It seems reprehensible to most Americans that we would question or fear our own FBI and DOJ. It’s a new idea to us and the world seems upside down. Yet, with the politicization of our justice system, Americans clearly see the duplicity and double standard. Now, we’re apprehensive to help, offer information or assistance, which harms the country and may allow criminals to evade justice. The following is a sad story of the murder of a young woman in our town. Yet, the story is an example of how the public, local police, the FBI, and the justice system worked perfectly together…….., like it should be in America. May God bless the men and women of the FBI.
It was bitter cold in January, 1996, right after winter break. Travelers had all returned to town from the Christmas holidays and the kids were refreshed and back in school. We’re a sleepy southern town where not much happens. We hadn’t had a murder in 30+ years, since two sisters learned they were dating the same guy and the guy was found, face down in a ditch, missing his manhood.
Ashley was 17 years old, an honor student, a senior at the high school next door to my home, and on the Homecoming Court. Her mom, a single mom, worked for the company my FIL brought to town in the 70’s, and our B&B’s biggest client. Ashley had car trouble on the way to school and knocked on a door for help or to make a call. The resident was on their way to work and didn’t have time to help. That was at 7:37am. Within 20 minutes, Ashley was gone. When Ashley missed homeroom, her teacher was concerned. Ashley was never late. Within 30 minutes, her car had been found by local police and they called the school and then, her mother. It’s the phone call every mother fears. Word spread throughout our little town like wildfire. Where was Ashley?
Our B&B is next door to the high school. Many of my staff are high-schoolers. All day long, local police questioned kids at the school to learn of any detail. When the kids left school to work for me, we were in the midst of taking down Christmas decorations. Ashley was all they talked about and they were scared. They all knew her.
That evening after work, an exec of the company and a girlfriend came to my home to talk about the missing girl. My girlfriend was desperate. She was also a liberal feminist, from Connecticut, a volunteer firefighter, and convinced our small town police department would flub the investigation. She wanted to organize search teams and was headed to talk to Chief of Police to “demand action”.
The police station is a block from my home and I can see it from my front porch. I knew everyone who worked there. I intervened and said, “Maybe I should go with you.”. I feared my girlfriend’s perceived arrogance would cause her to not be heard. If the situation was as dire as we feared, we would need everyone working together to find the missing girl. I made my girlfriend PROMISE not to speak in the meeting. We met with the Chief and told him “Whatever you need, shirt from my back, rally the town to help, whatever it is……, we will deliver it.” I hugged him hard and we left.
Over the next day, 16 FBI agents showed up in our little town to investigate. New phone lines were brought in and the ‘organization’ set up. For the townspeople, reality set in and it was a cold chill down our collective spine. People were terrified. As we are next door to the school, I received dozens of phone calls from moms, to ask if it was okay if their child came to my house (safe) instead of waiting in front of the school until someone picked them up. Fine with me. The kids were scared. No one walked separately. Rumors were rampant. Tips and alleged sightings were rampant.
Oddly, as we were all frozen in fear, the cold snap broke and the weather was spectacular, clear, and about 72 degrees, in January. I went to the garden center to buy pansies on sale and was planting in the front yard when the Police Chief pulled into my driveway. The pain in his face was so severe it caused my own eyes to sting with tears…. just like they are right now. I’ll never forget that moment. He looked like hell.
The Chief leaned on the hood of the car to support his weight and said, “Remember when you said if I needed anything you were willing to help?” I moved towards him to slide my arm around him and comfort him. “Anything,”, I said, “just tell me.”. He asked me to make dinner for the FBI and crew at the police station. They had been eating doughnuts and Taco Bell for a couple of days and it was getting old. He thought a nice meal would help their spirits. “Piece of cake”, I said and hugged him, “I’m right here, we’re going to find her.” He turned into me and started to cry. Takes a lot to make a man like him cry and he was way past his limit. I understood. We were in for a long haul….
Dinner for 25 is no big deal for us but I needed a little bit of help. We settled on Italian. Everyone loves Italian and I had 30lbs of scratch marinara in the freezer. Chicken Parm, sausage/4cheese stuffed manicotti, a big salad, and garlic bread. I call my Mother-in-Law to make her famous coconut cake and she whizzed into action. Real plates, cups, good silverware, home brewed iced-tea and good coffee. We were ready and delivered at 6:00pm. We almost burst through the doors of the war room when the Mayor (who was in my wedding) stopped us and pulled me aside. He would only allow me in and swore me to secrecy. No rumors, no speculation, nothing that could harm the investigation. Message received. I set up the food and left. But then came the hard part.
About 8:00pm, I went back, alone, to retrieve dishes. The agents all hugged me and they were grateful. Spirits lifted. Good job. “We’ll sleep well tonight”, they said. Heaven knows they needed a good night’s sleep. As I gathered dishes and napkins, the realization hit me, what were they going to do for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the next day, and the next? They were sleeping in the fire station on cots. I looked around at the men in the room. They were all middle-aged and they all had kids, wives, and were away from their homes as well. I spoke up and asked what the arrangements were for tomorrow. They pointed to one guy, who was placed in charge of food orders to keep the team running. I frowned/snarled in disapproval, “You mean a highly trained FBI officer is taking lunch orders? That’s an unacceptable use of manpower. I will do this for you.”,…..could have heard a pin drop. It was like mom had issued an order and they were all 8yrs old again. “Yes mam”, they said, “You sure?”. I gave them that knowing look like wives give husbands across a crowded room, “We can do this, you go and find Ashley”, I left and informed the Mayor I would be back in the morning. I wasn’t seeking permission, I had already decided.
Within days, the tension in town was unbearable. I reoriented our kitchens and was working on FBI food with my staff when I got a call from the local plant manager, where the mom was employed. My girlfriend was advocating for action by the local plant, the VP of Human Resources was convinced Ashley ran off with a boyfriend, and the plant manager was seeking advice. He knew I was helping with FBI food and we were long term friends. I arranged for the FBI team leader to meet the Plant Manager and went along for introductions. That was a wild meeting.
At first, the FBI wanted everyone to stay out of the fray, which is understandable. Advice was not well-received by the plant manager. VP of HR agreed and loudly disparaged Ashley and her mother, which did not go over well. I despised the guy, his contempt hung in the room like the odor of a dead fish. The company was a printing company and a major division of a large conglomerate. “We could print missing posters.”, said my girlfriend, the rabid feminist (Ashley’s mother was now living with her as she could not go home any longer). The FBI agent agreed it would help. They needed info.
I looked at the plant manager and told him to stop their presses (which is nothing short of a nuclear meltdown at a printing factory – it costs $6K/hr to stop them), and give the speech of his lifetime – to every shift. We’re stopping the presses to help find one of OUR daughters who is missing. Color the posters which is more expensive but better to identify her. Laminate the posters because they fade in rain. Organize teams to spread the posters as far as 50 miles. Call the corp office and authorize a $100K reward for info. I was starting to roll when the HR Director snapped at me for wasting time. I countered and said the plant workers often entertain a union for hourly employees, and THIS instance would be a perfect opportunity for management to illustrate they gave a damn about employees. This beautiful young woman was one of our own and WE WILL find her. I won. Idea sold. Plant manager gave the speech of his life, CORP CEO was there by second shift, and the FBI/Mayor/local ministers/and lil ole me were there standing next to him. We stopped the presses. I’ve never seen such an outpouring of community spirit. They wanted to help.
By day 4-5, I was exiting the fire station doing my FBI lunch run and noticed all 3 local stations had news trucks set up with satellite feeds. They were yelling at me for information and teasing me that they were hungry too. I had a little bit of pasta salad left over and couldn’t resist. I swung the mini-van over to the news crews and they stuffed their hands into my bowl and ate with their fingers. Of course, I gave them no info. When I went back for dinner, one of the agents questioned me about it, wanting to make sure I gave them no info. I laughed. The agent in charge suggested an interview with the mother might be a good idea and they wanted to use my house to stage it. They thought the mom would be more comfortable there. I said, “okay”. The agents had become familiar with our house and sometimes would drop off their dishes instead of me going to get them.
The interview was set for the next afternoon and I had a dozen or so media guys/ cameramen in the living room. I made them take off their shoes. They were getting set up and waiting. My burly husband was out of town so I called the brother of the Mayor to come over…, in case the media got out of hand. The mother was terrified to speak. One agent was there but I wasn’t convinced he could do anything with the media. The media asked me why we were waiting and I explained we were waiting on “Big David”, that my husband wasn’t in town, and “Big David” would deal them if they got out of hand. One ABC anchor laughed out loud and said, “Is he going to break our camera if we do something wrong?” I nodded, “Probably the least he would do….”. “You’re kidding me, right?”, he said. “Nope”, I responded. I made the media lunch to make them feel better but we had established control over the situation. We talked while we waited. We have an enormous oak staircase in the house and I had it swathed in 150yards of bridal satin for a wedding we did over New Year’s. I was leaving the staircase decorated for a bridal show we were doing. The ABC guy mentioned, “Hey when is the bridal show, we’ll come down and film it for you.” I scowled and said, “Yeah, right. You and your big network and me and my dinky bridal show.” I brushed him off. At the last minute, Ashley’s mom bowed out of the interview. The media left but they had lunch so they were okay.
After a week, feeding the FBI was getting a little expensive. I had nosy people calling me for info all the time and of course, I was sworn to secrecy. Their intentions were pure, they just wanted to help. Finally, I came up with an idea. We published a menu of what we were going to feed the FBI agents breakfast, lunch, dinner, for the next several days. I asked for help and faxed the list to all the banks, every company and church in town. If there’s one thing southern women understand, it’s food. Pretty soon, someone knocked on the back door with a quart of mayo, another with a ham, another with a casserole of redbeans and rice, a meat tray, 10lbs of cheese, salads and homemade dressings, chickens, BBQ, cakes, and cookies by the dozens. They were the best fed FBI agents in all the land but still no word of Ashley.
Day 16, that afternoon, the Governor was bringing in the state Department of Transportation for extra help. I was trying to figure out how to do lunch for 60 extra, when the call came. One agent stayed but the rest left. Kids were playing in an abandoned shack and found a piece of Ashley’s jewelry. They found her battered body under the floorboards, about 35 miles from home. She was naked and had been defiled.
A local DA tried the case. The criminal was a repeat offender, let out of prison early, in a neighboring state. I knew the DA when she was in law school living off food stamps to try to finish. She obtained the death penalty. She became a Federal District Judge and now, she is a State Supreme Court Judge. Throughout the trial, the offender had to wear bulletproof vests because so many people in our community wanted him dead.
About a week after the case was over, my doorbell rang. I opened the door to find 5 FBI agents standing on my front porch, all masculine men, wearing guns, and the lead agent had the prettiest little box in his hand, all wrapped in white paper, with a beautiful pink bow. I invited them in and they showered me with FBI hats, and jackets, and a “card from the boss”. They told me if my cat got stuck in a tree, just call, and they would be there to get it down. I opened my gift. Inside was a letter from the wife of one of the agents. She thanked me for looking out for her husband while he was away from their home. On and off throughout the investigation, the agents would come to our B&B to rest, relax, and clear their heads in the quiet. My gift was an antique pressed glass sugar and creamer for my dining table, where it remains today.
Ashley is gone. Her mother will never be the same and Ashley was her only child. Our system, however, worked. Everyone worked to find that sweet girl and bring her poor mangled body home. The justice system worked. The town helped. We believe and trust our FBI and wow, I can’t tell you how much we love our local police. Even the media was kind. The ABC reporter, Rob Harleston, was a model for my bridal show, two months later and did a fantastic spread on our little B&B. He kept his word. He was promoted to CNN, and moved to Atlanta. Later, he took a job with C-Span and I still see him from time to time. The Mayor and the local paper showed up at my house to give me a letter of thanks, a citation and put my picture in the paper. I refused. No pictures and no press. Kindness is expected in a small town and nothing out of the ordinary.
We need an America where we work together once more, where we love our police, FBI, and justice department, and where we care about each other. They’re all our daughters and sons and I wish they could all be safe. Every murder is local and affects the community. Our police and FBI need our help to solve the crimes. I wish, today, that if a person went missing, every member of the community would turn out to help, with pure intentions and disregard for politics. I wish I trusted the media to jump into action and help, not disregard the pain of a family, or not report the crime, if the perpetrator was found to be an illegal alien or the member of a certain ‘perceived as protected’ minority. Why does color or tribe matter when people are in danger or dead? I wish it was that simple. These are our children. These are our communities and we must act with common interest to protect our own.
I wish I didn’t have to wish…..