Jessica Chambers case: Six months later

It was six months ago, but it feels like it happened yesterday.

To the family and friends of Jessica Chambers, as well as to the investigators who have followed every lead to locate her killer, it has passed extremely quickly.

"It's so hard, I pray every day, all day," said her father, Ben Chambers. "I've got to keep my sanity, I try to not think about it or I'll go crazy. How she died, it just tortures me."

Jessica Chambers was burned alive on December 6, 2014, on Herron Road in Courtland. Investigators have mapped her every step that day, and with the exception of one hour before her death, they know the story. But it's that hour that matters.

District Attorney John Champion said the missing hour is starting to become more clear, however.

"This is not a cold case. It's just a matter now of developing a suspect," he said. "We're slowly but surely filling in the gaps."

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Both Champion and Sheriff Dennis Darby said at this point, investigators from several local, state, and federal agencies have all the pieces in place except the main one: Who did this?

"I think we've got all the pieces – from the technological and evidentiary standpoint, we've got everything there that once we identify a suspect all these pieces will make sense to us," Champion said. "It's just going to be a matter of finding that one piece."

Authorities have not let up in looking for that missing piece. The investigation has taken them out of the county and even out of the state. Some investigators have traveled thousands of miles to try to put the pieces of what happened on Herron Road together.

"It's frustrating, and it's continuous, and we're not letting up even a little bit," Darby said. "I feel good about where we are and what we're doing because this is personal. That's what we sign up for, is to solve cases. Some of them are harder to solve. This will continue to be a full-fledged investigation that won't go away until its solved."

Champion estimates that investigators have talked to at least 130 people about the case. While there are leads, he said, the part that matters is being able to prove that someone actually committed the crime before pressing charges.

There are theories, of course, and there are names that keep resurfacing. Ben Chambers knows who he thinks did it, though he won't give names.

"I want them to go to prison, I want them to suffer. I know they're going to suffer in the next life, so either way, we'll get justice for this one day," he said. "I'd like to see them suffer here, this is just a short time and the next life is eternity. You can deny it here, but you're not going to deny it in front of Jesus."

Champion said in a small town like Courtland, everyone knows each other. If only that narrowed down the suspect list.

"I'm still a firm believer that it's somebody she knows," he said. "And it's probably just one person or at the most two, but of course that's just pure speculation."

And the ripple effect of Jessica's death is everywhere. It's not just situations like hearing a song or seeing something that reminds him of his daughter, Ben Chambers said. It comes in some forms that are harder to process on another level. Because of various technicalities, his county life insurance policy with Met Life is holding out on the meager $10,000 life insurance policy he had for his family. It cost $10,000 to bury Jessica, he said, and after his son, Allen, was killed in a car accident in 2012, that's why he kept the policy.

Jessica's auto insurance policy won't pay because she didn't wreck, there wasn't another car involved, and she didn't die because of her car, Ben Chambers said.

"In other words, my daughter was murdered. She was burned alive, and she didn't die right, so everyone's got all these problems," he said. "It's ungodly how people can mess your life up. I just hope people keep praying for us. I know they do."

There are still pieces of evidence being sent to various laboratories for second analyses, Darby said, but he's worried about that last piece. He knows someone knows something that could close the case and bring closure to the people who loved Jessica during her life, as well as the ones who have only come to know and love her after her death.

"One little bitty amount of evidence gets us in the door. Little bitty stuff – you can throw it out the window because you think it's nothing, but what if it's true?" he said. "Don't be afraid to call in even if you might be wrong. What if you're not?"

"I think about it every day," Champion said. "We try to do something on it every single day. And we're moving in a good direction right now."

Contact Therese Apel at tapel@gannett.com. Follow @TRex21 on Twitter.


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