The murder of teenager Jessica Chambers, who was burned to death in Courtland, Mississippi, has generated headlines across the country since it happened in 2014.
But Chambers’ well-known murder is also linked to a much less well-known crime: The torture and murder of Meing-Chen Hsiao in Monroe, Louisiana in 2015.
The two murders were separated by just 225 miles and eight months. Their common link, cops believe, is Quinton Tellis who is accused of committing both crimes.
The murder of Chambers, a white teenager and former cheerleader, touched a racial nerve in Courtland—a small town with roughly equal numbers of white and black residents—as detailed in Oxygen’s upcoming docu-series “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers.”
Tellis, a black man, has already been tried once for setting Chambers’ car on fire while she was still inside it, but it ended in a mistrial last year. Chambers own statement to first responders before she died that “Eric did it,” significantly helped Tellis at trial. Even still, Mississippi prosecutors plan to try him again this September.
The Louisiana case against Tellis for the July 2015 murder of Meing-Chen Hsiao isn’t airtight either, according to an arrest warrant obtained by Oxygen.com. The warrant acknowledges that the murder charge is based “solely” on circumstantial evidence, rather than anything directly linking Tellis to the crime.
Hsiao was a 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe who went by “Mandy,” according to KTVE-TV in nearby El Dorado, Arkansas. She studied education and often passed out candy to the kids in her neighborhood, one friend remembered.
Cops say that whoever killed her cut and stabbed her more than 30 times—sometimes with shallow knife wounds designed to inflict pain—inside her apartment in order to force her to reveal the PIN code to her debit card. Police found her body ten days later when a neighbor called about inactivity at her apartment.
Hsiao and Tellis knew each other, according to the warrant, but the nature of their relationship is unclear. Video footage shows them together at a Wal-Mart the day before cops believe she was killed. Tellis told cops they picked up Hsiao’s prescription for a painkiller called Lortab and that he purchased them from her afterwards, the arrest warrant states.
In the days leading up to Hsiao’s death, one of her neighbors told cops that she saw Tellis coming and going from Hsiao’s apartment at least three times. The neighbor claimed to hear Hsiao and Tellis arguing at one point and she said that he “creeped her out,” according to the arrest warrant. Friends and family members describe Tellis much differently. They say he was caring and dependable, as chronicled in Unspeakable Crime.
The bulk of evidence linking Tellis to Hsiao’s murder comes from phone calls and ATM transactions. Cops believe she was tortured and killed inside her apartment sometime between 5:22 p.m. and 8:16 p.m. on July 29, 2015. After she gave up her pin number, cops believe Tellis called Chase Bank to check the balance of her account.
First, at 8:16 p.m. two calls are placed from Hsiao’s phone to Chase Bank, but the caller hung up immediately both times, according to phone records obtained by police. Then within the next two minutes, two calls go out to Chase Bank from Tellis’s phone. This time the caller enters her debit card number and her PIN. At the time the calls were made, AT&T records indicate that Tellis’s phone was within 60 meters of Hsiao’s apartment, according to the arrest warrant.
The next day, Tellis asked his mother-in-law’s neighbor to take “a blue Chase debit card with a Chinese name on it” to an ATM and withdraw $2,000, the neighbor later told police. The neighbor took the card to an ATM and checked the balance, but ultimately decided not to make a withdrawal.
Someone in Vicksburg, Mississippi managed to make a withdrawal of $400 the following day on August 1. Phone records indicate that Tellis was in Vicksburg at the time, according to the arrest warrant.
Then more than two weeks later back in Monroe, an ATM camera captured Tellis making withdrawals on three consecutive days beginning on August 17, according to the warrant. When questioned by police, Tellis told cops that he got the debit card from a drug dealer named “J,” according to the warrant. He then changed his story to say he got it from “a crackhead named Kenny,” the warrant states.
In one final twist, Tellis’s wife’s cousin Eric Hill came forward to police with new information. He said that while he was giving a man named Curtis Lemons a tattoo, Lemons had confessed to killing a “Chinese girl by ULM.” “That stupid mother---ker Quinton got caught using her debit card,” Hill said Lemon told him.
Hill identified Lemons in a lineup. But when cops presented him a photo of Tellis, Hill said he had never seen the man. From previous interviews the investigators had learned Hill was Tellis’ cousin by marriage and, in fact, that the two of them hung out regularly. Cops later confronted him, and Hill told them that he had implicated Lemons because he was mad at him. He said that actually Tellis had told him some intimate details of a crime that lined up with the circumstances of Hsiao’s murder. Cops could not link Lemons to the murder.
Louisiana courts have already sentenced Tellis to ten years in prison for using the stolen debit card. The murder warrant for his arrest in the Hsiao case came after he had already been extradited back to Mississippi on the murder charge in the Chambers case. Tellis has not been indicted by a grand jury for the Louisiana murder.
Jurors in the upcoming trial for Chambers murder could easily be influenced by evidence from the Hsiao case. But at this time, none of that evidence will be admissible when Tellis stands before a Mississippi court again this September.
[Photo: Monroe Police Department]