On August 4, 2000 in Aiken, South Carolina, 17-year-old Jessica Carpenter was brutally raped and murdered in her home. Robert F Atkins, who was later convicted of her murder, had dressed in his Airborne Express uniform to gain entry to her home. Carpenter’s father, Charlie Carpenter, later sued the company for negligence in hiring Atkins.
Judy Carpenter, Jessica’s mother, honors the anniversary of her daughter’s death each year by placing a memorial piece in the Aiken Standard newspaper. Jessica was the youngest of three sisters, played in the school band and worked as a hostess at the local Red Lobster, according to the 2020 article.
The official cause of Jessica Carpenter’s death, according to the then-Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend and town records, was internal bleeding and lack of oxygen. After two years of investigation, Robert Franklin Atkins was identified by police as Jessica Carpenter’s killer.
Charlie Carpenter Sued Airborne Express Delivery for Negligence & Endangering the Community
Investigators determined that Atkins had been working as a delivery driver for a company contracted to make deliveries for Airborne Express, leading him to meet Jessica Carpenter a few days before her murder.
Carpenter’s father, Charlie Carpenter, sued the delivery company in 2003. The lawsuit alleged that Seattle-based Airborne express Inc. and a subcontractor were negligent when they hired the man without a criminal background check and put the community in danger.
According to the lawsuit, Atkins saw Jessica Carpenter when he delivered a package to her home a few days before the murder. He later returned while wearing his delivery uniform. The lawsuit claims the company endangered the victim and others by not conducting a criminal background check on Atkins.
Prior to being hired, Atkin’s record included felony burglary, escape and weapons charges. A spokesperson at the time told Go Upstate that Airborne Express would not talk about the suit.
Atkins Was In Prison When Police Connected Him to Jessica’s Murder
At the time of his identification by police, Atkins was already serving prison time for second-degree burglary. His DNA was matched to samples collected at the crime scene, leading to his arrest for the murder of Jessica Carpenter.
Leading up to his arrest and identification, investigators interviewed 300 people and submitted upwards of 100 DNA samples to the state database, but they failed to find a match or a suspect until they matched the DNA to Atkins.
At one point, police considered that serial killer Reinaldo Rivera could be a suspect in the murder. Rivera had just been arrested months after Jessica Carpenter’s murder, and he had operated in the area. Carpenter also matched the victim profile. The DNA at the scene did not match Rivera, however.
Atkins later led investigators to the murder weapon, which was a bloody knife wrapped in a T-shirt that was buried under a pile of brush, according to the Aiken Standard. The knife was located near U.S. Highway 1.
On May 23, 2006, WIS News reported that Atkins pleaded guilty to five charges including criminal sexual conduct in the first degree and murder. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.
According to the report, Atkins apologized to the Carpenter family.
Atkins is currently being held in Perry County at the time of writing, according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections. He is serving two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.