On Friday, March 5, the bodies of four people were found in a parking garage at Albuquerque International Sunport, the largest airport in New Mexico. These people were identified as Jennifer Lannon, Matthew Miller, Jesten Mata and Randal Apostalon, and all four were murder victims of primary suspect Sean Lannon, Jennifer Lannon’s ex-husband.
On Sunday, March 7, the family of Jennifer Lannon was notified of her death, which investigators determined to have occurred between Jan. 12 and 17. This aligns with the last time Jennifer Lannon’s father, Dave Whitman, spoke with her on the phone on Jan. 10, as well as with the last time any of the family heard from her, which was Jan. 12.
Whitman is a member of the Rowan community, having served as a senior building maintenance worker on campus for the past 16 years. For the past six weeks, he’s declined to speak publicly about his daughter’s murder, electing instead to share his story with The Whit and Rowan’s campus community first.
“I want my perspective, I want the people to know, because a lot of people know who I am, a lot of the workers [at Rowan]…” Whitman said. “So, they don’t really put [it] together — they know about the story but they don’t know that one of their own is intimately connected to it.”
“The general overall picture that I’ve seen [is Sean] blames [Jennifer] for all their problems. Nothing has been said about… the lives that he had ruined before all this murder spree that he’s been on,” Whitman said. “He ruined a lot of people’s lives by the way he acted, by the way he is… I have not read anything like that, where from his perspective… he did nothing wrong, even in murdering all these people. He had an excuse for every one of them.”
Jennifer Lannon, who would’ve turned 40 this Thursday, April 22, married Sean Lannon nine years ago, just three weeks after her divorce from her first husband, with whom the Whitman family is still in contact and who Whitman still refers to as his son-in-law. In her first marriage, Jennifer Lannon had two children — now 14 and 16 — who have been raised primarily by her parents.
Together, Sean and Jennifer Lannon had three children who are now under the care of relatives in South Jersey. The couple divorced in 2019 (according to the New York Post) but had lived together with their three children in Grants, New Mexico, up until the murders, while Jennifer Lannon’s eldest two children remained in New Jersey with Whitman and his wife, her father said.
“They’ve been living in New Mexico now for I think four years and [before they moved] my daughter was going through aggravation because she had to make a choice: to go to New Mexico with the three little ones, and if she did that, she wouldn’t be around her two older ones. And if she stayed in New Jersey with her two older ones, she wouldn’t be around her three younger ones…” Whitman said. “I was the one, I told her, ‘Your two oldest are safe, they’re with us, they’re with me and my wife. We’re raising them, you don’t have to worry about them.’ I said, ‘The three little ones — they need you the most.’ So, I counseled her and encouraged her to move out there because she didn’t know if she was gonna do it, but she did. And I’m glad she did because she was raising the three little ones.”
Whitman said that many of the claims Sean Lannon has made about his daughter are simply not true, and that “his story is that it’s all her fault.” While he said he killed Jennifer because she and Mata were in a sexual relationship, Whitman said that Mata was instead a friend of both Sean and Jennifer Lannon, as was Miller, and that his daughter would never have an affair. According to CNN, Sean Lannon also claimed “Miller had sexually exploited one of [his] children,” which Whitman wholly denied.
According to Whitman, Sean Lannon also said that he killed Jennifer Lannon because she was attempting suicide by drug overdose and he, “like a wounded animal, put her out of her misery.” Whitman said his daughter wouldn’t have considered suicide because she was happy and excited that the Lannons were preparing to move back to New Jersey. He also said his daughter wasn’t currently having issues with drugs.
“She had times where she was addicted to drugs but, just like everybody, she was going through different phases, and you ask me or my wife or my kids, when we talked to her on the phone — which was almost every day — she was clear,” Whitman said.
However, Whitman does believe Sean Lannon’s claims of killing 11 other people.
“They’re searching out there for any evidence that he did that, because they don’t have any evidence, just his word. I believe he did it. If he says he did, I believe he did,” Whitman said. “And it’s very possible he may have killed more. Who knows?”
Whitman said his relationship with Lannon had always been strained in the nine years they’d known each other, as Lannon refused to talk to his father-in-law, though he threatened Whitman on more than one occasion.
“[He] threatened me that if I didn’t shut up, he would hurt me. One time he was fighting with my wife and he got up in an aggressive manner and I got in between them. And he said, ‘Get out of my way, old man,’” Whitman said.
The rest of the Whitman family also did not get along well with Lannon, and Whitman said “he hated my family.” Since the beginning of their acquaintanceship, Whitman said that Lannon had a vicious temper with a violent streak. He doesn’t believe Lannon ever physically abused his daughter, as she would have told him if anything had happened, since the two were close.
“I would have the conversation when I could with my daughter: ‘Has he ever hurt you?’ And she says, ‘No, dad, he’s never hurt me. He would never hurt me.’ Obviously, he did hurt her,” Whitman said.
However, Whitman said that Lannon was a “control freak” who emotionally manipulated her to get his way and was emotionally abusive toward her.
“From what my daughter told me, the divorce was set up by her husband to scare her… For the nine years they were married, he did every aspect he could to keep her under control,” he said.
In reference to his daughter’s murder, Whitman believes Lannon had it planned out. He fabricated that Jennifer had run off, sent suspicious texts from her phone to the family that were not in her nature, lured Mata and Miller to the Lannon house using her phone and called Whitman’s wife during the two months Jennifer had been missing, acting like nothing was out of the ordinary.
“He was texting and calling my wife, telling us, telling my wife that [Jennifer] had gone missing, she ran off with people, he sees her all the time come back to the house to see the kids and get money for drugs, which was not true anyway,” Whitman said. “It’s just a whole story, the whole bizarre thing from January to when they found her.”
As of April 14, Lannon is being held in Salem County Jail as a suspect in the murder of 66-year-old Michael Dabkowski, who was a Gloucester County resident. Dabkowski, who Whitman said he knew as Uncle Mike, was a long-time friend of Lannon. He claimed Dabkowski had sexually abused him when he and his twin brother were mentored by him “through a Big Brothers program in the 1980s,” according to CBS News.
Whitman said he didn’t believe Lannon’s allegation was true.
“No evidence of that. I’ve not heard anything like that, my daughter never said anything to me about that,” Whitman said. “It was just made-up stories.”
While Whitman asserted that his daughter wasn’t a “complete angel,” he knows that she didn’t deserve what happened to her — and neither did the rest of Lannon’s alleged victims. Whitman recalled that his daughter was so proud of her children, always sending the family pictures and videos of the kids.
Aside from being a great mother, Whitman said his daughter was dedicated to everything she set out to do. Of his four children, she was the only one to complete a college degree, first earning a bachelor’s in psychology from Rutgers University-Camden, followed by a nursing degree from Camden County College (a three-year degree she completed in two years). As a sophomore in high school, she set out to play softball despite having no athletic background; as a senior in high school, she began teaching herself to play the harp despite having no musical background, eventually playing at weddings and at church.
“I always said, ‘Jen, you can do anything you want,’” Whitman recalled. “I said, ‘You have that personality, you can do anything. You wanna be president of the United States? You can be president of the United States. I won’t vote for you [because of opposing political views], but you could be.’”
Whitman said his daughter was close with her family, though there was a six-month period following her marriage to Lannon where they were not as close. The last time the family saw her was in October of last year, when Whitman said she and his other children — who refer to themselves as The Siblings — spent an evening out together rekindling their bond. Other than that, she texted and called all her relatives frequently, even her extended family.
Oftentimes, Whitman said his daughter would call or text him as he was going to sleep because of the time difference, but he would stay up to talk to her. He recalled his last time speaking to her on the phone.
“I had sent her a little bit of money to buy groceries and stuff because they didn’t have groceries, because they were going through a period where they didn’t have anything,” Whitman said.
“The last thing I said to her before I hung up, I said, ‘Jen, you know I love you dearly and I miss you greatly, and I’m proud of you.’ And she said the same thing, she said she loved me, and she thanked me for all that I’d done for her. And it was just an innocent ending to a phone call,” he said. “And here, y’know, soon after that, [Lannon] killed her. So, I was given the opportunity to tell my daughter that I loved her before she died. And, y’know, how many people have not had that opportunity? So, I’ve drawn great comfort in that, that she knew that I loved her, I knew she loved me, she loved her family.”
The family recently held a funeral for Jennifer Dawn — so named because she was born early in the morning — at which people could stop by to support the family and say their goodbyes. Whitman reported hundreds of people visiting the service, with people queuing for the entire three hours between 5 and 8 p.m.
“I was amazed. Friends from her school, friends from her work that she used to work with, just neighbors… people came. I understand people came to support my wife and I, but half were because they were connected to Jennifer in some way along the line,” he said.
Even though the funeral is over, the family still needs resolution. Whitman said the three Lannon children were in the house when Lannon murdered their mother, and are still processing what they saw and heard. They are going through therapy, as the whole family will do eventually, Whitman said.
The children also arrived in New Jersey without any belongings and have relied greatly on the charity of family, friends and strangers through an online fundraiser set up and run by Jennifer Lannon’s cousin Lisa Walker.
This is when Whitman’s composure began to crack. For the entirety of the interview, he spoke fondly of and laughed at the amusing memories he had of his daughter, criticized her taste in shows (she loved “Friends,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “Jersey Shore,” while Whitman does not) and almost stoically discussed the murders. But pulling up the fundraiser link that featured a photo of his daughter made him tear up.
“You may think I’m cool and even, but inside I’m all torn up,” he said.
The family is also in the process of grieving another loss: Jennifer Lannon’s maternal grandfather was buried the day her body was discovered in early March.
Whitman added that Lannon’s youngest daughter, 6, missed her mother’s funeral because she has been in the hospital for over a month due to ongoing cardiac issues, which require a heart transplant.
“I call it the nightmare that just doesn’t end,” he said. “It started in the beginning of January, here we are in April, and in some form, it’s still going on because now we gotta fight this last battle of [Jennifer’s daughter] needing a new heart.”
When Lannon goes on trial for the murders of Jennifer and the three other victims in New Mexico, Whitman said he won’t be going for the actual trial but plans to attend the sentencing.
“I’m planning, and I’ve already been talking with the law people out there [in New Mexico], that when the trial portion [is over]… I want to go to the penalty phase, and I want him to look at me… I want to tell him what I think of him and what I think should happen to him,” he said.
Whitman said he thinks Lannon deserves the ultimate punishment: “If anybody deserves the death penalty, he does.”
And when all is said and done, Whitman said his daughter would want to be remembered for her children and her love of her family, God and life.
“That’s what I think she would want to be remembered as: her children and her love of life, and her love of God,” he said. “I mean, that’s just the way it is. That’s her. That’s Jennifer.”
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