New evidence in disappearance of Nassau County hairstylist

Witnesses describe encounters with suspect hours after Joleen Cummings last seen

By Corley Peel - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The first evidence against the woman in custody in connection with the disappearance of a Nassau County mother was released Thursday by the State Attorney's Office.

News4Jax obtained several videos, witness interviews and hundreds of documents -- including investigative reports -- in the case against Kimberly Kessler, who is believed to be the last person to see her co-worker Joleen Cummings on May 12 at the Tangles Hair Salon in Yulee where they worked, authorities said. 

The Nassau County sheriff has said investigators don’t believe Cummings (pictured, below) is still alive, although her body has not been found.

The 34-year-old mother of three was officially reported missing May 14 by her ex-husband after 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, who goes by Jennifer Sybert among other aliases, was arrested May 16 and charged with grand theft auto after investigators said they found surveillance video showing her getting out of the vehicle.

The new evidence released includes that surveillance video, as well as other videos of Kessler hours after Cummings vanished.

DOCUMENTS: Witness statement, affidavit for arrest warrant

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 and walking away.

Minutes later, Kessler was captured on surveillance video at a nearby Gate gas station in Yulee. In the video, she can be seen fidgeting and pacing before buying a bottle of water.

Detectives spoke with an employee at the Gate gas station and a taxi driver who interacted with Kessler that night. 

In an audio interview, the Gate employee told detectives Kessler asked to use his phone to call a taxi cab to take her to a Planet Fitness nearby to pick up her car. 

Detective: "How was she acting when you spoke with her?"
Gate employee: “Irritable. She had called the taxi company from my phone and she was very irritable with the people on the phone. Not that the lady on the phone was being courteous either, but she was easily irritated and she felt the need to keep talking she like could not talk either.”

WATCH: Taxi driver interviewed by investigators

While Kessler was standing outside the gas station store, the employee said, she told him what she was doing before she got there.

Employee: “She said something about how she was out with a couple of friends drinking and one of the friends' ex-boyfriend came around. There had been some kind of problem. She didn’t go into detail for it much after that.”

The employee said Kessler began telling him about what meth does to your body. In the audio interview and a written statement, the employee noted that Kessler had significant scratches on her face.

Employee: “It almost looked like a finger mark, like someone had grabbed her face and pushed her away or something or someone had gripped her face. There’s a lot there like on her cheekbone.”

Once Kessler left in a cab, the Gate employee said he never saw her again. 

In an audio interview, the taxi cab driver told detectives he had a pickup call before going to the Gate station for Kessler. That previous call for a pickup at the Walmart was a no-show, and he cleared it at 1:51 a.m. May 13. He then went to the Gate Station, and a woman approached him and got into his van. 

Taxi cab driver: “She was dressed in like a black  workout outfit, she had black hair, kind of up on her head in a bun. She was just very nice, kind of bubbly, attractive lady. She didn’t appear to have a purse with her.”

The detective shows her a photo, and the taxi driver identifies the woman in the photo as his fare. 

Taxi cab 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.' Then she asked me if I go to church, and I told her I don’t go to church. I work a lot of hours, and on Sunday I get off work and go to sleep because I’ve been working 12 hours.”

The taxi cab driver told detectives that Kessler then suggested they could go to church together sometime. During the interview, the taxi cab driver also wondering why she needed a ride after he saw her get out of a silver minivan parked in front of the Gate before getting into his van. 

Taxi cab driver: “I kind of asked her why those people didn’t give her a ride a half mile down the road. She simply said, 'They 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. It was very odd."

The taxi driver cab driver said she prepaid the $20 cab ride that was only half a mile. He told detectives he dropped Kessler off at Woody’s Barbeque, which is right next to Tangles, where he last saw her getting in her black car.

Kessler is behind bars in the Duval County jail after being moved there from Nassau County following a hunger strike in June.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.