Who Was Kenneka Jenkins? How Did She Die?

‘True Life Crime: Tragic Accident or Calculated Murder?’ on Paramount+ chronicles the mysterious circumstances under which Chicago, Illinois, teen Kenneka Jenkins, 19, died in a Rosemont, Illinois, hotel in early September 2017. While the authorities feel the case has been closed after a sufficiently thorough probe, the victim’s family alleges several theories that cast aspersions on the official conclusion. If you’re curious to learn more about the case, including how Kenneka died, we’ve you covered. Let’s begin then, shall we?

Who Was Kenneka Jenkins?

Kenneka “Neka” Jenkins was born to Teresa Martin in Chicago, Illinois, on May 27, 1998. During her September 2017 funeral, one of her three young nieces read a personal poem dedicated to their aunt, saying, “Every time I feel upset, she makes me feel like a princess. Neka was so funny she would make me cry.” Tia Triplett, then 19, shared that she would forever cherish the smile of her former classmate, Jenkins, with whom she had attended grammar school. She recounted, “She had a smile that could light up a room.”

Kenneka matured as a wise and responsible individual, radiating a brilliant and captivating smile throughout her upbringing. Her bond with her mother was strong, and she took as a caregiver when Tereasa underwent surgery for breast cancer in 2017. On September 8, 2017, Kenneka informed her mother that she planned to spend time with friends. She mentioned they would be going bowling and then catching a movie to celebrate her new job at a nursing home. Borrowing her mother’s car, Kenneka left the house at around 11:00 pm.

Kenneka and her three friends either lied about or deviated from their initial plans of going bowling or to a movie. Instead, they attended a party on the ninth floor of the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois. The hotel surveillance footage captured the group entering through a side entrance at around 1:00 am. During the party, they shared live videos on their Snapchat and Facebook accounts, revealing their displeasure about encountering persistent and unwelcome advances from fellow male attendees.

At 1:30 am, Kenneka sent a text message to her sister, which would tragically be the last communication her family ever received from her. The girls decided to leave the party around 3:00 am. Testimonies of her friends claimed Kenneka was in the lobby when she realized she had left her personal belongings, including her car keys and cell phone, back in the room. There are conflicting reports as to what transpired next — some suggest the girls left her alone in the hotel lobby, while others claim she was left in the ninth-floor hallway near the elevator.

Regardless of where she was left, all three of her friends went to retrieve Kenneka’s belongings from the party, leaving her alone for approximately 10-20 minutes. Upon their return, they discovered she was nowhere to be found. In a frantic effort to locate her, the friends scoured the hotel premises. Unfortunately, their search proved fruitless. Between 4:00 and 4:30 am, they contacted Tereasa to inform her about their inability to locate Kenneka and inquire whether she had returned home independently.

Upon learning that she hadn’t, they immediately drove to Tereasa’s residence, picked her up, and returned to the hotel to continue their desperate search. The concerned mother had reservations about the account provided by Kenneka’s friends, finding it questionable. She later expressed that their story “didn’t ring true.” Furthermore, she noticed signs that they had consumed alcohol and possibly other substances. When she inquired whether her daughter had been drinking, they claimed Kenneka had only finished one drink.

How Did Kenneka Jenkins Die?

Tereasa, aware that Kenneka had a low tolerance for alcohol, insisted that even one drink would be excessive for her. She approached the hotel’s front desk for help, but they declined. Her request to access security footage or have a security officer review it to find her daughter was denied, as only the police had the authority. At 7:15 am, Tereasa called 911 to report Kenneka missing. The dispatcher suggested the teen might be passed out from alcohol and advised Tereasa to wait at home. A police investigation commenced at 1:15 pm on September 9.

Hotel staff asserted that they had reviewed security footage without finding pertinent information. Despite extensive searches of the hotel and its vicinity, the police yielded no significant leads or clues. Around 10:00 pm, an officer decided to review security tapes and discovered footage of Kenneka stumbling through the hotel lobby’s hallways at approximately 3:20 am. She appeared severely intoxicated and disoriented and frequently collided with walls. A second search team was dispatched to retrace her last known movements.

Kenneka had entered an elevator, descended to a lower hotel level, staggered down a hallway, and even entered the men’s restroom. Eventually, she found herself in an under-renovation kitchen. The last recorded footage showed her heading towards a double freezer. Although the video didn’t capture her entering the freezer, it is believed she opened the door and became unable to find her way out. Notably, despite the kitchen’s renovation, the freezer remained operational, serving as additional storage for an upcoming hotel restaurant.

According to reports, the freezer could reach temperatures as low as 8 degrees Fahrenheit. Kenneka was discovered deceased inside a freezer unit at approximately 1:00 am on September 10. She was found lying on the floor with messy hair and one shoe removed. Her body had frozen solid, and foul play wasn’t suspected, as per police reports. Subsequent reports indicated her cause of death as hypothermia. While she had scratches and wounds on her exposed foot and ankle due to the missing shoe, no other injuries or markings were found.

There were no signs of struggle or altercation. Her toxicology report revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.112, indicating legal intoxication, likely exacerbating her hypothermia. Additionally, she had an unauthorized prescription drug, topiramate, in her system, typically used for epilepsy, migraine prevention, weight loss, or muscle spasm control. Her death was officially classified as an accident. However, her mother and friends remain skeptical, suspecting foul play. The case drew in numerous conspiracy theorists speculating on the cause of death.

One prominent conspiracy theory suggests the involvement of Kenneka’s friends in her demise, although no substantial evidence supports this claim. Some speculate her friends may have allowed an assault or murder at the party and placed her in the freezer. Others theorize the hotel’s involvement, alleging someone lured her into the freezer and locked her in. Some believe she was killed off-camera, placed in a garbage bag, and left in the freezer to mimic an accidental entry. Suspicion also arose from late-night trash removal.

Speculations extend to the hotel’s desire to cover up the incident due to a party with stolen credit cards, underage drinking, and illegal drugs. In 2018, the family filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Crowne Plaza Hotel over Kenneka’s death. The lawsuit alleged negligence on the hotel’s part for failing to properly secure the renovated freezer area and prevent public access. The lawsuit also blamed them for not intervening in a party with over 30 people in a room for four. Despite the speculations, the case remains closed with no further developments.

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