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A native of Plainfield, Illinois, John Ferak's first true crime book, BLOODY LIES: A CSI SCANDAL IN THE HEARTLAND (Kent State University Press) chronicled the tragic farmhouse killings of Nebraskans Wayne and Sharmon Stock and the ensuing CSI scandal that sent prominent CSI director David Kofoed to prison. BODY OF PROOF, published by WildBlue Press in July 2015, uncovers more of Kofoed's questionable work in a fascinating murder case. Since 2012, Ferak has worked as an award-winning investigative team editor for Gannett Wisconsin Media, based at The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisconsin. DIXIE'S LAST STAND was his first book for WildBlue Press.

Body of Proof by John Ferak

Jessica O'Grady was a tall, starry-eyed co-ed in search of finding her Mr. Right. Christopher Edwards was a 19-year-old deceitful and darkened soul. David Kofoed was a veteran crime lab commander who was on the prowl for more high-profile sensational murder cases to keep his prestigious forensics lab in the media spotlight. In May of 2006, Jessica's sudden and mystifying disappearance quickly turned into the biggest news story in Omaha, Nebraska. Hundreds of volunteers scoured lakes, creeks, riverbeds, forests, parks and barren fields.

But it did not matter how hard people tried, nobody could find Jessica's body. Clearly, something awful and grisly happened to Jessica inside a west Omaha home where one noteworthy clue made Edwards the prime suspect. Enter CSI commander Kofoed. Would he be tempted to work up some secret magical evidence back inside his Omaha crime lab to avenge Jessica's murder? Or would he let Christopher Edwards continue to mock law enforcement and roam free in the community? Find out in BODY OF PROOF, author John Ferak's sequel to his debut book, BLOODY LIES, a Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year true crime award winner.

CURATOR'S NOTE

No bundle of true-crime books would be complete without a story where the frustration of trying to apprehend a killer weighs too heavily on the officers and detectives in pursuit. When CSI labs tamper with, or create evidence, killers can walk. This story is about just such a case, and, like the book on vigilantes, will cause you to question your own moral compass. – David Niall Wilson

 

REVIEWS

  • "Take a bow, John Ferak! BODY OF PROOF is a superbly crafted tale of murder and mystery but, too, of perplexing official misconduct which leaves worrying suspicions about trusting a system that protects us all. Along with his fascinating debut book, BLOODY LIES, Mr. Ferak is making an indelible mark in the true crime genre. Many writers are but mere pretenders to his skill."

    – Jim Hollock, author of the award-winning crime story, BORN TO LOSE: STANLEY B. HOSS & THE CRIME SPREE THAT GRIPPED A NATION
  • "The case of Jessica O'Grady's disappearance remains controversial. … A compelling account of a strange case."

    – Peter Vronsky, bestselling author of Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Chapter 1

It was quite late, well past 11p.m., when Jessica O'Grady put the keys in her gray Hyundai Accent that she called "Francine" and drove off into the night from her apartment complex in Omaha, Nebraska.

The contents of her car depicted this dreamy college girl's life. She had an empty Mountain Dew bottle on the floor. Her college notebooks and a red-and-blue softball mitt were tossed on the seats.

Jessica, age 19, possessed a lot of redeeming qualities. She was cute, charismatic, and kind-hearted. Her wide-eyed charming smile and pretty hazel eyes made her a natural catch for guys. She stood about five foot nine. She had long, straight hair. Like a lot of teenage girls, Jessica was fond of tanning. She was a regular visitor to the Ashley Lynn tanning salon in Omaha.

Thanks to her fun-loving personality, Jessica had a lot of close friends. She giggled a lot. She also had a soft spot for animals. Her pet cat meant the world to her. Jessica always made sure Zoe had ample food and water.

Jessica helped coach one of her little niece's softball teams. The team of 7-year-olds was sure to smile whenever Jessica arrived at their practices and games. Jessica was their role model. She could do no wrong, and no wrong could be done to her.

Jessica chose to stay close to home after graduating from Omaha's Westside High School in 2004. From there, Jessica studied at the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus.

However, in the spring of 2006, she made up her mind not to return to the university for the coming fall semester of her third year. She was currently rethinking her college career plans and life's ambitions while she took that semester off. She had most recently majored in education.

Jessica worked part-time as a server at the Lone Star Steakhouse in west Omaha near the Oakview Mall. As she worked there, Jessica was starry-eyed. She longed for the right guy to sweep her off her feet, to wow her, to make her feel extra special.

When Jessica was a senior in high school at Westside, she held a part-time job as a register cashier at a Menards home improvement store in Omaha. Chayse Bates recalled how he was a cashier at the next closest register to Jessica. "We started chatting, and I just asked her out," Bates remembered years later. "We enjoyed going to movies. Jessica had one of the biggest and brightest smiles and was a very kind-hearted person."

During their romance, Jessica was fond of pop music, especially Top 40 music. She occasionally dragged Bates along to a chick-flick at the cinema, he said.

As time wore on, their relationship grew more serious.

"Jessica and I dated for about a year and a half," Bates said. "We even got an apartment together."

During the fall of 2005, shortly after Jessica's nineteenth birthday, however, their romance flamed out.

"We broke up because we wanted different things," Bates explained, "and we were too young to be living together. We cut ties completely after the break up. I never tried to contact her."

By 2006, Jessica, age 19, found herself living with a cute guy with short brown hair and brown eyes. He was six foot one, age 24, and weighed 190 pounds. If Jessica did not know much about Christopher McClanathan's past, the authorities did. McClanathan had been convicted back in 2001 of first-degree sexual assault in neighboring Sarpy County. After his release from incarceration, McClanathan was designated as a Level 3 convicted sex offender; the Nebraska State Patrol had classified him in the highest-risk category to reoffend. As he switched addresses, law enforcement alerted the local news media to publicize his new address.

Ultimately, Jessica broke off things with the convicted sex offender during the spring of 2006. Her friends were relieved. Their companionship was the perfect safety net if McClanathan grew jealous or angry toward her.

Not long after the break-up, a male coworker at the Lone Star Steakhouse caught her starry eye. She just couldn't stop thinking about him.

Coincidently, his name was also Chris. His full name was Christopher Edwards. They were both the same age. And, Jessica had visions of a long-term serious relationship with Edwards. He had graduated in 2005 from Burke High School on the city's west side. Edwards had brown hair, dark bushy eyebrows, and a pale skin tone. He was short and scrawny. He barely weighed 130 to 135 pounds. His clothes came from trendy retail stores such as Gap, America Eagle, and Hollister. He played lots of golf and kept a tennis racquet in his backseat.

At the steakhouse, Edwards tended the bar and waited on tables. It was not uncommon for him to work sixty hours a week. Here, Edwards was chatty, witty, and quite the tom cat. Naturally, Edwards had an ulterior motive for working nonstop at the Lone Star – his knocked up teenage girlfriend, Michelle Wilken, who also worked at the restaurant.

Subsequent court testimony later revealed that Wilken and Edwards began hooking up for sexual encounters around December of 2005.

Because Edwards was not bringing along condoms for protection, Michelle's unplanned pregnancy the following month became inevitable. The pair of teenagers were forced to grow up real fast. Thinking he was obviously the father of Michelle's unborn child, Edwards agreed they would be mutually exclusive. He dropped out of college after attending classes during the fall semester at the nearby University of Nebraska at Omaha campus. By quitting college, Edwards picked up a lot more hours at the Lone Star, where he was in good graces with the management. He began to show aspirations of sliding into a management position himself. The wily Edwards said all the right things to please Michelle. In turn, she presumed he was a one-girl-kind-of-guy. She used the pregnancy like a giant magnet. She pulled Edwards closer to her, just like she wanted things to be.

Michelle liked to cuddle with Edwards in her arms. When she slept with him, she viewed him as her knight. She was proud to carry his future daughter in her womb.

It later became quite clear Edwards had other intentions. He was not ready to be tied down to only one girl.

Rather, he dared to engage in the dangerous and risky pursuit of other sexual exploits behind his pregnant girlfriend's back. Edwards's lustful eyes were on the prowl.

Sure enough, one pretty maiden, who also worked at the Lone Star Restaurant, caught his eye. She was quite tempting and desirous toward him: Jessica O'Grady. However, when it came to dating, Jessica had not always exhibited the best of judgment.

She was vulnerable to ill-fated choices.

Despite already knowing Edwards had a steady romance, Jessica was dazzled by the baby-faced, brown-haired bartender. She continued to make flirtatious overtures toward her coworker. She made sure Edwards knew in no uncertain terms she was available.

Edwards guessed his female coworker might be easy to sleep with. He was all about getting laid, and Jessica was carefree and adventurous.

Of course, Edwards had one giant obstacle in the way: his pregnant girlfriend, Michelle. She was still in high school and an aspiring beautician. But for Edwards, whose hormones were always raging, the temptation to engage in sexual escapades with Jessica could not be passed up.

Given the situation, it would seem Edwards was forced to make a tough choice. He could stick with his pregnant girlfriend or dump her for the flirty college girl at work who had a twinkle in her eyes.

But greed took over. Edwards wanted both. He was willing to play Russian roulette and engage in sexual conquests with both of these attractive women. But when it came to Jessica, there was no love. He just wanted her for her body, so he developed a game plan.

He had to keep Michelle in the total dark about Jessica. Michelle still lived at home with her parents, and since she lived under their roof, she had to abide by a strict 11 p.m. weekday curfew. It was mainly on the weekends when she and Edwards slept together, usually at his place on Saturdays. But Michelle could not track his constant whereabouts, especially during weekdays when they were not sleeping together under the soft sheets of his bed.

That April, Michelle wrongly assumed her boyfriend was being faithful to her and staying home alone as he should have been.

In reality, Jessica O'Grady had invited him over to her Omaha apartment complex. This was where she had settled after breaking off things with her most recent live-in boyfriend, Christopher McClanathan, the registered Level 3 sex offender. At her apartment, she proudly introduced Edwards to her friendly and accepting female roommates. These roommates didn't raise any major fuss to Edwards's presence at their apartment. And why would they? After all, Christopher and Jessica were flirty as they shared the couch together.

They giggled and laughed. Jessica was happy. Once, she pulled out an old photo album and showed Edwards pictures of herself as a child.

She was falling head over heels for this Edwards character. During their flings, Jessica blocked out the fact that Edwards already had another serious romance. Jessica had a rose-colored view of the world, and she longed to win Edwards over, hopefully sooner than later.

* * *

On one memorable night late that April, Jessica's female roommates retreated to their respective bedrooms, leaving her and Edwards alone in the living room. The roommates, snug in their beds, drifted off to sleep. As the night wore on, Jessica and Edwards retreated into Jessica's bedroom. There, they enjoyed each other's companionship underneath the covers.

After the sun came up the next morning, Jessica's roommates awoke first. They stumbled across some of Edwards's clothes strewn across the living room. The roommates also found his shoes placed on the outside of Jessica's still-shut bedroom door. The roommates knew what was up. It did not take much of a wild imagination to figure out what had taken place over night inside Jessica's apartment bedroom.

Later that day, Edwards rolled out of Jessica's bed. He scrounged up his clothes, dressed, and left her apartment building in his Honda Accord. Court testimony later showed Edwards was not entertaining thoughts about pursuing a long-term serious relationship with Jessica.

He viewed Jessica as nothing more than his secret sex partner. She was his extra booty call. His mind drifted back to his real girlfriend, Michelle. She was already about five months pregnant.

Naturally, he realized he needed to pacify Michelle, to make her feel special, his one and only—even if that was all a lie. He intended to keep Jessica on the periphery, at a safe distance.

But as the days wore on, Jessica emerged as a nagging problem.

She grew more passionate toward the Lone Star bartender even though he was two-timing his other more serious girlfriend to be with her. Jessica thoroughly enjoyed their time shacking up together, but she wished it to be more than that.

She wanted Edwards to be her Mr. Exclusive. She wanted his constant companionship and affection. She dreamed of a relationship that was bound to last, one that wasn't just based on passionate sex.

During the early part of May 2006, Jessica sought to win over her lover's heart. If she played her cards right, perhaps, Edwards might ditch Michelle, once and for all.