Natasha Atchley: How Did She Die? Who Killed Her?

In 1992, Natasha Atchley, a former Livingston High School cheerleader, left a party but never reached home. Days later, her burnt remains were discovered inside her car. The subsequent investigation saw rumors and gossip circulating, suggesting that influential individuals might be attempting to conceal their involvement in connection to her demise or protect loved ones. Investigation Discovery’s ‘Murder Under the Friday Night Lights’ Season 3 episode, titled ‘Delaying Charges,’ aims to provide insights into whether justice was served for Natasha.

Natasha Atchley was Seen at a Party Before She was Killed

Natasha Atchley, born on May 11, 1972, faced early family challenges as her parents separated when she was just three. She thus resided with her mother in Livingston, a small town in east Texas. As both her parents remarried, her family expanded when she was eight and her mother had a son, Chad Woodward. She then embraced the role of a sister, caring for and protecting her sibling. However, her life took a turn when her father passed away after a few years.

That’s when Natasha began displaying rebellious behavior, particularly evident after her third DUI arrest while she was still a mere teen. Concerned about her well-being, her mother decided to send her to live with her uncle in Odessa, Texas. She enrolled at Permian High School to complete her studies and successfully graduated in 1990. In the spring of 1992, she returned to Livingston for a visit, unaware everything would soon turn upside down. This former charming cheerleader was still popular and had many friends in the area. However, some perceived her as a “wild child” due to her spirited energy, assertiveness, and aspirations for a more fulfilling life.

On the night of May 2, 1992, following a Friday night football game, a community event for the county, Natasha, 19,  attended a party in Shepherd, Texas. The gathering took place at Debra Fowler’s mobile home near the border. She was scheduled to join a family gathering with her mother the following day but never arrived. Concerned, her mother began calling friends, but no one had seen her after the party. Around 10:00 a.m., a father and son returning from a fishing trip noticed smoke emanating from a car on a dirt road in San Jacinto County.

The father and son reported the discovery to the police, who towed the smoldering car to the station. Upon identification, it was confirmed to be Natasha’s vehicle, and her mother was notified. Upon inspecting the car’s trunk at the station, small bones and a skull were recovered, later confirmed to be her remains. The medical report determined that she had been burnt to death, leading to the case being ruled as a homicide.

A Witness Statement Led to Two Arrests in Natasha Atchley’s Case

The initial lead for the police came from the car itself. Traces of debris and an accelerant identified as drip gas were found in the passenger and driver seats which was determined to be the cause of the fire. The police began questioning individuals present at the party, with many stating they observed Natasha Atchley leaving between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m., speeding away. Remarkably, the location where her body was later discovered was just a mile away from the party venue.

The police turned their attention to Clarence Fowler, the father of the girl hosting the party, as he provided inconsistent information about his activities that night. Given his background in the petroleum industry, a search of his residence uncovered cans of petroleum and diesel in storage, though no drip gas was found. However, lacking substantial evidence against him, the police had to release him.

Meanwhile, rumors and gossip began circulating in the town, suggesting that the children of individuals in high government and judiciary positions were also present at the party. Allegedly, these individuals were instructed not to disclose much about the night’s events. The case saw a breakthrough in January 1993 when a young man named Anthony Cornelius approached the police with information about the killers. According to him, on the night of the murder, Natasha had a confrontation with Cindy Hennings over a boy named Jim Morton.

During the altercation, Jim intervened to assist Cindy, leading to Natasha leaving the party in anger. According to Anthony, who claimed to have witnessed the incident, as he drove by, he saw Cindy and Jim physically assaulting Natasha, with Jim kicking her in the head with metal-toed boots. Based on this witness account, the police arrested both Cindy and Jim. However, a few weeks later, Anthony recanted his statement, leading to the release of both suspects.

Jim Morton and Cindy Hennings

The release of both suspects sparked further speculation about potential involvement in the crime. Some claimed that Natasha had been sexually assaulted at the party, restrained when attempting to flee, and ultimately struck down and kicked by Jim, resulting in her death. However, lacking concrete evidence, the case stalled.

In 2022, San Jacinto County officially classified her death as an accident. They proposed that Natasha mistakenly took a wrong turn on a muddy road, leading to her car getting stuck. Allegedly, her attempts to accelerate resulted in the car catching fire. The explanation, however, did not account for the presence of drip gas found inside the car. It could also not be explained how her remains were in the trunk of the car. Natasha’s friends and family do not believe this theory.

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