A photographer accused of abducting, raping and then abandoning an 11-year-old Wyoming girl in the wilderness hails from the Kansas City area.
Jesse Paul Speer, 39, has been extradited from Montana to Wyoming. He made his court appearance in Wyoming on Friday when a judge set his bond at $2 million cash only.
Speer was arrested Saturday after police say he lured the girl into his car by saying he needed help finding a missing puppy. Police have ruled him out as the killer of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway in a Denver suburb.
Speer grew up in Johnson County and apparently has ties to both Olathe and Overland Park.
Speer graduated from the University of Kansas in 1997 with a degree in fine arts and visual communications, KU officials told KCTV5 on Wednesday.
Speer's website has been scrubbed since his arrest. But he had written about his youth in the Kansas City area in his bio section before it was removed.
"I was born and raised in Kansas City, where I enjoyed a youth filled with the arts and an education within the fine arts program at the University of Kansas. Upon graduation at the age of twenty five, I moved west in search of adventure, wilderness and identity," he wrote. "I roamed the Colorado mountains for many years -- hiking, backpacking and traveling in every spare moment. Somewhere along the way, I began carrying cameras so I could capture and share the uncommon beauty that surrounded me -- aspiring to the more commercial forms of landscape photography."
He wrote that he then began to take more "contemplative" and "meditative" pictures of nature.
"In doing so, I not only discovered the art of photography, but also a sense of self. Today, my creative journey is largely one of designed happenstance. I travel to interesting places with no expectations or notions of what I will photograph. The wild, western lands still captivate me, but I can find 'wilderness' nearly anywhere," he said.
The Kansas City Police Department and the Missouri Highway Patrol in the Kansas City area said they are not looking at Speer in connection with any crimes in this area.
Officials in Colorado were investigating whether Speer may have been involved in any unsolved or attempted abductions in that state.
The Wyoming girl told police she saw stacked photographs of naked young girls in the vehicle driven by her abductor, according to court documents.
His ex-wife said Speer is a talented photographer and graphic designer who is a good father to his two young children.
But the cordial relationship between Jesse Speer and Maleesha Kovnesky after their divorce was finalized in 2010 ended a few months ago, when he just stopped talking to her. Kovnesky said Tuesday she was stunned to learn about the allegations.
"It's a devastating thing to wake up and see the father of your children on the cover of the newspaper," Kovnesky told The Associated Press. "He wasn't brought up this way. He grew up in a churchgoing family. I think that something in him just must have snapped."
Kovnesky said the case has devastated her and her family, but she is proud of the young girl who provided a description after the attack that led police to arrest Speer.
"If my own daughter ever ended up in that situation, I hope she would be as brave and strong," Kovnesky said. "It goes beyond whether that was (Speer). I'm just proud of her for being a survivor."
Police said Speer forced the Cody girl into his SUV at gunpoint on Oct. 8 then assaulted and abandoned her outside of town. He was arrested Saturday in Belgrade, Mont., just 10 miles away from his Manhattan home.
The girl was found by hunters driving through the mountainous area.
Kovnesky, who lives in Whitehall, Mont., provided the first close look at Speer since his arrest. She described him as an introvert, whose few friends are mostly fellow photographers, and as a polite, seemingly normal person from a loving family. His arrest was a shock that she never saw coming, she said.
She called him a talented nature photographer who is renowned in photography circles. He loved going on family vacations to the West as a child, and Colorado was his favorite destination, Kovnesky said.
They got married in 2003 and lived in Colorado for about five years. He has family in Woodland Park and they also lived in Colorado Springs, she said.
Steve Gresley of Woodland Park said he and his wife rented a house to Speer for a few months in 2006. Gresley remembered him as a polite young man who was having marital problems.
Gresley agreed to let Speer out of his lease after Speer said his estranged wife had become pregnant and he thought he should move back in with her.
"He was a really nice guy, very soft-spoken, very responsible," Gresley said.
The couple moved to Montana in 2008 so Kovnesky could be close to her family in Butte. Speer picked the Bozeman area because of the scenery.
They separated in 2009 and divorced in 2010. Kovnesky said they had a lot of arguments, and divorced for reasons that she declined to discuss. However, she said Speer was a good father to his children, now 7 and 4.
She wrote in her blog that she, her family and their friends hope the police have the wrong man, "but afraid that they do not."
She told the AP there were just too many things in the police report that point back to her ex-husband, including the police sketch of the suspect, a photo of the vehicle, and a description of eyeglasses. Then there was the detail that the suspect's car had bottled water strapped to his roof.
"He's the only person in the universe who drives around with a 24-pack of bottled water" strapped to the car, she said.
Kovnesky has filed a restraining order against Speer in the event he is released, and she has asked for sole custody of their children.
"At this point, I think he would have such a destroyed reputation and be angry enough that I want my children to be protected," she said.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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