New Docu-Series Will Probe Burning Death of Jessica Chambers

Joe Berlinger will executive produce an investigation into a death that shocked the nation

Wilshire Studios and Buzzfeed News announced that they are developing a docu-series that will investigate the mysterious death of a Mississippi teenager. The case remains unsolved.

Jessica Chambers was 19 years old when she left her mother’s house in Courtland, Mississippi, to clean her car December 6, 2014. The teenager thought it would be a quick job and didn’t bother to change out of her pajama pants. When police found the girl later that night, Chambers had been doused with gasoline and her car had been set on fire. Chambers was flown to a hospital in Memphis but died the next day. Autopsy results found that Jessica died from severe burns that covered 98 percent of her body.

The docu-series is being produced by Oscar-nominated and Emmy and Peabody-winning documentarian Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Paradise Lost Trilogy), who spoke at length with Den of Geek  about his corruption documentary, Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger.

“Tragic in its own right, the story of Jessica Chambers speaks to all of us, from erupting racial tensions to the growing entanglements of rural poverty and drug use to the weakening of authorities in the face of a media-consuming culture,” Berlinger said in a statement.  “The opportunity to partner with Wilshire Studios and Buzzfeed with the goal of digging into the case and hopefully providing some answers for the family and community still struggling in its aftermath is the reason I got into this business.”       

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The series is inspired by the investigative reporting of Katie J.M. Baker, BuzzFeed News’ Senior National Reporter, who reported Chambers’ story.

“Jessica’s heartbreaking story continues to spark tremendous public interest largely due to the groundbreaking reporting by Buzzfeed News,” Dawn Olmstead, Executive Vice President, Development, Wilshire Studios, said in a statement. “We look forward to re-examining this very gruesome and controversial murder through Joe Berlinger’s creative lens, and bring to life his unparalleled vision in the true crime documentary genre.”  

Baker’s stories Chambers’ death one of the most-talked about stories on the Internet, inspiring amateur detectives to launch their own personal investigations. 

“Katie’s reporting is representative of what we do at BuzzFeed News, telling complex stories with an open mind, and deeply understanding the intersection of, in this case, social media and a dark and unsolved mystery,” Buzzfeed News Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith said in a statement.

“This is the perfect example of how BuzzFeed can extend the life of its content, be it serious journalism or entertaining videos, beyond the original social platforms where it was created,” said Matthew Henick, Head of Development for BuzzFeed. “We’re excited to partner with Wilshire Studios and Joe Berlinger to bring Katie Baker’s impactful reporting to a new audience through this docu-series.”

A grand jury indicted Quinton Tellis, 27, on capital murder charges in 2016. Tellis pled not guilty and a trial date has been set for July of 2017. Wilshire Studios plans to cover as part of its development.  

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Joe Berlinger’s Paradise Lost Trilogy, which he made for HBO, helped lead to the release of the wrongfully-convicted West Memphis Three after 18 years behind bars. He was a creator on the Sundance Channel series Iconoclasts, and made Ten Days That Changed America for The History Channel; Oprah’s Master Class and The System with Joe Berlinger for Al Jazeera America. Berlinger’s Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru premiered on Netflix in July 2016.