Who Murdered Four-Year-Old Jessica Phelps in 1997?

Jessica Phelps/Dateline

On Tuesday, July 1, 1997, Jessica Phelps, 4, went to McDonald’s with her mother, Tamara Kinney, and younger brother, Jordan. When they returned to their east side Flint, Michigan home on Maryland Avenue, Tamara decided to take a quick shower. Afterward, she could not find Jessica but assumed the little girl went outside to play.

The houses on the block sat close to one another. Children in the neighborhood were always running from one yard to the next to play with each other. Family members believe Jessica decided to play with the neighborhood children and went out the front door while her mom was in the shower.

An early report stated that Tamara last saw Jessica playing by herself near their house.

Tamara called the neighbors, but no one had seen the little girl. She asked friends to help search the neighborhood. They did not find Jessica.

When Jessica never came home, Tamara called the police and reported Jessica missing at 7:00 p.m. The search for Jessica Phelps began.

Hundreds of volunteers assisted in the search and helped put up fliers around the area the next morning. Volunteers brought in horses and dogs to search along Kearsley Creek and Flint River. Police even lowered part of Flint River, but they did not find a body.

Authorities looked at video surveillance tapes from several area stores, but those tapes did not produce any leads. Weeks and months went by without any sign of the little girl.

America’s Most Wanted featured Jessica’s case on the show. An anonymous tipster phoned in about a young girl matching Jessica’s description. Investigators followed up, but the little girl was not Jessica.


At 1:15 p.m. on April 2, 1998, a man excavating a stretch of Horton Road for a county ditch project uncovered skeletal remains. The location is about 10–15 miles southeast of Flint in Atlas Township. Pieces of clothing found next to the remains resembled Jessica’s.

“I remember a blue shirt, with a pink…ballerina type thing, I guess what it was,” Schmaltz said.

A medical examiner performed an autopsy and used dental records for identification purposes. Two days later, the remains were identified as belonging to Jessica Phelps.

The ME could not determine the cause of death due to the body’s decomposition, but authorities believe Jessica Phelps was asphyxiated. The ME ruled the death a homicide, but her killer has never been found.

Jessica’s case remains active with the Flint Police Department.

If you have any information in Jessica Phelps’ case, please contact the Flint Police Department at 810–237–6800 or Crime Stoppers of Flint & Genesee County at 800–422–5245.

You can also submit an anonymous tip online.



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