Last week, Tawana, the mother of Jabez Spann, received the closure she’d been chasing since September 4, 2017. That Labor Day weekend was the last time she saw her son alive. The Sarasota teen went missing from his own front yard after having attended a candlelight vigil being held two blocks from his home. After a torturous 18 months without answers, she finally received the news she dreaded. Two men were checking a fence in a pasture in Manatee County when they made a grisly discovery: A human skull. They called 911. The remains of Jabez Spann identified from dental records. Sarasota Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson said in a press conference, “Today, I am sad to report that we were not able to recover Mr. Spann living and return him to his family.”
To tell the full story of Jabez’s disappearance, you have to go all the way back to August, 2017, and the death of another man in Jabez’s life. In late August of 2017, Travis Combs, 31, was fatally shot and killed, with law enforcement investigating his death as a homicide. When the news broke about Jabez’s disappearance, one of the dominating bylines denoted him as a witness to a murder, having been named in a probable cause affidavit for a suspect. Reginald Parker, 55, claimed to have witnessed the shooting of Travis Combs, and allegedly told several individuals that he had witnessed it in November of 2017. These individuals were interviewed by police, corroborating what Parker had told them. Prior to Parker’s arrest on 2017, Jabez’s presence at the crime scene was merely a neighborhood rumor. The publishing of the arrest probable cause affidavit confirmed his presence at the crime scene that night.
Combs’ case eventually became overshadowed by the
disappearance of Jabez Spann in media coverage, as he went missing less than a
week later. The facts of the case as we know it read more like an edgy police
procedural—a teenage boy, having already allegedly witnessed a violent crime,
disappears without a trace, and police find themselves stymied. He disappeared
less than 200 yards away from where Combs’ body was discovered. After Jabez’s
remains were found, Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson claimed that “hundreds
upon hundreds” of hours have been logged in this investigation, citing that Jabez’s
family has been a valuable asset to investigators. He also noted in a
press conference that this case is personal for law enforcement, like many
cases involving teens or young children, “Many of our detectives…have children
of their own. I’m a father, as the sheriff. I can’t imagine having that
information broken to me about my son. There’s been highs and lows in this
investigation where there’ve been sightings and tips and things we’ve followed
up on. And every time it’s a peak and a valley, [the family] stood with us, and
our investigation team, every step of the way.” At that same press conference, police noted
that they did not believe Jabez left Sarasota of his own volition.
The two men who called 911 told the dispatcher they did not see signs of a weapon at the site—just the skull and “some bones.” It was the break that came after 18 months of following over 100 tips reported to law enforcement that proved to be dead ends. Members of the community have found the news of the discovery bittersweet, like activist Wayne Washington, “You can’t just hurt a child in our community and think that you can live life and everything is going to be sweet. The emotions are very high because I wish that he was alive, but by the family finally finding him they can get the closure they need as a family.” Over the course of the investigation, the reward sum for any information leading to the whereabouts of Jabez Spann had grown to $50,000. Police have yet to say if or how the funds will be disbursed.
Despite the heartbreaking news in her son’s case, his mother
remains steadfast in looking towards the future. Since the time her son
disappeared, she believed he witnessed a brutal murder, and the person
responsible had a hand in making him disappear. She now wants to see that
person answer for their actions, “We’re going to move forward in the hopes that
they can find whoever did this. Those last moments that you caused him, that
you did to him when he was helpless and couldn’t call on anybody…that’s what I
want to see justice for. We got some closure. We’re going to put him in peace
and lay him to rest. We’re not done.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans choose to run in order to stay active and healthy. However, for many women this average, daily routine can be deadly. Over the past few weeks, several women have disappeared while on a run and have been found dead hours later. These incidents remind us that we can be vulnerable even while doing the simplest of activities.
Karina Vetrano. August 2, 2016.
Karina left her house for her usual jog at about 5:30pm on August 2nd. Vetrano was jogging in a popular running destination in Queens, New York, known as Spring Creek Park when she was attacked, assaulted and strangled. A fewhours later, her father and local authorities discovered her body, but they have not been able to find her killer. Vetrano’s running routine was fairly well known in the area, according to several reports. She would often run with her father, but due to a back injury Mr. Vetrano could not accompany Karina on August 2nd.
Vanessa Marcotte. August 7, 2016.
Vanessa was last seen in the early afternoon on August 7th when she left for a run. Marcotte was visiting her mother for the weekend in Princeton, Massachusetts when she was attacked and killed. According to the Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Marcotte most likely fought back leaving her attacker with cuts and bruises. The police canine unit found Marcotte’s body late Sunday evening, only about half of a mile away from where she was staying.
Potential Serial Killer: Similar Modus Operand
Both of the homicide cases share commonalities in the attacker or attackers modus operandi or mode of operation (MO). Both of the victims were young, Karina was 30 years old and Vanessa was 27; both also shared physical feature like brown hair and light brown/hazel eyes. The women were both attacked while jogging, and both of their bodies were found the same day as the attack suggesting the attacker wanted to work quickly and did not spend time hiding the body. One major difference between the two cases is that Karina was known to have jogged the same area fairly regularly and it is possible she was targeted, whereas Vanessa was only in town visiting for the weekend suggesting she was just at the wrong place and the wrong time. According to CNN, once the DNA from Vanessa’s body is back from analysis, the police will be able to determine whether or not the same person committed the two murders.
Following the consecutive murders of Karina Vetrano and Vanessa Marcotte, many runners are wondering what techniques they can use to stay safe. Some basic safety tips include: running with others, running without headphones, change up your route, run against oncoming traffic, take self defense classes and carry mace (when legally allowed to do so).
Running with others makes you less vulnerable to attackers. If there are multiple people capable of fighting back, an attacker will most likely go for someone more defenseless.
Running with headphones distracts you. You can’t hear someone come up behind you or start following you. Staying aware of your surroundings is necessary when out for a run.
Making changes to your routine can help you from being attacked by someone who knows your route. If you never stick to the same route, an attacker will have to improvise or find someone else making your chances of survival greater.
Running against traffic helps you stay aware of cars driving by. It is more difficult for an attacker to drive up to you and grab you when you can see them slowing down or opening their door.
Self-defense classes will help you stay calm and alert in order to resist an attacker. Knowing how to fight back is vital because in many cases an attacker will give up if you are not easy prey.
Carry mace to blind and disorient your attacker.
Remember to trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable or nervous, no matter how crazy you may think you are, trust those feelings because they could save your life. Your subconscious and nervous system trigger those survival instincts for a reason, and you should listen and act accordingly.
If you have any information regarding Karina Vetrano’s murder call: NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782)
If you have any information regarding Vanessa Marcotte’s murder call: (508) 453-7589