Task force pores over Chambers 4/14/2015

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 10, 2015

Task force pores over Chambers

By John Howell
and Rupert Howell
It’s been four months since Jessica Chambers was left for dead on a rural Courtland area road next to her burning car. The story languishes but family, friends and investigators have not given up on solving the murder case of “Who killed Jessica?”

A Justice Department official who has spent most of his time during the last four months working with the task force assigned to the Jessica Chambers case described it as “the hardest case that any of us ever worked.”

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Speaking to the Batesville Rotary Club Tuesday, Paul Rowlett, an intelligence specialist with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Oxford said that officials from multiple jurisdictions and agencies continue to comb through evidence and investigate leads.

“I have participated in two wars, three or four military operations and a lot of cases,” Rowlett said, “but I will tell you that I have never worked so hard or been so emotional about a case as this one.”

Sheriff Department Major Barry Thompson has worked under five sheriffs and said Tuesday, “I think I can speak for all the investigators involved and they won’t take anything less than getting this case solved.”

Thompson was appointed by District Attorney John Champion along with MBI investigator Tim Douglas to be state and local lead men in the investigation.

Local investigators still work local leads along with investigating other Panola felonies as they arise, but all information comes through the lead men and on to the Task Force and Sheriff Dennis Darby, according to Thompson.

“We (Thompson, Douglas and a federal contact) talk several times a day—every day,” Thompson said adding that the sheriff calls for updates on a regular basis as well as turning in information or leads given to him.

Darby said that although federal and state authorities are heavily involved, the investigation also depends on local investigators who are familiar with the territory and local personalities.
“We keep our ears open—nobody knows how many people have been interviewed or re-interviewed,” Sheriff Darby said.

The  Justice Department official said he does not talk about emotional ties to the case to talk about himself, “. . . because I will tell you that on many occasions there’s a table full of people that feel the exact same way,” said Rowlett, an Air Force Academy graduate and Air Force veteran who now serves as a Colonel in the Arkansas National Guard.

“I went to lunch with two of the guys this week. I’m in awe of their experience — one of them is a state guy; one of them is a federal guy. We all three agreed that none of us had worked more overtime on any case.

“There’s a lot of junk out there in the public that it’s not being worked; that nobody cares about Jessica Chambers …nothing could be further from the truth.

“Talk to my wife and my kids who basically have not seen me since December  6th. We are working it; your sheriff’s office is concerned; they are working it, and your DA’s office; we have this task force … Different agencies that’s working this case. We’re working it hard and I believe with all my heart that we’ll get to the point where we can tell everybody that we’ve solved this case and somebody’s going to prison for it.”

Chief Deputy Chris Franklin again reminds citizens to continue to call Panola County Sheriff’s Office or CrimeStoppers with any information, noting the reward starts at $54,000.