Jessica Chambers was just 19 years old when she was burned alive in her car. This Jessica Chambers wiki looks at her life and the investigation into a death that shocked the country.
Police in Panola County, Mississippi found her walking on the rise of a rural road near her burning car on the night of December 6, 2014. Jessica had been doused with gas and deliberately set on fire. It was later determined that she had burns on over 98% of her body. In fact, the only parts not burned were the bottoms of her feet. She died a few hours later in the hospital.
Quinton Tellis, a man who Jessica had a short-lived relationship with, was charged with her murder. The first trial ended with a hung jury. The second trial began in September 2018.
Jessica Chambers: Strong-Willed, Rebellious, Feisty, and Relatable
Jessica Chambers was born on February 2, 1995 in Panola County, Mississippi. She was the only child of Ben and Lisa Chambers.
Jessica had older siblings from her parents’ other relationships, including a brother, Ben Allen, and a stepsister, Amanda.
The family grew up in working-class Courtland, a small rural town in Northern Mississippi with a population of 500. The town is small enough that everyone knows everyone else. Jessica grew up on the same street her mother grew up on, across the road from her grandmother and a few doors down from her father.
“We don’t have a lot of haves and have-nots here,” said Rupert Howell, then the managing editor of rural Panola County’s family-owned newspaper, The Panolian. “Everyone’s in the same boat.”
Jessica’s aunt Sherry Hall described Jessica as a “blue-eyed cotton-topped little girl.” Her smile, she said, “would just light up a room when she came in.”
Her mother Lisa echoed what Sherry said. When she thinks of Jessica, she thinks of her daughter’s blue eyes.
Jessica Chambers’ blue eyes had seen a lot. Jessica grew up in a somewhat troubled household. Her father Ben, who has since divorced her mother and remarried, spent time in prison for manufacturing crystal meth and was arrested for driving under the influence in the early 2000s. And Jessica’s 28-year-old neighbor was shot in his front yard in 2006.
Jessica Chambers was tough and feisty. If her mother Lisa yelled at her, she’d yell back and sometimes move out for a few months. If friends, family, or boyfriends hit her, she’d hit back just as hard. It’s also been said that Jessica could be manipulative, and would allegedly lie and steal to get her way.
That’s not how Jessica’s family wants her to be remembered, though. Amanda Prince described her stepsister Jessica as being “very athletic” and outgoing. Prince said that at various times, Amanda expressed an interest in becoming a teacher, writer, and dentist. But her most consistent aspiration was to become a nurse.
“She was happy all the time,” Prince said. “She made everyone laugh. She lit up a room… She was just full of life.”
At 16, High School Cheerleader Becomes Rebellious Teen
Growing up in rural Mississippi, Jessica Chambers was, like most teenagers, strong-willed and rebellious. She was looking to find her own way, her own path, and her own identity.
Jessica attended South Panola High School in Batesville, Mississippi, where she excelled both academically and athletically. She was a cheerleader at her high school football games, the one who was thrown up in the air during stunts.
Jessica’s grandmother, Willie Berdain, remembers her as a “beaming pixie” on top of the cheerleading squad’s pyramid at football games.
“When she was cheering, she knew she looked good,” Berdain said. “And when they threw her up, she was so light you just about had enough time to go get you a hot dog before she’d come back down.”
At around the age of 16, Jessica no longer wanted to be a cheerleader. She started to explore who she was more, and became a bit of a rebellious teenager.
“She didn’t want nobody telling her what she could and could not do,” her father said.
A Death in the Family
It was during this period of her life that Jessica Chambers, then 17, was hit by a family tragedy. Her brother Ben Allen, aged 28, was killed on May 7, 2012 in a car accident on Highway 35 in Panola County.
Jessica’s stepmother, Debbie Chambers, said his untimely death was responsible, in part, for Jessica’s changing behavior. School no longer became a priority. In an effort to numb the pain, Jessica turned to drugs.
“Smoking weed was first priority to them,” she said.
“I think she was making friends with the wrong people, with drug dealers,” an ex-boyfriend, Bryan Rudd, said.
Jessica’s change in behavior caused friction in her family. Her father was not pleased with her taking drugs, the rough crowd she was hanging around, and the fact that she was dating black men. There were even rumors that some of Jessica’s boyfriends had ties with gangs.
Jessica’s mother doesn’t sound as if she was fond of her daughter dating black men, either.
In 2013, Jessica was dating Rudd, a black man from Panola County. According to Rudd’s mother, Theresa Fleming, when Jessica called Lisa to see if she could move back in with her, Lisa yelled over the speaker phone at Bryan’s place, “There’s no way you’re coming back to my house if you’re with that n****r.”
Rudd’s family let Jessica Chambers live with them for a while.
It’s not known how Jessica’s new friends, some of whom were drug dealers, felt about her father Ben working as a mechanic with the Panola County Sheriff’s Office.
Despite hanging around with a tough crowd, Jessica remained bubbly, loyal, and generous. She was, it has been said, the kind of person who would give you her last dollar if you needed it.
High School Graduation
Jessica graduated from South Panola High School with As and Bs. Despite only being 19, she was looking forward to the freedom that would come her way when she turned 21.
“Her whole life, she couldn’t wait until she turned 21 because I put some money in a trust fund for her years ago and she wasn’t going to be able to get it until she was 21,” said Ben Chambers. “She was going to buy a new car with it. She was excited.”
By May 2013, Jessica was living back at home with her mother. It had been ages since she’d broken up with Bryan Rudd and was seeing someone new. Her new boyfriend was a little rough around the edges, too, and went to jail for robbery.
Jessica was working to get her life back together. She spent a few weeks living at a Christian shelter that helps women “become productive citizens.”
She found a job working at a Goody’s department store. She was adored by her co-workers, who paid special attention to her, taking her on day trips and saving her clothing that was on sale in the juniors section—because Jessica was so tiny she could fit into junior-sized clothing.
Her father Ben also gave her back her car, which he had taken away from her and would only return once she stopped hanging out with friends he did not like.
Days Leading up to Chambers’ Murder
By late 2014, Jessica had been dating Quinton Tellis off and on. In the days leading up to her murder, the pair spent a lot of time together.
- December 2, 2014 – Jessica went to the emergency room for some medicine. Tellis joined her.
- December 3, 2014 – For the first time, Chambers received a text from Tellis asking her for sex.
“I’m horny,” he texted. Jessica replied, “Oh Lord.”
Chambers pointed out that his mother and sister are home a