WILLITS, MENDOCINO COUNTY – Kayla Grace Chesser loved dancing. The 25-year-old young woman taught belly dancing at Cloud 9 Studios in her hometown of Willits, and performed contemporary dance, often in exotic costumes. She had been a high school cheerleader and basketball player, and went on to study psychology at Mendocino College. She had also begun school at Sonoma State University.
On Halloween night, Chesser was with a group of friends celebrating in costume. A story in the Press Democrat said that Kayla had been dressed as a cat, and that the group had gone to the Brooktrails Lodge in northwest Willits. According to the Mendocino Sheriff’s office, Chesser was dropped off at one of her friend’s homes that evening while the rest of the group went on. The home is located further into the hills north of Willits, along Poppy Drive in the sparsely populated area, just past Lake Emily. The homes out there are more like mountain cabins than neighborhood houses.
The friend who owns the home where Chesser was dropped off has a cousin from Vacaville named Terrell James Marshall Jr. Marshall, 44, is a known sex offender. He had been convicted of sexual penetration with a foreign object by force of fear, and was registered as a sex offender via Megan’s Law. It is not clear at this time if he was there when Chesser was dropped off, or if the homeowner even knew he was visiting. But at some time during that night, he was alone in the house with Kayla Chesser.
During that time, evidence later showed that Marshall sexually assaulted, and then strangled Chesser to death. The group of Halloween partiers later returned to the home, and encountered Marshall still at the house. They also found Chesser’s body in one of the bedrooms, with no signs of life. While they called for help, Marshall left the house in his pickup truck. Sheriff’s deputies arrived at 5:36 am. Chesser was brought to Howard Memorial Hospital in Willits, where she was pronounced deceased.
Marshall, meanwhile, fleeing in his truck drove north on Highway 101. After taking the Covelo Road exit, he drove northeast towards Covelo through the mountains. Near mile marker 12, perhaps feeling panic or remorse, he drove off the road down a cliff to the Eel River basin. He was discovered at about 1:00 pm on Saturday. He suffered significant injuries in the crash, and was transported to a hospital out of county for treatment.
Detectives conducted their investigation into the incident, including a forensic examination of Chesser’s body, which revealed the cause of death and sexual assault. They submitted their reports to the District Attorney on November 6, and a felony warrant was issued for Marshall on Monday, November 17, while he was still in supervised care at the hospital. When he was discharged on Tuesday, at 2:00 pm, he was immediately arrested and booked into Mendocino County jail with a no bail status on charges of murder, rape and sodomy.
Reaction to Kayla Chesser’s brutal death was immediate. A message on the Satya Bellydance Facebook page reads “This past weekend we lost our troupe mate, friend, and Satya sister Kayla Grace Chesser. It has been an honor to share the stage with such a positive, genuine soul. Her light will shine in our hearts forever. We love you Kayla!” A video tribute to her was also created and posted on Youtube with the caption “The unforgettable light and beauty that you resonated will shine ever so bright through the many lives you have touched.”
Press Democrat: Suspicious death of Willits woman under investigation