Horror in the Graveyard: The Murder of Jessica Keen

The killing of this spirited young cheerleader could have come straight from a teen slasher movie.

Verity Partington
5 min readJun 19, 2021


Jessica Keen, who was murdered in 1991
Murder victim Jessica Keen (Image: Bonnie’s Blog of Crime)

Jessica Lyn Keen from the city of Columbus in Ohio was a 15-year-old honour student in the spring of 1991. A cheerleader at her local high school, she loved animals and had high hopes of becoming a zoologist.

But as she waited for a bus one day, she fell prey to a cruel and sadistic predator. Her violent murder would remain unsolved for almost two decades — until a chance DNA hit by determined detectives finally put her killer away for good.

Expressing her rebellious side

It was March 1991, and Jessica Keen and her mother Rebecca Smitley were clashing over the teenager’s love life. Jessica had become smitten with an 18-year-old named Shawn and — like most protective parents — Rebecca thought he was too old for her.

Not only that, but the budding relationship was taking its toll on Jessica’s academic life. Her grades were slipping and she even quit the cheer squad in a bid to spend more time with the object of her affection.

Fearing their daughter’s declining grade average would prevent her from going to college, her parents made a serious decision: they sought help from a free counselling centre for teenagers. Jessica was to attend the Huckleberry House residence facility for two weeks, during which time she would attend therapy sessions in a bid to get her back on the straight and narrow.

Jessica duly did so, and her live-in stay was almost up on March 15th 1991 when things started to go badly wrong. The day before Jessica was due to return home, she called Shawn on the phone and perhaps did not get the reception she had hoped for.

Instead, Special Agent Gregg Costas of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation told Unsolved Mysteries, the couple got into a bitter row.

“Jessica and Shawn ended up getting into an argument that day on the telephone, at which point they broke up. Numerous people witnessed this telephone call and said that Jessica was very visibly upset,” he commented.



Verity Partington

A writer and author of crime thrillers living in the UK. Partial to books, stationery, papercrafts and walking. You can find her books on Amazon here: https://a