I don’t know if you’ve noticed this Willy, but we are inching closer and closer to a full year of doing this podcast, which is the greatest mystery of them all. I went back and listened to one of our earlier episodes recently and realized just how much we have devolved. Back in the early days of the show, we were a borderline good podcast with just enough humor sprinkled onto our true crime to set us apart. Now, we’re basically the mystery podcast version of “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” only to more accurate it would be “Whose Turn to Write the Script Is It Anyway”, where everything’s made up and the mysteries don’t matter.
Anyway, the reason I bring up the early days of the show is because today’s episode is going to be a bit retro. Today we’ll be covering a good old fashioned missing person, like we used to do, back when times were simpler. I wanted to find a super interesting disappearance and usually the most interesting ones are missing children, because those cases are so tragic and gut-wrenching. However, now that I have a child, I couldn’t bring myself to do the story of a missing child, so we’re going to talk about a missing adult. Well, technically he’s an adult, but biologically he’s still an adolescent because biological adolescence lasts until you’re 23 or 24. Bam. You learn something new everyday.
In 2006, Jesse Ross was a nineteen-year-old sophomore communications major at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, over in your neck of the woods. He was a paid radio personality on a popular Kansas City radio station called 95.7 The Vibe. Willy, have you listened to 95.7 The Vibe?
In late November of 2006, the week before Thanksgiving, Jesse and thirteen other UMKC students traveled to Chicago, Illinois for a Model UN Conference along with 1000 other college students from around the country. The problem with our show is that we’re constantly dealing with victims of tragedy, so it’s totally inappropriate for me to do things like BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP NERD ALERT NERD ALERT neeeeehROOOOOOOWWWWWWwwwwww neeeeeehROOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWwwwwww NERD ALERT NERD ALERT BEEEEP BEEEP BEEEP.
On the drive to Chicago, Jesse commented to his peers about how he wanted to deliver some of his music to bars and radio stations in Chicago so that he could be discovered, which is a very sad detail considering the fact that his story is being covered on MysteriYES. Here’s another sad detail: on November 20th, Jesse called his mother to tell her that he was having a great time at the Model UN Conference (nerd alert) and promised to call her the next day once he and his fellow students had loaded up in their vans for the drive home.
That night, Jesse and a school friend named Ralph Parker attended a dance thrown by the conference organizers at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, where the conference was being held. After that, he and Ralph went to a party at a hotel room where alcohol was served. According to Ralph, Jesse had done some drinking, but in no way did he seem to be intoxicated. Around 1 am, an emergency meeting of the Model UN Security Council was called at the same hotel, and Ralph and Jesse were in attendance because (nerd alert).
At around 2:30 am, after 90 minutes of meeting in the middle of the night for a fake security council at a conference that was ending in the morning, the diligent Model UN Security Council took a 30 minute recess. At that time, Jesse left the meeting room. There is surveillance footage of Jesse from the hotel lobby walking toward the main doors but did not exit through the main doors. It has been suggested that he went out a side staff door that was frequently used by conference attendees. Jesse was wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and a green jacket. However, there is some dissension about whether Jesse was actually caught on security cameras leaving. One report I read said that there is no footage of him leaving, only of him entering earlier in the evening. The only image I’ve found has a timestamp that looks like it says 12:46 am, which would have been about fifteen minutes before the emergency meeting began. I really don’t know which report is accurate, but I wish they could clear it up because it really affects the way I think about the case. If indeed the security footage did show Jesse leaving the hotel, it is the last trace of Jesse Ross that exists.
When Jesse didn’t return for the conclusion of the Model UN Security Council Meeting, Ralph assumed that Jesse went back to their hotel room and fell asleep. The walk back to their hotel--the Four Points by Sheraton--would have been about ten minutes. It was well-lit and heavily surveyed by security cameras, and yet none of them recorded Jesse. I’ve never been to this part of Chicago, but everything I’ve read online suggest that pretty much every square foot of this area is covered by security cameras, and so it is baffling why Jesse was never recorded outside of the hotel lobby. To me, this is part of what makes this case so interesting. There is no proof that Jesse ever left the hotel, but surely there’s no way he’s still in the hotel.
Later that night/super early morning when the emergency meeting wrapped up, Ralph returned to the hotel room he shared with Jesse. He mistook a small pile of clothes on Jesse’s bed to the thin kid’s sleeping form and went to sleep himself. It wasn’t until the next morning that Ralph realized that Jesse wasn’t in his bed. Ralph assumed that Jesse was a player and slept in another room, so he ever-so-kindly (or perhaps suspiciously?) packed up Jesse’s suitcase and met up with the rest of the group, as they were heading back to Kansas City that morning.
When Jesse didn’t show up with the rest of the group after some time, the group’s chaperone alerted the conference organizers that they were missing a student.The organizers asked around to see if they could locate him, and when they couldn’t they called hotel security. A missing persons report was filed at 4 pm, and then the chaperone called Jesse’s parents to let them know their son was missing. Meanwhile, the other students from the UMKC group headed back, while the chaperone stayed behind to help police with the search.
Jesse’s parents hoped that there was some sort of mixup and that Jesse had returned home with students from another university. However, after that first day came and went without hearing anything from Jesse, this theory seemed less and less likely until it seemed all but impossible, particularly when they realized that there had been no activity from Jesse’s cell phone or bank accounts since before he had vanished.
Jesse’s parents flew to Chicago to meet with the local police, and would later make multiple other trips to hang posters and pass out fliers. The posters stated that Jesse was a white male, 5’10, 140 pounds, with very short red hair, blue eyes, freckles, and glasses.
Now, even though Jesse was technically an adult being age 19, his case was given high priority due to the fact that he was visiting from out of town and was relatively unfamiliar with the area. However, the Chicago police had difficulty conducting their investigation for a number of reasons. The primary reason the investigation was so difficult was that most of the potential witnesses--the other students at the conference--had left Chicago before the missing persons report was even filed. Also, there was no crime scene to investigate and no physical evidence to gather. On top of that, the report came in two days before Thanksgiving, a time of year when absolutely no one wants to come in to work.
The case did draw a great deal of media attention, and as a result, investigators received hundreds of tips in the first few months after the disappearance, but nothing of any substance was turned up. The Kansas City police helped to interview some of Jesse’s fellow classmates who had also gone on the trip, but because they were teenagers or very young adults who’d been drinking alcohol in a fun, new city, they aren’t able to provide much information other than “theories and presumptions.”
The hotel where the conference was being held was right along the Chicago River, and apparently if Jesse had gone out the side door everyone claimed, he would have walked right out onto an esplanade right along the river. As a result, Chicago police’s primary theory was that there had been no foul play and he had merely accidentally drowned in the river--even though there is a four-foot security barrier along the pedestrian walkway. Police divers searched the Chicago River for any sign of Jesse Ross’s body, but they didn’t find anything.
Let’s talk about some theories, and first let’s get into the theory that Jesse chose to disappear on purpose, either by killing himself or running away to start a new life. It does seem like many times when adults disappear, it is done intentionally, however I don’t think that’s the case with Jesse. After all, if you’re going to kill yourself or run away, waiting until a thirty-minute break in a Model UN Security Council late-night emergency meeting is a really bizarro time to do it. His parents also highly doubt this theory, given that he had called earlier that day describing how much fun he was having, and that he had recently gotten the promotion to on-air personality at 95.7 The Vibe, which was a dream come true for him. By now, we should all know that people who are going to kill themselves don’t always show outward signs that this is what they’re planning, but if we’re looking at the circumstances with Jesse here, I find this very unlikely.
The next theory is the police’s theory that he either accidentally or purposely ended up in the Chicago River and drowned. After all, the river is right outside the door Jesse apparently went out, so it’s possible that he wanted to go outside during the break to appreciate the pleasant view of the river. Had he done so, perhaps he somehow fell into the river and wasn’t able to cry out for anyone to help, it being the middle of the night and there likely not being very many people around. However if this is the case, why wasn’t he captured on the security cameras that were apparently all over the place? And if there was a four-foot tall security barrier, how or why did he get over that barrier so that he was in a position to fall in? And if he did fall in, how come searches of the area turned up nothing? (Well, this is pretty easy, actually. Can you imagine having to search a body of water like that and be expected to find a single human body?)
Then there’s the various foul play theories. While police haven’t found any evidence to suggest that Jesse met with foul play, I don’t think that we--as a comedy mystery podcast--should rule it out. The first foul play theory is that one of the other nerds--er, I mean, aspiring young professionals--at the Model UN Security Council late-night emergency meeting followed him out of the building and killed him, perhaps by throwing him into the river. A few questions though. First, and primarily, why? Second, were there no witnesses? Third, was there no security footage? This one is just silly.
Another foul play theory is that he met with foul play while going to a bar to promote his music. I couldn’t tell if this was a confirmed fact, but there’s some rumor that he had declared that he was going to try promoting his music that night. Maybe he either got lost on his way, stumbled on a shady character, went home with a shady person, whatever. My problem with this theory is that it was already 2:30 am, and apparently downtown Chicago is not a city that never sleeps and so most bars were probably already closed. Plus, he was nineteen, so where could he have gone anyway?
The next foul play theory is that perhaps he was headed back to his hotel to go to sleep and got lost or took a wrong turn and stumbled upon a shady character or saw something he shouldn’t have seen and was killed and disposed of. I guess this could be possible, but apparently the downtown Chicago area is a relatively safe, quiet area with little crime, and is thus less likely to have much shady business going on between the two hotels. Plus, it was the last night of the conference. He should have been familiar with the route between the two hotels by then. And then there’s the pesky business of him not ending up on any of the CCTV footage that was between the two hotels.
So Willy, what theory are you choosing?
I don’t think that Jesse is still alive, and if I had to guess what happened to him, I would say he most likely fell into the Chicago River and drowned. It doesn’t make sense for him to have killed himself or run away, and if he met with foul play then how come his body was never found and what actually happened to him? There’s obvious problems with this theory, such as no security footage and the security barrier that should have protected him from falling in, but if someone were to put a gun to my head, I would say he’s probably in the Chicago River. Well, his body has probably decomposed so he could actually be all over the place by now. That was inappropriate.