A legal view

By Chloe Scott
The University of Mississippi

Courtland resident Jessica Chambers, 19, was pronounced dead Dec. 6, 2014, after police say she was burned in her car. The case remains unsolved in the small town with a population of 512.

Phillip Broadhead, clinical professor and director of The University of Mississippi School of Law, said cases that happen in small towns are often easy to solve because everyone knows each other.

“But in the same way, they can be very difficult to solve because things that happen in small towns, by definition, don’t have a lot of people around that can actually witness what happened,” he said. “In cases where people try to cover up for one another because it is a small town, it can be very difficult.”

Broadhead said Chambers must have known the person responsible for her death.

He recalled the 1990s case of Holly Bobo, a Tennessee resident last seen entering the woods with a man in camouflage. The remains of her body were found in 2014. Bobo’s death was ruled a homicide. Broadhead said Bobo was kidnapped from her property by someone she knew, and detectives had a difficult time solving the case.

“It’s the same small town dynamic up there,” he said. “You’ve got the very small handful of people that know about the crime and who did it, and they aren’t talking. This case (Chambers) would indicate to me that there is a small amount of people who knew, maybe even just one or two, that were involved in the thing.”

Broadhead said small town police officers are often not equipped to handle difficult cases.

“All of the proof basically presented in court comes from either the police who investigated the case or the investigator of the (district attorney’s) office,” he said.

Broadhead said the amount of time that passes after a crime is committed without being solved often impacts the outcome of the case.

“Unless they have a break pretty soon, like all murder cases, cases start to go cold after the first 48 hours,” he said. “Without being able to develop suspects you can talk to and put pressure on to get this type of information, the more time that passes, the less likely it is that the crime will be solved.”

Broadhead suspects that only a couple of people were involved in the crime. He said burning evidence is a typical way to cover up a crime.

“That’s a very typical type of maneuver, which is not only to burn the property – in this case, her car – but to also burn her, in the sense of not being able to come up with any forensic evidence from the body. That plays into the difficulty of the case too.”