The Buddy case parallels local human deaths
TUNICA, Mississippi––“Each New Day is a Celebration of Light and Life for Buddy!” bannered the Tunica Humane Society of Tunica, Mississippi on August 18, 2021 above a glowing update about a young dog whose face was set afire on April 22, 2021 by a juvenile who has not been identified by law enforcement.
Treated for three and a half months at Mississippi State University, near Starkville, Buddy’s “eyes are no longer covered with heavy bandages. He can see and he is loving every minute of his new life,” the Tunica Humane Society posted to Facebook.
Buddy “is happy and playful and walking the halls of the hospital with a great big ball in his mouth. He loves balls. He carries them around so everyone can see them,” the Tunica Humane Society continued.
“He has been feeling so well, we gave the approval to go ahead with his neuter surgery,” the Tunica County Humane Society posting added, apparently oblivious to the ironic pun.
Juvenile not charged
The downside of the Buddy case, WAPT television news assignment editor Mary Grace Eppes reported back on April 29, 2021, is that charges will not be filed against a child who confessed to tying Buddy up with electrical cord and setting him on fire deliberately.
“While this terrible act is a felony crime punishable by up to three years in prison, under Mississippi law no person under the age of 12 can be charged with a crime,” Tate County Sheriff Brad Lance told Eppes.
Concluded Lance, “While I can tell everyone that things are being done regarding this juvenile, I am prohibited from releasing details.”
Lance since then has repeatedly called for amendments to Mississippi that would allow prosecution of juveniles for serious violent offenses.
The Buddy saga, meanwhile, may be just a part of a much bigger and darker story which, as a whole, might have inspired William Faulkner (1919-1962).
Indeed, some of Faulkner’s writings highlighted both cases in which crimes against animals preceded murders of humans, and cases in which crimes against humans led to crimes against animals.
Faulkner won the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature, the 1955 and 1963 Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction, and the 1951 and 1955 National Book Award, for his many stream-of-consciousness Gothic novels and stories set in “Yoknapatawpha County,” Mississippi.
Faulkner’s plots and themes centered on black-and-white racial relations during the first half of the 20th century, but animals issues were often in the background.
There never was a “Yoknapatawpha County,” but Faulkner lived almost all of his life in Marshall and Lafayette counties, rarely far from the Tate County, Panola County, and Benton County lines.
Buddy & Gaines Coker
Buddy was set ablaze on Peavine Road, just northeast of Senatobia, 35 miles by road from Faulkner’s birthplace in Byhalia, Marshall County, and much closer as the crow flies.
On June 28, 2021, barely 10 miles west of Senatobia, 13-year-old Gaines Coker––often photographed in hunting camouflage with animals he had killed––burned to death “while Coker and another boy were playing in a workshop building at a house at Arkabutla Lake near Coldwater,” Associated Press summarized.
“It is unclear how the fire started or if one of the boys set it. No one has been arrested or charged. The other boy was not injured,” Associated Press added.
Said Sheriff Lance, “We’re in the very early stages of trying to determine what happened.”
Both the Buddy case and the Coker case must have reminded Lance of the December 6, 2014 murder of Jessica Chambers, who was reportedly ignited after someone squirted lighter fluid up her nose––possibly the modus operandi used to burn Buddy.
Even children and adolescents in the region are likely aware of the Chambers case, probably the most publicized murder in Mississippi since the civil rights era.
Summarized Kriti Mehrotra in a Cinemaholic series reviewing the 2021 Prime Video multi-part documentary Jessica Chambers: An ID Murder Mystery, “The Goody’s Department Store saleswoman was found engulfed in flames, trying to walk down the side of Herron Road in Panola County,” just south of Tate County, “slowly moving away from her burning car. Burns covered 93% of her body.”
The site was approximately 38 miles from where Buddy was burned and the same distance by a slightly different route from where Coker burned to death.
Chambers managed to speak just three apparent words before she died under sedation at a Memphis hospital at 2:36 the next morning, interpreted by ten first responders as: “cold,” “thirsty,” and the name “Eric.”
That led police to a man named Eric Hill Jr., who first alleged that a man against whom he had a grudge had ignited Chambers. Hill, however, later named Quintin Tellis, and still later, in August 2020, recanted his testimony in a notarized letter that authorities suspect Tellis helped to write.
“Eric Hill Jr. is not only Quinton Tellis’ sister’s ex-boyfriend, but he is also a cousin of Tellis’ wife,” noted Mehrotra.
Hill, as of June 19, 2021 “is currently booked into the Ouachita Correctional Center in Monroe on a $250,000 bond on a pending count of armed robbery and a probation violation,” Mehrotra mentioned.
Law enforcement kept the Chambers murder investigation under tight wraps for many months, not least because Chambers, a former high school cheerleader, was white; both Hill and Tellis are black, as was her former boyfriend, Travis Sanford, who was in jail at the time of her death.
The Chambers murder investigation also eventually produced testimony from Kesha Meyer, described by Aditi Kini for Oxygen.com as “a friend of Chambers’ who had spent time with her on the day she was set on fire,” that “Chambers was ‘selling marijuana every other day in the last six months of her life.’
“A year after Chambers died,” Kini continued, “the FBI rounded up 17 suspected members from three gangs related to drug charges in a mission called ‘Operation Bite Back,’ according to CNN affiliate WREG. FBI agents targeted members of gangs named ‘Black Gangster Disciples,’ ‘Vice Lords’ and ‘Sipp Mob,’ reported WREG.
But the drug-related cases apparently did not actually lead to Hill and Tellis. Other clues did.
“In the days before her passing,” recounted Mehrotra, “Jessica was in constant communication with Quinton Tellis, with whom she was also last seen alive. So, eleven days after the incident, Quinton was called in for questioning.
“In the investigations and interrogations that followed, Quinton admitted to three things – he had had dinner with Jessica on the night she died, they had sex for the first time about an hour before she was found burning, and he kept a 5-gallon gas can in a storage shed,” which the investigators did not impound as potential evidence.
“As per phone records, Quinton,” who had two other girlfriends, one of whom he later married, “had propositioned Jessica or implied having a sexual relationship with her at least thrice” in the preceding three days.
“However, this only became suspicious because he had deleted all their conversations from his cell phone after she died.”
Quinton Tellis was also reportedly identified by one witness who picked him up hitchhiking nearby before Chambers was discovered. Tellis was indicted for the murder in February 2016.
Two subsequent trials, however, resulted in hung juries.
Ming-Chen “Mandy” Hsiao
Meanwhile, on July 28, 2015, Ming-Chen “Mandy” Hsiao, 34, a Taiwanese immigrant who had just earned a master’s degree in education from University of Louisiana at Monroe, was last seen alive in a Walmart security video talking to Tellis.
Hsiao’s remains were discovered in her apartment 10 days later, the same day that Tellis married girlfriend Chakita Jackson.
According to Anita Durairaj of Medium.com, on July 12, 2021, “Later, Tellis would tell the police that he had been purchasing prescription drugs from Mandy. Police believe that Tellis robbed and murdered Mandy for her Chase Bank debit card. In order to obtain her debit card pin, Tellis first tortured Mandy by inflicting superficial cuts and slices on her body. Once Mandy revealed her debit card pin, Tellis stabbed Mandy and left her dead.
“In May 2016,” Durairaj continued, “Tellis pleaded guilty to the unauthorized use of Mandy’s debit card,” after Eric Hill among others testified against him.
Where are they now?
Tellis “was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in prison for the crime,” Durairaj reported, but received early release after serving just 35% of the sentence.and remains “in prison at the Ouachita Correctional Center in Monroe, Louisiana, awaiting trial for the murder of Mandy,” Durairaj finished.
Upon release, Tellis may be extradited back to Mississippi to face trial yet again for the Chambers murder.
Travis Sanford, 33 at his death, was shot dead in his Courtland home over a dice game on March 15, 2019. Myron Ardyl Powell Jr., 24, of Batesville, Mississippi, was charged with the killing.
What dogs have to do with it
There is, at least as yet, no direct link of any of these many alleged and convicted crimes against humans to the burning of Buddy the dog.
Nor do any of these cases appear to connect with several other recent dog-related crimes of note occurring near Faulkner’s birthplace.
Notably, Eric Hodges, then 35, was on March 8, 2018 sentenced to serve at least 15 years in prison for the 2014 pit bull attack deaths of Derrick Sanders and David Glass Sr., cousins who were found about 10 weeks apart, severely mauled, in the same ditch.
Both Sanders and Glass died about a dozen miles east of Byhalia, and even closer to where Benton County sheriff’s deputies and more than 100 personnel from other law enforcement agencies on Easter Sunday 2013 arrested 52 people and impounded 26 pit bulls from a dogfight.
Shots were fired as 70 to 150 spectators, according to varying law enforcement estimates, escaped through the woods.
Despite the lack of a direct link, one need not be a novelist of the narrative skill of Faulkner to imagine that a rural area within which 70 to 150 people might attend a dogfight could host a considerable population of other psychopaths.