Deputies believe missing mom 'not alive'; suspect in custody

Co-worker charged with stealing 34-year-old Joleen Cummings' SUV

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter, Corley Peel - Reporter

YULEE, Fla. - Nassau County deputies who have been searching for a missing mother who disappeared over a week ago have reason to believe she is not alive and have a suspect in custody, Sheriff Bill Leeper announced Tuesday afternoon.

The foreboding update came just hours before a Tuesday evening vigil organized by Joleen Cummings' friends and loved ones.

Leeper declined to say what evidence investigators had found that led them to believe Cummings is no longer alive, but said that a woman, 50-year-old Jennifer Sybert, was arrested Tuesday morning and is considered a suspect in Cummings' disappearance.

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Sybert, whose real name is Kimberly Kessler, is charged with car theft and is being held on $500,000 bond. Leeper said she was the last person to see Cummings, who was reported missing May 14 after she did not show up the day before to pick up her three children from her ex-husband.

The 34-year-old mother was last seen leaving work at Tangles Hair Salon on State Road 200 on May 12. According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Cummings' phone was last used on an outgoing call midafternoon May 12.

Deputies showed up at the salon May 14, so they could talk to Sybert, a fellow stylist, but investigators said that when Sybert pulled in and learned a deputy was asking questions, she left without going inside and called the owner to say she was leaving town.

The next day, Cummings' SUV was found parked outside a Home Depot, and surveillance video nearby shows Sybert parking the car around 1:17 a.m. Sunday and getting out of the driver's seat, but there's no sign of Cummings. The affidavit states surveillance video then shows Sybert walking to the Gate gas station in the same shopping center, where she called a taxi to take her back to Tangles.

As investigators continued following leads in the search for Cummings, they also began looking for Sybert, Leeper said.

They found Sybert and her black Kia Soul on May 16 at a rest area on I-95 northbound in St. Johns County on Wednesday, parked between two semi trucks. She had apparently been living in her car and moving it around, Leeper said.

According to the affidavit, Sybert admitted she hadn't gotten Cummings' permission to drive her SUV.

Based on the surveillance video showing her driving Cummings' SUV, Sybert was charged with grand theft auto, Leeper said. Mug shots from her arrest show visible cuts around one of her eyes and a scratch on her hand.

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.

Sybert, who has been using a fake Social Security number, has since been charged by the FBI with a federal offense of possession of a counterfeit passport, Leeper said. She had only been working at the salon for about a month.

News4Jax found a missing persons flyer for a Kimberly Kessler, who disappeared "under suspicious circumstances" from Butler County, Pennsylvania, in 2004. Leeper confirmed she is the same woman who is now in custody in Nassau County under the name Jennifer Sybert. 

Leeper also confirmed to News4Jax that Sybert stole the identity of a 13-year-old girl who was killed in a car crash in Germany and was buried in Pennsylvania.

Investigators said they are 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.

Sybert is due for arraignment in Nassau County court June 7.

Five days before Cummings went missing, deputies were called to a domestic dispute involving her ex-boyfriend at her home. The ex, Jason Gee, was arrested on a probation violation May 15.

Leeper told News4Jax News4Jax on Tuesday that Gee is still considered a person of interest. Gee has not been charged in Cummings' disappearance.

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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