Missing Pieces: A small town's secret

Popular and pretty Natasha Atchley, 19, always attracted attention. However, the good time ended when she went to a party in Shepherd and never came home.

All this week, we're shining a spotlight on cold cases in the hopes of getting justice for the victims' families.

Natasha Atchley, a cheerleader, was brutally murdered 25 years ago, but are the people who know what happened covering up a small town's dark secrets?

"There was something about Natasha, you just either loved her or you hated her," said Keisha Myers, her best friend.

Popular and pretty, Atchley, 19, always attracted attention.

"She was a cheerleader, she just was wild and she loved to have a good time," Myers said.

However, the good time ended when the girl, who grew up in Livingston, went to a party in Shepherd and never came home.

"Once you've seen your sister's burned remains, it's something you never forget that," said Chad Woodard, her brother.

The next morning, a mile down the road from the party, her car was found, and inside the trunk what was left of her body, burned to bones.

"They identified some of the accelerant as what they call drip gas," said Tom Branch, retired Chief Deputy of the San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office.

Branch believes the killer may have used oil and gas wells in the subdivision to finish the job.

"You can actually get that product out of the oil well, if you know what you're doing," he said.

Branch says the number of people at the party made it hard to investigate. He described it as a party mixed with drugs, alcohol and powerful connections.

"There were some folks at the party that were family members of some elected officials and others in Polk County," Branch said.

Initially, investigators believed they would solve this case. They arrested two people for beating up Natasha, they even had a witness who claimed that he saw them. However, the case fell apart when he changed his story.

We tracked down the witness in prison.

"I can't say for 100 percent but the statement that I gave was yeah, I did see her, but with the amount of people standing around, it was a circle of people," said Anthony Cornelius, who is serving time for a separate case of sexual assault of a child.

The night of Natasha's murder he admits he was on LSD.

"It was down the road where the gathering was, it was a bunch of people gathered up like on the side of the woods," Cornelius said.

He says he wasn't at the actual party. Cornelius claims he was driving through the neighborhood because a friend called saying Natasha and another girl were going to fight. Now years later, he says he can't say for certain who he saw.

"I hope that they come to find out the information I had given would be correct, it would make me feel better," Cornelius said.

Now on the 25th anniversary of her murder, The Texas Rangers oversee the case. This old investigator is still hopeful someone will come forward.

"I feel comfortable we talked to the person responsible during the course of the investigations," Branch said.

Natasha's family and friends still hold on to her mom's dying wish.

"She said time and time again, this will be solved in your life time and I strongly believe that," Woodard said.

If only this small town will share its secrets.

"What we just remember her in our hearts and let everybody else forget about what happened in our town? We've gotta keep talking we've gotta keep praying, we've gotta start hollering," Myers said.

Investigators told us they feel like this case is solvable. Texas Rangers are highlighting Natasha's murder on their website and have recently upped the reward. If you have information that can help call the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-252-TIPS (8477) or click here to submit a tip online.

Natasha's family and friends are also raising money to help increase the reward, click here for more information.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment