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Crime News

Michigan Mother Of Eight Missing After Her Burnt-Out Vehicle Was Found With Blood In It

Michigan mother-of-eight Heather Mae Kelley has been missing since December. Traces of blood were found in her burned out, abandoned vehicle. 

By Christina Coulter
A poilce handout of Heather Mae Kelley

The Detroit branch of the FBI posted a plea to Twitter Friday, offering a $20,000 reward to anyone with information that could help them find a Michigan mother missing since December.

Heather Mae Kelley of Portage, a 35-year-old mother of eight, never returned after telling her family she was picking up an acquaintance in Kalamazoo on Dec. 10, despite phone calls to her children promising to be home soon, according to national missing persons network NamUs.  

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Her cousin discovered her abandoned vehicle by the roadside in Comstock Township the next day. The vehicle had been set on fire, but investigators managed to find traces of Kelley's blood inside.

Although Kelley's body has not been found, authorities are investigating her disappearance as a homicide.

Kelley's 37-year-old boyfriend, who authorities have not yet named and who was recently jailed for unrelated charges, is the only person of interest in the case, Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller III told ABC News

A poilce handout of Heather Mae Kelley

Local news outlet Target 8 reported in February that the person of interest was being held at the Newaygo County Jail on a federal hold while detectives build a case against him. He is set to be released on April 26, and a judge denied his request for compassionate early release to get heart surgery, the outlet reported. 

"The sheriff's office, as well as the Portage, Michigan, [Department of] Public Safety, have been working this in conjunction together as a homicide investigation that has led us into several different possibilities. But it leads us to one person of interest," Fuller told ABC. "That person of interest is still in jail on unrelated charges. But right now, we feel that the investigation continues us on a path toward a possible arrest at some point, down the road, of the suspect."

Court documents reviewed by the local outlet showed that the boyfriend was finishing a federal sentence for what the publication called a "cocaine conspiracy that included a murder-for-hire plot" at the KPEP halfway house in Kalamazoo around the time that Kelley was last seen, and was ordered by a judge to wear a tracking device at all times. 

But after Kelley's burnt vehicle was recovered, those documents said, he took the device off and didn't return to the halfway house after his work shift at The Park Club, a dinner club in downtown Kalamazoo where he worked as a busboy.

The boyfriend told detectives he had last seen Kelley when she dropped him off at the halfway house on the afternoon of Dec. 10, Target 8 reported. However, phone records showed that he and Kelley were together at the restaurant that evening. His phone was turned off after that, but was later tracked to an area near where Kelley's car was found. 

His GPS tether wasn't turned on again until the next morning. 

The fact that the man's phone was turned off, detectives wrote in the search warrant application for the boyfriend's phone and social media that was reviewed by Target 8, "supports the theory that Heather Kelley has been the victim of a violent crime."

In a letter to a federal judge, the boyfriend wrote that he went AWOL because one of Kelley's brothers had sent him death threats, "even sending pictures of an AR-15 assault rifle." He said that he filed a police report with Kalamazoo Police. The department denied a FOIA request sent by Target 8 to confirm that claim, citing an ongoing investigation. 

Kelley's brother, who the outlet chose not to name, denied that he had threatened the boyfriend.

Peter Ellis, the resident agent in charge of the FBI Detroit's field office, said that the agency's renewed efforts to publicize Kelley's disappearance have been effective. 

"I believe at this time we've had several tips so far in the last few weeks, since the reward did go up, and we are posting this reward up on mobile billboards throughout the area," Ellis told ABC. 

In addition, local police agencies are offering a $5,000 reward for pertinent information in the case, the outlet reported. 

Sheriff Fuller said he is confident that Kelley will be found. 

"We believe that given the spring weather and how it's warming up and more people are out traveling along the edges of the road in this area where we have searched fairly well, we believe that there's still a possibility that she is in that area and that springtime is when somebody is going to come across Ms. Kelley and then contact us," he said.