Jessica Knott was a 9-year-old girl who was murdered by her neighbor, James Edward Crow Jr., after he lured her into his vehicle while she was waiting for her father outside her home in Altamonte Springs, Florida.
On the afternoon of April 5, 1996, Peggy Knott was inside her home at the Los Altos luxury apartments, packing and getting the family ready to spend Easter weekend at her husband Kevin Knott’s parents’ house.
Meanwhile, Kevin was at the store, shopping for Easter goodies, when Jessica, a fourth-grade student at Spring Lake Elementary School, decided to wait for him outside.
Several hours later, Kevin returned home and asked his wife if she had seen Jessica.
Peggy said, “Didn’t you see her? She said she was right out front.”
He said no. That’s when Peggy and Kevin Knott searched the apartment complex and asked residents if they had seen their daughter.
One neighbor said they saw her hours earlier reading a book outside.
When the couple was unable to find their daughter, they contacted the Altamonte Springs Police Department and reported Jessica Knott missing, prompting law enforcement officers to conduct a perimeter search of the area.
Several hours after Jessica Knott’s disappearance, police received an anonymous 911 call from a man using a payphone at a gas station on Montgomery Road, which is where he told them they could find Jessica.
The caller said Jessica was left near a water system pump house, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
When officers arrived at the scene, the caller was gone, and they found Jessica dead. Her body was discovered under a tree in a dark, secluded area of the water system pump house, which is a quarter-mile from where the anonymous call was made.
Jessica was partially covered with a black garbage bag, and there were miscellaneous objects on top of her body as well as underneath it.
Her clothes were still intact, but she was missing a white shoe.
Several magazines and a mirror were found nearby, as well as a tire impression and drag marks that “corresponded with Jessica’s left shoulder,” experts said.
It led them to believe that Jessica had been murdered somewhere else before the killer placed her body near the city’s pump house.
Her body was removed from the scene and taken to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy, which confirmed that Jessica was murdered, as her cause of death was strangulation.
The medical examiner found bruising on her neck and on the inside of her mouth, indicating that someone had placed their hand over her mouth and throat, blocking her airway.
The autopsy also revealed that she consumed a hamburger moments before she met her demise, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
During an examination of Jessica’s clothing, forensic experts found the human hair of a Caucasian male on her shorts as well as hair from a Shar-Pei dog and carpet fibers from an automobile.
In an attempt to find out who killed Jessica Knott, police focused on the male voice behind the 911 call, which contained too much static and noise to identify the caller.
Police officials then sent the audiotape to NASA to have the background noise removed.
Scientists utilized the same audio techniques they used to clean up audio transmissions from space. Once completed, they sent the tape to a forensic audio analyst, Dr. Harry Hollien.
Hollien told investigators that he could only identify the call if he had a voice to compare it to.
Later, when detectives played the tape to Jessica’s mother, she said when she heard it, “my first reaction was, this voice is very familiar to me. And I think I had to listen to it a few times before I realized that’s it; it’s the guy with the dog.”
The guy with the dog was later identified as James Edward Crow Jr., who was Jessica Knott’s neighbor.
At that time, Crow was an out-of-work truck driver who lived with his wife, a nurse. Since he didn’t work, he would often take his dog, Pumpkin, for a walk, which is when he would talk to the children at the playground.
When investigators questioned Crow, he admitted to talking to Jessica before she went missing, but he said he had nothing to do with her death or her disappearance.
On the night of April 8, 1996, detectives searched his vehicle, a Chevy Blazer, and found a bag for a kids’ meal in the front seat—it came from a fast-food restaurant nearby.
Detectives also discovered that Crow had replaced his tires sometime after Jessica Knott’s death.
Inside his apartment, they found a box of black garbage bags—the same size and brand that was found alongside Jessica’s body.
Forensic scientists were able to determine that the carpet fibers found on Jessica were consistent with the fibers found in Crow’s apartment and in his vehicle.
Now that investigators had a sample of Crow’s voice, Dr. Harry Holene was able to compare it to the voice in the anonymous 911 call. He stated that he was 90 percent sure it was the same voice.
On April 13, 1996, James Crow was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping.
As he was being escorted into the Seminole County Jail, where he was held without bail, he asked an investigator with the State Attorney’s Office if he had “ever transported anyone that murdered a 9-year-old girl before,” the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Forensic evidence led investigators to the conjecture that on the afternoon of April 5, 1996, Crow approached Jessica as she waited outside her apartment for her father.
He used his dog to spark up a conversation with her before he lured her into his vehicle with the promise of a hamburger happy meal.
Crow then took her to his apartment.
Investigators believe that Crow had every intention of molesting her, but when he tried to follow through with his plan, Jessica started to scream.
To silence her, he placed his hand over her throat and mouth with such force that her teeth left marks on her lips.
When she stopped breathing, he placed Jessica’s body inside a trash bag before he drove to Montgomery Road, where he left her remains near the water system pump house.
Crow then used the public telephone nearby to call 911 and inform the dispatcher of where her body could be found.
Investigators said he more than likely called out of guilt because he sounded sympathetic while speaking on the phone.
In June 1998, James Edward Crow Jr. avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to the second-degree murder of Jessica Knott in exchange for 40 years in prison without the possibility of parole.