Texas Television Reporter Found Murdered After Date With Weatherman Colleague
Jennifer Servo was just months into her broadcast journalism job when she was found dead in her apartment.
An aspiring television journalist originally from Montana but on the job for just two months at a Texas television station was found murdered in her home, and there are still no arrests in the case over two decades later.
On Sept. 18, 2002, Toby Dagenhart, then the news director at NBC affiliate KRBC-TV, grew concerned after not hearing from Jennifer Servo. She usually reported for broadcasts Thursdays through Sundays but was needed to fill in because the station was short-handed, The Abilene-Reporter News reported at the time.
When Dagenhart didn’t hear back from Servo, he contacted the apartment complex where she lived in Abilene. According to reports, an employee there discovered the 22-year-old broadcast journalist and recent University of Montana graduate dead from head trauma in her second-floor apartment. Servo’s fully clothed body was in the bathtub.
“When I first realized what I heard, it was like literally crashing through panes of glass and I don't know how to describe it,” recalled Servo’s father, Norm Olson, about his daughter, who was days away from turning 23, Montana News Right Now reported.
After suicide was ruled out as Servo’s manner of death, police began to investigate the case as a homicide. Investigators located Servo’s car in the parking lot and determined there was no forced entry into her unit, indicating the victim may have known her attacker. Items were missing from the apartment, including a purse, keys, phone, and two DVDs, Saving Private Ryan and Sex and the City, according to the Montana Review.
Abilene police detectives David Atkins and Jeff Bell were assigned to the case. “When we first got in, we notice that there were obvious signs that an assault had occurred," Bell told CBS News.
Atkins explained that the medical examiner determined the victim was strangled and had blunt force trauma, “and either or both could have killed her.”
Despite detectives collecting evidence at the scene, including DNA, fingerprints and hair, no arrests were made in the case.
“I personally do feel that she knew who did this to her,” Bell said. “I think she had issues with someone. And this person obviously had issues with her.”
One person who drew investigators' interest early on was a man Servo, who was in the National Guard, had met in Missoula, Montana, shortly before leaving for Texas.
According to family, Ralph Sepulveda, then 34, was a former Army Ranger and Reserve training instructor. The Montana Review reported Sepulveda left his fiancée — a detail Servo didn’t know about until later — to move with Servo to Abilene.
“I said, 'Jen, do you really wanna do that? You know, you've just met him,’” recalled Servo’s mother, Sherry Abel, in an interview with CBS News. “That was one side of me. The other side of me was saying, ‘At least she'd know somebody there.’”
According to the outlet, Servo broke off her relationship with Sepulveda when she found out shortly after their move that he had been engaged when they met and had also fathered a child. Despite the breakup, the pair reportedly decided they would remain friends and he moved into a nearby apartment.
Before their split, Servo had become interested in 23-year-old weatherman Brian Travers. “We hit it off, as friends right off the bat, even though she had a boyfriend at the time living with her,” Travers told CBS News. “And as that kind of waned, we became closer.”
Hours before the time officials estimate Servo was murdered, Travers told authorities they had gone to Walmart together. “I walked her back to her car, gave her a kiss goodnight,” he said. “And then she pulled on out of the parking lot. That was the last I saw.”
Travers denied he had anything to do with Servo’s death, according to ABC News.
Abel has said she believes her daughter’s ex-boyfriend, Sepulveda, killed her, according to CBS News. “I think he was just a jealous, bitter person,” Abel claimed. “If he couldn't have her, nobody could.”
Sepulveda reportedly claimed he was at his apartment during the timeframe the murder occurred.
In the days before her death, Servo appeared unconcerned about her safety, but she allegedly disclosed to friends her ex, Sepulveda, had a fetish, CBS News reported.
“She did tell me one time that she did not like the way that he treated her when they were together intimately, that he wanted to strangle her while they were having sex and she did not like that,” said Servo’s friend and former KRBC anchorwoman, Jennifer Loren.
Detectives have never been able to identify or arrest a suspect because of a lack of evidence. “We don't have enough probable cause to go out and make an arrest on this case. I just don't think we're there yet,” Bell said several years after the murder.
Servo’s father still struggles with the loss of his daughter. “I’ve never had any interest in life since 2002,” Olson once said, noting he had trouble sleeping for years, according to the Montana Review. “I use audio books at night to control my mind, and to not let it get too dark.”
He added: “The negative emotions, the grief, the rage — they are still like an electrical storm and lightning between the ears.”
For more on this case, stream Still A Mystery: "TV Dreams Cut Short" on Max.