New details have emerged about the death of a 19-year-old woman found inside the freezer of a four-star hotel, including that the only sign of trauma on her body was a small cut to her foot, and that her mother refused to let police analyze her late daughter’s phone.
Earlier this month, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s autopsy report showed that Kenneka Jenkins died from accidental hypothermia when she wandered inside a walk-in freezer in The Crowne Plaza Hotel and Conference Center in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont last month.
On Friday, police released dozens of reports and witness statements filed in this case, in an apparent effort to dispell some of the conspiracy theories that have been swirling around Jenkins’ death.
According to the documents obtained by Chicago Tribune, Jenkins was found by a Crowne Plaza staffer lying face down on her side inside a freezer located in a kitchen that was not in use by the hotel at the time.
The kitchen was equipped with a motion-activated camera that had not turned on until Jenkins’ body was found on September 10.
One of Jenkins’ shoes was off and there were no visible injuries to her body, except for a small cut to her foot.
Initially, hotel administrators only checked footage recorded by surveillance cameras at entrance and exit points, and only later reviewed footage from the hallways.
Police records show that Kenneka’s mother, Tereasa Martin, twice refused to allow investigators to conduct a forensic analysis of her daughter’s phone, saying that she had looked through its contents herself and found nothing suspicious.
Friends who attended that ill-fated party at the hotel with Jenkins reported getting death threats from people who suspected them of harming the 19-year-old.
One of the partygoers said the harassment stemming from Kenneka’s death had prompted her to relocate to another city.
A toxicology screening found evidence that Kenneka Jenkins had used alcohol and topiramate, a prescription migraine and epilepsy medication that can cause drowsiness and confusion, but no illegal narcotics were found in her system.
Jenkins’ mother said her daughter had not been prescribed any medications.
The medical examiner ruled that Jenkins died accidentally of hypothermia due to cold exposure in the freezer, with intoxication a significant contributing factor.
The victim’s friends reported seeing her drink cognac at the party, and her blood alcohol level was found to be above the legal limit for driving in Illinois.
Speculation about foul play had swirled on social media in the aftermath of the unusual death, with local activists and family members insisting that investigators were covering something up.
Surveillance video was released showing Jenkins stumbling around the hallways and kitchen of the hotel where she was found dead inside of the walk-in freezer hours later, cooling suspicions.
Video shows the teen leaving the elevator alone at 3.20am then struggling to maintain balance as she navigates the hallways.
She was at the hotel the night of September 8 for a party with friends on the ninth floor. Jenkins was officially reported missing on the next day at 1pm and found dead in the freezer September 10 at 1am.
Though the footage doesn’t show the moment Jenkins enters the freezer, authorities believe she did when she walked out of the frame.
There will be 36 more hours of footage from that weekend released, police told the Chicago Tribune.
The teen’s family’s lawyer told the paper they will be seeking their own investigation and perhaps a second autopsy.
Attorney Larry Rogers said the hotel ‘never checked. They never searched, they never did anything while a young, 19-year-old disoriented girl was sitting in their freezer.’
‘Now there has to be an answer to how that happened. Better yet, there has to be an answer to why that happened.’
Her mother Tereasa Martin said: ‘To me, I feel like they helped kill my child: the police department and this hotel.’
In a 911 recording made after Kenneka vanished but before she was found, Martin tells a dispatcher that she fears her daughter has been drinking after speaking to her friends.
Martin said ‘one cup is too much for her’ and asks if detectives can get the hotel surveillance video. But the dispatcher tries to allay her concerns and assures her that Kenneka will probably turn up.
The family filed a missing persons report at 1.15pm, at which time the hotel searched for Kenneka but failed to find her. It was only after the teen’s parents went to the hotel herself at 6pm that staff phoned police, a second search was mounted and her body was found.
Andrew Holmes, who has worked in the community for decades fighting against violence, told the Chicago Tribune earlier that detectives in Rosemont allowed him to view the video on Wednesday when he went to seek answers on behalf of Jenkins’ family.
‘We all was wondering and wanted to know did anybody pull her down there?’ Holmes told reporters Thursday.
‘Did anybody force her down there? Was anybody on the other side in that room when she got down there? And the answer to that is ‘no.’
Jenkins’ body was discovered in the industrial, walk-in freezer at The Crowne Plaza Hotel and Conference Center in Rosemont, a suburb of Chicago, at 1am Sunday.
She had gone missing around 24 hours earlier after partying with friends in one of the hotel’s rooms.
Viral Facebook videos of their antics around the time she vanished are being investigated by police alongside surveillance footage from 47 cameras inside the hotel.
Holmes said one of the surveillance videos shows the 19-year-old woman waiting in the lobby of the hotel after her friends reportedly went up to the room to retrieve items they left behind.
He said that the video shows Jenkins take an elevator to a lower level before she wanders around and opens doors appearing to be disoriented.
He said that she opened two doors in a kitchen area and walked inside of the large freezer before the doors shut behind her.
‘It was just an accident waiting to happen,’ Holmes told the newspaper.
His account of what occurred differs from the social media speculation that the teen was murdered.
Holmes said that the theories circulating online about Jenkins are ‘just something they made up on social media.’
He urged people with hard information to call the police.
Rosemont police said they will show the full video to the woman’s mother before they release it to the public at the end of the investigation.
Martin said that she plans to view the video with her attorney Larry Rogers.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel also announced that they intend to cover the cost of the young woman’s funeral expenses.
A spokesman for the hotel said they extended the offer to the family that would also allow them to privately view 36 total hours of surveillance footage from 40 different cameras inside.
‘Our hearts go out to the Kenneka’s mother, her family and friends. We hope covering the funeral costs provides a small bit of relief for them,’ hotel spokesman Glenn Harston said in the statement.
It was not known if Jenkins’ family accepted either offer.