On August 4, 2000, Judy Carpenter returned to her Aiken, South Carolina home to find her 17-year-old daughter Jessica Carpenter’s body. Jessica had been brutally raped and murdered by Robert Atkins. The story will be featured on tonight’s episode of Hometown Homicide on the ID channel.
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.
“I wanted some kind of thing for the community to remember her,” Judy Carpenter told the Aiken Standard. “It was an event that no one in Aiken will ever forget. I think they look for this every year in the paper. It’s a nice remembrance for Jessica.”
The official cause of Jessica Carpenter’s death, according to the then-Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend who conducted the autopsy was internal bleeding and lack of oxygen. After two years of investigation, Robert Franklin Atkins was identified by police as Jessica Carpenter’s killer.
Here’s what you should know about the murder of Jessica Carpenter:
1. The Family Published a Poem For Jessica’s Obituary
In lieu of a traditional obituary, Carpenter’s family published a poem about love and memories.
“There’s an unbroken thread/That is woven from love/and it keeps family always together for nothing is as real as the moments we shared,” they wrote.
The obituary was signed by “Mom, Dad, Heather, Amy, Family and Friends,” and it encouraged people to plant memorial trees in Carpenter’s memory. The page is still available today.
2. Jessica Carpenter’s Family is Glad Her Story Continues to be Told
Judy Carpenter told the Aiken Standard in 2020 that she’s glad that Jessica’s story continues to be told and she hopes that the story of her life will continue to be told to others.
Jessica’s sisters have moved away and have raised children of their own, and the family still tells stories about “Aunt Jessica,” but they’ll always miss Jessica’s smile, she said.
“I want her to be a legacy for the upcoming generation and generations ahead so they can know what can happen and what kind of predators are out there,” Carpenter said. “She would be so happy to know that she’s helped somebody through her experience.”
3. Investigators Interviewed 300 People In Connection With the Murder & Suspected a Serial Killer
In the months after the murder, investigators interviewed 300 people and submitted over 100 DNA samples to the state database, but they failed to find a match or a suspect at the time. At one point, police were even considering serial killer Reinaldo Rivera as a suspect.
Rivera had been arrested just months after the murder and had operated in the area, and Carpenter matched his victim profile.
Rivera’s DNA failed to match what investigators had found at the scene, however.
4. Charlie Carpenter Sued Airborne Express Delivery After the Murder
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.
5. Robert Atkins is Serving Two Life Sentences
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.