Jenna Van Gelderen was a 25 year old woman who disappeared from Atlanta, GA in August 2017 and she remains missing to this day.
At the time of her disappearance, Jenna was housesitting for her parents while they were on vacation in Canada.
The Vanished Podcast did a great episode on Jenna and some of the details of her disappearance come from there. You can check it out here.
Jenna was the only daughter in the family – she has a brother Will, and her parents are Leon Van Gelderen and Roseanne Glick. As well as minding the house, Jenna was also caring for the family’s elderly (21 year old) cat, Jessie.
One thing to note about Jenna is that she was on the autism spectrum – she was high functioning and her father has said in an interview that Jenna is “very gullible, susceptible, enticed very easily and she doesn’t perceive danger the same way the rest of us do.” She was only diagnosed with autism in 2016
Jenna originally attended Georgia Gwinnett College, but dropped out after three years and transferred to Gwinnett Technical College, where she earned a certificate in office administration in 2016. She has been described in the media as a ‘regimented person’.
Online comments say that Jenna’s parents spoke to her many times per day to check on her and the cat, and they said they noticed nothing unusual in the lead up to her disappearance.
On August 19 (some articles say it was morning, others say it was evening), a veterinarian turned up at the Van Gelderen house to give a shot to the cat. Nobody answered the knocks at the door. The vet called Jenna’s brother Will to let them into the home and they found a scene of disarray inside.
Jenna had left the lights and television on in her parents’ house, their elderly cat unfed and the doors locked. Despite the fact her two phones, car (a 2010 Mazda 6- dark blue) and suitcase were missing she had left some essentials she wouldn’t normally be without including her makeup, shoes and two phone chargers behind.
The last known contact Jenna had with anyone was when she texted a friend who lived in another state at 2:00 a.m in the morning of August 19 to say she was going to lie down. Her friend has since said that this message did not sound like one Jenna would usually send.
Her phone last pinged near Fairburn, Georgia at 7:45 a.m. on the day of her disappearance but her car was sighted by a license plate reader in the northwest/west midtown area of Atlanta at the same time. Google maps says the distance between Fairburn and her parents home in Druid Hills would be around 24 miles/ a 30 minute drive.
Other reports say that Jenna made plans to meet with a friend on August 19 and that she was not home when the friend showed up to the Van Gelderen house that day.
Now here is where the unusual circumstance comes into play in Jenna’s disappearance.
Will noticed that a large, heavy Egyptian tapestry that hung in the living room was missing. It was removed from the frame and a corner of the glass was cut off and the frame was put back on the wall, empty. The tapestry is described as hand-stitched and five feet by two feet in size. It was a family heirloom, part of a set of three complementary pieces purchased by Van Gelderen’s grandfather in the 1940s.
It would have taken at least two people to remove the frame from its spot, according to the family. The tapestry was of sentimental value and had little monetary worth, leading the family to question why a thief would have targeted it.
“It’s the strangest part of this case,” Leon Van Gedleren told “Searching For,” an original series on Oxygen.com, adding that police told him they “had never seen anything like it.”
It is so strange as to why whoever took the tapestry just did not remove the back as per usual? Why go to the trouble of removing the glass?
Leon and Roseanne returned to the U.S. on Aug. 21, and when they arrived at their home, Roseanne said she thought she “was going to see Jenna, she’s going to be here.”
Jenna’s car was found around two weeks after she disappeared, on September 5, 2017. It was found on Defoor Place in NW Atlanta, around 7 miles from her parents home. I will put a map on the blog but it seems like Jenna or whoever was driving her vehicle was all over the place – where the car was found is far from Fairburn, where her phone pinged. It might have possibly been close to where the car was sighted, but I cannot find confirmation of that.
A member of the public contacted the police when she recognized the car on her way to the gym after seeing information about the case on Facebook.
It is unknown if Jenna was in her car, with her phone, or at neither location, but police are “very confident that the car and the phone were not in the same place,” said Cpt. Ford.
The Mazda was out of gas and Jenna’s suitcase and some other belongings remained inside. Both of her phones are still missing.
Leon VanG told “Searching For” that the car was covered in leaves and various debris, and that compartments were open with items strewn about the interior. There was also evidence that another person other than Jenna had driven the car.
The car was found near a recording studio that had CCTV and that footage has been reviewed, but what it contained (if anything) has never been made public.
The driver seat pushed back, indicating a taller person might have been driving it, Dekalb County Police Department Capt. Anthony Ford told “Searching For.” A cell phone charger that did not match either of Jenna’s phones was also found in the car by her brother, Will, according to Leon.
This comment is from Reddit and was made by someone who knew Jenna:
Her car was never forensically searched after being found and it wasnt until 10 months after being found that it was fingerprinted and that was due to her family finding things in the car that didnt belong to Jenna. The family was also charged for the towing of the car to be forensically searched after 10 months.
While I was researching this case, I started to wonder why she needed two phones. This might date back to 2016, the year before her disappearance. Jenna moved out of her parents home in April 2016 and she refused to tell them where she was living.
The second mobile phone was taken out on a new plan, that was separate to the family plan that her first phone was on. I assume she did this so her family could not keep track of her?
Her parents note that they didn’t approve of her friends at the time of her disappearance, stating “they took advantage of her”.
After Jenna disappeared, police tracked down where she had been living. They found that she had rented a room from a male friend. Her roommate told police he planned to throw her belongings out in the street, as her rent wasn’t paid for September 2017. He refused to let the police search the apartment, but he has not been named as a suspect in the case.
The parents went through her belongings and noted to the police that her bedding was missing and the police accepted the landlord’s answer that she slept on the floor without sheets or a pillow.
Jenna also had a boyfriend at the time she disappeared. He was questioned by police and he said that Jenna came by his house on August 18, and he broke up with her.
He also told police that Jenna was a sex worker and a drug addict, a claim that her family strongly deny. There were some media articles that attributed the quotes about prostitution and addiction to Will Van Gelderen, and this is not true – the claims were made by the ex.
In a fairly large stuff up, the police found a woman advertising sex services on backpage named Jenna and informed the family that they had found their Jenna.
Turns out that wasn’t true, it was just another woman with the same name.
Will was able to obtain access to Jenna’s social media accounts. He found google chat records that indicated that Jenna had been speaking with an unknown person right before she vanished.
The individual was pressuring Jenna to leave her family’s home and return to her apartment, according to Leon. The family and the police have not been able to determine who sent the messages to Jenna.
Jenna was on her parents T-Mobile cell phone account and were able to clone the phone and get into her email and facebook. When they provided google location information to the police, the police refused to take it citing legal concerns.
When the parents inquired about the subpoena for the phone records because they didn’t want to take the fathers word that it was his account, they said AT&T had no record of that number. The parents had to re-state that it wasn’t an AT&T account but a T-Mobile one.
On the Charley Project website, I found some information about Jenna’s possible state of mind at the time – about six months prior to her disappearance, she lost the only full-time job she ever had and was charged with misdemeanor theft after she stole $3,000 from the pet store where she worked.
When the family later accessed Jenna’s records, they discovered she had been making payments to someone though Western Union since 2015, and that the transfers stopped in the months leading up to her disappearance.
After making this discovery, Jenna’s family fear that she may have been involved in some criminal activity and was not even aware she was doing it.
So, what happened to Jenna?
- Someone was taking advantage of a vulnerable person – maybe the roommate/ ex bf?
- She ran to get away from a controlling family?
- What role does the tapestry play – I saw some online comments that suggest someone murdered Jenna and rolled her in the tapestry to transport her body (she was under 5 foot tall) but it seems like a lot of work to do that and replace the frame etc when there was surely something easier available to use?
- There is a huge landfill in Fairburn – could Jenna and her phones have been dumped there?
This comment is from Reddit from a former coworker of Jenna:
Hi all, I actually knew Jenna personally for about a year back in 2014-2015. I wasn’t VERY close with her but, after spending 40-50 hours every week with her you get a level of closeness. She was a cashier at my place of employment. A lot of the write up regarding her mental development was true – she was very procedural and needed a baseline for how to do things. She was also gullible, but not in a severe way, she definitely could tell when you were kidding. She was so friendly and overly-helpful, as well. This last characteristic is where I think she may have had trouble. One of our Male coworkers would take advantage of her generosity, from constantly getting rides from her, borrowing money, and using her as a friend with benefits (making her a mistress to his relationship). While I dont know how much/what kind of drugs she herself did, knowing Jenna as I did I would be shocked to find out she would have done anything past weed, but she did hang out with questionable people and was easily swayed to do things. After I left my job working with her, I think I had also heard through the grapevine of coworkers that she was prostituting a little bit, but I can’t be sure now if that was planted from following the case so closely.
She was a good girl. She had a huge heart and really tried her best. She had a few mental limitations with being on the spectrum and needed a lot more guidance, but she was good. She LOVED that cat (it has passed since her disappearance) so much. When I met her she was still living at home and she would talk about that cat all the time. She spoke of her family, too. From what she said they were always very loving and supportive, getting her help for her mental limitations and encouraging her studies. She did feel over-protected at times and out of control of her life though, so who knows.
I dream about her sometimes, finding her walking the streets of NY and hugging her with relief and telling her how many people are looking for her. She was the type of person to text you on your birthday even if yall stopped talking, or to randomly ask how your pets are doing. From the moment I heard the news I’ve never wanted to believe it and have started fearing the worst.
Jenna was last seen possibly wearing a green T-shirt with “San Antonio” on the front, a black tank top and black yoga pants. She is 4 feet, 11 inches tall, and weighs approximately 140 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.
If you have any information in connection to her case, please contact Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477 or the GBI Tip Line at 1-800-579-8477. Crime Stoppers and the Van Gelderen family are offering a combined $50,000 reward for information regarding Jenna’s disappearance.
You can discuss Jenna’s case at TrueCrimeSociety.com