"Hell is empty. All the devils are here."
It was the 23rd of February 2005. Nine year old Jessica Lunsford had had a long day. She had been at school that day and afterwards went to Bible class. Not that she minded. She loved learning and hearing about new things and was even learning how to sign. By the time Jessica arrived home it was 9pm.
Jessica's home was in Homosassa , Florida, United States and she lived with her father Mark and his parents , Ruth and Archie. She loved her grandparents and every night Ruth tucked her into bed. That night was no exception.
Mark Lunsford was home with Jessica for a little while before she went to bed. He loved to play with her and Jessica loved to sing karaoke in the living room. She particularly loved Shania Twain. Mark didn't stay there that night, he spent the night with his girlfriend and was due to return early the next morning to get ready for work and he would see Jessica before she left for school. It was around 10pm when Ruth tucked Jessica into bed.
At 5.45 am the next morning,the 24th of February, Mark returned home. He heard Jessica's alarm clock so waited for her to get up but when she didn't switch it off after a few minutes, he went into her bedroom to wake her up for school. But Jessica wasn't there.
Mark searched throughout the home and the area outside but there was no sign of Jessica. Everything else in the house looked normal. Nothing seemed out of place. So where could Jessica be? Jessica's grandparents had no idea where she was. They saw her asleep in bed before they went to bed and didn't hear anything during the night. Yet there was no sign of forced entry.
The front door was open but Mark could not recall if he had left it open. Jessica was not the sort of girl who would wander off alone or go anywhere without telling them. They reported her missing to police.
Police searched the area, they carried out door to door enquiries and spoke to the family and neighbours. People in the area were questioned but nobody knew anything. The only thing the family had to work with was that Ruth said she put her to bed at 10pm so that was the last place and time they saw her and Mark returned at 5.45 am so they believed something must have happened to her between 10pm and 5.45 am. Ruth and Archie didn't hear anything, even their dog Corky didn't wake that night. It was a complete mystery.
Ruth and Archie
As time went on, police narrowed the search to known sexual predators in the area. One such predator, 45 year old John Couey, had moved to the area and lived in a trailer just 65 yards from where Jessica lived. When police began to close in on the sexual predators in the area, he left. John fled to Georgia and was arrested there.
In 1991 , John was convicted of exposing himself to a five year old girl and had multiple burglary convictions. When questioned about Jessica, he confessed. He knew exactly where Jessica was and what happened to her.
John told police he knew who Jessica was. In fact, he had watched her several times as she innocently played with her toys outside her home. He had been watching her for some time before the night of the 23rd of February. John lived in a trailer with his half sister and three other adults. That night, he entered Jessica's home. He told police it was around 3am and the front door was open. He forced Jessica to leave with him and she brought her little stuffed toy dolphin with her that she had been sleeping with. He then forced her into his trailer and police believe he kept her there for a few days.
When Jessica was in the trailer, police were searching that same area and even knocked at the very trailer she was being held in at least twice but it was not searched. Jessica suffered a barbaric and brutal few days. The little girl was subjected to a horrific ordeal which included being raped multiple times. John even forced her to stay in his closet while he went to work which was undoubtedly a terrifying experience for her. Then three days later, as it became clear to John that it was only a matter of time before the trailer would be searched, he told Jessica he wanted to take her home. He said that he didn't want her to be seen and she would have to hide. He ordered her to get into a garbage bag and he put another one over her head, he then put her into a hole he had dug and threw dirt on top of her. John buried Jessica alive.
By the time John led police to where he had buried Jessica alive, it was some three weeks later. Police made a harrowing discovery. Jessica was clutching her stuffed dolphin and her hands had been bound with speaker wire. Even though her hands had been bound, she had tried to get out of the bag and managed to poke a few holes in it but it was too late. She had suffocated.
John stood Trial for the kidnap, sexual battery and first degree murder of Jessica. Even though he confessed, his confession was not allowed to be used in Court as he gave it without a lawyer present. The Prosecution had DNA evidence though so didn't even need the confession. Jessica's blood was found on the mattress in his trailer and her fingerprints were found in the trailer and inside his closet.
John Couey's Mattress
He was found guilty of the kidnap, sexual battery and first degree murder of Jessica Lunsford.
This was a horrific crime. The nine year old girl who had been tucked into bed for the night by her grandmother should never have encountered such evil. John Couey entered her home. He entered it with full knowledge that she was inside. He knew this as by his own admission, he had been watching her for some time before that night. He knew that he would be able to silence a child by creating sheer fear which is what he did in this case. He then subjected Jessica to three days of such brutality , pain and fear. Even after all that, he tried to silence her again by promising to take her home and instead buried her alive. Jessica had no chance against such evil.
John was sentenced to death for his crimes but he died in prison of natural causes. While it is a relief that he is no longer around to hurt any other child, John did not suffer even a tiny percentage of how he made Jessica suffer. The barbaric murder prompted some states to pass laws to impose restrictions on sex offenders.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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