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Crime News Dateline

Elementary Principal Picks Up Tips From ‘CSI’ Exhibit Before Killing Husband in Complex Murder Plot

Investigators used surveillance footage tracking the killer's movements that day to piece together the complex case.

By Jill Sederstrom

It was a vacation to remember. 

How to Watch

Catch up on Dateline: Unforgettable on Peacock or the Oxygen App.

Todd Chance, his wife Leslie Jenea Chance, and their children headed to Las Vegas in the summer of 2013 to take in the sights and spend some quality time together, even going through a special CSI themed-crime exhibit. 

But what Todd likely never suspected was that Jenea, his wife of 17 years and a beloved elementary school principal, was using the popular experience to gather tips about how to kill him, according to Dateline: Unforgettable.

Weeks later, Todd’s body was discovered in an almond field just outside Bakersfield, California on Aug. 25, 2013. But it would take years — and a significant amount of surveillance video footage — to piece the complex case together and bring the devoted dad’s killer to justice.

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“The video is just one reason this case stands out. I’ve never reported on a story with so much of it and not just surveillance video, clues caught on our own cameras too,” Dateline Correspondent Andrea Canning shared of what made the case so memorable. 

Who was Todd Chance? 

Raised in a small farming community just outside Bakersfield, Todd was a regular “cowboy,” often donning a cowboy hat and boots. During his early years, he loved to go off-roading, raised pigs, and tended to the family’s horses with his younger brother, Scott.

Todd also loved fast cars, including a sporty blue ‘76 Cobra II he drove as a teen.

“Oh it was a chick magnet,” his mom Diana Chance remembered. “Every day there were notes on the windshield of the car from some little girl that wanted to have him call her, liked his car, thought he was cute.”

But there was one woman that would stand out from the rest. Todd met Jenea, a single mom to a young daughter, while both were working at a local drug store. 

“He was very good looking, I kind of thought he was a ladies man and a player and I wasn’t interested in that at all,” Jenea told Canning of her initial impressions. “I had already been married once and I had come to the conclusion I wanted to find some ugly, fat man that would cherish me.” 

But Jenea soon learned that Todd was more than his good looks. He was “very doting” and quickly bonded with her daughter Jessica, treating her like his own child. 

The couple got married and had two more daughters. While Todd, a truck driver, focused on keeping the family’s home life running, Jenea earned her teaching degree and eventually worked her way up to become the principal at a local elementary school. 

Jenea Chance Spd2920

Todd Chance's Death

By the summer of 2013, Jessica had moved out of the house and her two younger sisters were enjoying their teenage years. The family took advantage of their time off by going to the beach, traveling to San Francisco, and taking that trip to Las Vegas. 

“It was perfect timing and we had the money,” said the couple’s daughter Sarah. “It was a really good summer, probably the best summer I’ve ever had.” 

But tragedy struck on Aug. 25, 2013, when Todd was found dead in an almond grove just outside town. A bullet tore through his hand in what was likely a defensive wound and the 45-year-old had two shots to the chest. His beloved black 2011 Mustang was missing, leading investigators to initially believe he may have died in a carjacking gone wrong.

But just hours later, the car was discovered abandoned in a drug-ridden neighborhood. The vehicle was unlocked and the keys and his .38 revolver, believed to be the same weapon that killed him, were left inside. 

"Our carjacking theory now is showing less and less evidence, especially now with the car being left open and the gun left inside it,” Kern County Homicide Detective Kavin Brewer explained. “That was just so rare and unheard of that a carjacking now is not in my mind anymore.” 

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Surveillance footage offers clues to Todd Chance’s murder

Jenea told detectives that her husband left the house that Sunday morning around 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. to go to a gun show with his father, Travis Chance. 

She claimed she stayed home to get some work done on her computer before her teen daughters woke up late that morning. “It was a typical day,” she told Dateline: Unforgettable

When police arrived later that afternoon to notify the family of Todd’s death, Jenea said she was stunned. 

“It was unbelievable. I couldn’t comprehend,” she told Canning later that year.  “He was such a likable guy, he didn’t hang out with a rough crowd, you know, he wasn’t into drugs, he wasn’t into, you know, gambling. It’s very baffling.” 

Strangely, Travis told investigators he never had plans with his son that day. Detectives also found another clue on Todd’s phone. The married father had nude photos of another woman on his phone. Authorities ultimately discovered the photos were of his ex-girlfriend Carrie, a woman he rekindled an online communication with several years earlier. 

Jenea believed Carrie may have had something to do with the murder, but Carrie was quickly ruled out after a parking ticket placed her hours away on a trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano with her daughter and friends. Carrie also told detectives she hadn’t communicated with Todd in months and they never had an affair or met in person after reconnecting.

Brewer said investigators got the break they needed after discovering a string of surveillance video that seemed to trace the killer’s movements that day. A witness in the neighborhood where the car was abandoned reported seeing a woman, wearing her hair tucked in a hat and large sunglasses walking away from the vehicle. In surveillance footage, the woman seemed to be carrying a bag and red backpack.

The same woman was later spotted walking into a Starbucks, where she went into the bathroom and emerged in entirely different clothes and shoes. The woman left the store before she was captured again at Lowe’s disposing of some evidence behind some bags of soil. The same woman is then seemingly seen at a nearby Walmart, where she uses a payphone to call for a cab. 

Brewer was convinced the woman seen in the footage was Jenea. The principal was arrested just four days after her husband’s death. But the district attorney’s office wasn’t sure the blurry video was enough to build their case and charges were never filed against her. 

Was Jenea Chance convicted of murder?

Yet, Brewer was still determined to make his case and spent years tracking down more evidence and surveillance images. 

He discovered that while in Las Vegas the family had attended a CSI experience based on the popular crime show and several of the exhibits had some eerie similarities to Todd’s case. For example, in one exhibit the suspect used a payphone to avoid detection, in another they changed their shoes to throw investigators off of their trial, and in a third a woman killed her husband and then disposed of his body in the desert.

Along with the chilling details from the CSI experience, investigators also found Jenea’s fingerprint on the outside of the Mustang’s driver side and her DNA was found on the steering wheel and gearshift — although she had claimed earlier to Dateline that she never drove the car.

Brewer also learned that just three weeks before the murder, Jenea had made a purchase at the same Walmart where the killer used the payphone and appears to be asking a greeter in the surveillance images during the earlier shopping trip where the payphone is located. 

When Brewer showed some of the surveillance images to Jenea’s daughter Jessica, she broke down in tears. When asked whether she believed it was her mother in the footage, she replied “yes.”

Jessica would later tell Dateline she was confused during the interview and thought all the surveillance images she was shown, including that earlier shopping trip, were taken the same day. She later insisted it wasn’t her mother in the footage and believed, along with her two younger sisters, in her mother’s innocence. 

With all the new evidence, Jenea was arrested again in 2016. She went on trial for the first-degree murder of her husband three years later. Prosecutors argued Jenea killed her husband after discovering his online relationship with his ex and was hoping to cash in on several life insurance policies totaling nearly a half a million dollars. 

Although Jenea’s defense attorney tried to argue that it couldn’t be her in the surveillance videos because Jenea needed to wear glasses and didn’t own contacts or prescription sunglasses, prosecutors introduced evidence that Jenea had ordered two boxes of contacts the month before Todd’s death.

“It was an absolute lie and she was just absolutely caught in it and right in front of the jury,” Brewer said. 

After eight days of deliberations, Jenea was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years to life behind bars. 

In an interview with Dateline: Unforgettable in 2020, Jenea continued to proclaim her innocence. 

“When the verdict came in I thought I heard it wrong. I seriously thought I heard it wrong,” she said.