Arrested for Burning a Cheerleader Alive

The murder of Jessica Chambers became a sensation among Internet sleuths as more than a year passed with no arrest. Now police say they have their man.

02.25.16 3:00 AM ET

A 27-year-old man has been indicted in the December 2014 burning death of Mississippi cheerleader Jessica Chambers, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Quinton Verdell Tellis is already in custody in Louisiana on unauthorized credit card-use charges. Authorities say the card in question belonged to a murdered Taiwanese exchange student, and that while Tellis has not been charged in the student’s death, he remains a suspect in the investigation.

Chambers, 19, was found wandering with horrific burns over 98 percent of her body after she was set alight in her 2005 Kia Rio. She was airlifted to Memphis, but it was too late; she died shortly thereafter.

“Eric did this to me,” she reportedly said before she died.

“This has been the most unusual case that I’ve ever dealt with, the nature of how she died was very brutal and very horrendous,” District Attorney John Champion said at a press conference Wednesday.

Because Mississippi doesn’t participate in interstate extradition, it will have to prepare a “governor’s warrant” to transport Tellis from Louisiana—a process that can take up to six weeks. Though Champion didn’t say what allegedly links Tellis to the murder, he thanked “technological data” for helping them find a suspect.

“It wasn’t until we received information from subpoenas and began analyzing information we obtained that certain things began falling in place,” he said.

The case became a sensation for online sleuths as time went on without an arrest in the gruesome murder.

A BuzzFeed investigation of the case and related conspiracies noted that Chambers’s former high school boyfriend, Bryan Rudd, was a popular suspect among Internet sleuths who speculated he killed Chambers in a crime of passion. Other suspects floated included older female neighbors and a gas station clerk with a Muslim-sounding name. Tellis—who has three prior felony convictions—doesn’t appear in the BuzzFeed story, though post-arrest reports say the two were romantically involved.

Tellis’s social media postings suggest he was part of the Insane Vice Lords street gang, according to the Clarion-Ledger. The paper reports that Champion confirmed Tellis was in a gang but said the crime was not gang-related. Tellis had been living with his wife in Louisiana when he was arrested in August on the credit card charges.

Jessica’s dad, Bill Chambers, thanked police at the press conference. “They said some day it would come, and it did,” he said. “They would not give up, and I take my hat off to them.”