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Sheriff’s Office releases timeline of missing student investigation

No remains found despite claims of Chesapeake man

Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless has released a timeline into the investigation of the possibility of a murder victim being buried on property near Chesapeake.

The case got nationwide attention after a video by a property owner went viral on social media.

• July 2, the sheriff’s office was contacted by the West Virginia State Police because the officers had a husband and wife, James Hysell and Rebecca Hughes, at one of their posts.

Hysell claimed that the body of Samantha Burns was in a large burn pile on their property at 23 Township Road 1465. Burns, who was 19, was kidnapped from the Huntington Mall parking lot on Nov. 11, 2002 by Brandon Basham and Chadrick Fulks, who had escaped a Kentucky jail and to go on a 17-day interstate crime spree.

Basham and Fulks pled guilty to Burn’s murder, and were also convicted for that of Alice Donovan, 44, of South Carolina. Burns’ remains have never been found, despite numerous searches of sites in Wayne County, West Virginia. Basham and Fulks have told investigators that Burns’ body was disposed of in the Guyandotte River.

Deputies went to the residence along with an agent from the FBI. Hysell said his wife told him details about multiple bodies being burned and buried on the pile. Hughes told the officers a different story.

• July 3, the FBI and the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office returned to the property to photograph the scene and the burn pile. Hysell told them the burn pile was untouched. A forensic investigator who specializes in the recovery of buried burned bodies was contacted.

The FBI, sheriff’s office and an officer from the Huntington Police Department interviewed Hysell and Hughes separately. The information from Hysell changed from two bodies being burned on the pile to four bodies.

The tip about Burns was discredited because it was said that Mitchell Vickers was the one seen burning the body. However, in 2002 Vickers was serving life in prison in West Virginia for the murder of a TV cameraman. He died on Nov. 28, 2002.

• July 5, the sheriff’s office and the FBI met with Hysell at his home about the claims he was making on social media. They also walked around the property and looked at the undisturbed burn piles.

• July 6, Hughes came to the sheriff’s office stating she was afraid for her life from her husband who she said was making threats. Hughes got a protection order from the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court. The protective order was served to Hysell and he left the property on Township Road 1465.

• July 8, Hughes returned to the sheriff’s office and filed a violation of protection order against Hysell for “continued contact and threats made to her through Facebook and text messages.” A report was filed and sent to the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office.

• July 10, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office got a search warrant for the property at 23 Township Road 1465. Hughes was asked to meet officers at the property because she was not staying there.

Members of the FBI Huntington Violent Crimes Task Force, the sheriff’s office, the Lawrence Drug and Major Crimes Task Force and Huntington Police Department crime scene investigators executed the search warrant. The scene was photographed and videod to confirm the burn piles were still undisturbed.

The officers sifted through the burn pile by hand and sifted through the ashes with forensic tools. The search came to an end when it got dark. A Lawrence County deputy stayed on scene through the night to keep the scene secure until investigators could resume the search.

• July 11, the search resumed of the property and the burn pile. An excavator from Riggs Construction of Ironton to dig further into the ground. A 20 x 20 foot area was dug to the depth of eight feet in the primary burn pile. A secondary burn pile was also dug into.

No human remains were found.

The search was ended.