Jill Ann Weatherwax was a former beauty queen, singer, dancer and cheerleader from Fenton, Michigan. Growing up, she performed folk and contemporary duets with her father, who once sang with a folk group at Carnegie Hall and played the guitar and saxophone in a local country band. She attended Mott Community College and the Genesse Area Skill Centre where she graduated as a cosmetologist.1 She had come from a tight-knit family.2
The 3.0 GPA-student truly was heading for great things when she departed for Hollywood in 1990. Like many young women, Jill dreamed of becoming a star and she believed the bright lights of Hollywood was the starting point of achieving this goal. After all, Jill had dominated beauty pageants between 1987 and 1990, having been crowned a Miss Flint finalist as well as Miss Great Lakes.3 She had also been the face of Revlon Cosmetics. As Susan Arnold, a Michigan modelling agency owner, said: “She was extremely talented. She had the modelling. She had the looks. It is hard to pick a talent where she excelled most.”4
Jill found success in Hollywood when she was crowned Miss Hollywood. Part of her prize was a contract with a London recording company. She flew out to London to record two CDs and remained here for a period. She travelled through Europe and sang in restaurants. She returned with her boyfriend, Ciro Orsini, who owned the recording company in London; Jill was infatuated with him. However, upon their return, they seemingly went their separate ways and Jill felt as though she had been abandoned. Her friends said that Jill’s demeanor would completely change. “She was incredibly paranoid,” said her friend Benet Garcia. “She was convinced that somebody was trying to kill her.”
Within five years, Jill somehow ended up involved in drugs, working as an exotic dancer, allegedly to fund her methamphetamine addiction. As one friend said, she always kept a little bag of it in her purse and it would keep her awake night after night.5 She was arrested three times for alcohol and drug related charges.
In May of 1997, she was arrested on suspicion of drug felony possession. She was placed on drug diversion for two years, was ordered to get drug treatment and to contact the Public Health department for AIDS education classes. In August of 1997, she was charged with misdemeanour public intoxication. Then in January of 1998, she was arrested on the same charge.6
According to those who knew Jill in California, she bounced between Ventura County and Hollywood and ran with a fast-paced crowd. According to one friend, men “used her as a trading card” while others said that she traded sexual favours for money. She had diagnosed by psychiatrists as “totally disassociated” and she had feared that she was under constant surveillance. Some friends said that when she spoke, she looked down so that nobody could read her lips from afar.7
Around the 19th of March, 1998, Jill went to Fresno. The following day, she was arrested for being drunk in public. She was then spotted at an abandoned house where she was said to often stay. Then at around 10:30PM on the 24th of March, she was seen in the company of three men at Villa Motel. These men were estimated to be in their late 20s of early 30s, driving a green or grey four-door Ford Tempo. Jill was spotted leaving the motel with the three men that evening. 8
The following day at around 1PM, a construction worker came across the scantily clad body of Jill. She had been stabbed and bludgeoned to death. Her body had been discarded in a field littered with used condoms, just behind the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals headquarters. Since Jill had no identification on her, it would take a week for her to be identified using fingerprints.9
The murder took place in an area that was frequented by sex workers and the investigation was met by silence. Those who frequented the area didn’t want to speak to police. Investigators on the case were quick to say that they believed that Jill had met with the three men for escort purposes. Lt. Jerry Davis, who headed the investigation, stated: “It’s one of those tragic endings that we often see when someone becomes involved in a spiral of drug use that turns into prostitution, that ultimately ends in murder.”
Jill’s family scoffed at the idea that she was involved in sex work or drugs. “She had no reason why she would ever have to stop that low,” said her sister, Julie Shilts. “It’s just ludicrous. My sister had access to as much money as she needed and as many important and powerful people as she needed.”10 Her family felt that investigators were struggling to solve the case so decided to “victimize the victim.” As a matter of fact, Jill’s toxicology report would show that there were no narcotics or alcohol in her system at the time of her murder.
Jill’s funeral was held on the 3rd of April, 1998, at Sharp Funeral Homes in Fenton. Her father, Jim, played Amazing Grace on the saxophone and then sang the lyrics. Over 100 people packed into the church to pay their final respects to Jill. The attack on Jill had been so frenzies and brutal that she had to have a closed casket. Afterwards, she was buried at Oakwood Cemetery.
Investigators announced that they were wanting to track down the three men that were last seen with Jill in the hopes that they could shed some light on what had happened to her. Investigators believed that the men were seasonal workers. Following Jill’s murder, a sex worker reported seeing one of the three men at a labor camp. They speculated that the men killed Jill and then moved on elsewhere. 11 By this point, it still wasn’t known why Jill was in Fresno, around 200 miles from where she lived. Sadly, however, their attempts to identify these three men were unfruitful and it was never uncovered why Jill travelled to Fresno. Had she arranged to meet somebody? Was it a spur of the moment idea?
Jill’s career skyrocketed and then came crashing to the ground. Never in a million years did anybody from her hometown, especially her family, fathom that Jill would meet such a grim ending in life. Sadly, Jill’s parents both went to the grave without knowing what happened to their daughter. They were both buried alongside her.
- The Flint Journal, 31 March, 1998 – “Flint Journal Classified Obituary”
- Santa Cruz Sentinel, 3 April, 1998 – “Beauty Queen’s Death Baffles Authorities”
- Detroit Free Press, 3 April, 1998 – “Beauty Queen Found Dead”
- Elko Daily Press, 3 April, 1998 – “Former Beauty Queen Found Dead Last Month”
- Ventura County Star, 31 May, 1998 – “Dreams Die First”
- Ventura County Star, 2 April, 1998 – “Former Beauty Queen Killed”
- The Fresno Bee, 2 April, 1998 – “Quest for Fame, Fortune Ends in Death”
- Santa Maria Times, 9 May, 1998 – “Police: Slain Beauty Had Become Prostitute”
- The Flint Journal, 1 April, 1998 – “Slaying Ends Hopes, Dreams”
- The Fresno Bee, 12 April, 1998 – “Beauty’s Death a Growing Mystery”
- The Flint Journal, 4 May, 1999 – “Mystery of Fenton Native’s Slaying”