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Career Florida criminal accused in cold case kidnapping, murder of 12-year-old girl decades later

Jeffrey Norman Crum, 61, is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering 12-year-old Jennifer Odom, who vanished after getting off a school bus in 1993.

A serial Florida criminal has been arrested and charged in connection with the murder of a 12-year-old girl who disappeared three decades ago.

Jeffrey Norman Crum, 61, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2019 for kidnapping and "brutally" attacking a 17-year-old girl in 1992, is now accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering 12-year-old Jennifer Odom in February 1993.

"This is every parent's nightmare. This is the thing that keeps parents up at night worried about their children," state attorney William Gladson said during a Thursday press conference.

Jennifer got off a school bus that February afternoon 30 years ago and vanished. Other children on the bus saw a blue truck in the area that has remained the focus of an investigation into her disappearance and death. 

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"Six days later, on February 25, the unthinkable happened. Jennifer's body was found here in Hernando County," Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said during a Thursday press conference. Investigators found her body in a field after she was "brutally" attacked and murdered, the sheriff said.

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"Thousands" of leads submitted to law enforcement over the last three decades were "thoroughly investigated," he said. 

Crum became a suspect only after Pasco County investigators tied him to the 17-year-old victim's kidnapping. In 2015, detectives were able to connect DNA found at the crime scene to Crum's son using a "relatively new" research method.

The teenage victim, like Jennifer, was abducted after getting off a school bus before the suspect "horribly attacked and sexually assaulted" her, Nienhuis said. 

"Brutally is an understatement," he continued. "She actually had injuries to her head and skull that were very significant, and she was left for dead. Fortunately, the victim survived, but her life was forever changed, even to this day."

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Crum is serving two life sentences for sexual battery and attempted murder in that case. 

The suspect is a career criminal with charges of armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault, carrying a concealed weapon, domestic battery, probation violation and forced sexual battery against a minor victim dating back to 1981.

After being named as a suspect in the 1992 attack against the 17-year-old, Crum, who owned a blue truck, became the prime suspect in Jennifer's murder.

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"He became a person of interest immediately because of the . . . similarities in the case," Hernando County Detective George Loydgren, the lead detective on Jennifer's case, said Thursday.

Loydgren said that Jennifer's family felt "shock," "happiness" and "joy" all at once upon hearing the news of Crum's arrest in the case.

Sheriff Nienhuis said that investigators "would not be surprised if there are additional victims out there," adding that based on the contents of anonymous tips, "there are individuals out there who have more information about Jennifer Odom's murder."

"This is not only a nightmare for any parent . . . this is a parent's nightmare. This is a community nightmare. This is law enforcement's worst nightmare — the abduction of a child," Loydgren said.

Authorities are asking anyone with information about Crum or Jennifer's case to contact Loydgren at (352) 754-6830 or email unsolved@hernandosheriff.org. Anonymous tipsters can send information to: www.HernandoCountyCrimeStoppers.com or call 1-866-990-8477.

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