Landfill search turns up 'items of interest' in Joleen Cummings case

Investigators look for clues in disappearance of Nassau County mother

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

FOLKSTON, Ga. - After sifting through 6.6 million pounds of trash at a South Georgia landfill over the past week, the FBI and Nassau County Sheriff's Office said Friday they found several items of interest in the disappearance of Joleen Cummings. 

The Nassau County mother of three was last seen two months ago.

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said the search of the Chesser Island Landfill would end at the end of the day, believing they have found the only relevant evidence they were likely to find. The items found would be sent to a lab for analysis.

He described the search conditions as brutal, with teams working with respirators as heat-index temperatures reached 116 degrees. Medical personnel on site treated some of the searchers for heat exhaustion.

"They worked long hours. They're exhausted, but they wanted to push through to see if there was anything we could find," Leeper said. 

Leeper said they will present what evidence they have in her disappearance and presumed death to the State Attorney's Office to see if charges can be filed against Kimberly Kessler, a co-worker of Cummings who was arrested driving Cummings' stolen SUV.

WATCH: Searchers find 'items of interest' in Joleen Cummings case

The landfill search was prompted by surveillance video showing a trash bag Keesler dumped about the time of Cummings' disappearance on Mother's Day weekend. Leeper said they waited until they had exhausted other leads before searching landfill.

"There is one person who knows where Joleen is, and that person is in the Duval County jail, and she's not talking," Leeper said of Kessler.

Cummings' mother, Anne Johnson, spoke after Leeper, thanking the law enforcement personnel for their exhaustive efforts.

"You're making it happen. I want answers more than anybody else wants answers, and I feel confident that we'll have those answers soon," Johnson said. "Maybe today we didn't get the information that we quite all wanted, but we will. Just be patient."

Johnson asked for the community to collectively say a prayer at 7 p.m. Friday for Joleen and her three children.

UNCUT: Joleen's mother, Anne Johnson, confident answers will be found
UNCUT: Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper on landfill search

PHOTOS: FBI images of search | Sky4: Aerials of landfill search

Landfill search

  • 7 days, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • Searched 3,300 tons (6.6 million pounds) of trash
  • 27 search members on scene, plus administrative, medical staff
  • 8 units represented during search: FBI evidence response team; FBI Jacksonville; FBI Atlanta; FBI Jackson, Mississippi; FBI Tampa, Florida; FBI Boston; FBI Washington D.C.; Quantico lab
  • With extreme heat a concern, cooling tents, medics available to searchers
  • Hazard unit monitoring potential dangerous conditions
   

 

The landfill search began Saturday as crews geared up in full body suits, gloves, masks, safety glasses and steel-toed boots for protection. 

The sheriff detailed the tedious process. Investigators put trash in a dump truck; take it to a secure, flat area; spread it out; sift through it; collect any potential evidence and set it aside.

FBI Special Agent Charles Spencer admitted the search conditions have been difficult for investigators, who were dealing with extreme heat. 

"We have experts from our lab division who have come down, that are experts in safety, that review the material before we go through it and search it for any obvious hazards. We're doing air-quality monitoring on the site," Spencer said. "Anything that can be done to ensure the safety of our personnel and the success of this operation to help us with the Sheriff's Office investigation is being done."

READ MORE: Who is Kimberly Kessler?

Kessler, who was seen on surveillance parking Cummings' SUV and stepping out of it, was arrested in May and is behind bars in the Duval County Jail after being moved there following a hunger strike in June.

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