The Harpers Ferry Steamer Trunk Murder

 Composite of the John Doe found.

Composite of the John Doe found.

May 13th, 1996. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Loudon, Virginia. A park ranger is leaving at the end of a shift. A suspicious trunk is seen on the side of the road, near the entrance to the park next to a trash can. The ranger decides to wait on inspecting the package since their shift had ended and a radio was not handy. The ranger must have told themselves that it was just junk and was not a very urgent matter. The following day another ranger happened upon the strange box, a trunk covered in strips of duct tape. An ominous site, for who would dump a trunk and cover it with duct tape. The ranger begins cutting away at the tape and soon has the trunk open. He is greeted with an oddly shaped duffel bag. Within the duffel bag was yet another duffel bag. Unzipping the second duffel bag the ranger discovered some used and soiled clothing. As he parsed through the clothes the ranger would discover a hand tucked within. All would be dropped and local law enforcement called.

Branches were breaking underfoot as the inspector approached the trunk and started to assess the scene. Within the steamer trunk was an emaciated old man, folded like a contortionist to fit within his cramped quarters. He appeared to be unkempt and unshaven. Despite the articles of clothing within the bag, the man was only wearing a pajama top and a pillow case placed over his head. Not much else in the way of evidence was at the scene so the body was taken to the morgue for further observation.

The man was measured at 5 feet 7 inches and at only 111 pounds. His age was estimated to be between his mid-sixties and mid-seventies. His cause of death was determined to be the result of strangulation. Signs of blunt force trauma were also noticed during the examination. Large doses of tranquilizers and sedatives were found to be in his system. The man had recently died, no more then 2 days was the medical examiners ruling. Police suspected the man had been in a private home with a nurse who was careless and became abusive. The man was seen as a burden by the killer who decided to try and get rid of his or her problems through a trunk. If there was no way to identify the man the killer may have thought they would be able to pull the crime off. The killer may have been right.

For seven long years authorities would not forget about the man in the trunk. In November of 2003 fingerprints from the elderly John Doe were submitted into a database and they received a hit. Jasper “Jack” Watkins was identified from his time with the military. He was 76 years-old at the time of his disappearance and was estranged from his family. Now that authorities had a lock on the man’s identity it wouldn’t take long to track down those responsible for his demise. After speaking with the victim’s family police soon became aware of Nancy Jean Siegel.

 Image of Nancy Jean Siegel.

Image of Nancy Jean Siegel.

Nancy had met Jack in 1994 while he was shopping for a burial plot for his recently deceased wife. Jack must have been in an extremely vulnerable state and Nancy took advantage of the situation. They soon started a relationship but am certain Nancy conveniently left out her past history of gambling addiction and mail fraud. Nancy had taken out loans and credit in her previous husbands names, run out of credit and leave them holding the bag. She saw Jack as another easy score. Shortly after the relationship began Nancy had opened several credit cards in Jack’s name. She would also gift herself a $40,000 BMW courtesy of Jack once more. She also began creating distance between Jack and his family so that they would not realize the money Nancy was spending. She may have also thought Jack may not have had much longer and if he died she would be entitled to some of his assets.

In 1996, Nancy sold Jack’s Home along with his belongings and the two left for Atlantic City. Upon their arrival Nancy tried placing Jack into a home but was unable to do so. Clearly Nancy was making an effort to rid herself of this perceived burden. She was unable to see that she had been the problem and Jack was simply doing all that he could to make her happy. It was never enough for her, she wanted it all. She would ultimately rid herself of her burden. The man, a veteran of World War II, once strong had withered to nothing. Nancy would kill him and place his body into a steamer trunk, dumping him on the side of the road.

 Photograph of Jasper "Jack" White

Photograph of Jasper "Jack" White

In 2004 Nancy would be arrested for the murder of Jack along with other charges tied to her pillaging of Jack’s finances. Once the trial began, prosecutors wasted little time in informing the jury on Nancy’s past. From 1982 all the way up to her arrest Nancy had been scheming others out of their savings and spending thoughtlessly on herself. When all was said and done it was estimated she had pocketed close to $100,000 in retirement and social security belonging to Jack. Nancy would ultimately be convicted of a number of charges, most shockingly second degree murder, meaning her crimes were dangerous and Jack had simply died as a result of those crimes, not a pre-meditated murder. I personally disagree with the charges and feel that her attempt at covering the crimes up, her attempts at trying to get rid of him prior and her inability to accept guilt all prove that her intention was to kill Jack. The murderer claimed she found the victim dead with a cord wrapped around his neck, a story thinner than the victim. She continues to claim innocence of the murder, saying she had never killed anyone. Once Jack was identified his remains were interred into Arlington National Cemetery for his service in the military. Words from the killer, ”So many things come to my mind that I think about what happened you know, really can't talk about, but so many things like, you know, what I did, you know, and the coverup and everything else. Just things that I think of that I write down and jot and I think and you forget and then I remember.”  Hopefully she continues to jot things down and the truth to these awful events will see the light of day.