Jessica Carpenter: Murder, Suspect, Investigation and Updates

Sometimes, heinous crimes can occur at the unlikeliest of places, and that’s what this series reports. So, of course, its episode, ‘Who Killed Jessica Carpenter?,’ chronicling, as the title suggests, the murder of Jessica Carpenter, is no different. And now, if you’re here wondering all the details of her brutal case, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading for more details.

Jessica Carpenter

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Hometown Homicide’ is an original series by the channel that utilizes local news footage and other archival recordings to recount small-town murder cases that consumed the surrounding community for weeks, months, or even years.

Who is Jessica Lynne Carpenter?

Jessica Carpenter, born July 9, 1983, in Waukegan, Lake County, Illinois, was just 17-years-old when she ended up losing her life.

As the youngest of three sisters, a member of her high school band, and the hostess of a local Red Lobster, Jessica was someone who was loved by all.

So, on August 4, 2000, when Judy Carpenter returned to her Aiken, South Carolina, home to find her daughter’s body, naked and bloodied, it truly was as if the unimaginable had happened.

Jessica Carpenter had been raped and murdered in her own home, and the news shook the small-town of Aiken to its very core.

After the crime scene was secured by the police and they gathered every bit of possible evidence that they could from there, Jessica’s body was transferred to the Aiken County Coroner’s Office for examination.

And they determined that the teenager was strangled with a phone cord before her throat was slashed with a kitchen knife.

An autopsy then ruled her official cause of death to be internal bleeding and lack of oxygen.

“There’s an unbroken thread,” Jessica’s obituary poem read, “that is woven from love, and it keeps family always together for nothing is as real as the moments we shared.”

Who Killed Jessica Carpenter?

In the months that followed Jessica’s murder, investigators interviewed more than 300 people and gathered over 100 DNA samples to be submitted into the state database.

But unfortunately, not only were they unable to find a match, but they couldn’t even find a suspect at the time.

At one point, they considered serial killer Reinaldo Rivera as a possible perpetrator.

After all, he was known to operate in the South Carolina area and was arrested just months after Jessica’s murder. Plus, she even fit his victim profile. But Reinaldo was cleared once DNA evidence comparisons failed to yield a positive result.

It took two years, but investigators finally got a breakthrough in the case when Robert F. Atkins was arrested in Georgia for an unrelated crime, and his DNA, when fed into the national database, matched the one recovered from Jessica’s body.

They subsequently learned that Robert Atkins, an employee of Airborne Express at the time of the murder, had been scheduled to make a delivery near Jessica’s home on the day she died.

He had also delivered a package to the Carpenter household just days before, so he knew that there was a possibility of Jessica Carpenter being home at the time. He had it all planned.

According to Robert’s own admittance, on August 4, 2000, he arrived at the Carpenter house in his uniform, and when Jessica Carpenter opened the door, he managed to talk his way inside by asking if he could use the phone.

Once in, he overpowered Jessica, attacked her, took what he wanted, and left.

Robert later revealed the location of the murder weapon as well, which was a bloody knife wrapped in a T-shirt, buried under a pile of loose branches and logs in the nearby area.

In a successful attempt to avoid the death penalty, in May 2006, Robert ultimately pleaded guilty to his offenses, getting sentenced accordingly.

Where Is Robert Atkins Today?

Robert Atkins, after nearly four years of courtroom proceedings, in May of 2006, pleaded guilty in connection to Jessica Carpenter’s rape and murder case.

In exchange for this, the prosecution agreed to drop their quest for the death penalty.

The five charges that Robert admitted guilt to, along with their consequent sentences, are – Murder, life sentence; First-degree burglary, life sentence; First-degree criminal sexual conduct, 30 years; Kidnapping, 30 years; and Firearms provision, five years.

According to reports, after Robert heard his sentence and was allowed to make a statement, he apologized to his victim’s family.

Nevertheless, today, Robert Franklin Atkins, at the age of 49, is incarcerated at Perry Correctional Institution, a maximum-security facility located in Pelzer, South Carolina, serving out his two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

In other words, Robert will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars because of what he did to Jessica Carpenter.

We should also mention that Jessica’s father, Charlie Carpenter, sued American Express and one of its subcontractors in 2003, alleging neglect on their part by hiring a man without doing a proper background check.

The lawsuit against them claims that they endangered the lives of many by not following the proper employing protocol.

A spokesperson for the company at the time, though, revealed that they would not talk about the case.

Jessica Carpenter Death Anniversary

Twenty years have passed since the tragic murder of Jessica Lynne Carpenter, but her mother continues to make sure her story is known and that her memory lives on.

Judy Carpenter honored the anniversary of her daughter’s death by continuing a yearly tradition of placing a memorial in the Aiken Standard.

Jessica Carpenter

“I wanted some kind of thing for the community to remember her,” Carpenter said. “It was an event that no one in Aiken will ever forget. I think they look for this every year in the paper. It’s a nice remembrance for Jessica.”

Jessica was a fun-loving 17-year-old, her mother said.

She was the youngest of three sisters and attended Aiken High School, where she was a rising senior and played in the school band.

She enjoyed greeting people at her part-time job as a hostess at the local Red Lobster.

In her spare time, Jessica liked to go shopping, listen to music and attend concerts.

She had a deep love for her family and was often described as having a “bubbly” personality.

“She really wasn’t fearful of anyone,” Carpenter recalled. “She loved every one. She trusted everybody.”

However, that trust would be broken and Jessica’s life would be tragically cut short.

On the evening of Aug. 4, 2000, Judy arrived home from work to find her youngest daughter had been murdered in their Crosland Park home.

Internal bleeding and lack of oxygen caused the death, then-Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend said, according to Aiken Standard archives.

Officers with the Aiken Department of Public Safety soon flooded the area.

The Aiken Bloodhound Tracking Team was called into action in an effort to locate a suspect trail but had no success.

Businesses in Aiken posted flyers featuring Jessica’s photo, requesting any information about her death.

Her mother described the community’s efforts as uniting “like family.” It’s something she’ll always be grateful for and never forget.

“Not all communities would have reacted like that,” she said of Aiken’s efforts. “In larger communities, it would’ve just been another number in the day. They treated her with dignity and respect.”

Police would continue to investigate Jessica’s case for over two years, interviewing more than 300 people and submitting nearly 100 DNA samples to the State Law Enforcement Division’s DNA lab.

At one point in the investigation, investigators considered serial killer Reinaldo Rivera, who was arrested in October 2000 for raping and killing several women in the Aiken-Augusta area, as a potential suspect.

Jessica fit the physical description of Rivera’s victims and was living in the area during his crime spree.

However, after his arrest, Rivera’s DNA was cross-referenced with the DNA from the crime scene. It wasn’t a match and the investigation would continue.

Over the years, the Aiken community would continue to work to keep Jessica’s memory alive.

On Aug. 5, 2002, a Magnolia tree was planted at the Crosland Park recreational area.

“To have known her was to know an angel,” a plaque beside the tree reads.

A memorial scholarship was created in her name and is currently still listed as one of the University of South Carolina Aiken’s many endowed scholarships.

“Part of our hearts were taken with her,” her mother said. “We just learned to try to live on in the best possible way.”

A little more than two years after Jessica’s death, closure would finally come.

Robert Franklin Atkins, a Georgia prison inmate serving time for second-degree burglary, was identified by police as Jessica’s killer.

Upon arrest, Atkins’ DNA was placed into a national database that allowed investigators to match it to DNA samples collected at the Aiken crime scene.

Investigators determined Atkins had been working as a delivery driver for a company contracted to make deliveries for Airborne Express, which led him to be in contact with Jessica the day of her murder.

Atkins would later lead investigators to the murder weapon, a bloody knife wrapped in a T-shirt that had been buried under a pile of brush on U.S. Highway 1 near Crosland Park.

In 2006, he pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

Atkins, now 49, is currently being held in Lee County as of July, according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

Carpenter said she still has the front page that announced her daughter’s case had been solved.

“To see it on the front page like that was kind of hard,” she said. “We were happy knowing it was solved but sad because of the reality. It did bring closure and I’m glad I have that closure, because a lot of families do not. That’s helped me move on to where I’m at today.”

Since the case has closed, Jessica’s story has garnered much attention across the nation.

Investigations Discovery’s “Cold Blood” featured an episode on the Aiken murder case.

The documentary interviewed several local police officers, investigators, and members of the Carpenter family.

Carpenter recalled feeling anxious to watch the episodes, worrying it may bring back feelings of grief and depression caused by Jessica’s death.

However, she’s glad Jessica’s story is continuing to be told and hopes her daughter’s life will continue to be told to others.

Jessica’s older sisters have since moved away to other parts of South Carolina and have raised children of their own, Carpenter said.

Carpenter still lives and works in the Aiken area, and says the family still tells stories about the wonderful and bubbly woman their “Aunt Jessica” was.

Carpenter says she’ll always miss Jessica’s smile.

She and other members of the family still visit Jessica’s grave at Sunset Memory Gardens on holidays and on Jessica’s birthday.

Behind Carpenter’s place of work, a memorial garden was created and fitted with a stone statue of an angel looking down.

Although Judy doesn’t visit it as much as she used to, the area serves as a place to remember and honor Jessica’s life.

In Crosland Park, Jessica’s tree continues to grow and bloom.

Judy’s hope is Jessica’s story will never be forgotten. She plans to continue her tradition of placing a yearly memorial in the newspaper.

“I want her to be a legacy for the upcoming generation and generations ahead so they can know what can happen and what kind of predators are out there,” Carpenter said.

“She would be so happy to know that she’s helped somebody through her experience.”

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