Brush with evil


Ben Sanders

March 1991. Downtown Grand Rapids. A man pulls his car off to the side of the road and rolls to a stop next to a woman.

   It’s late at night, but the city is still up. The man rolls down his window and peaks his head out. He grabs the woman’s attention. They agree on fifty dollars in exchange for sex. She climbs into the car. 

   After several minutes of driving, the car pulls into the parking lot of Trinity United Methodist church off of Lake Drive SE. The car comes to a stop. 

   A fight breaks out. The man pulls out a knife and stabs her 55 times. Her screams can be heard by a church neighbor, who quickly writes down the license plate number. The car drives off–her body left on the pavement. 

   That night, Ottawa Hills High School teacher and hockey coach Richard Jensen, 44, murdered Kerry Mansfield, 23. Students, teachers, and peers were shocked. The community was shaken to its core. 

   Although police are unable to find sufficient evidence, Jensen is believed to be responsible for two more prostitute murders in the area. 

   In 2019, Jensen, 72 years old, was given parole. Due to his dementia and violent nature, Jensen was placed into a minimum security facility for his medical issues and past. Nearly 30 years later, his story still lingers in the West Michigan community. Teachers and students from Ottawa Hills now share their stories of a brush with evil.

   Instructor Kristen Bentley grew up going to Ottawa Hills High School. She described the high school as similar to West Ottawa (WO), with a lot of diversity. Bentley interacted with Jensen firsthand, “He taught social studies, and my senior year, I was a student assistant for the social studies department. I graded papers and made copies for him and the other social studies teachers,” Bentley said. 

   As a teacher and a coach, Jensen was well respected by his fellow students and colleagues. Most students liked Jensen and described him as a laid back teacher. No one ever sensed any evil in Jensen. 

   Bentley described how shocking the murder was because of his good reputation. “I was shocked. No one expected him to snap like that. Plus, he killed her in a church parking lot at a busy intersection,” Bentley said. 

   When she saw Jensen was granted parole on the news, she described him as a broken man. “Not much of a threat anymore,” Bentley said.

   Former students vividly remembered Jensen. Steve Wiegerink, Ottawa Hills class of 1987, had Jensen as a teacher and a coach. To him, he was always a normal teacher. “He was a great teacher and coach. He taught US history,” Wiegerink said. 

   Learning in Jensen’s class consisted of copying down lessons from the chalkboard. Students would have to write down what he wrote, as this content would be segments on the test. “It would take the entire hour to copy what he had written on multiple chalk boards around the room,” Wiegerink said. 

   After school, Wiegerink practiced hockey under Jensen’s coaching. As a coach, he was dedicated to his students’ successes. “Great leader, encourager, and coach. I loved playing hockey for him,” Wiegerink said. Never did anyone suspect such a nice and caring part of the community to be a murderer. 

   “When I heard about what happened, I was shocked. You think you know someone well, but maybe we don’t see the whole person. Or maybe he changed due to some incident,” he said. 

   Paul Wiegerink, Ottawa Hills instructor at the time, shared his son’s shock. “He was a good hockey coach and he seemed like a ‘good’ person. We were all shocked when we heard what he had done,” Paul Wiegerink said.

   Students and teachers alike were completely caught off guard–a seemingly innocent and caring man, a murderer. Standing at around 5’10, Jensen was always in good physical shape with short blonde hair. He also had a sense of humor according to students at the time.

   Ian Smith, a friend and athlete who competed with Wiegerink, described how unusual it was. “Seemed like he was a normal guy. He skated with us and expected us to work hard in practice. He seemed like he wanted the most out of us as you would think a coach would want of his players,” Smith said. 

   Not until his junior year at the University of Michigan would Smith hear of the murder. He was stunned in disbelief. “It didn’t make sense to me because I remember he was married and had four children. I believe he had three daughters and a son who used to come to practice with us when he was in fifth or sixth grade,” he said. 

   Smith believes he should have never been let out of prison. “He killed another human being and that person is not here anymore. As far as I’m concerned, part of his punishment entails suffering. The girl’s family who he killed does not get reprieve from their suffering. Why should he?” Smith said. 

   Despite being in a mental facility, Jensen still haunts West Michigan.