Strangers fund park bench to commemorate teen who was brutally raped, dismembered 20 years ago
16-year-old Jennifer Long climbed into a white Ford pickup truck on January 22, 1998 and vanished without a trace
On January 22, 1998, 16-year-old Jennifer Long climbed into a white Ford pickup truck and vanished without a trace. The teen was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in the most gruesome way possible. Her body had been dismembered using an electric chainsaw and the parts were burned in a fireplace. The remains of her corpse were never found. Now, twenty years later, strangers have come together and raised thousands of dollars to commemorate the teen and make sure that no one forgets her name.
The story begins with Long cutting classes after she got into a fight with some of her fellow students at East High School in Kansas City. Long was spotted by the now 66-year-old Wesley Ira Purkey who pulled up next to the teen and asked her if she "wanted to party". Long had a troubled life and drugs and alcohol featured prominently in her life at that point. She used to shuttle between her parent's houses and had just recently transferred to a new school where she admitted to not feeling safe.
Long agreed to Purkey's offer and got into his pickup truck, not realizing that it would be the last time she ever got to see anyone else. There was, obviously, no party at his place. According to the Kansas City Star, Purkey took Long to his basement and proceeded to rape and stab her repeatedly as she was trying to escape. After she died, he took an electric chainsaw and cut up her body into pieces. Purkey then burned the remains in his fireplace and tossed anything that was left into a septic pond that was 200 miles away from his home.
Her mother knew that something was wrong when she did not go home even till late that day. Long and her stepfather were planning to go get her driver's license after school that day. Glenda Lamont, Long's mother, immediately started calling her family members and her daughter's friends to find out where the teen was.
She finally went to the police after that and reported her as missing. Investigators, however, did not think too much of it because she had run away before and they were convinced that she would come back home. Long's step-sister, Holly Paige, said: "We put posters everywhere. It was like nobody cared."
Purkey finally confessed to the crime three years later and her family got some kind of closure. He was already jailed for life after being convicted in the 2000 murder of 80-year-old Mary Bales. The murderer had made many enemies while in the Kansas state prison so he thought that admitting to a federal crime might get him transferred to a federal prison. Unfortunately for Purkey, the plan backfired majorly. Prosecutors appealed for the death penalty and the man immediately recanted his confession but it was too late. A judge sentenced him to death in 2004 and he is currently on death row.
Long never had a funeral or memorial in her name because her family just couldn't afford the expenses. Her stepmother, Marilyn Richards, said: "There was nothing. It was like she was here one day and gone the next. It was horrible."
A close friend of the deceased teen, Michelle McDaniel, wanted to do something for her by sharing her story with a couple in Canada who runs a crime podcast. She told the paper: "I just wanted to get Jen's story out. Her life was tragic. She never really had any stability. She wasn't here on this earth long enough to make an impact."
Tyler and Bek Allen's podcast gets 500,000 downloads a month. Bek said that the two of them decided to dedicate an episode to Long after they heard about how she had been forgotten. She said: "The school didn't even really do any kind of memorial for her. There was no follow-up on why she had left school that day. I just thought this is maybe going to be her one opportunity to get her memory alive again."
The episode moved listeners and all of a sudden, a YouCaring campaign was started in her name to raise enough money for a memorial. The campaign has raised $4,214 of the original $5,000 goal. An auction of merchandise from various other podcasts has also raised another $1,000 to add to the existing fund. $2,500 of these donations will go into making a commemorative park bench for the teen that Long's family and friends will be able to visit. Bek told the paper that the rest of the money will be used to help the family buy groceries and other essentials.
Lamont has chosen a beautiful spot in a park in Independence, Kansas, for the bench. The site was visited recently by McDaniel, Richard and another close friend of Long's, Kimberly Terrones. The three women had all been deeply affected by the teen's death and had spent many years wondering what happened to their best friend.
Terrones said: "The not knowing was the worst. The wondering. Why haven't we been able to find anything, any trace, nothing? I still hear her voice. Twenty years, I can't talk about it without crying."
The three women visited the spot where Long's bench will be put up soon and they were spotted leaving behind sunflowers, which was Long's favorite flower, and released blue balloons into the sky in her memory. Richards said that now that they have a place to remember their friend, it has finally given the three of them a chance to say goodbye to her which they never had before. She said: "I think it gives us acceptance and closure and a place where she's memorialized and her life meant something."