Murder suspect bought zip ties before Joleen Cummings disappeared

Kimberly Kessler charged after co-worker disappeared in May

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – The News4Jax I-TEAM continues to uncover new evidence in the murder case against Kimberly Kessler in the disappearance and presumed death of Joleen Cummings, a 34-year-old Nassau County mother of three. 

Previously released evidence included an interview with an employee at boating supply store West Marine who called police to tell them about odd behavior by Kessler one full week before Cummings disappeared in May. Her body has yet to be found. 

The employee said he recognized Kessler because she had cut his hair before. Kessler and Cummings both worked at Tangles Hair Salon in Yulee, where Cummings was last believed to have been seen on May 12.

Investigator: "Did you see what she was buying?"
Employee: "Zip ties..."
Investigator: "...Did you have any other conversations with her?"
Employee: "That day, no. She just had this little sheepish grin on her face that just struck me as peculiar." 
Investigator: "As she was buying zip ties?"
Employee: "Yeah I didn't know if she was coming in there to see if I needed another haircut or what. Like I said, it kind of spooked me." 

The store described those zip ties as being large in size -- they were estimated to be 15-17 inches long. The I-TEAM checked Kessler's phone records and found she bought the zip ties on May 5. The day before that, May 4, according to phone records, Kessler searched how to tie a tourniquet and inject someone with something.

The I-TEAM also reviewed a conversation investigators believe happened in the hours after Cummings' death, which was among evidence released by the State Attorney's Office prior to the announcement that Kessler had been indicted on a charge of first-degree murder

The video was one of the first clues that led investigators to Kessler. Surveillance video recorded about 1 a.m. May 13 shows Kessler driving Cummings' SUV by a VyStar Bank, then dropping off the vehicle in front of the Home Depot in Yulee, about a half-mile away from Tangles, and walking away.

Minutes later, Kessler was captured on surveillance video at a nearby Gate gas station in Yulee. Detectives spoke with an employee at the gas station, who said Kessler had asked to use his phone to call a taxicab. FBI photo enhancements show Kessler has a cut on her face. Detectives said they believe at this point that Cummings is likely already dead, but where is still unknown. 

The taxicab driver later told detectives he found Kessler's behavior in that short half-mile ride quite strange.

Taxicab driver: "She was asking me if I was a born-again Christian and if I had ever received Jesus Christ in my heart. I said, 'Yes.' And then she asked me if I go to church, and I told her, "No. I don’t go to church.' ... I haven't gone to church in a while but I still pray when I need to pray. She was, like, accepting to that, told me maybe we could go to church together sometime and I gave her my phone number." 
Detective: "Did she ever call you?
Taxicab driver: "No." 

Detectives continued prodding because they want to know if Kessler, who was talking about salvation with the taxicab driver, said anything about Cummings.

Detective: "Did you ask her anything about the vehicle she got out of?"
Taxicab driver: "Well, I kind of asked her why those people didn't give her a ride half a mile down the road and she simply said that she didn't have the gas. I found that kind of odd because if a person is prepaying $20 on a credit card for a half-mile ride, they should be able to give somebody some gas, $5 worth of gas and get a ride, you know? It was very odd."

Kessler has led more than a double life -- she used at least 17 aliases across 33 cities in 14 states, according to Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper. She is being held in the Duval County jail and her next court date is April 18. 

About the Authors:

Lynnsey Gardner is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning investigative reporter and fill-in anchor for The Local Station.

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.