Kimberly Kessler charged with murder in Joleen Cummings case

Kessler believed to be last person to see Nassau County mother of 3

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – A woman in custody in connection with the disappearance of Nassau County mother Joleen Cummings since the middle of May is now charged with first-degree premeditated murder, Sheriff Bill Leeper announced late Friday. 

The sheriff said that a grand jury reviewed evidence in the case and indicted Kimberly Kessler, 44.

Kessler, who Leeper said has lived in 33 cities in 14 states under 17 names since 1996, is being held in the Duval County jail without bond.

"I'm not sure what she was hiding from, but this time she came to the wrong county and messed with the wrong people," Leeper said. "Hopefully she will never have the opportunity to do anything like this ever again."

UNCUT: Nassau County sheriff announces murder charge

The murder charge was added just one day after News4Jax obtained several videos, witness interviews and hundreds of documents -- including investigative reports -- from the State Attorney's Office in the case against Kessler, who authorities said is believed to be the last person to see Cummings on May 12 at the Tangles Hair Salon in Yulee where they both worked.

Kessler has not cooperated with investigators, but Leeper said she left behind plenty of evidence.

"I believe people within our community will be shocked and surprised at what occurred. This is where I grew up. This is my community. We all hear about cold-hearted, evil people who conduct heinous crimes in other communities all across our state, our nation and the world," the sheriff said. "But when something like this happens in your community, to someone you know, it affects everyone."

Cummings, a 34-year-old mother of three, was reported missing by her ex-husband two days later when she failed to show up to pick up the couple's children for Mother's Day, according to the Nassau County Sheriff's Office.

Her SUV was found the next day parked outside a nearby Home Depot. Kessler was arrested May 16 and charged with grand theft auto after investigators said they found surveillance video showing her getting out of the vehicle.

Cummings' body has not been found, but Leeper and prosecutors feel like they have enough evidence to secure a conviction.

"Kessler is the person who knows where Joleen is and, unfortunately, she has not provided that information," Leeper said. "We will continue our efforts to search for Joleen wherever we have credible evidence and our prayers are that she will be found."

Kessler was arraigned by phone Friday, and her next court appearance is set for Thursday.

"We took out time to make sure we did everything right before we presented it to the grand jury," State Attorney Melissa Nelson said.

COURT DOCUMENT: Kimberly Kessler indictment

Anne Johnson, Cummings' mother, said 118 days have passed since her daughter was stolen from her in a vicious and evil way, but she will never have closure.

“Joleen’s life was stolen from us, not by the hands of God, but by evil itself manifested in what I would call a monster," Johnson said. "What haunts me most is how scared Joleen must have been through this whole horrific ordeal and how hard Joleen must have fought for her life, as I know she was fighting for the life of her three children."

UNCUT: Joleen's mother, Anne Johnson

She said she misses her daughter's smile and sense of humor, and she knows Cummings' children -- ages 3, 4 and 10 -- miss their mother, too.

"I miss that huge smile on her face when she hugged and kissed the kids after a long day of work," Johnson said. "God, I miss her. Joleen was a successful and talented hairdresser that loved what she was doing. She wanted only to provide a good life for her and her children and she did so by many years of good work. Her dream was to open her own salon. Her dreams were destroyed. Her three children no longer have their mother."

weeklong search in June at a South Georgia landfill was prompted by surveillance video that authorities said showed Kessler appearing to put a white trash bag into a dumpster about the time of Cummings' disappearance.

After sifting through 6.6 million pounds of trash at the Chesser Island Landfill, the FBI and the Sheriff's Office announced that they had found several items of interest in Cumming's disappearance

As of Friday, Leeper said, they had not received any information about the items, which were submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.

Reports weekdays and anchors The Morning Show on Saturdays and Sundays