Body Found in Lake: Is It Missing Waitress?

Body sent to forensic center for identification and an autopsy.

Sept. 23, 2008 — -- Police searching for an Alabama waitress who went missing in Knoxville, Tenn., more than a week ago found a young woman's body floating in a lake and have reportedly notifed her family about the discovery.

Jennifer Lee Hampton, 21, of Florence, Ala., was last seen at 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 19, by a co-worker just outside her hotel room at a Days Inn in Knoxville.

Hampton, who has been described as hardworking and wholesome, was in town with three other employees to help set up a new branch of the Mama Blues Southern Cafe, a buffet restaurant based in Alabama where Hampton works.

"We can't say at this point if this is Ms. Hampton who has been missing since last Friday. We made contact with the family as soon as we got the call just to alert them to the possibility," Knoxville Police Department spokesman DeBusk Darrell Debusk told Knoxville ABC affiliate WATE TV.

"She was removed from the water and is being transported to the forensic center where an autopsy will be conducted and that will also help us determine the individual and other information," DeBusk said.

DeBusk declined to say how long the body had been in the water or if there was evidence of foul play, though police have said they suspect foul play in Hampton's disappearance.

A police spokesman confirmed to that a young woman's body was found, but declined to go into details. "We hope and pray this is not Jennifer. And if it's not, we hope and pray for the woman's family," Hampton family attorney Eddie Daniel said in a statement released today. "The Hampton family does not feel up to talking."

A 911 call from one of Hampton's co-workers was made Saturday, Sept. 20, after Hampton didn't show up for work and was not in her hotel room, according to Knoxville Police spokesman Darrell DeBusk.

"Officers briefly looked into the room and thought what they saw was suspicious," DeBusk told ABC News. "We believe that she was a victim of foul play."

Police declined to say what evidence in the room made investigators suspicious, but Mama Blues owner Steve Barnhill told ABC News that he understood there was no forced entry into the hotel room and sheets were ripped off one of the beds.

According to Barnhill, Hampton expressed concern to a boyfriend she was talking to on the phone before she went to bed about two men outside her room.

DeBusk declined to confirm or comment on these assertions.

Hampton's cell phone was also left in the room, police said.

Since Saturday, police have searched for Hampton both in the hotel and in the surrounding area.

"Saturday night through Sunday we used a search-and-recovery team to search the immediate area. We also used tracking dogs," DeBusk said Tuesday. "Yesterday we used more than four dozen of our officers to 'grid search' in a wetland area that was near the hotel."

Police have questioned family, co-workers and friends but said they did not have any suspects.

"We have conducted numerous interviews," DeBusk said. "We have re-interviewed several individuals."

Those who knew Hampton described her as hardworking and kind.

"She was real sweet," a co-worker who worked with Hampton for three years but did not want to be identified, told ABC News. "She didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't party. ... She was always working."

Missing Waitress 'Was Real Tight With Her Family'

Barnhill, who is offering a $5,000 reward for information regarding Hampton's whereabouts, said his employees in Alabama were concerned.

"She was real well-liked down in Florence Ala., her home restaurant," Barnhill told ABC News from Knoxville. "[Employees] are calling up here once an hour wanting to know more."

According to Barnhill, Hampton was devoted to her family, speaking or texting with her mother and twin sister several times a day. Barnhill drove her mother, stepfather and two sisters to Knoxville to help with the investigation.

"She was real tight with her family. She would never leave her cell phone in her room," he said. "She would never leave with anybody."