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Jessica Chambers, burned alive inside her own car

Jessica Chambers, 19, was burned alive. The case still remains unsolved, although strong evidence points to only one suspect.

Born on February 2, 1995 in the state of Mississippi, USA, Jessica Lane Chambers was a normal 19-year-old teenager. Her parents had been divorced since she was 3 years old, but they had a good relationship and were always very present in her upbringing.

She was described by her family members as kind, cheerful, and very pretty because of her beautiful blue eyes. While attending school, Jessica acted as a cheerleader at soccer games and was known for her acrobatic talent.

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Rebellious teenager

At the age of 16 her behavior changed, Jessica no longer wanted to participate in extracurricular activities at school and began to ignore her parents’ advice, doing only what she wanted to do and using marijuana frequently.

At that time she even got involved with local gang members, where she met 28-year-old Travis Sanford and they began dating. Travis was soon after arrested for involvement in a fight, Jessica was upset and said she would wait until he got out of jail.

That same year, in 2012, Jessica’s older brother, 28-year-old Ben Chambers, died in a car accident. They were very close despite their age difference, and this contributed greatly to the rise of her rebelliousness.

In 2014, Jessica, then 19, still kept her promise to wait for Travis to get out of jail. At that time, she started working at a clothing store and her relationship with her parents had improved, although she still kept in touch with her friends, who, according to her parents, were bad influences.

Her car caught fire

On Saturday, December 6, 2014, Jessica left home early in the morning and was with some friends. According to reports from her mother, in the early afternoon when she returned she seemed stressed and tired, she took a nap until late afternoon.

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Around 5:00 pm, Jessica received a call from a friend, quickly got dressed and left the house telling her mother that she would be right back. Two hours later, Jessica still hadn’t arrived, but in a phone call she reassured her mother, saying she was filling up her car, had a snack, and would be home soon.

At approximately 8 p.m. that same day, the fire department was called to put out a vehicle fire. When they arrived on the scene, the officers witnessed a terrible scene: Jessica was standing, taking steps with difficulty, her whole body was burned, and seconds later she fell to the ground.

Her hair and clothes were burned, as was 95% of her body, and she was blind. Still Jessica was able to tell the police officers her name, and as she was being put into the ambulance one of the paramedics asked her if she could tell them the name of the person who had done this.

She said something like Eric or Derek. It was not possible to define exactly what she had said because of the intense burns on her throat and lips, as the attacker had poured gasoline into her mouth.

Jessica was rushed to the hospital, where she underwent several surgeries, but unfortunately died the next day due to complications in her condition.

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Beginning of the investigation

The investigation started from tracking cell phone messages and the GPS of Jessica Chambers’ car. The police discovered that after leaving her mother’s house she went to a gas station where she filled up her car.

Through security camera footage, it was possible to see Jessica leaving the convenience store, she turns to her left and walks away, at which point she leaves the camera’s range. In a statement, the store manager said that he did not notice anyone else with Jessica and that she seemed calm.

After leaving there, Jessica drove to the town of Batesville, it is not known for sure what she went there to do, but it is believed that she went to pick someone up and by 6 pm she was in a third town, Courtland. At that point she spoke to her mother on the phone again, and according to Lisa Chambers, the daughter seemed annoyed and answered with few words.

Giant reaction in the social media

Jessica’s boyfriend, Travis Sanford, was quickly dismissed as a suspect, since he was still in jail. The case took on immense proportions on social media, and many people began to accuse the gas station owner, who couldn’t take the pressure, sold his business, and moved to another town.

Another line of investigation started working on the names that Jessica told the paramedic on the day of the crime: Erik or Derik. And they started to look for people with a similar name in their circle of friends, school and work.

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More than 150 people have been questioned with no success. It is also speculated that due to the extensive burns, Jessica would not be conscious enough to say the name of the killer accurately, and the words could just be the result of mental confusion.

A $54,000 reward was offered to anyone who brought information about the case, and the family created a Facebook page that quickly gained 100,000 followers.

Quinton Tellis, gang member

Jessica’s text messages with gang member Quinton Tellis were found on Jessica’s cell phone. He was a known criminal to the police, with arrests for robbery and drug possession.

The first phone contact between them was in November 2014, through an initiative by Quinton. The boy lived in Courtland, where Jessica’s body was incinerated.

The content of the messages indicated that they had a friendship and had gone out together a few times, but every time the boy tried something more serious, Jessica pulled away. Some messages reported sexually explicit content on Quinton’s part.

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In his first statement to the police, Quinton lied saying that he had not seen Jessica that night, and then backtracked by saying that the two had dinner together in Batesville. He also told police that when they left the restaurant they went to his house, where they smoked marijuana and had sex for the first time, and stayed together until 7 pm.

Quinton Tellis during a hearing. / Photo: Reproduction.

The boy’s alibi was false, he had said that after Jessica left he went to a friend’s house, but in a statement the friend said he was watching a soccer game alone miles away from where Quinton claimed he found him.

The evidence was sufficient to indict Quinton Tellis, since in addition to the statements, fingerprints and his DNA were found on Jessica Chambers’ car keys, that had been thrown about 5 meters from the vehicle. The GPS data from Quinton’s cell phone also placed him at the same location as Jessica on the day of the murder, her contact and messages were also deleted by the boy.

Police suggest that Quinton, frustrated with his unrequited love, raped Jessica and later suffocated her in the car. When he realized that she was unconscious, he thought the girl was dead and set fire to her body and the car, in an attempt to cover up the crime.

Forensics was unable to find any evidence of sexual or physical abuse, as Jessica Chambers’ body was in very poor condition due to the burns. Just 8 months after the investigations began, Quinton was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of another young woman, 34-year-old Meing Chen.

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Meing’s body was found 10 days after her death in her apartment on August 8, 2015. She had been tortured and stabbed more than 30 times.

The motivation for the crime is believed to have been to get her debit card password, as bank data proved that Quinton used her card after her death, and even withdrew $1,000 from the young woman’s account. In addition, GPS records showed that he was in the area on the date of the crime.

Searching for justice

In October 2017, Quinton went on trial for the murder of Jessica Chambers. On this date the jury said it was impossible to reach a verdict and this trial was mistrial. A new trial began in September 2018, but again it was impossible to reach a verdict. Eyewitness testimony and results of DNA samples proved conflicting once again.

Quinton’s defense suggested that Derek Holmes, a sex offender with a long police record, might be involved, since he was seen stalking Jessica. But the police ruled this out as Derek’s alibi was solid and nothing connected him to the crime scene.

In February 2019, Quinton was indicted only for robbery in the Meing Chen case, he pleaded guilty and is serving 10 years in prison, in the state of Lousiana. It is believed that the prosecution will soon be able to indict him for Meing’s murder as well, meanwhile Jessica Chambers’ family is waiting for a new trial and her family is clamoring for justice.

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