Megan Nicole Kanka disappeared from her home, at the age of 7, in Hamilton Township on July 29, 1994. She had asked her mother for permission to ride her bicycle around the neighborhood. The next day, her body was found in a nearby park. She had been raped and murdered.
Police quickly identified Jesse Timmendequas, a twice-convicted sex offender who lived across the street from Megan’s family, as the prime suspect in the case. Timmendequas had lured Megan to his home promising to show her a puppy, and then raped and murdered her using a belt around her neck.
Without a shadow of a doubt
The evidence included bloodstains, hair and fiber samples, as well as a bite mark that matched Megan’s teeth on Timmendequas’ hand, and led to a verdict of life without the possibility of parole on the kidnapping charge, four counts of aggravated sexual assault, and two counts of aggravated murder.
The case sparked public outrage and called for stricter laws to protect children from sexual predators. At the time of Megan’s murder, sex offender registration laws were different across the United States, and there was no community notification requirement when a convicted sex offender moved into a neighborhood.
Neighbors did not know about Jesse’s past
Jesse, who lived across the street from Megan’s house and was on probation at the time of the crime, shared the rent with two other men also with criminal records of child sexual abuse. No neighbors on the scene even knew that the children could be so close to pedophiles.
The perpetrator was convicted twice of sexual assault prior to the murder of Megan Kanka. It is not specified what charges were brought against him for these sexual assaults and what the specific sentences were for these crimes, but it is known that he was a repeat offender prior to Megan Kanka’s murder.
A law in his name
In response to the public outcry, New Jersey passed “Megan’s Law” in 1994. The law requires that convicted sex offenders register with local police and that this information be made available to the public. The law also requires that community notification take place when a convicted sex offender moves into a neighborhood.
The law was named after Megan to honor her memory and help prevent similar tragedies in the future. It was the first law of its kind in the United States and has since been adopted by all 50 states. Megan’s Law was credited with helping to reduce the number of child sexual abuse cases in the US.
In the wake of Megan’s death, the Kanka family established the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation, which is dedicated to educating parents and children about the dangers of sexual predators, promoting legislation to protect children, and providing support to victims of sexual abuse.
The Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation continues to work tirelessly to educate the public about the dangers of sexual predators and to advocate for laws to protect children. Although Megan’s life was taken too soon, her death led to significant change that will continue to protect children for years to come.