A few minutes before 8 p.m., Jennifer Lynn Wendorf began preparing to wind up her shift as a cashier at the Publix Supermarket in Mount Dora, balancing out her cash register and turning over the cash drawer to the night supervisor.
It was a typically comfortable, cool mid-autumn central Florida evening when the pretty teenager walked to the parking lot, slid gratefully into the driver’s seat inside her shiny 1996 candy-apple-red Saturn convertible and backed out of the space. The car the high school senior drove was an early graduation gift from her parents, Richard and Naoma Ruth Wendorf. They were planning to present a similar gift to their younger daughter, Heather Ann, when she celebrated her sixteenth birthday early the following year.
The Wendorfs were proud of both their girls. Their vivacious oldest daughter was a good student who played a prominent role in extracurricular activities at her high school and had already been accepted for enrollment at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Their fifteen-year-old was a high school sophomore, and although she seemed to be experiencing the throes of some teenage rebellion, she was already showing promise as an artist and had proven to possess diverse musical skills. She played piano, oboe and the xylophone—all exceptionally well.
It had been a long day but before returning to her home in rural northeastern Lake County, Jennifer had one more stop to make. She drove to the apartment of her boyfriend, Tony Stoothoff, on Northland Road in Mount Dora a few blocks from the supermarket. The seemingly casual decision to visit her boyfriend would later acquire alarming significance.
Some time later, after promising to telephone and let Stoothoff know she had arrived safely at home, Jennifer finally scooted back into the driver’s seat of her convertible and began the twenty-minute drive. There was still plenty of time for a chat with her parents before turning in and getting some sleep so she could arise early and prepare for school Tuesday morning. Jennifer was one of the most popular girls at Eustis High School, where she was a senior, a pep rally leader and co-captain of the varsity cheerleading team that supported “the Panthers” when they played football or basketball against teams from Mount Dora, Leesburg, Tavares and other area schools.
The cheerleaders were close friends on and off the sidelines where they leaped and tumbled during games, and they often teamed up to shop, hang out, and attend frequent slumber parties. More than half the time Jennifer was the party organizer and they were held at her house.
Although she worked in Mount Dora, a quaintly bucolic community of about seven thousand people, one of a scattering of small towns clustered so close together that they share common borders, or are separated by no more than a five- or ten-minute drive, she and her sister attended school in Eustis. With a population of about ten thousand, Eustis was only slightly larger than Mount Dora and was a couple of miles’ drive north along State Road 437, then seven or eight miles west on State Road 44, from the Wendorf home on Greentree Lane. Conveniently for the sisters, Eustis High was just a couple of blocks off Orange Avenue (SR 44) on the east edge of town.
One of the main reasons the senior Wendorfs scrimped and saved until they were able to buy the five-acre plot of land, then build their home in the development of new brick and wood houses eight years earlier, was because of their concern for the welfare of their daughters. Space, privacy and the opportunity to insulate the girls from the rapidly expanding metropolitan sprawl that surrounded their previous home in Orlando, about thirty miles to the southeast, were important factors in the decision to relocate the family in the quiet little residential development, where they could avoid all the urban problems and social ills that went along with living in or near a major population center.
Richard and Naoma Wendorf also liked plenty of walking-around room and the house was constructed with 3,129 square feet of floor space, including a screened-in porch area and an outdoor pool. The single-story “L”-shaped brick house was designed with separate bedrooms in the northwest wing for each of the girls. Jennifer’s bedroom was on the northwest corner and Heather’s was next to it, to the east. Heather’s name was prominently displayed on the door of her room. The rooms of the two sisters were joined by a hallway that led to the rear bathroom and the family room on the west side of the house. The master bedroom was at the opposite end of the house, separated from the girls’ rooms by the family room, breakfast nook, kitchen, dining room and living room. The arrangements afforded maximum privacy for the teenagers, and for their parents.
Richard and Naoma Wendorf enjoyed indulging their daughters, and each of the sisters had her own telephone, and a television set with a videocassette recorder. The main reason Naoma worked as a volunteer at the school was because she wanted to be closer to her daughters.
Jennifer’s thoughts may have flickered briefly toward concern for her younger sister when she pulled her convertible to a stop, climbed outside and walked into the garage, then moved into the house through the laundry room entrance. Heather was creating serious problems within the family, and during a chat with her mother earlier in the day, Jennifer had suggested calling a family conference that night to discuss how the trouble should be handled.
The mother and daughter had talked earlier that afternoon after Mrs. Wendorf drove from the school to Stoothoff’s home in the Eudora Apartments. Mrs. Wendorf worked from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. as a volunteer in the high school office during school days, and she had wanted to talk to Jennifer about her reasons for skipping Monday classes to spend the day with Tony. The discussion soon turned to Heather. Jennifer suggested during the mother–daughter chat that her little sister might merely be going through a phase. “I don’t think it’s a phase,” Mrs. Wendorf replied. “She’s been up in my face lately.”
But Jennifer also had other things on her mind when she walked into the house. She had promised to telephone Tony to let him know she was safely home and say goodnight. As she walked past the family room she noticed her father’s feet on the couch. The television was on, and she figured he had fallen asleep. Later, retracing her steps for homicide detectives, she said that after phoning her boyfriend she went into the kitchen to get a snack when she noticed a trail of blood on the floor.
“And then, that’s when I saw my mom. I saw my mom. She was lying there and then I … I ran to the living room to see what my dad was doing,” she said.
“He wasn’t asleep.”
Belinda North was working the late shift at the Florida Regional Medical Emergency Service in Mount Dora when she logged a call at almost exactly 10:30. Ms. North was an experienced professional, who was trained to handle emergencies and to keep her cool under pressure—even when fielding a call from someone like the agitated young woman who was on the other end of the line.
911:Where is your emergency?CALLER:My emergency is in Eustis, Florida, 24135 Greentree Lane. I need two ambulances. Mymother and my father have just been killed. I just walked in the door. I don’t know what happened. They are dead.911:Both of them, ma’am?CALLER:Excuse me?911:Both your mother and your father? They are not breathing at all?CALLER:I don’t know. I didn’t check. I can’t get that close; they’re my parents.911:Is anybody there with you, ma’am?CALLER:I have no idea. I don’t know who is in the house. I have no … I, I … hang on, there’s somebody on the other line.911:Hello, ma’am?CALLER:Hello.911:Yes, ma’am.CALLER:OK.911:All right, ma’am, what’s your first name?CALLER:My name is Jennifer. My last name is Wendorf.911:What makes you think that they have been killed?JENNIFER:There is blood everywhere. Please, as fast as you can …911:OK, we’re on the way. We have law enforcement on the way also. Are you there alone?JENNIFER:I have no idea. There could be somebody in the house.911:I mean, nobody came there with you?JENNIFER:Who?911:Nobody is there with you?JENNIFER:My sister is gone, though. I don’t know where my sister is. She’s gone.911:What do you mean? She lives there with your parents?JENNIFER:She should be here. She’s only fifteen years old. And she’s gone. (Jennifer gives the dispatcher directions to the house.)911:All right, ma’am, what I would like you to do is get out of the house and sit outside in your car, OK?JENNIFER:OK.911:If you’re not sure if anybody is still in the house. You can’t tell anything’s going … When you tell me there’s blood everywhere, you mean like on the floor, on the walls?JENNIFER:Yes, yes.911:The floor?JENNIFER:My mom is [garbled]. I can’t go in there. I’m just afraid to leave my room, to leave my sister’s room.911:OK, that’s when you came in the front door and went straight into your sister’s room?JENNIFER:I walked in the front door and I didn’t really pay attention, but I thought my dad was sleeping. Then I went and called my boyfriend to tell him I was home. Then I came back in and I saw blood. Then I ran into thekitchen. My mom was in there. Then I ran to the couch and my dad was there. There was blood everywhere.911:So your mother’s in the kitchen and your father’s in the living room? OK, we’re on the other line with the law enforcement. We’re going to make sure law enforcement is en route out there, OK?JENNIFER:OK. And my sister’s gone, and the Explorer’s gone. (Pause)911:I want you to stay on the phone with me, OK? You don’t have a portable phone, do you?JENNIFER:No.911:You’re in your sister’s bedroom?JENNIFER:Yes.911:OK. Is there a way you can lock your door, your bedroom door?JENNIFER:They won’t, they won’t lock.911:OK, you can’t lock the bedroom door? OK.JENNIFER:Would it be all right if I called somebody, like my grandparents?911:No, no, you stay on the phone with me. I don’t want to tie up the line, OK?JENNIFER:OK.911:In case there’s somebody else in the house, I want you to be in contact with me … . Have you touched anything in the house?JENNIFER:No. Just the phone.911:OK. Just bear with me … . What’s your sister’s name, Hon?JENNIFER:Heather.911:Your sister’s name is Heather?JENNIFER:Yes.911:And what’s her last name?JENNIFER:Wendorf.911:You don’t happen to know the tag number on your father’s Explorer, do you?JENNIFER:I know the first three letters are P-U-U. And it’s an electric-blue Explorer, a 1994 model.911:Your last name is Wendorf, also? We’re giving this information to law enforcement on the other line … . And what was the first letters on the tag?JENNIFER:P-U-U.911:What was the last time you heard from your parents and your sister?JENNIFER:Last time I heard from my dad was last night. The last time I heard from my mom was today at my boyfriend’s house, and that was around 3 p.m., and then I haven’t heard from my sister since this morning.911:So the last time you talked to your mom was about 3 o’clock this afternoon?JENNIFER:Yes.911:Is the front door to the house open?JENNIFER:I have no idea. I …911:Well, when you came in, did you lock it behind you?JENNIFER:No. I came in through the laundry door, and it is unlocked.911:OK. And where is the laundry door? Is that a rear door to the house?JENNIFER:It’s kind of off to the side and it goes to the garage.911:Do you have to go into the garage to get through there?JENNIFER:Yes.911:And is the garage door up?JENNIFER:Yes.911:OK.JENNIFER:No, no, no, the garage door is not up. My mom’s van is outside. The garage door is not up. There’s a main door right to the left of the garage door.911:I’ll tell them to go to that door. That’s a side door off the garage?JENNIFER:Yes.911:I’m going to stay here with you. OK, Jennifer?JENNIFER:Yes.911:OK, I don’t want you to feel like you’re here by yourself.JENNIFER:Yes … . (near whisper) Can I go check to see if my parents are even alive?911:Pardon?JENNIFER:Can I go check to see if my parents are even alive?911:Do you feel comfortable going up there to do that?JENNIFER:I don’t know. I worry for them, but I don’t know how long it’s going to be until …911:Well, it shouldn’t be too long before we get there.JENNIFER:(Unintelligible) OK, I’ll try to stay calm.911:That’s all right, you’re going great. You’re doing great.JENNIFER:I don’t, ma’am, I don’t even know your name, but I …911:My name is Belinda.JENNIFER:Belinda, I’ve seen these things on TV, and I know the things that can happen. But, I can’t believe … Oh, my gosh … . Do you know about how long when they’re going to get here?911:Well, let me see. Hold on just a second … .JENNIFER:I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, I …911:Well, you’re doing fine, Jennifer, you’re doing fine. OK, the sheriff’s department is right in front of the ambulance, and they are just a few minutes away. So I’m going to let you know when they’re there so you can … (To a dispatcher:) Tell them, tell me, what’s the notes … where to go to enter, because she don’t know the front door’s unlocked. I think my notes tell them to go to the side door … (To Jennifer:) OK, I have an ambulance on the scene. Now, they’re going to wait for law enforcement to go in. That’s our procedure.JENNIFER:Can I go outside now?911:Well, I want you to wait and make sure law enforcement’s there, then I want you to go out and I want you to let them know where you’re going to be coming through at. (To a dispatcher:) See if law enforcement’s on-scene and she’ll step out. (To Jennifer:) We don’t want you to be going through any …JENNIFER:Well, the ambulance is out there, aren’t they? Someone needs to get in here.911:They’re on-scene … . OK, if you want to step out the side door. I told them to go to the side door.JENNIFER:I’m just going to lay the phone down.911:(To a dispatcher:) She’s going to go step out to the side door. Tell them not to be startled by her. No, she doesn’t see them, but she hears them out there.
Nine-and-a-half minutes after the dispatcher answered the teenager’s desperate call, Lake County sheriff’s deputies and an ambulance crew pulled their vehicles to a stop in front of the house. Then they stepped into a scene of grisly horror.
Copyright © 1998 by Clifford L. Linedecker.