The Tragic 1994 Murder That Led To The Creation Of Megan's Law

In May 1996, A&E states that Megan's Law went into effect after it was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. Crime Museum explains that the 1989 murder of Jacob Wetterling led to the creation of the sex offender registry. However, this failed to inform the public about any possible sex offenders who lived or moved in their neighborhood or state. Simply put, predators were able to freely navigate communities without their neighbors knowing of their criminal past. According to History, that all changed when Megan Kanka was murdered by Jesse Timmendequas, a man who lived across the street from her.

Unbeknownst to Kanka's parents, Timmendequas was a registered sex offender (via MegansLawInfo). After their daughter's death, Richard and Maureen Kanka decided to take action. As Maureen explained (per the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation), "If we had been aware of his (Timmendequas) record, my daughter would be alive today." Now, thanks to Megan's Law, A&E reports that sex offender registries are public in each and every state. ThoughtCo adds that Megan's Law notifies communities when a registered sex offender has moved into their area. Overall, Megan's Law was created to protect children. Tragically, the system failed Kanka and her parents in July 1994.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The day of the murder

On July 29, 1994, A&E writes that Megan Kanka went missing in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. The Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation states that the Kanka family had lived in this peaceful neighborhood for 15 years. Not once did they think that living here would put their young daughter in danger. Per court documents (via FindLaw), 7-year-old Kanka left her home that evening to see a friend. She never returned. As her parents searched for her, they found Kanka's bike but nothing else. Maureen Kanka then spoke to a neighbor she knew little about: Jesse Timmendequas. She later said (via the Los Angeles Times), "He was very normal-speaking, calm, very matter of fact."

The Los Angeles Times states that Timmendequas told Maureen that he had seen Kanka with a friend. MyCentralJersey reports that when authorities got involved in the investigation, neighbors noted that they witnessed Kanka and Timmendequas interacting; he was the last person who had seen her. A&E writes that a tip led the authorities to investigate the home Timmendequas was living in. On July 30, Kanka's body was found three miles away from her home. In court, her mother stated (via The Los Angeles Times), "They told us Megan had been murdered. I just sat there. I couldn't cry. I couldn't react. I was just numb."

Three of Megan Kanka's neighbors were sex offenders

Per A&E, Jesse Timmendequas had two roommates — Joseph F. Cifelli and Brian R. Jenin. All three of them had been convicted of sexual crimes against young children. The Los Angeles Times writes that the three had met in prison. Court documents (via FindLaw) state that the police searched the home but found nothing amiss. They note that at the time, Timmendequas was not seen as a suspect, and Megan Kanka's body had yet to be discovered. Moreover, the authorities were more interested in Cifelli and Jenin. But when they spoke to Timmendequas, they discovered that Cifelli and Jenin were not home at the time of Kanka's disappearance. Timmendequas, on the other hand, did not have an alibi.

He divulged that he had stayed home and spoken to Kanka and her friend while he was washing a boat he had recently purchased. Timmendequas, however, gave investigators conflicting information. He said he had seen Kanka riding her bike around the neighborhood at 2:30 p.m., which did not match with what other witnesses said (per FindLaw). Timmendequas also appeared to be incredibly nervous. Eventually, he was taken to the station to talk. Investigators then did another in-depth search of the home. There, they found pieces of cloth that Maureen Kanka identified as her daughter's clothing (via A&E).

Jesse Timmendequas lured Megan Kanka into his home

Upon this discovery, court documents from FindLaw report that Jesse Timmendequas claimed he was innocent of Megan Kanka's disappearance. Timmendequas then asked to talk to his roommate, Brian R. Jenin. When Jenin arrived, Timmendequas caved in and told him where Kanka's remains were located. Timmendequas then confessed to the police that he had murdered her and placed her body in Mercer County Park. According to MyCentralJersey, Timmendequas lured Kanka into his home by saying that he had a puppy that he wanted to show her. As prosecutor Kathryn Flicker later put it (via the Los Angeles Times), "Unsuspecting, trusting 7-year-old Megan walked into the defendant's house." Flicker added, "She would never walk out."

A&E states that he then physically and sexually assaulted her. Court documents reveal that Kanka told Timmendequas that she would tell her mother what he had done. Timmendequas responded by strangling Kanka with a belt. He placed her body in a toy box and dumped her remains at the park. Timmendequas then returned home and acted as if nothing had happened. He even spoke to Maureen Kanka, who was by then frantically searching for her daughter. Timmendequas' confession was later backed up by physical evidence — he had bite marks that were later confirmed to be from Kanka. In addition, Kanka's autopsy also confirmed his story.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

His horrific past crimes

Court documents (via FindLaw) reveal that after confessing to Megal Kanka's assault and murder, Jesse Timmendequas told investigators that he'd been "getting those feelings for little girls for a couple of weeks or a couple of months." Timmendequas had previously been convicted for sexual crimes against two young girls (per the Los Angeles Times). According to A&E, the first was in 1979. Timmendequas lured her by asking her to join him on his search for ducks. Instead, he pulled her pants down. For this, Timmendequas was offered a suspended sentence if he went to therapy. He agreed but failed to do so and spent nine months in jail.

Shortly after, the Los Angeles Times reports that Timmendequas choked a 7-year-old girl he tried to sexually assault. A&E adds that she survived and was found by her mother. For this, Timmendequas received a 10-year sentence. Per A&E, the judge noted that he was a "compulsive, repetitive sexual offender." Nevertheless, Timmendequas was released from the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center after only seven years. There, he met his two roommates, Joseph F. Cifelli and Brian R. Jenin. The citizens of Hamilton Township had no idea that their new neighbors were sexual predators. Her parents believed Kanka's horrific murder could have been prevented and created Megan's Law shortly after her death (via History).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Jesse Timmendequas was sentenced to death

According to MyCentralJersey, Jesse Timmendequas went to trial for Megan Kanka's murder and assault in May 1997. The Los Angeles Times writes that the prosecution argued Timmendequas had always intended to murder Kanka. Meanwhile, the defense reiterated that Timmendequas had only killed her out of fear that he would get caught for assaulting her. Per AP News, his defense also attempted to paint Timmendequas as a victim. His brother, Paul, admitted that both he and Timmendequas had been physically and sexually abused by their father, James Edward Howard. Howard told AP News that this was a lie and that he hoped his son received the death penalty.

Within a few weeks, MyCentralJersey reports that Timmendequas was convicted of his crimes against Kanka. By June of that year, Timmendequas was sentenced to death. One juror, John Gorton, stated, "I'm a Christian, and for me it was hard to justify this verdict." He added, "A lot of us were looking for something that would let us not give this sentence, but we didn't find it." MegansLawInfo states that Timmendequas was on death row until 2007. That year, New Jersey abolished the death penalty. Nevertheless, Timmendequas will remain in prison for life without the possibility of parole. In 2015, Timmendequas attempted and failed to overturn his conviction (via

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).