The Girl in the Refrigerator: What happened to Kenneka Jenkins?

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Nine months ago, the body of a teenage girl was found frozen to death in a walk-in freezer at a Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois. Her name was Kenneka Jenkins, and on Sept. 10, 2017, this 19-year-old strolled into the hotel to attend a party with friends. Within hours, she would vanish but show up on surveillance. However, by 12:48 a.m. Sunday morning, she would be pronounced dead. Was it an accident or murder?

Nine Months Later

“I Believe Someone Killed My Child,” says Tereasa Martin, the mother of Jenkins. Martin’s last memory was when her daughter left her house in the 2100 block of West Warren Boulevard around 11:30 p.m. However, at around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, Martin received the horrifying call that her child was missing.

Now, nine months later, the family knows no more now, than they did before. What they do know is that after the discovery of her body, the police had their theory. According to Martin, they disclosed to her that her little girl was likely so inebriated that she wandered into the walk-in freezer. However, Martin refused to accept her daughter’s death as accidental, and it appears she did not have to.

It was not long after this, that the police came up with a new theory: Jenkins did not walk into that freezer on her own. She had to have help, and if so, who helped her?

Days after the incident, social media went wild with conspiracy theories concerning Jenkins death. Her friends, Monifah Shelton and Irene Roberts started making a post. Their goal was to put together the pieces of this mystery and try to find out exactly what happened at the hotel. They did not have to wait long as video after video of footage from the hotel was released on Facebook and YouTube. The footage tracked Jenkins’ last moments at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

However, those theories were shot down. “Even though there were many theories, rumors and much speculation floating around social media regarding the death of Ms. Jenkins, none were supported by facts. While all leads and theories were investigated by our department, what we have reported throughout the investigation and again, today, are facts,” stated Police Chief Donald Stephens III.

Still, the most disturbing video was released on Sept. 15. The surveillance video shows her walking the halls of the hotel in a bewildered manner before they found her lifeless body. It was this haunting footage that caused friends and family of Jenkins to rush to the Federal Bureau of Investigation offices in Chicago to petition an investigation into her demise.

Cold case, or is it?

After an 11-hour search that led to finding Jenkins’ body in the freezer, 12 interviews, eight of which were at the hotel that Friday night, the case suddenly dissolved. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office determined that Jenkins’ death was an accident. Her autopsy results —death by hypothermia from exposure to cold.

According to the results, there were mucosal erosions found on her body. These form from hypothermia. The report further explained that she had abrasions on her right ankle. There was also a purple contusion on her right leg. However, the reports do not state any other signs of external or internal trauma. Her brain was swollen, but according to the examiner, that is not telling of a specific cause of death.

There were inconclusive toxicology tests done. No “date rape drugs” were found in her system. However, the testing did find alcohol, caffeine and an epilepsy/migraine medication topiramate in her system. Jenkins family alleged she had not been prescribed the drug. So, how did it get there?

Examiners reported that the level was within the therapeutic scale. According to the autopsy, her blood alcohol level was 0.112. This is higher than the legal limit of 0.08 for driving legally. The toxicologist mentioned that the alcohol and the drug could boost each other. To some, this might have explained Jenkins’ odd behavior on the surveillance video.

For others, it still does not explain how she was found dead in a freezer. However, it seemed to be enough for the police. A week later, the Rosemont Police Department, on Oct. 20, closed the case of Jenkins’ death. However, photographs of her body, when she was found, were made public.

Accident or Foul Play?

The court filings show that Jenkins’ family led a private investigation and found no indication of injury from a sexual assault or physical attack. However, nine months after the closure of the case, there are still unanswered questions.

As affirmed by Rosemont police statements, she was found on her side. Jenkin’s face was down, with her left arm underneath her. The right shoe was oddly off her foot. Plus, there was a small cut on her foot.

The pictures show that Jenkins was still wearing her jeans and jean jacket. All of which was shown in surveillance videos of her strolling through the hotel before she died. There was a disturbing photo showing the shirt under her jacket “was pulled up revealing her breasts.”

This picture, to others, is still just as haunting now as it was nine months ago. Martin’s attorney, Larry Rogers Jr., made the point that the photos raise more questions about what happened to Jenkins then they answer.

Still, detectives stick to the story that there were no signs of foul play. The Police Chief Donald Stephens III said, “There is no evidence that Ms. Jenkins was forced to drink alcohol or consume any narcotics while at the hotel.”

While almost a year into the death of Jenkins, some are still not satisfied with the accidental death report. As time moves on, it remains a mystery as to what happened to the girl in the freezer.

By Jomo Merritt
Edited by Jeanette Smith


Chicago Tribune: Medical examiner: Kenneka Jenkins died from exposure, and her death was an accident
WGN 9: New details released as police close Kenneka Jenkins death investigation
Daily Herald: Rosemont mayor defends Kenneka Jenkins death investigation

Featured and Top Image by Diego Delso Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – Creative Commons License