NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – A bizarre case in Nassau County has many people wondering how a woman suspected in the disappearance of a beloved hair stylist managed to live for decades under 17 identities.
For at least five of those identities, Kimberly Kessler was able to obtain a driver's license, according to Nassau County investigators.
Kessler was the last person to see Joleen Cummings, a mother of three, before she disappeared May 12 after the two worked a shift at Tangles Hair Salon, investigators said. Kessler was later arrested, under the name Jennifer Sybert, on a charge of stealing Cummings' SUV.
Investigators believe Cummings is no longer alive, but her body has not been found.
The owners of Tangles announced Tuesday that they will not be reopening the salon.
Sheriff Bill Leeper said Kessler had been working in Nassau County under the name Sybert, one of more than a dozen aliases she has used over the last 22 years, adding that Kessler has lived in at least 34 cities in 14 states since 1996.
Investigators said they found that Kessler had licenses under different names in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia and Florida.
Security experts said obtaining a license under a false identity is easier than most people might realize because of loopholes in the document requirements.
Kevin Johnson of Secure Ideas said most people coming to the Tax Collector's Office or DMV for a new license aren't crooks and follow the strict rules that have been in place since 9/11.
Those rules require an original or certified copy of either a U.S. birth certificate, a valid U.S. passport or a certificate of citizenship, along with proof of Social Security number and current address. But Johnson, who runs a firm helping companies protect themselves from cyber thieves, said what the DMV accepts as proof of Social Security number and address, like W-2 forms and utility bills, opens up the possibility for fraud.
“It’s very simple to fake the pieces of identification, to go to the DMV and say, 'I don’t have a driver's license.' Either 'I just moved here and I need new one' or 'I lost my license,'” Johnson said.
News4Jax found records that show Kessler was using a fake Florida driver's license under the name Jennifer Sybert since at least 2003 when she was pulled over for a traffic violation in St. Johns County.
Authorities were not aware that the identity was fake until Kessler was fingered in connection with Cummings' disappearance.
People who know Kessler, like her former boss in St. Johns County, said they were not surprised to learn investigators believe Kessler had many false identities.
“She did have lots of different, odd things, different names,” Trena Knowles said. “Trying to hire her, you had to think of what name she would go by. She had different addresses, and she would always wear lots of wigs and things and would tell you she was hiding from an ex that was a stalker.”
Johnson said that’s not unusual.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that somebody who is already suspected of doing bad things would have five fake IDs,” Johnson said.
Kessler will be in court Thursday morning on the grand theft auto charge. Leeper indicated last week that more charges are likely.