By Michael Card
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Two Secret Service agents in black suits greeted Jessie Mckinnon at the door of her home outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after she returned from a routine day at work.
The two men had targeted a person they assumed to be her husband, Jason Pelishek, for hacking into a company’s online database, and said needed to talk with him immediately.
“Jason is my 14-year-old son, not my husband,” Mckinnon said to the agents.
It was then that Mckinnon realized her son was not only incredibly gifted, but that his intelligence could create ways of getting him in trouble.
This was one of the many memories that Mckinnon is left with of her son, who was murdered in Jacksonville in 2012.
Pelishek, who was homeless at the time, was found dead by rescue personnel July 23, 2012, behind a PODS storage unit in a parking lot near the 200 block of North Liberty Street in Downtown. He was 30 years old.
Richelle Starling of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit said Pelishek was beaten in the head multiple times with a blunt object.
She said evidence that was initially collected at the scene was resubmitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for further investigation in January 2017, but no arrests have been made.
Starling said homeless people would frequent the area where Pelishek’s body was found, and it’s likely someone was with him who had knowledge of his murder.
Multiple homeless people who were interviewed said they did not believe Pelishek had any enemies and described him as someone who did not appear to be afraid, according to Starling.
“It seems like he happened to run into the wrong person at the wrong time,” Mckinnon, who still lives in Wisconsin, said of her son.
Pelishek grew up in Milwaukee until he was about 25 years old when things started to go wrong.
“He had an injury, he had broken his leg and started taking pain pills, which started an addiction,” Mckinnon said. “He went from the pain pills to methadone, and then we saw him deteriorate.”
Pelishek’s life quickly became a never-ending chase to obtain methadone, causing him to lose interest in working or doing anything else besides using drugs.
Eventually, he grew tired of this lifestyle and stopped using methadone. But Pelishek figured the only way to end his habit was to change his scenery, so he got on a bus and headed for Florida, according to this mother.
“I had really hoped that he would have been able to turn things around,” Mckinnon said. “(Going to Florida) didn’t seem very logical because there wasn’t anyone or anything he was going to.”
Mckinnon is unsure how Pelishek spent his time in Florida, but imagines he went back to using drugs and alcohol.
Lisa Root, the former editor of the Victim’s Advocate newspaper of Jacksonville’s Justice Coalition, said she remembered seeing someone who looked like Pelishek playing guitar on a street corner by a store in Jacksonville.
“I remember this guy outside of the store, this really sweet man,” Root said. “He wasn’t harassing people for money, but he would play guitar and sing.”
After Palishek was murdered, Root remembered seeing pictures of him with a beard and instantly recognized him as the man outside of the store.
Root said it was about eight months after that incident that she received a phone call from Mckinnon. After calling the police, Root was the first person in the Jacksonville area Mckinnon called about her son’s death.
“It was very sweet that the first person she contacted, besides the police, had ever had any kind of contact with him at all,” Root said. “That turned out to be something kind of cool, and a little piece of comfort to her.”
Mckinnon is still trying to come to terms with her son’s murder but struggles with the fact that no one has been charged.
She worries if her son’s murderer is not found, the same thing that happened to him could happen to someone else.
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