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Surprising new theory in 1992 cold case death of Livingston cheerleader

Natasha Atchley, 19, was found burned to death in the back of her car in 1992.

SAN JACINTO COUNTY, Texas — There’s a new theory in a cold case that has stumped investigators for more than 30 years.

The 1992 death of Natasha Atchley, 19, has always been investigated as a murder case in San Jacinto County. However, former Harris County prosecutor Kelly Siegler explored a new theory in her TV series Cold Justice on Oxygen.

"I think it was a horribly tragic accident," Siegler told KHOU 11. "You can’t exactly prove it, and I think the crazy thing is no one saw it coming, we opened this case up because we thought we were going to solve a murder case."

Siegler said after reviewing the complete case file and interviewing witnesses, she couldn’t prove anyone else was involved. She thinks Atchley left a party that night by herself and was high when her car got stuck.

"I think that whatever was going through her mind that night whatever was happening in her mind in that car that night, caused her to panic or freak out and try to get away or get out," Siegler said.

There was one question, Siegler said, she wasn’t able to answer.

"I don’t know what started the fire. I wish to God we knew what started that fire," she said.

Siegler said a crime lab came up with a theory that drip gas from nearby oil wells started the fire but they're no longer in business.

Family thinks otherwise

"Once you’ve seen your sister’s burned remains, no you never forget that," Chad Woodard, Atchley's brother, told KHOU 11 in a 2017 interview.

He was also interviewed on Cold Justice but said the results of their investigation were something he never expected.

"I just can’t believe that’s what happened ... there’s too many other unexplained things," Woodard said.

He believes someone set his sister’s car on fire.

"Had that car burned at a normal temperature -- I could accept that, but it didn’t," he said. "There had to have been another burning substance in the car."

Woodard also doesn't buy the theory his sister's car got stuck.

"I’m sorry, my sister, we lived up a much rougher road uphill that Camaros made it up on the daily," he said.

However, he is thankful his sister’s case file was re-opened and said he’s not giving up.

"Do I want justice? Yes. I continue to fight for that," Woodard said.

Watch an extended interview with former Harris County prosecutor Kelly Siegler.

Missing Pieces: A small town's secret?

In Grace White's 2017 Missing Pieces report on the case, Atchley's best friend, Keisha Myers said the victim always attracted attention.

"There was something about Natasha, you just either loved her or you hated her," Myers told us. "She was a cheerleader, she just was wild and she loved to have a good time." 

Tom Branch, retired chief deputy of the San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office, explained one of the reasons they were convinced someone killed Atchley and set her car on fire.

"They identified some of the accelerant as what they call drip gas," Branch said in 2017.

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.

"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 in 2017.

KHOU 11 contacted the San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office. Both said they are not closing the case and welcome any new information.

"We are always open to any new evidence," Sheriff Greg Capers said. "Since the great people associated with Cold Justice have visited our county on this case and gone, we will continue to ask the public for help in bringing any and all information to us in regards to helping this family gain closure."

"This case will remain open and we encourage anyone with new or additional information to come forward. Currently, there are no suspects in her (Atchley's) death," First Assistant District Attorney Robert Freyer said.

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.

Grace White on social media: Facebook | Twitter

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