Nearly 20 years ago, Jennifer Odom got off of a school bus on rural Jim Denny Road in Pasco County. Six days later, her body was found in an orange grove off of Powell Road.
Sheriff Al Nienhuis announced Tuesday "additional and exclusive resources" would be used to fund the unsolved Odom case and assigned Detective John Ellis as major case detective. According to a media release sent by the sheriff's office, the operation will be funded by federal forfeiture funds.
"This has been a very heart-wrenching case for the entire Tampa Bay area community for two decades," Nienhuis said. "The fact is that this case may never be solved."
Nienhuis predicted the renewed investigation will take about a year, during which his office will review reports and interviews, test evidence and try to generate new leads.
Nienhuis added that Odom case has "never stopped" over the past two decades, and more than 1,000 people have worked on the investigation, filling dozens of binders, hundreds of electronic pages of report and "hundreds and hundreds of pieces of evidence."
Nienhuis acknowledge the technological advances of the past 20 years and the potential for witnesses to come forward "because their relationships or life circumstances have changed."
Specific details of the case have not been released through the years as a means for law enforcement to evaluate both good and misguided leads in the case.
Denise Moloney, sheriff's spokeswoman, said leads are still coming into the agency 20 years later concerning Odom, the latest coming on Tuesday.
Nienhuis said law enforcement needs to consider Odom's family, and the 20 years of "wounds this case has caused."
Hernando Today previously reported Odom's friends and classmates saw a white and blue pickup truck that Friday afternoon nearby when she got off the bus — maybe a General Motors model, almost certainly made in the U.S. According to news reports, the license plate was damaged and the vehicle in general was faded, dirty and in ill repair. The pickup had a trailer hitch, two side-view mirrors and might have been missing a rear wheel hubcap.
Search parties scoured eastern Pasco County until Odom's body was found on a horse trail in Spring Lake. Some news reports said Odom died from a blow to the head.
Odom's mother and stepfather, Clark and Renee Converse, identified their daughter by the jewelry she was wearing in photographs — two rings and a gold charm necklace.
The community responded emotionally, with grief counselors staffed in Pasco and Hernando County schools. Parents pulled their children off the school bus, opting instead for after-school care.
Two years later, Odom's clarinet case and backpack was found by an individual collecting scrap metal in Weeki Wachee, about 18 miles from the site where her body was found and about 30 miles from her Pasco County bus stop.
A fingerprint that was neither Odom's nor her family's was found on the backpack, but it didn't match any fingerprints in the national database.
A DNA sample from the clarinet case was sent to an FBI lab as recently as 2009, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.