By Alex Toth
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
This month will mark 25 years since Tina Sue Heins was brutally murdered in her apartment.
In the early morning hours on April 17, 1994, the Livernash family of Wisconsin Rapids received the most shocking, devastating, phone call of their lives.
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Chad Livernash said. “I was in shock.”
His 20-year-old pregnant sister, Tina Heins, had been murdered earlier that day in Jacksonville, Florida. Heins was brutally stabbed 27 times in her apartment in Mayport. Her husband, Jeremy, was on duty at the Mayport Naval Base at the time of his wife’s murder.
Tina’s brother-in-law, Chad Heins, said he was sleeping on the living room couch at the time the murder took place. He woke up to several small fires around the apartment, and after putting them out, found his sister-in-law’s body in the bedroom, covered in blood, he said.
Chad Heins was arrested, charged and convicted of Tina’s brutal murder. After serving 13 years in prison Heins was exonerated after DNA testing proved semen on the sheets, hairs found on Tina’s body and skin cells found under her fingernails did not belong to Chad Heins but to a single unidentified male.
Tina’s murder left her family back home in Wisconsin shellshocked.
“We had never known that anything like that was gonna happen,” Livernash said. In fact, Tina’s father William Livernash said that the family didn’t even know what had happened until the day after Tina’s murder.
“We didn’t know if she had a miscarriage, because at first that’s what we thought,” said Sue Livernash, Tina’s mother. “Then when we talked to Jeremy, he said ‘she’s gone’.”
Livernash and his parents had just finished talking to Tina on the phone for over an hour on the night she was killed. Her final conversation with her family reveals the caring and compassionate woman that she truly was.
“She always asked about her grandmother, who was old and who lived alone,” Sue Livernash said. “She was really caring about her family.” Tina’s dedication to her family is only made more apparent by the memories that her brother has of her. “It was almost like how twins would be, me and her, because we were really close,” Chad Livernash said. “We played with the neighborhood kids together.”
Chad Livernash and Tina also spent time at the local bowling alley and at Taco John’s, a local restaurant in Wisconsin Rapids. However, Tina’s favorite hangout place was Rogers Cinema Theaters, where she worked.
“She would go see movies when she wasn’t working,” said her brother. “Usually she’d bring her friends but sometimes she’d bring me.”
Tina also loved to spend time with her friends back at home. Besides seeing movies at Rogers, she also loved to go shopping with her friends. According to her mother, Tina had a knack for finding the best bargains.
“Her friends would say ‘Yeah, we know to shop with Tina because she’ll always find the bargains’,” Sue said.
Her family also remembers how much Tina loved her first and only car, a white 1985 Chevette she called “Snowball.”
“She would go down the road and beep at her friends as she passed by,” Sue said.
When she wasn’t working or hanging out with her brother or her friends, Tina could often be found having fun with the children of Wisconsin Rapids. “She’d always take care of the little kids. She just loved being around them,” Sue said.
Tina was looking forward to having a child herself. However, her unborn child’s life was cut short by the same knife that took her own. After hearing of Tina’s murder, the Livernash family knew of only one way to cope with the pain.
“Our faith is a big thing. Things like that help you get through it,” Sue said.
Even though Tina was taken from the world almost 25 years ago, the community in her hometown still remembers her. The Tina Livernash Memorial Scholarship was started by the Wisconsin Rapids community in her honor, and it helps provide tuition assistance for local Catholic school students.
Tracks for Tina, a local 5k run in Wisconsin Rapids, acts as a fundraiser for the scholarship and a remembrance for a member of their community that was taken too soon. According to Sue, Tracks for Tina raised $2,000 in scholarship money last year.
But even their faith and the support from their community isn’t enough for the Livernashes to fully shake off what happened. They still haven’t gotten over the murder of the youngest member of their family.
“You’re never over it,” Sue said, “especially when you don’t know who to blame.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Tina Sue Heins, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a $3,000 reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS.
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