46 years gone: What happened to Joanna Jenkins?

By Maddie Harden

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Joanna Jenkins was last seen at the Bridge Inn in Oak Hill on Nov. 1, 1977, her missing person poster reports.  

Jenkins has been missing for 46 years. The only official information available on her case is her description— 23-years-old, five feet tall, blonde, blue-eyed, white, female. 

Jenkins’ older sister, Teresa Maynard, age 70, still resides in Jackson County. While in the hospital recovering from a recent leg amputation, she spent hours discussing her sister’s disappearance at length with Southeast Ohio magazine.  

Maynard described her sister as having been “different.” Joanna struggled with mental health issues, and she was once admitted to the hospital by her mother. She once left the state with a boyfriend, only to be picked up by her sister and father a few months later. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Joanna to not come home.  

“He was a creep,” Maynard says about Joanna’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance.  

Maynard recalled Joanna coming home between her disappearance and her suspected death. Maynard said it looked like Joanna had run through the woods or a bush — she was covered in scratches and had two black eyes.  

“I begged her not to go back,” Maynard said.  

Today, Joanna Jenkins is one of 40 long-term missing persons in Southeast Ohio.  

After Joanna’s disappearance, the Jenkins family dedicated their time to finding her, answering tips from neighbors, and chasing down leads. Maynard said police were dismissive of their concern.  

“They called her a runaway, wouldn’t even look for her,” she said. 

Joanna’s father would often turn the car around if he spotted a blonde girl while driving, just in case it was his daughter. Her mother called the police station nearly daily but received little-to-no response.  

Searching for answers and desperate to find Joanna, Maynard’s mother and her other sister, Diane, went to the home of Joanna’s boyfriend’s parents. The boyfriend’s parents chased them off the property with shotguns.  

According to an article published in the Chillicothe-Gazette in November 2005, after Joanna had been missing for 23 years, Bill Reese, Jenkins’ former brother-in-law and a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s sergeant, approached the Jackson County Sheriff with new information— he had found a witness.  

At the time, the Jackson County Sheriff Department claimed it was too ill-equipped to further investigate the case. Lt. Tony Robinson cited massive budget cuts and the weakness of the case to secure a search warrant for Jenkins’ remains or pass it along to the state,  

The article also included quotes from an interview with Virginia Jenkins, Joanna Jenkins’ mother: “It’s not fair for him to be footloose and fancy free after what he did to my daughter.”   

She wanted justice, even if it came 30 years late.  

From her hospital bed, Maynard filled in new information about Reese’s lead. He had found a witness named Isaac Davis who asserted to have given Jenkins a ride one night. Davis said Jenkins told him of a physical altercation between her and a date who had threatened to kill her. Later, Davis talked to the “date,” who told him he had killed Jenkins and thrown her into a well.  

Davis said Joanna returned to the Oak Hill trailer she and her boyfriend shared, only to find him with another woman. Joanna got upset and the boyfriend delivered a blow to her head.  

“Isaac said he never heard a scream like that before,” Maynard said. 

Joanna and the boyfriend left the trailer, but Joanna never came back. The boyfriend told the other woman that if she did what Joanna had done, she would end up just like her, at the bottom of a well.  

“I hope she was dead when she hit the bottom of the well,” Maynard said 

Maynard said the boyfriend’s ex-wife told Reese she had found Joanna’s social security card in his back pocket.  

Despite this new evidence, the police still did not look further into Joanna’s case.  

“They blew her off like she wasn’t even a person,” Maynard said 

Although the Jackson County Sheriff Department cited budget cuts, Maynard suspects they “didn’t like him [Reese]. I think it was because he came from California.” 

Reese and Davis have both since passed away. Maynard says Joanna’s then-boyfriend still lives in Oak Hill but advises against pursuing him.   

“I’d like to see [him] in prison for the rest of his life,” Maynard says. “It bothered mom because he got to live free, and Joanna was dead.” 

In 2014, Jenkin’s case entered a national missing persons database called NamUs. The case has remained untouched ever since. 

Both people listed as contributors to Jenkins’ case on her NamUs page said they were unable to comment or unfamiliar with the case. Since her case was never investigated, there is no official case file available. 

When asked, current Jackson County Sheriff Tedd Frazier said he was unfamiliar with the Jenkins case.  

Frazier boasted of having zero impediments to solving missing persons cases in Jackson County. Jackson County received $191,862.72 from the governor’s office last year for retention bonuses and technology for intelligence gathering. 

When asked if his office has used NamUs in the modern search of missing persons, Frazier said he had never heard of the database, despite the website being listed on the Ohio Attorney General missing person resource page. 

In very few words, Sheriff Frazier said funding problems had not halted or impeded any investigation during his time serving as sheriff. 

The major obstacle for investigating a 45-year-old case is time; almost every person involved in the investigation or related to the 1977 case has since passed. Both of Jenkins’ parents passed while still holding out hope of finding their daughter. 

Maynard feels differently, “Do I have some hope? No.” 

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