Tracking suspect's movements for clues in Nassau mom's disappearance

Sheriff said Tuesday that 34-year-old Joleen Cummings likely 'not alive'

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter, Corley Peel - Reporter, Nick Jones - Digital producer

YULEE, Fla. - One day after the Nassau County Sheriff's Office named Jennifer Sybert a suspect in the disappearance and possible death of a mother of three, Sybert's former co-workers told News4Jax that the stylist was strange and difficult to work with.

Sybert and the missing 34-year-old mother, Joleen Cummings, who was last seen May 12, both worked at Tangles Hair Salon. Sheriff Bill Leeper said Sybert, 43, who had been working at the salon for about a month, was the last to see Cummings.

Leeper said investigators have reason to believe that Cummings is dead, but continue to search for her and ask anyone who saw Sybert or her 2016 Black Kia Soul in the days before Cummings' disappearance to contact the Sheriff's Office.

The hair salon on State Road 200 east of Yulee has been closed since Cummings disappeared, and red evidence tape remains on the door and deputies continue to be seen outside. There are flowers, stuffed animals and pictures of Joleen outside the front door of Tangles. Neighboring businesses, including Dick’s Wings, also have the missing-person flyer on their doors.

On Wednesday night, Jim Simmons, co-owner of Tangles, sent News4Jax the following statement:

We are deeply saddened by the information released by NCSO yesterday. Joleen was like a daughter to us and we are heartbroken over this. She was a loving mother, daughter and friend to many. She was a successful stylist that loved what she did. Our hearts are also broken for her mother, children and the rest of her family. The world is full of evil, but many of us never expect it to hit so close as this has. We have and will continue to pray for her family and for closure for them. We ask that everyone would respect the privacy of the family and of our family during this time."

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A friend of Cummings said she likely stayed past 5 p.m. that Saturday, and that Cummings has so many loyal clients and stays booked on Saturdays. The friend said that was something it seemed Sybert was jealous of, along with the amount of tips Joleen made.

Former co-workers of Sybert and Cummings' friends share similar opinions of Sybert, describing her as strange. News4Jax learned Wednesday that Sybert had four different jobs in the past six months.

Before getting hired at Tangles, Sybert briefly worked at a Woody's Bar-B-Q, near the salon. The owner said she was fired after a week-and-a-half over an altercation with the owner's wife.

News4Jax also learned that Sybert used to work at a Great Clips, also on State Road 200 in Nassau County, as well as at a Great Clips in St. Johns County. Trena Knowles, a former manager at that salon, said she left in December.

"She did have a lot of odd things, like names," Knowles said. "Trying to hire her, you try to figure out what name she is going by. She had different addresses and she always seem to be wearing a lot of wigs and things, and said she would tell you she was hiding from an ex."

Lori Ellis, a former co-worker, told News4Jax that she worked with Sybert at a Sport Clips Haircuts in Jacksonville in 2015. Ellis said that salon fired Sybert after one month because she couldn't work well with others.

"She just couldn't get along with the clients. She would get angry at them and they would say she would do something wrong and we had to intervene. She didn't work well with any of the other stylists," Ellis said. "I'm not scared of many people, but she was definitely so angry and explosive with just the slightest things."

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Timeline

May 12: Cummings leaves work at Tangles hair salon. It's the last time she was seen.
May 13: Mother’s Day and Cummings' 34th birthday. She doesn’t show up to pick up her three kids in Hilliard from her ex-husband; based on surveillance video, Sybert had parked Cummings' SUV near a Yulee Home Depot around 1:17 a.m. that morning. There's no sign of Cummings in the video. 
May 14: Cummings' mother reports her missing to the Sheriff's Office. Deputies visit Cummings' salon, and when Sybert learns they're asking questions, she calls the owner to say she's leaving town.
May 15: Cummings' 2006 beige Ford Expedition is found near the Home Depot parking lot.
May 16: Investigators find Sybert in her black Kia Soul at an I-95 rest area in St. Johns County, and she's charged with stealing Cummings' car.
May 22: Sheriff announces investigators have reason to believe Cummings is "not alive," but declines to say why.
May 23: Deputies return to Tangle's Hair Salon, searching for evidence of Cummings' disappearance.

Investigators said surveillance video shows Sybert, whose real name is Kimberly Kessler, parking Cummings' SUV outside a Home Depot at 1:18 a.m. May 13. There was no sign of Cummings in the vehicle.

According to an arrest warrant, she then walked to a neighboring Gate Gas Station and called a taxi to take took her to Tangles. 

When investigators caught up with Sybert days later, she acknowledged she did not have Cummings' permission to drive her SUV, according to a copy of her arrest affidavit. She was charged with grand theft auto and is being held on $500,000 bond.

When arrested, Leeper said she was using a fake name, address, passport and Social Security number. 

"I knew something was odd with her anyway.  She always seemed to be hiding from something when she was here," Knowles said.

Mug shots from Sybert's arrest show visible wounds on her face and hand. Leeper said it appeared she had been living out of her car.

Investigators continue looking for any information on Sybert, who was known to frequent the Fernandina Beach and Yulee areas, along with St. Johns County and Bartram Park in Jacksonville.

Anyone with information that would help investigators find Cummings or aid in the case is asked to contact the Nassau County Sheriff's Office at 904-548-4005 or First Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.

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