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Janet was last seen in Jackson, Michigan during the summer of 1992. That summer she and her husband, Robert Kirkup, were on a road trip in a recreational vehicle (RV) at the time. The couple had three daughters, Shana, Sherry and Susan. Robert worked in senior management throughout much of his career, but in 1989 he decided to quit and buy a saloon. The business went under, however, and by the fall of 1991 the Kirkups' house in Apple Valley, California had been repossessed.
Janet and Robert decided to go an extended vacation in their RV. Shana and Sherry were adults by this time and living outside the family home; Susan was sixteen and lived with her parents. For five months, she joined her father and mother in the RV, but eventually she decided to go home and live with Shana. The Kirkups headed east, stopping at the homes of various relatives along the way. Janet kept in touch with her children by telephone and letters.
The Kirkups' daughters initially believed Robert's story about Janet leaving with another man, because they knew how dissatisfied she was with the situation. Susan stated that while she was with them on the RV trip, her parents argued frequently, both of them drank and Janet was very unhappy. Susan was close to her mother, but she described Robert as an abuser who could become violent, particularly when he was drinking. Shana remembered differently, stating Janet was volatile and occasionally hit her children, but Robert never had. She described Janet as a very materialistic person who was concerned about having a lot of money, and Shana could believe that her mother would have left her husband for someone with more money. But after all the sisters' attempts to locate Janet led to nothing, Sherry filed a missing persons report.
The police found no record or any sightings of Janet after her visit with Robert's parents in the summer of 1992, and the couldn't identify the man Robert said she had left with. They came to believe she had vanished under suspicious circumstances and might have met with foul play. In 1999, they tracked Robert to Michigan, went there and interviewed him. He repeated the story about Janet's having left him, but then added, "I had nothing to do with her death." The investigators pressed him, but Robert refused to say anything further and demanded a lawyer. Authorities got a search warrant on his RV and found a 1992 calendar in which Robert had kept a meticulous record of his RV trip, daily noting the destination, miles traveled and the gas mileage. The entries for August 16 and 17, however, had no location listed; they were the only dates on the calendar without one.
Robert confessed to Janet's murder after the police persuaded Shana to confront him. He stated he and Janet got into a fight inside the RV at a campground near Buffalo, New York on August 14, 1992. He strangled Janet after she attempted to stab him, then buried her body in a wooded area in New York, but he couldn't remember exactly where. He insisted he had killed her only in self-defense. He was sentenced to five to fifteen years in prison for Janet's murder.
Janet's body has not been located, but foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.
Michigan State Police
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office