Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on the continuing investigation of the murder of Jessica Starr.
ELKHART — Frank Starr still sees his daughter everywhere.
He carries her high school senior photo in his wallet with the words “Daddy’s little princess” written across the back.
He has a photo of her in his pickup truck and one in the semitrailer truck he drives for work.
And every morning when he leaves his house, he sees her Grand Prix parked next to his car. That Grand Prix still has the muddy handprints Jessica Starr left on the side of the vehicle when she tried to pick herself up off the ground as she was beaten and murdered in her driveway.
Two years after Jessica’s death, Frank Starr is still searching for answers.
Jessica Starr was murdered Aug. 8, 2011, when she arrived home from her second job. She pulled into the driveway of her house at 28765 Melody Lane at about 11:30 p.m. and was retrieving from the back seat the cookies, gallon of milk and bleach she had recently purchased, when she was attacked, her family said.
“There had to have been more than one of them,” Frank Starr said. “Even if they had blitz-attacked her, if it was just one guy she would’ve kicked his ass.”
Investigators told Frank Starr that Jessica had been beaten with a tree branch “the size of a ball bat,” and her throat had been cut.
Jessica was a fighter. Even as she was thrown to the ground, she kept trying to get back up, her family said.
Jessica’s roommate called police from inside their home when she heard screams outside.
Frank was driving his semi that night. He heard a news report on the radio about a woman’s murder. The report gave the woman’s age, where she had been killed and the time she was returning from her job.
He knew it was Jessica.
“I called the Sheriff’s Department four times,” Frank said. “The first three times, I got an answering service.”
On the fourth call, he told the officer who he was and what he had heard. He told them he needed to know it if was his daughter. The officer said someone would be sent to meet him.
In the next few days, “I spent as much time at the scene and walking around the neighborhood as any officer at the scene,” Frank said.
Jessica’s funeral was so packed with friends, old classmates and acquaintances that her family had to be moved up to the church’s stage to make more room in the audience, and some people had to stand outside the church.
“Every day one to 10 people write on her Facebook memorial page,” Jessica’s uncle, Bud McCreary, said. “They say things like, ‘I think of you every time it rains’ because she loved the rain.”
Friends and family describe her as a hardworking, kind person who always put others before herself and was always positive and upbeat.
“I never heard her say that she didn’t like something,” said her cousin, Josh McCreary.
“Even after she’d break up with a boyfriend, she’d once or twice make a negative comment and then drop it and be done,” said Bud McCreary.
She even used her personal hardships to help others.
Jessica was assaulted in 2001 during a home invasion. She used that experience to relate to and gain the trust of the victims she worked with as a victim’s liaison for the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office.
“A victim would tell her she didn’t understand what they’d been through and she’d reach into her desk and pull out the pictures from the emergency room,” Frank said. “It helped them open up because she understood.”
After the attack, family members recall Jessica bravely moving forward.
“She looked bad,” said Jessica’s cousin Tricia Miller. “She looked real bad, but I remember her saying ‘Don’t worry about this.’”
The attack was her motivation to attend college to become a paralegal so she could help other victims.
“She was always putting others before herself,” Bud McCreary said.
Her happy, bubbly personality could brighten anyone’s day.
“She was the shining ‘Starr’ in the room,” Bud McCreary said.
Jessica’s case is still unsolved. The family said several suspects were questioned and released, but no arrests were made.
Michiana Crime Stoppers offers a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, but no viable tips have been submitted.
The family also questions how effectively the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department handled the investigation, from how evidence was processed to a potential conflict of interest for the investigators.
“Every officer at that scene knew Jessica,” Frank said. “They should have secured the scene and turned the investigation over to the state police.”
Frank said the only contact he has had with the department regarding his daughter’s case has been when he calls them for updates. They have not contacted him, he said.
The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department could not be reached for comment as of Friday afternoon, Aug. 16.
Mary Pringle hopes that by reminding people of the case, they may one day see justice for Jesicca.
“As time goes by, maybe someone lets something slip when they’re out at the bar or at a party,” she said.
If the case remains in the public eye, maybe someone could catch that slip and give the information to the police, she said.