An online petition to pressure the FBI into investigating the recent, mysterious death of a Black teenager in suburban Chicago was nearing its goal of 25,000 signatures by Thursday morning. But the petition’s chances of success were bleak at best for a number of reasons, including this week’s announcement this week that the federal agency would sit this one out. The move placed the investigative burden on the local, embattled Rosemont Police Department to provide answers for how Kenneka Jenkins ended up being found frozen to death inside a storage freezer at a four-star hotel.
Black lives have had a centuries-long history of not mattering as much as their White counterparts, so it likely didn’t come as a surprise to many people watching this case that the FBI would not intervene. Instead, what was even more impossible to ignore for many was the so-called “missing white woman syndrome” that regularly compels the FBI to jump to attention.
Of course, that’s not the case across the board, as the Feds investigated the jail death of Sandra Bland in 2015. But then again, that was a rare exception to what has always seemed like a rule of ignoring Black deaths regardless of their circumstances.
The “missing White woman syndrome” phenomena was validated by a sociologist and crime expert at Northwestern University who told NPR’s Gene Demby that “White women were much more likely to be the subject of news coverage relative to their proportions among missing persons, and women in general, were significantly more likely than men to be covered.” As such, it follows that a similar effect would trickle down to law enforcement agencies charged with their respective investigations.
In keeping with that tradition, here are five instances of the FBI investigating missing White women who were suspected of being the victims of crimes that appeared to be similar in nature to Jenkins’ death, which was still shrouded in mystery.
This White American teenager went missing while she was in Aruba in 2005. But but that didn’t stop the federal agency from promptly investigating what appeared to be an international issue. The FBI appealed to the public for help and prioritized her case, which remained unsolved more than 12 years later.
It could be argued that the FBI was obligated to investigate this case because it involved a sitting congressman with whom the missing White woman in question was having an affair. Either way, the investigation turned out to be a failure as now-former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit was never charged with any crime and the suspect who the FBI bragged about convicting was later exonerated and released from prison. Levy’s has remained unsolved for 16 years since her disappearance in 2001.
Peterson’s disappearance was a national story immediately, in part because she was pregnant at the time of what turned out to be a murder committed by her husband. The FBI jumped in and ultimately provided the damning DNA evidence that convicted Scott Peterson.
The FBI immediately offered its help to the New York Police Department after the Queens woman went missing while jogging near her home during the summer of 2016. “The FBI assisted the NYPD in developing a criminal profile for the NYPD,” local news outlet Pix11 reported at the time. Authorities would go on to arrest and charge a Black man for Vetrano’s murder.
The FBI launched an investigation into a missing White woman in California nearly two weeks after she disappeared in November 2016. Her three-week disappearance ended when she was found on the side of a road and ultimately said she was kidnapped by sex traffickers, a claim that was never substantiated and called a “hoax.”