. I guess that it is why I feel so connected to Chris. And it really could happen to anyone, anywhere.

Lisa said...

(cont.)

More about the area, for those interested.

On the West end of Hennepin Ave (near 12th Street), you've got a community college, St. Thomas University, many upscale restaurants, apartments, theaters, and 5-star hotels. Not really too familiar with that end of town, but when I was there it seemed really quiet and not very well lit.

Around 9th Street, the street gets brighter, and you see a lot of people out and about. Hot reputable spots were the Rock Bottom Brewery and the Palomino, but there was not much else within walking distance around there back then.

Starting about 7th Street is where you saw most of the nightlife. People would come into town to watch concerts or games at the Target Center--a few blocks west--partying before/afterward at some of the trendy Irish pubs, the Loon Cafe, or Brother's Bar. But things on the main drag start to change around 7th. The Block E complex had just opened in 2002. Block E which brought in Borders bookstore, GameWorks arcade, and Hard Rock Cafe, was plagued with crime. (The whole enterprise ultimately failed and businesses closed up shop.) A lot of people hung out on the street in front of Block E, using the the ruse that they were waiting for the bus. Robberies were happening, so I remember specifically deciding against changing to that bus stop. But things were pretty desolate and not at all well lit by 4th Street (there are rougher bars in that area too), so I wasn't at all thrilled about that bus stop either. Turbo is right, as you go closer toward the Hennepin Avenue bridge, the nightlife does begin to thin out.

I would add that the blocks are actually very long too. (Try doing a Google Map street view and following the route.) It would have been one long, cold walk in a sketchy part of town had Chris decided to go that way. And he was just way too smart for that.

Turbo said...

No problem, Lisa. I wanted to give people some perspective on the area. The change is quite drastic and occurs within just a block or so. It goes from nice/upscale bars and restaurants with people everywhere to strip joints, sketchy dive bars and questionable people loitering and dealing drugs right on the street. Your assessment of the area is spot on as well.

I can't stress enough how noticeable rough the area gets once you pass 5th/6th Streets. Someone drunk and/or unfamiliar with the area could easily wander into trouble. Walking around during the day can be unsettling in that area....I would not want to be caught out there alone in the early morning hours.