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Crime News An Unexpected Killer

DNA Finally Reveals Small-Town Mom's Vicious Killer Was Local Cub Scout Leader

When a Minnesota mom, Linda Jensen, was found brutally strangled and stabbed in her own bedroom, police had no viable suspects until a tip came in eight years later.

By Megan Carpentier

When Linda Jensen was found murdered, a whole list of potential suspects emerged. The actual killer was someone no one initially suspected.

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“My wife is dead!" a caller told 911 operators in Big Lake, Minnesota just after 4:00 p.m. on Feb. 24 1992, according to audio obtained by “An Unexpected Killer,” airing Fridays at 8/7c on Oxygen. "I just got home and my little boy is here and I checked in the bedroom and she’s been stabbed. I got the two kids here. My god, what’s happened?”

The caller was Charlie Jensen, and the dead woman on the floor of the couple's bedroom in their home in the woods was his wife, Linda Jensen, age 39.

“She was naked, she had a comforter over her body with a large knife pinning the comforter to her body, having been stabbed right through her chest,“ Alan Pendleton, the now-former district court judge for the 10th judicial district of Minnesota, told producers. “The victim had been stabbed not just once, but multiple times in the chest area.” 

The weapon was determined to be a steak knife from her own kitchen. But nothing else in the house had been disturbed and there were no other signs of forced entry. There were also no fingerprints and no blood that didn't appear to be Linda's.

Charlie was first to be interviewed by police. He and Linda had been childhood sweethearts and got married in 1971, when she was just 18. They welcomed their son, Andrew, into the world in 1973 but, in 1978, Linda filed for divorce due to Charlie's drinking problem. In 1982, Linda was in a new relationship with Robert Beard, and the two had a son together, Joey, but split up when he was very youn.

Then, in 1986, she married John Silliman and moved with him to California, where he adopted Joey (a situation which would've required Beard to legally relinquish his parental rights). But that marriage also soured within a couple of years and she and Joey had moved back to Minnesota by 1990. There, she reconnected with Charlie, who had quit drinking, and the two told their families they'd never stopped loving each other. They remarried on April 4, 1991 and, two months later, she gave birth to their daughter, Lisa.

Charlie told police that he'd left for work that morning at 6:15 — his usual time — and left Linda at home with the baby and Joey, who would've left for school at 7:45 a.m. He’d tried to call her about something around 9:45 a.m., but she didn’t pick up and, by noon, he’d called three times with no answer. He got mad, assuming she was home but ignoring his calls, so he left work a little early and got there around 4:05 p.m. 

When he arrived, Joey, who’d gotten home from school, was doing his homework and Lisa was in the playpen. He then found Linda's dead body.

Police were able to verify his alibi, but they still asked him to take a polygraph — which he passed — and to provide a DNA sample, which he did. 

The next day, police got a tip from a rural mail carrier who said she had been by the Jensen house the day of the murder.

“The mail carrier arrived at the house at around 11:30 that morning,” said David Unze, a reporter for the St. Cloud Times. “And she said at the time she saw a man in a pickup truck pulling out of the driveway and said she got a pretty good description of the man.”

She said the truck was an older, tan model, and described the man as a "scruffy" Caucasian male in his late 30s or early 40s. They had her sit with a sketch artist and they released that sketch to the media.

Officer also re-canvassed the neighbors, and heard the Jones family might’ve seen the truck.

“Kent Jones was a Scout leader, he had four children. We were hoping he could name the person that the mail carrier observed leaving the Jensen residence,” said Sherburne County Sheriff’s Department investigator Gary Poslusny.

He wasn't home when they came by but his wife, Deborah Jones, was. She told them she’d seen the pickup truck around the neighborhood but she didn’t know who the driver was.

Cops then started looking into Linda’s ex-boyfriend, Robert Beard. Beard didn’t see much of his son — he’d given up custody and didn’t pay child support — but police learned he’d been trying to get more visitation before Linda’s death. He’d contacted Linda at least twice in the weeks before her murder, demanding more visitation and threatening to try to gain full custody of Joey. 

Beard was brought in for questioning and denied being in touch with Linda — even after police confronted him with what her husband said about his calls. Still, he pointed out to police that he had no car and couldn’t walk to Linda’s.

The autopsy report came in the next day and showed that Linda was first strangled and only subsequently stabbed through the chest; the coroner thought the cause of death was most likely strangulation. They also discovered she’d been sexually assaulted, resulting in a collection of the perpetrator’s DNA. 

Given the brutality of the case, police then looked into the ex-husband, Silliman, who Linda's family said had been abusive during the marriage and enraged by the court order to pay child support for Joey, who he'd adopted at Linda's request, as well as by her last pregnancy, which happened before their divorce was finalized.

Investigators flew to California to interview him, but ultimately determined that he'd been teaching on the day of the murder. They even looked into his financial records to see if he had hired someone to kill Linda, but found zero evidence for that.

By May 1992, the case was cold. 

Linda’s sister, Sandra Rolling, was determined to find out who killed her sister, and she called the sheriff’s office every week. In 1999, her persistence paid off:  A new sheriff reopened the investigation.

Sheriff Anderson had investigators review all the evidence — including the DNA collected from Linda’s sexual assault kit and the 80+ DNA samples they’d gathered but not been able to test in 1992. They tested the rape kit DNA against Charlie as well as Linda’s exes and compared them to known sex offenders in the DNA database.

None of the DNA from the men in Linda’s life matched.

The case went cold for another year but, in 2000, police received a tip from a woman named Angela Hennen.

“Angela identified herself as a ‘prior acquaintance’ of Kent Jones,” said Pendleton — by which she meant she’d had an affair with the Boy Scout leader right after Linda’s murder. She said she’d brought up the murder at some point, and he’d become livid and denied knowing Linda.

“A few months later, Angela indicated that, when she was talking to Mr. Jones, he indicated that he knew Linda quite well, he saw her jogging past his residence, he visited with her and he basically changed the story completely from what he told her previously,” said Poslusny.

It was also a big change from what he told police when they interviewed him as a potential witness back in 1992. Police then started investigating the church-going family man and Scout leader.

“Jones had a lot of skeletons in his closet,” says Polusny. “Outwardly, he seemed like a family man and inwardly, he had a very, very dark side to him.”

Police discovered his wife, Deborah, had once gone to the ER with a stab wound, claiming that she’d slipped near the open dishwasher and landed on a knife that had been loaded with the handle down; police were suspicious about whether it really happened that way. It was one of several domestic violence calls police had gotten about Jones, according to court documents

Police went to interview him again and, again, he denied knowing Linda. But Jones eventually changed his story and admitted Linda used to jog by his house and they’d had conversations in the past. Police then asked him if he’d had an affair with her, and he became angry and defensive, said investigators. He was then asked to give a DNA sample, but refused to do so — the first person in eight years to refuse.

Investigators got a warrant for his DNA — and it matched the DNA from Linda’s sexual assault kit.

Jones was arrested on July 25, 2000 for first-degree murder. He was ultimately indicted by a grand jury on three counts — first-degree murder, second-degree intentional murder and criminal sexual conduct in the first degree — and went to trial on May 31, 2001.

“Under oath, in court, in front of the jury, he testified that he had actually been having an affair with Linda Jensen,” said Pendleton. “The family were outraged. You could feel the chill in the courtroom.”

He said the day before the murder, they had consensual sex, and that was why his DNA was found on her, according to court documents. The medical examiner testified that the condition of the sperm found on her body made it fairly unlikely it had been deposited the day before the murder.

“No way in hell,” said Linda’s sister Sandra. “No way could that happen. He murdered my sister and he’s trying to murder her reputation — and how dare he.”

Jones, according to court documents filed in his appeal, had planned to argue at trial that there were two other potential perpetrators, pointing the finger at Joey's dad, Robert Beard, and another man, Richard Christy, from Linda's health club who had apparently expressed an interest in her. Prosecutors objected, noting that the two men had been investigated, cleared by DNA, and that there was zero other evidence tying either to the scene. The judge ruled in their favor, and Jones was not allowed to accuse Beard or Christy at his trial.

On Dec. 8, 2001, the jury found Jones guilty on all three charges, and he was later sentenced to life in prison.

But then, in 2004, Jones  won a retrial on appeal, based entirely on the judge's decision to not allow him to present evidence that Beard or Christy might have killed Linda. In Nov. 2006, Jones went on trial yet again and, instead of pointing the finger at Beard or Christy, claimed that Charlie Jensen or the never-identified man supposedly seen in a pickup truck was the killer.

Jones also testified that he’d had sex with Linda the morning of the murder, not the day before as he'd previously testified. According to court documents in his appeal, he claimed he'd lied about the timing in his previous testimony, saying that he "feared he would be convicted if he admitted being with Linda on the morning of her death."

Court documents also reflect that "Jones claimed at trial that he was a skilled lover and that Linda had come to him for 'more spice.'" (Jones called his wife as a defense witness, court documents say, and under cross-examination, admitted that Jones was not a skilled lover. Jones appealed his conviction in part based on that line of questioning, but lost.)

Jones was again convicted of all charges and, again, sentenced to life in prison. His appeal of his second conviction was denied in 2008, according to court records.

Jones remains incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility - Stillwater in Bayport, Minnesota. He will become eligible for parole in 2030, but Jensen's family has vowed to fight to keep him in prison.

For more on this case and others like it, watch "An Unexpected Killer," airing Fridays at 8/7c on Oxygen, or stream episodes here.

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