Daughter’s 1999 murder leaves Midlands mother on decades-long mission

Published: Jan. 29, 2019 at 9:28 AM EST
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GASTON, SC (WIS) - A Midlands mother is on a mission. Sherry Jennings of Gaston is determined to keep her daughter’s story alive after she was brutally murdered 20 years ago in Georgia. Sherry’s story is making national headlines on Tuesday night in an Investigation Discovery series.

Sherry’s 20-year-old daughter was living out one of the most exciting times of her life at the time of her senseless murder.

While looking at photos of her daughter as a child, Sherry says, “These are priceless. These are my most valuable possessions, all my photographs of Danielle.”

1999 murder of Melissa Jennings leaves her mother on a mission for women to be aware of people...
1999 murder of Melissa Jennings leaves her mother on a mission for women to be aware of people around them.

Sherry, who currently lives in Gaston, describes her daughter Melissa Danielle as well-behaved and outgoing.

“We called her Danielle and she was always a spunky, lively little girl.”

She says the two grew especially close after the birth of Danielle’s son, Triston.

“She and I spoke every day, practically, and we had become very close especially as mothers,” Sherry said.

In 1999, Danielle had just started a new job, happily raising her one-year-old son and engaged to be married. Still, Sherry warned her daughter about the dangers of being away from home.

“She had asked about safety. I had always tried to teach my girls be aware of your surroundings at all times. You’re not living in a little hometown. This is a big metropolitan city.”

On the afternoon of March 15, 1999, Danielle stopped at home during her lunch break when she was strangled to death in her apartment. Her body was discovered hours later by her fiancé. The man convicted of her murder, Calvin Oliver, was a maintenance worker at Danielle’s apartment complex, which gave him access to keys to all of the units.

“There were a lot of mistakes that led to her death and failure to warn,” Sherry said.

Court documents state that several residents had complained about Oliver in the past, claiming he unnecessarily entered apartments without warning. Sherry’s mother says apartment management failed to notify residents, and that “they did not send out fliers and warn and they did not call in the police.”

After Oliver’s arrest, it was discovered that he had a criminal record, including charges of burglary and rape. But the apartment complex had failed to do a background check before hiring him.

The Jennings family later won a multi-million-dollar settlement from TGM Associates, the company which owns Ashley Lakes Apartments, where Danielle was killed.

“It affects the whole family in different ways and it can move your forward and bring you closer or it can destroy a family, as well. It leaves you on a mission," Sherry said.

The Sue Weaver Cause, a victims advocates group, has some suggestions on ways to protect yourself anytime you’re allowing a stranger into your home for repair work.

- Make sure you’re asking all the right questions before choosing your rental. Ask management if all maintenance personnel have undergone background checks.

- If you have an appointment and live alone, see if a friend or neighbor is willing to come over until the service is complete. If no one is available, consider leaving home while the work is done.

- Continue practicing safety, even while you’re home and always use the deadbolt lock while inside.

Sherry eventually gained custody of her grandson, Triston, and raised him in the Midlands. He’s now 22-years-old.

Calvin Oliver was sentenced to life in prison for Danielle’s murder, and an additional 10 years for stealing her diamond engagement ring.

If you’re interested in learning more about Danielle’s case, there’s an episode airing on national television tonight. The show is called American Nightmare on the Investigation Discovery channel at 9 p.m.

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