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Natasha Jennings

Natasha Jennings

Natasha Jennings

A sixteen-year-old girl is found dead during a visit with her father.

In the summer of 1997, Carson City, Nevada, resident Sandra Jennings received an urgent call from her brother, Clarence Jennings. He was trying to locate his 16-year-old daughter, Natasha, who was visiting from California:

“I had called home. My sister answered the phone. I asked her if Tash was home. She set the phone down and she peeked out the back door. She didn’t see her, so she went upstairs. And that’s when I heard her scream.”

Sandra told Clearance that she had found Natasha on the floor. She’s wasn’t breathing:

“I told her, ‘Well, hang up right now and call 911. I’m on my way’.”

Natasha Jennings was already dead when the paramedics arrived. Ultimately, three theories about the cause of her death would emerge: drug abuse, sexual assault, and foul play.

When Natasha Jennings was very young, her parents divorced. Natasha lived with her mother in southern California. By the time she was 16, Natasha wanted to reconnect with her father, Clarence. She hoped an extended visit to his home in Nevada would bridge the years of separation. At first, Natasha’s mother, Tammy Stelton, wasn’t keen on the idea:

“I told her no at first. I said, ‘No you’re not going.’  But then I didn’t want to put her in the middle of our disagreements. What I feel towards her father is my own business and doesn’t involve her. That is her father.”

 

911 was called, but it was too late

911 was called, but it was too late

Sandra, Natasha’s aunt, was the last person to see her alive. They ate lunch together around 1:00. Later that afternoon, Clarence placed several calls to his daughter. He became more and more worried when he couldn’t reach her.

When police arrived at the scene, they found Natasha slumped on the bedroom floor.  Her hair was damp as if she had just taken a shower. An electric fan lay on top of her.
Scott Burau of the Carson City Sheriff’s Office said police had to investigate the death as a homicide:

“Any time you have a young individual that’s deceased for no specific apparent cause or reason, it’s suspicious. It’s treated as a homicide until such time as we can shift gears and say that it’s something else.”

There were no signs of trauma. Still, investigators turned their attention to a young man Natasha had become close to, who we will call Chris. Allegations had been raised that Chris had sexually assaulted her just days before. The investigation revealed that Natasha and Chris went to a party together a few nights before she died. Those who had been drinking were invited to wait until morning to drive home. No one saw what Natasha and Chris did the rest of the night. According to Ingrid Cotar, a friend in California, a confused and traumatized Natasha called the following morning to tell her something had happened after the party:

“Natasha told me she was drinking and she had blacked out and that Chris had raped her.”

Chris was interrogated, but according to Scott Burau, detectives concluded that whatever happened between him and Natasha could not be considered criminal:

“The autopsy report was conclusive that she was not sexually assaulted.”

Tammy searched for answers

Tammy searched for answers

As soon as Natasha’s mother, Tammy, learned about her daughter’s death, she rushed to Carson City:

“I spoke with everybody that she was around. I went to places that she had been. I handed out flyers—I mean, thousands upon thousands upon thousands.”

Then, one day, a woman approached her at a shopping center with some new information:

“And she was very scared. I said, ‘Please help me. Anything that you know.’ She was very skittish and watching over her shoulder and she said, ‘I know what happened to your daughter.” She wrote her telephone number down, and she goes, ‘Here.’ She goes, ‘Call me.’”

The woman claimed that Natasha’s father, Clarence, was a drug informant for local law enforcement. She said his cover had been blown and the drug dealers killed Natasha in retaliation. Clarence Jennings denied the claim:

“My ex-wife had asked me, is there any possibility that they might have had something to do with it in retaliation for my being an informant for the police department? And my jaw dropped. I’ve never been an informant for the police department.”

Natasha’s mother said she and other relatives confronted one of the Carson City detectives assigned to Natasha’s case:

“And we asked him if he was aware that Natasha’s father was an informant, and he didn’t deny it at all. He said, yes, he was aware of it.”

Scott Burau claimed that Tammy was mistaken:

“I can say based upon our records, Clarence Jennings was not, nor was he ever, a documented informant for either agency.”

But soon, another theory emerged. Investigators thought that Natasha might have overdosed on drugs. A scrap of plastic recovered on a landing outside Natasha’s bedroom contained traces of speed and cocaine. And there was a very small amount of the drugs in her nose. Forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht outlined a possible scenario:

“The cocaine and methamphetamine can lead to increased body temperature, hyperthermia. I think she probably took a bath to cool down, and she was then in the process of drying her hair when she collapsed, most likely in a spasm.”

Tammy Stelton rejected that theory:

“They said she was on a five-day drug and drink and sex party. And I was like, ‘Uh-uh. No.’ I just know my daughter. She wouldn’t have used.”

During the autopsy, the medical examiner found no drug residue in Natasha’s system.
According to Scott Burau, that does not rule out a drug overdose:

“If you snort cocaine on Monday, and you’re deceased on Friday, and we do a toxicology test, we may find remnants of the drug, perhaps in the nose or maybe in an injection point, or something like that, but the actual toxicology of your blood and urine and whatnot may produce a zero amount.”

Today, the investigation has hit a dead end, leaving Tammy Stelton frustrated:

“All I wanted was answers, for somebody to talk to me and explain to me what’s been going on with her, but nobody will. Nobody has.”

Scott Burau said his department is stumped:

“This girl was 16 years old. She had her entire life ahead of her, and we don’t have any answers. We don’t have the bottom line.”

Officially, the investigation into the death of Natasha Jennings is still open.