Man accused of killing 22-year-old woman once tried to kidnap a jogger, attack a judge

September 26, 2018

Thirteen years ago, Jeremiah Connelly committed a string of frightening crimes that sent him to prison.

He tried to order a female jogger into his car by waving what looked like a gun. She ran away and got help from a bystander. Six days later, he set a vehicle on fire. Then he robbed a gas station with a gun.

And when he appeared in court to be charged with those crimes, he lunged at the judge’s bench and threw punches. All the victims escaped injury.

But last week, three months after being released on parole, Connelly allegedly killed a 22-year-old Omaha woman, authorities say.

Authorities say that after abducting and killing Jeanna Wilcoxen, Connelly dumped her body in a Fremont ravine — details he offered to Omaha police when he was arrested after a traffic stop.

On Friday afternoon, officers pulled Connelly over after seeing him recklessly driving a white Kia Sephia, which was determined to be stolen, near 90th Street and Bedford Avenue. Connelly ran away from police before being taken into custody.

While being interviewed by officers, Connelly mentioned the death of a woman. He then led homicide detectives to her body, which was only partially recognizable, according to a law enforcement official.

Connelly, 39, has been booked on suspicion of first-degree murder and other charges and is in the Douglas County Jail awaiting his first hearing.

Wilcoxen was last seen a week ago, on Sept. 17, the same day that her father, William Way, last saw her. No one reported her missing. Way said it wasn’t unusual for him not to see his daughter for several days. Wilcoxen was staying with her parents “off and on,” he said.

Way and his wife, Mary Jane Way, have been distraught since learning Saturday night that their daughter had been killed.

William Way said two friends identified his daughter’s body. He hasn’t been told much by authorities.

“I have so many questions,” he said. “My wife can’t handle it. She’s very upset, and she has every right to be.”

Authorities think Wilcoxen was abducted from Christie Heights Park, near 36th and Q Streets.

Connelly’s criminal history includes an attempted abduction that’s reminiscent of Wilcoxen’s killing.

On May 18, 2005, Connelly drove next to a female jogger who was running near the Henry Doorly Zoo and ordered her into the car. The woman, 22, sprinted toward a woman in a van for refuge and called police.

In the days after the attempted kidnapping, Connelly also set fire to a vehicle and robbed a gas station with a gun and fled with $297.

When he appeared in court, soon after Douglas County Judge Stephen Swartz set his bail, Connelly leapt up and started throwing punches. Swartz was not injured, but the attack prompted calls for videoconferencing to make the hearings safer for court officials.

A prosecutor said Connelly told police that he was in the middle of a crime spree.

“He said that he had an alphabetized list of crimes that he would have attempted to commit had he not been caught,” the prosecutor said.

Connelly was sentenced to 7½ to 11 years in prison for attempted kidnapping, third-degree arson, robbery and assault by a confined person.

Douglas County District Judge J. Patrick Mullen called the attempted kidnapping “chilling.”

He spoke directly to Connelly at his sentencing: “You indicated you would have hurt her” if she hadn’t escaped.

While in prison, Connelly attacked a fellow inmate in 2007, according to court records. Connelly was granted parole in June after serving more than 12 years.

Had he not been paroled in June, Connelly would have had to stay in prison until Nov. 23 to finish his sentence.

He was listed Sunday in Nebraska Department of Correctional Services records as an “absconder,” which means he was in violation of the terms of his release.

It’s unclear how well Connelly and Wilcoxen knew each other. Authorities believe that the two may have known each other briefly in the days leading up to her disappearance.

William Way said he didn’t recognize Connelly’s name.

“Doesn’t ring a bell,” he said.

Way began to weep on his front porch Monday morning as he remembered his daughter, who had a 4-year-old boy, Jace.

“She was a very beautiful girl,” he said Monday. “She loved her son.”

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