22-year-old Jennifer Servo grew up in Columbia Falls where she joined the Army Reserve at 17-years-old. She graduated from high school in 1998 and went on to study broadcast news at the University of Montana. While conducting her studies, she worked at KUMF radio as well as KPAX-TV and KECI-TV.
In 2002, Jennifer graduated from the University of Montana. Following her graduation, she landed her dream job as a television reporter with KRBC-TV in Abilene, Texas.1 She had also been an Army reservist.
Jennifer had always had massive ambitions to hit it big in broadcasting, and become a news anchor on national television. She had told her friends she intended to “go all the way.” Bill Knowles, chairman of the Radio and Television Department at the University of Montana, said: “Her goal was to be Katie Couric. She would have made it. She was that good. She had that kind of drive. She understood how to find people to tell the story.”
On 18 September, 2002, Jennifer failed to show up for work. When she was a no-show, her co-workers attempted to make contact but all phone calls went unanswered. One of her co-workers drove over to her apartment in Abilene. Jennifer’s car was parked outside, but when the co-worker knocked on the door, Jennifer failed to answer. The co-worker was concerned and reported back to KRBC news director, Toby Dagenhart.
Dagenhart called up Jennifer’s landlord, who entered her apartment with the spare key. He called out Jennifer’s name but was met with silence. He proceeded through the home and then entered the bathroom to find Jennifer’s lifeless body. He could immediately see that Jennifer was deceased. She had cuts and abrasions all over her face and head. The landlord immediately called police who responded to the home within minutes.
Investigation at Jennifer’s apartment revealed that there was no sign of forced entry, but there appeared to be several items that had been stolen, including her cell phone, DVDs and a purse. An autopsy confirmed that Jennifer had died of strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head.2 It was also determined that she was most likely killed on the 16th of September, and she had also been sexually assaulted.
In a bizarre coincidence, this was the second murder at the same apartment complex in the same year. There was also a KRBC connection with the other murder. Allan Wayne Brubaker was charged with killing his roommate, Russell Crowley, with a hammer in the same apartment complex. After the murder, Brubaker cycled to KRBC and confessed to the murder to employees.
On the 26th of September, around 300 people shuffled into the Northridge Lutheran Church to bid her one final farewell. The lobby of the church was filled with photographs depicting Jennifer’s life. It included photographs of Jennifer as a cheerleader at Columbia Falls High School and as a graduating senior from UM. On a nearby rack, her blue high school letter jacket and her green Army Reserves jacket hung proudly.
During his eulogy, UM radio-television professor, Bill Knowles, said: “She was known and loved by everyone around her and everyone who taught her.” Throughout the service, Jennifer was remembered for her “endless energy” as well as her desire to succeed as a television reporter. Her sister, Christa Slaten, also provided a eulogy. She said that the last words they said during a phone call was: “I love you.” She said to the mourners: “Thank you for being my sister, Jen. I know you are with God now, and I know I will see you again.”3
The service was led by Rev. Dan Heskett, who read aloud a tribute from Jennifer’s father, Norman Olson: “I will never understand why my daughter was taken away from me.” He continued: “Jennifer was murdered. That weighs heavy on us. A person filled with sickness or evil took her life.” Following the service, Jennifer was cremated and her ashes were scattered over Flathead Lake.
Days after the funeral, investigators got their first lead. They had received a phone call from the stepfather of Edward Semper, a man in Beauregard Parish. He told police that Semper had been in contact with Jennifer over the internet, and had made plans to travel the 450-mile trip to Abilene to meet her in person. Semper was tracked down and arrested on warrants from Illinois for a probation violation. He was interviewed in regards to Jennifer’s murder, and he denied any involvement and denied that he was ever in Abilene.4 His alibi checked out and he was ruled out of inquiries.
When Jennifer moved to Abilene, she had moved with a boyfriend, Ralph Sepulveda. Rumours began to circulate that this male friend was involved in Jennifer’s murder. Her mother, Sherry Abel, said: “In my heart I think there is a suspect, but I hope it’s not him. He was so nice and said he would take care of Jen and be friends with her and help her if she needed it, and now she’s gone.”5
Sepulveda was a former Army Ranger, and he dropped everything to follow Jennifer to Abilene, even after she asked him not to. Shortly after they arrived in Abilene, Jennifer called it quits on the relationship after she learned that Sepulveda had a secret fiancée and child he had abandoned to be with her. Investigators were made aware of the break up from Jennifer’s colleagues.6
In January of 2002, investigators were hopeful that the case could be solved when Sherry received three overdue book notices from the Mansfield Library. These books were checked out of the library in October of 2002, one month after Jennifer was killed. Since Jennifer’s purse had been stolen, it was speculated that the books were checked out with her card, which had presumably been stolen by her killer. Sherry recalled: “I was so hopeful we had some evidence.”7
Unfortunately, however, the library had no video surveillance and no employees could remember checking the books out. Investigators had no way of telling whether Jennifer’s card was actually used, or whether it was simply an error on the library’s part, and the trail went cold.
The months continued to trickle past with no new developments in the case, and in September of 2003, it was the one year anniversary to Jennifer’s murder. Investigators had followed up a handful of leads and tips, but there was not enough concrete evidence for any charges to be filed. On the 18th of September, 2003, Detective Jeff Bell implied they had a main suspect but a lack of evidence. He stated: “I know a lot, but the hard part is being able to prove it in court.”
Another person of interest was publicly identified in September of 2007. Brian Travers had worked with Jennifer at the news station and he and Jennifer had been romantically involved. Investigators announced that Travers had cooperated throughout all of the investigation, and they had verified facts from his story. Nevertheless, Detective Bell said: “He’s still not to where we can say we’re sure he had nothing to do with it.”8
Travers professed his innocence and told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he understood why investigators were looking into him and why they couldn’t rule him out. He revealed that he was the last person to see Jennifer alive – other than the person who killed her. Jennifer’s family stood by Travers, with Sherry stating: “I’m positive that Brian had nothing to do with Jen’s murder. He loved her, and he was a good friend to her, as she was to him. I know she wouldn’t want him to be scrutinized like this.” Jennifer’s sister echoed this sentiment, revealing that Travers had offered to take a polygraph examination but investigators refused.9
Today, Sepulveda and Travers are the two main persons of interest in the murder, neither of which have been ruled out. Their DNA was found at Jennifer’s apartment, and both staunchly denied any involvement. There was also a third unidentified person of interest. The day that Jennifer was murdered, she had been shopping with Travers when she told him she feared she was being followed.10
Unfortunately, the investigation was hampered by a lack of DNA evidence. At the one year anniversary, a lab in Fort Worth took a more in-depth look at the crime scene in the hopes that they could uncover a tiny trace of evidence that could lead toward a suspect, or even rule a suspect out. Hair evidence had been collected from the crime scene but this too was hampered by the fact that Jennifer had a cat which had shed all over her apartment.11
The uncertainty has been unbearable on Jennifer’s family, who are left with the wave of emotion of grief that comes with an unsolved case. Her mother, Sherry, once said that she prays each night that the killer of her daughter will one day be caught. She stated: “I won’t give up until it’s solved. It will be solved.”
- Laredo Morning Times, 18 September, 2002 – “TV Reporter Found Dead in Abilene Apartment”
- Laredo Morning Times, 19 September, 2002 – “Abilene Police Continue Investigating TV Reporter’s Death”
- Laredo Morning Times, 27 September, 2022 – “Service for Slain Reporter from Montana Draws 300”
- The Advocate, 2 October, 2002 – “Beauregard Man Ruled out as BR Killer”
- The Dallas Morning News, 5 October, 2002 – “TV Reporter’s Killing Stuns Abilene”
- Missoulian, 8 July, 2005 – “Slain Reporter’s Case Goes Cold”
- U-Wire, 19 September, 2003 – “Unresolved Murder Haunts U. Montana Campus Community”
- Chattanooga Times Free Press, 13 September, 2007 – “Local Meteorologist Linked to Unsolved 2002 Slaying”
- Chattanooga Times Free Press, 18 September, 2007 – “Slaying Victim’s Kin Say Travers Innocent”
- The Sun, 25 September, 2022 – “Dad’s Pain”
- Missoulian, 18 September, 2003 – “Murder of UM Grad in Texas Still Unsolved”