July 26, 2007 -- Authorities in California hope an arrest 2,400 miles away may help break the case of a coed who disappeared more than a month ago under suspicious circumstances.
Police in Jacksonville, Fla., arrested John Steven Burgess, 35, who also goes by the name Sinjin Stevens, on a drug charge Tuesday, Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the sheriff's office in Orange County, Calif., confirmed to ABC News.
Burgess, a convicted sex offender, is a person of interest in the disappearance of Donna Jou, a 19-year-old who had just finished her freshman year at San Diego State University and who met Burgess on the Web site Craig's List. Jou was spending the summer at her parents' house in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., and according to her sister, was eager to meet new friends in the area.
Police say that on June 23, Burgess picked Jou up on his motorcycle to take her to a party at his Los Angeles-area home. According to Amormino, Jou did not know about Burgess' sex offender status, which he received because of a conviction for lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor, or that he'd been arrested for male prostitution.
It was the last time Jou's family saw her and the beginning of a month of investigative turns that until this week had produced many leads but few answers.
The day after Jou's disappearance, a text message was sent from her phone to her mother indicating that she loved her and that she would be home soon. The family found the correspondence — the final time Jou's cell phone was used — "unusual."
Investigators obtained a warrant to search Jou's computer records, which confirmed that she had been in contact with Burgess.
They then discovered that Burgess was a sex offender, and because he had not properly registered his sex offender status, police were able to obtain a warrant to search Burgess' home.
By that time, he was gone.
On July 9, police recovered a black tool box that belonged to Burgess about a mile and a half from his house and was designed to fit into the back of his Ford Ranger pickup truck. In it were various items, including a rope, scrub brush and license plate SINJIN 1 that was registered to his truck.
Investigators also received an e-mail purportedly from Burgess that included vague information about her disappearance, according to The Orange County Register. It remains unclear whether the message was a hoax.
A $15,000 reward was posted, a sum collected largely from officers within the Orange County Sheriff's Office, and Jou's story appeared on "America's Most Wanted." But with each day that passed, confidence the young woman would be found safe dwindled.
"As the time goes, I feel more and more uncomfortable," her father, Reza Jou, told the ABC News' Houston affiliate this week, "and I really don't know if my daughter is alive."
The grim sentiment was echoed by Amormino.
"We're always hoping for the best, but as time goes on, there's been no cell phone activity, the chances of her returning are less and less," Amormino told ABC News Wednesday.
But the arrest of Burgess Tuesday, which Orange County investigators just learned about, may finally provide Jou's family and friends with some explanation about what happened to the college student.