Jenna Lord Homicide Victim

The following features a missing person case that was updated to a homicide investigation last week.

Case Summary

Jenna Lord, a 23-year-old mother who lived near Philadelphia, was last seen alive by her relatives at a July 4th family barbecue.  On the morning of July 5,  she called her family from a train station in Camden, New Jersey to say she was on her way home. 

She didn't arrive and was reported missing soon thereafter.  Investigators found video footage to verify that Lord had been at the Camden train station on 7/5.

For the next two weeks, Lord's mother, Desiree Caruso, and other relatives spent time daily walking through Camden, distributing flyers, and talking to people about the missing woman.

On July 18, over 50 volunteers along with a police escort conducted a ground search in Camden.  Sadly, Jenna's decomposing body was found by one of the searchers (her uncle) in a vacant lot behind some bushes.


I had a few observations on this case:

1) The Victim's Family Was Outspoken and Proactive

Unhappy with the progress of the investigation, the family searched for the missing woman on their own.  The victim's mother and other relatives made multiple trips to Camden, and the large search conducted on 7/18 was coordinated by family members via a Facebook group.

2) The Victim's Background

The victim had reportedly been arrested several times and supposedly had substance abuse issues. When a person with those characteristics go missing, it adds more complexity to the investigation--as in the individual's disappearance is more likely to be viewed as he/she chose to vanish and/or is hiding intentionally (as compared to a missing person with a clean record).

3) Jurisdiction Confusion Caused Delays

There was confusion over who should conduct the investigation which resulted in delays:
Collingdale (PA) Police Chief Robert Adams said that the police search for Lord had been delayed by a question of jurisdiction. In Pennsylvania, he said, police in the town where the person goes missing lead the search. But in New Jersey, the search is headed by police where the missing person lives, Adams said.
An article from 7/13 shows more of the confusion in who is the lead investigating agency:
...It's still unclear which police department is in charge of the investigation. Caruso reported Lord missing to the Collingdale police, but Adams said the investigation should be conducted by a department in New Jersey.

"She's in the [system] as a missing person, there's no argument there," he said. "She was last seen in [New Jersey]."

Caruso said she was dealing with the Camden police but a spokeswoman said the case was being handled by Collingswood. Collingswood authorities said they checked out the apartment Lord visited but that's all.

"We're not really handling it," said Collingswood Police Chief Richard Sarlo.
A week into the case and three agencies are involved and following leads, but no one is spearheading the investigation? 

4) Less than One-Third of a Mile

Running the relevant addresses on MapQuest (Where she was last seen: Walter Rand Transportation Center and where her body was recovered: Division and S. Fifth), Jenna Lord's body was found by family members four blocks or about 1,700 feet from where she was last seen.


According to this article, representatives from the three police agencies involved met on July 15 to discuss the jurisdiction problems--assuming Lord was reported missing on July 6 or 7, that would mean 8-9 days elapsed with no one in charge of the case.

Recently, I was critical of NYC authorities about jurisdiction issues--and that was over a non-violent theft report. 

I can't imagine the Lord family's frustration with the lack of visible leadership in this now-turned homicide case.

I hope that having the family members of a missing person scouring the high-crime neighborhoods of Camden on their own initiative only to find their loved one's deceased body 1,700 feet from where she was last seen, is enough to convince Pennsylvania and New Jersey authorities to meet and quickly decide how to better handle the jurisdiction questions presented by this type of case in the future.

I am not necessarily criticizing police for not conducting a ground search near the train station, but do believe that citizen moms, dads, spouses, and other relatives of missing persons deserve more than the run-around, confusion, and avoidable delays after reporting a woman missing--a case that morphed into a violent crime.

The photo was used from here.


Luisa Doraz said...

I totally agree. I wish that someone would have taken on the responsibility much sooner. I felt for that family. I would be soooo aggravated with things, but..I would do everything to find my child. WOW. Have a safe week. :)

Angela Ackerman said...

Stuff like this just breaks my heart.

sheri said...

makes me wonder how things like this slip through the cracks? you did a fine job with your presentation, slam, and i appreciate your graceful ways of looking at the officials who should have been on this so much faster. what a terrible shame...and for her own family to find her :(

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
Perhaps I am wrong about this, but if I was the investigator, I would think that her "Phone-Home Check" would be an indication that drugs were not an issue.

At any rate, it is a heartbreaking story. The lack of coordination between jurisdictions is very bad. But also this family was strong.

My sympathies to the family, and my admiration too. If they ever read this, I want them to know that I think they did right by their daughter. They found her and they tried to save her.

I hope they get some comfort from each other by remembering the love, respect, and urgency they gave her in the search.

Ann T.

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

That's just ridiculous. Don't they say if you don't find a missing person within 24 hours, you usually don't find them alive? So then why did they wait to "discuss" who was going to search 8-9 days later? Thank goodness she had a good, loving family willing to take charge of things.

Creepy Query Girl said...

that is so sad and yes, frusterating! If my child/sister/neice was missing and I had even the smallest incling that the police weren't doing everything they could, I would do as that family did. It's just a shame that they couldn't find her sooner.

Helen Ginger said...

1,700 feet away. That's mind-boggling.

J. J. in Phila said...

In Philadelphia itself, unless there is strong reason to believe the disappearance was involuntary, it is nearly impossible to file a report within the first 48 hours after a person is discovered to be missing.

The jurisdictional problems here were much more pronounced because the case crossed state lines.

Nathalie said...

This is a really sad story. I really don't want to imagine the uncle's nightmares after having found the body. As if a situation like this is not already hard enough for the family, but delays like this are really further torture.
I am always intrigued how you investigate into such stories. Really interesting and moving

Lydia Kang said...

Wow. When the family got involved it made all the difference. That's so sad.

Bob G. said...

Being formerly from Philly, I spent my fair share of time across the river in Camden...and it was a cesspool of crime back THEN.

I would NEVER want to be alone at ANY train station in that city.

Someone needed to ante up in the investigative aspect a lot sooner!

Mytake is that investigations need to begin where the person WAS LAST SEEN.
Bring in the hometown agencies as an adjunct for background, priors, etc.

Sad story indeed.

thoughtsappear said...

I hate hearing about jurisdiction issues. I guess I understand but...Someone do something!

Momma Fargo said...

Very eye opening and truthful post of a sad story.

T. Anne said...

So sad and frustrating!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

The worse part is a family member ended up finding the remains. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

BobKat said...


Beautiful woman, very sad...

You handled the "jurisdictional issues" very well... how common is that problem?

RE: "Substance abuse"... you forgot the "they probably owed a drug debt and couldn't pay up". the way you described her past history and how it (may have) affected the investigation was very good. Many of us have a skeleton or more in our closet - past or present. Remember Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlett Letter"? Adultery?

Such prejudice in a case, like this could have been, or Brianna Maitland's disappearance was, trouble me. I can understand taking objective accounts of evidence or learning who the victim was, but prejudice?

13 days to find her!? - to find her so close to where she was last was known to be... that's unacceptable! I have other thoughts, but let's just say I don't feel public safety priorities are pointed in the appropriate direction.

Diana said...

This has to be one of the most heart-breaking things I have ever read. That poor family! Lord love 'em, they are probably so grief-stricken... and angry, which I wouldn't blame them one bit about. Thoughts and prayers to the family.

Kristin said...

I would scour the streets until I couldn't walk anymore if my child was missing!

Angelia Sims said...

Very sad case. My heart goes out to the family. I hope it will lead to better boundaries and quicker actions, and mostly I hope they can give them peace and find out what happened..

beth said...

Oh that is such a tragic story...and her uncle found the body...

jodeeluna said...

I hate these kinds of cases. Having a twenty-three year old daughter myself, I cannot imagine having this happen. Then pour salt into the wound with poor law enforcement. This is unjust and cruel. Thank you for shedding light on this case. This young woman deserves the respect you gave to her through your post.

Miss Caitlin S. said...

Oh this case made me so sad- she's so young, so beautiful and has a baby :( Ugh, I feel like her sketchy past caught up to her or something, I don't know- so sad. I did think it was neat how her family took the initiative to find her themselves though I imagine how horrible that was for said person.

souldose said...

This story is heart breaking and powerful, it also shows how bad these systems are... May she RIP.... I followed a link from Doraz

Entre Nous said...

I have problems with cases like these. You are far to correct concerning how the missing with a 'jaded past' are treated/searched for, as opposed to endangered for any other reason.

My serious ongoing concern still, five years past my retirement day, is that there is no longer a case of 'routine patrol, anywhere that I have seen, even in the small town to which I moved. The old guard began to filter off into retirement taking with them their knowledge, experience, and wise judgemnt.

What we had left was a bunch of new kids coming in with degrees (we all got ours while working). They were (new ones still are) badge heavy and wanting to make the drug bust of the century. I admit there are drug problems, but its the 'trickle up' effect. No more routine patrol means cops dont know what goes on in their sector every day, therefore can't tell what is out of place, hence more B & E's, while they are out trolling for dealers and prostitutes.

The fact that a routine patrol more than likely would have unearthed an unusual circumstance leading to clues and a quicker discovery of the body is just plain evident.

We need to stop paying teachers here and get rid of No Child Left Behind ba-zillion dollar budgets and start with the 'we have more people, we need MORE COPS' attitude.

I believe every union should include with the minimum manpower clause, the specified minimum number of officers per number of the population in the coverage area.

Cruise ships do it, and I must add their employees are not risking their lives fighting a war on the street every day just to keep us safe.

OK, I'm getting off my soap box now.... *sigh*


BobKat said...

Entre Nous, I hardily agree with 90% of what you commented! Well said... My take... the "war" you speak of that law enforcement is "fighting" is wrong... we DO have criminal behavior in our country... criminal in that people get hurt, ripped off, killed, abducted often. Ours should be the most sophisticated, impeccable and just society the world has ever seen, but instead, it seems, politics, and misguided self interests dominate. Police should not be fighting a war in this country... and person's like Jenna Lord and Brianna Maitland should not be ignored because they were known to either use or abuse "drugs".

Do you realize Mel Gibson's DWI crimes have already been erased... "expunged", is the term I read the other day.

I was busted with a pot-pipe in 1986... think if I went missing anyone would care? Not likely. Think if Mel Gibson went missing people would care - damn right they would! Don't get me wrong - I think Mel Gibson is one of the greatest, actors, ever... but if he got busted with pot... both him and Michael Phelps would be forgotten... Michael Phelps... you remember him, don't you? Gold Olympic medals???

All right, I'll step down from the soap box now.

Holly said...

It is kind of like all government type agencies - there is so much confusion and discussion about it all that the real purpose gets lost.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the comments all.

@ JJ: Good point. I did not address if the policies of the agencies involved impacted when the woman was reported missing.

Many states and agencies have gotten away from the 24/48 hour rule for missing persons. The liability is just too high not to evaluate each case on its merits.

Just in reviewing a few jurisdictions--In Cali, there is no mandated wait period and agencies are required to take reports on missing persons as they are made aware of them.

While in Minneapolis, they emphasize vulnerable adult or someone who may harm themselves as adults that can be reported missing--they also do not have a wait period, but (in my opinion) try to discourage reports so that their system is not overwhelmed.

@ Bob G: I figured you'd have some insight on that area.

@ BobKat: Thanks for your comments. A person's past is a difficult factor in evaluating the individual who disappeared.

@ Entre Nous: Thanks for sharing your exerience. You make some points that may relate to a post that I am working on.