Police Say Body Found in Lake Is Missing Waitress

Police expect arrests soon; two men are held as persons of interest.

Sept. 30, 2008— -- Two men already in custody on fraud charges have been declared persons of interest in the death of a 21-year-old waitress whose body was found in a Tennessee lake.

The two men, who were arrested Saturday, have not been charged in connection with the disappearance or murder of Jennifer Hampton.

But Knoxville Public Information Officer Darrell DeBusk told ABCNews.com today that they are considered persons of interest in the disappearance and death of the former high school homecoming queen.

Hampton, of Florence, Ala., was reported missing on Saturday, Sept. 20, while on a business trip to Knoxville with co-workers to set up a new branch of Mama Blues Southern Cafe, an Alabama-based buffet-style restaurant where she worked. Her nude body was found Saturday in Melton Hill Lake about 5 miles from the Days Inn where she was staying.

Police have formally identified the body, although the victim's family had announced that confirmation Monday and began funeral arrangements.

The two men who are being considered as persons of interest in Hampton's death were arrested on unrelated fraud charges. They told police their names were Valentino Miranda, 19, and Rogelio Melchor, 38, and are believed to be illegal immigrants, DeBusk said.

DeBusk said the medical examiner had determined a cause of death but would not release the information, citing the ongoing investigation. He expected more news on the case to be released as early as this afternoon, saying "the investigation is moving very briskly."

Hampton's family, including her twin sister, have been in Tennessee since she was reported missing.

Attorney Eddie Daniel, who has been acting as a spokesman for the Hampton family, told ABCNews.com Monday, "They're just good, hardworking folks that never imagined this would happen."

Though police had said there were signs of a struggle in Hampton's hotel room, her family held out hope she would be found safely, Daniel said.

Mama Blues owner Steve Barnhill has told ABCNews.com that the sheets were ripped off the hotel-room bed and that Hampton had told a boyfriend the night of her disappearance that she was concerned about two men outside her room.

DeBusk would not comment on the evidence found in Hampton's hotel room.

Hampton, who had been voted homecoming queen by the student body during her senior year at Waterloo High School, was a quiet girl who surrounded herself with friends, high school principal Ryan Harrison said.

Though Hampton was not an athlete, Harrison said he remembered seeing her at most football and basketball games, cheering on her school's teams.

A participant in school plays, she liked history. Harrison said her former teacher, now the school's assistant principal, always had good things to say about her when she took his class.

The school is very small, graduating about 30 seniors a year. The students all know one another, Harrison said, making Hampton's death that much harder to accept.

"We've had some students come and talk to me" and the school counselor, Harrison said.

On Friday night, hours before the body was found in Tennessee, the school held a fundraiser for her family, collecting more than $700 for its expenses.

Students from Hampton's 2007 graduating class came back for the night's football game and released balloons into the air in her honor.

"Some of the students tied messages to the balloons," Harrison said, "saying 'I hope you're OK. We love you.'"