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

Smiling Natasha Jennings wearing a dress

Natasha Jennings

Woman dialing 911 on a landline phone

911 was called, but it was too late

CASE DETAILS

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’.”

Tammy looking at a flyer for Natasha Jennings

Tammy searched for answers

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.”

Investigator wearing rubber gloves examining a bag containing traces of cocain

Traces of cocaine were discovered

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.”

Two police officers at the back of a county coroner vehicle

The cause of death is still undetermined

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.”

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.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season twelve with Robert Stack and in season four with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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20 Comments

  1. Rampart

    While I don’t know how she died, I rule out the death from cocaine/meth scenario – The odds of her dying from cocaine/meth are extremely rare (unless the drugs were intentionally tainted with a poison designed to kill or make sick). There’s a greater chance of her dying from toxic/common household cleaners while cleaning the house, then dying from cocaine/meth. As a result of the insane drug propaganda that we’ve been bombarded with, drugs have almost taken on a supernatural quality and it’s amazing how often the notion of drugs get inserted into various unsolved mysteries when there are few answers (in relation to the effects of drugs, as opposed to gang retaliation, unpaid drug debts or something along those lines). I think it’s much more likely that the investigators planted this notion and/or evidence of a piece of plastic containing traces of cocaine and residue being in Natasha’s nose as a cover up, especially since this alleged evidence surfaced at a later date, but either way it’s suspect. I haven’t looked into the case enough to know a motive. I think very highly of Cyril Wecht (he’s a renown Forensic pathologist, who in this instance was merely guessing as to what possibly happened), who I’ve found to typically have exceptionally good insight in many cases that I’ve observed over the years, but his theory that “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”, may very well be the dumbest theory in reference to anything that I’ve ever come across in my life. Sure it’s true that those drugs increase body temperature, but to the point where someone takes a bath to cool down and then dies of hypothermia is laugh out loud ridiculous. Of course we’ve all had blonde moments from time to time, but he definitely gets a blonde moment award for that theory.

    And secondly, even if the alleged and arguable date rape scenario happened (2 people getting drunk and having sex) 3 days prior, it doesn’t equal the Chris dude killing her and if he had, his guilt would have been blatantly obvious upon being questioned by detectives, but detectives completely ruled him out. However a detective/s would cover for a person in that situation if that person or that persons parents had some degree of clout, such as being a member of the thin blue line (this scenario isn’t as uncommon as people think). It wouldn’t be difficult to dig further to see this kids connections. And if it turned out that the kid has some clout, then I would definitely look into this possibility further.

    This is a very weird case. If I had to guess, this was a cover up (for reasons unknown) as a result of the highly suspect claims of cocaine residue being found at the scene at a later date. It could even be an accidental death cover up (but it almost certainly wouldn’t be from cocaine/meth) The informant scenario is interesting. I tend to believe the mom when she claimed that a cop revealed to her that Clarence was a police informant (people would crap their pants if they knew just how many people among us are a variety of undercover informants with no paper trails… most of this stuff is classified), however if this was a hit it based on this, it would be a pretty sophisticated hit (of course this is under the assumption that the autopsy/data provided to us about her death was indeed accurate). Most want to send a message, but to carry out a hit that looks like an accident seems like bit of a reach, but once again this under the assumption that the autopsy data given to us is legit. It’s amazing how naive most people are when it comes to police and even forensic corruption.

    Reply

  2. Jennifer

    Just cuz it says she wasn’t sexually active doesn’t mean she wasn’t molested. Maybe he didnt penetrate….to her that may still be rape especially if she was a virgin still.

    Reply

  3. jim

    Was the fan and electrical outlet checked for proper wiring and
    grounding?

    Reply

  4. UM fan

    I don’t think it was murder. I think it was probably an accident or a medical problem.

    Reply

  5. UM slacking

    So I’m curious what was said in the Suicide Note- I can’t imagine a parent leaving this world without mentioning the child they lost before them doing this. I’m also confused about the rape part but I wonder if I misheard the episode. I thought they said she wasn’t raped because she had not been sexually active, but like I said I may have missed something. Despite this case being open yet the only update I see is on her father passing. Where are the updates on Natasha !?

    Reply

  6. John

    What I’m thinking is that when she went to go plug in her Fan she got electrocuted and died that way that’s why the fan was on top of her

    Reply

  7. Anonymous

    Natasha’s Dad killed himself , still to this day think he had something to do with this , but still no answers to what fore sure happened to Natasha, And Tasha would NEVER do drugs she saved me from myself .

    Reply

  8. thinkingoutloud

    Like Syrus said, if the father was an informant of course he could never admit it. And of course the police department would deny it as well. I think it is possible that could have something to do with her death.
    The drug theory also make sense. She might not have done a lot of drugs as her mother claims she had no history with drugs OR maybe someone slipped her something unknowingly at the party and died as a result. I think the theory of her father being an informant definitely played a role in this somehow.

    There’s no way they can claim she wasn’t raped by the test. If she claimed she was raped, she was raped. Pathetic

    Reply

    • D strait

      that’t not how it works. Just because someone says something it does NOT mean it is correct, that is in no way to downplay her conversation with her friend or to say that could not have been the case. BUT there is other viable outcomes as well. how many innocent men did time for false rape accusations? can’t agree to something just because. I’ve just recently learned off the Occam’s Razor theory, and for cases like this one it just might be true. For her dad to be calling frequently that morning for her shows signs of worry that he actually could be an informant and this resulted from that. but wouldn’t they have killed her in the traditional way? shooting, strangle, stab? if it is revenge against her dad wouldn’t it more than likely be violent killing? especially if dealing with drug dealers. This case is overall weird as far as possibilities, unanswered questions, etc.

      Reply

  9. Anon

    The idea that an autopsy can show for sure whether sex was consensual or rape is ludicrous. This is the same outdated thinking that prevents many male rape survivors from coming forward (the idea that, if a person’s body is aroused in any way, they must “want” sex and therefore it can’t be rape).

    Reply

  10. Anonymous

    it was a cover up, that she was not raped, Chris is a dignitaries son, She took the 2 drugs, that Anna N. Smith’s son, took in the Hospital and died.

    Reply

  11. Tony Congema

    Maybe a psychic can help with answering questions,psychic’s have been working with law enforcement now and then,the poor girls mother needs some answers.

    Reply

  12. ROSE ANDREWS

    I THINK THAT SOME ONE NEXT TWO NATASHA .I HOPE THAT YOU ALL GET GET THEM FOR THIS

    Reply

  13. Trevor

    Are their any new developments in this case?

    Reply

  14. Syrus

    if her father was/is an informant, he could never admit to it, because he’d be a dead man walking. so that’s only something he and the police would know, and now he will have to live with that for the rest of his life. Why had Clarence placed several calls to his daughter. He became more and more worried when he couldn’t reach her, did he receive a threat concerning threats on his daughters life.
    R.I.P. Natasha Jennings

    Reply

    • EKS

      Clarence ended up dying of a botched suicide/OD. He left a suicide note and then was found, put in a hospital on life support and then died – all in Aug of 2008.

      Reply

  15. Rebecca

    Somebody out there knows something, they need to come forward, so this family can have some peace in their life and closure. A young life taken away, her family deserve to know what happened to their loved one. A lot of unanswered questions but someone out there, somewhere has those answers. Rest in peace Natasha your case is still open which is a good sign.

    Reply