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Blood, fake driver's licenses, more evidence in killing of Joleen Cummings

Kimberly Kessler accused of murder of co-worker whose body hasn't been found

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YULEE, Fla. – More evidence that lawyers defending Kimberly Kessler never wanted the public to see is coming out this week, including evidence from inside the hair salon where she worked with Joleen Cummings and clues to the accused killer's other identity.

Months after Cummings disappeared last May, Kessler was charged with murder even though the missing 34-year-old Nassau County woman's body has not been found. 

Despite objections from the defense that it would taint the potential jury pool for this high-profile case, Judge James Daniel ordered the State Attorney's Office to release what is called discovery material in the case.

Images released Wednesday and Thursday show evidence markers and a shoe in a wooded area behind Tangles Hair Salon in Yulee, where Cummings and Kessler both worked, and a chilling amount of blood around the salon: on walls, chairs, cabinets and in the sink drain.

SLIDESHOW: Evidence photos, surveillance in case against Kimberly Kessler

There was also blood on a bleach bottle and a mop. A blacklight photo of the mop shows blood that showed up in mop strokes on the floor after crime scene investigators applied the chemical luminol.

There's also a picture of a Walmart receipt for trash bags, an electric knife and large bottle of ammonia. Kessler can also be seen inside a Nassau County Walmart through surveillance video the store released to detectives. Kessler can be seen purchasing multiple items in the self-checkout line and then leaving the store in her black Kia Soul.

Video also captured Kessler at a nearby car wash, paying special attention to the interior of the car. 

Among the information in 285 pages of investigative reports and search warrants is that deputies found $1,600 in cash in Kessler's Kia Soul. In one evidence photo, it can be seen that the drawer below the cash register at Tangles had been ripped open. 

When Kessler was arrested, deputies said she had several injuries on her hands, wrist, arms and thighs and a patch of hair missing from her head. Investigators said she was also in possession of driver's licenses from five states in the name of Jennifer Sybert -- one of the 17 different aliases police say Kessler has used over the years.

Other evidence showed there was a confrontation between Kessler and Cummings on May 9 -- four days before the mother of three didn't show up to pick up her children. Another co-worker said Cummings told her she had a feeling Kessler wasn't who she said she was. Cummings added she was going to start digging into Kessler's background.

VIDEO: More evidence in killing of Joleen Cummings
RELATED: Texts, photos released in murder case | Kessler searched Joleen Cummings' name 457 timesSuspect bought zip ties before Cummings disappeared

Kessler was arrested a few days after Cummings vanished, initially charged with stealing Cummings' SUV.  When prosecutors felt they had enough evidence against her, Kessler was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder.

The judge had Kessler's attorneys indicate which specific pieces of evidence they objected to being released. The court records that drew no objections were released earlier this year, but this week, Daniel ruled individually on each of the defense's objections, overruling most of them.

Daniel noted “the case has garnered an exceptional amount of media attention. The overwhelming majority of media coverage, to date, has been factual in nature and not biased towards the defense.” 

He said the material to be released “would not create unfair pretrial publicity in the overall community.” 

Daniel also took note of all the social media postings related to the case, saying, “The social media activity by these individuals has not infected, and will not infect the community as a whole. Those commenting about the case on social media do not pose a serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice.” 

Daniel is keeping under seal Kessler’s bank records and some reports and interviews that detail past incidents and romantic relationships, saying they “may very well be irrelevant and inadmissible at trial, as well as lay opinions about (Kessler's) mental health and stability.”

The public defender’s office declined comment on the judge’s order, citing a gag order.

Kessler is being held in the Duval County jail and her next court date is April 18.  

Timeline of young mother's disappearance

Cummings' SUV was found parked outside a Home Depot after she was reported missing by her family when she failed to show up to pick up her children from her ex-husband.

Kessler was arrested May 16, 2018, and charged with grand theft auto after investigators said they found surveillance video showing her getting out of Cummings' vehicle.

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

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 Cummings' disappearance

Kessler has been held in the Duval County jail since she went on a hunger strike in the Nassau County jail. She continued to be held in Jacksonville after she was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in September and will stay in custody in the Duval County jail when there are no hearings scheduled in her case.

About the Authors:

Reports weeknights for The Ten O'Clock News and News4Jax at 11.

At WJXT for a quarter of a century, Mary Baer anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news weekdays.