Ashley Renee Martinez was born on January 24, 1989. Growing up, she was a member of a tight-knit family, which also included an older brother named Abel Martinez IV and a younger bother, both of whom she loved dearly, despite Abel oftentimes being overprotective of his little sister.
When she was a baby, Ashley was diagnosed with asthma and underwent breathing treatment to better her lungs. The result was she rarely suffered from asthma attacks, but would keep her inhaler on her for emergency scenarios.
She was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, for which she regularly took medication. When it wasn’t taken correctly or she missed a dose, she was known to experience what have been described as violent mood swings and exhibit risky, impulsive behaviour.
Ashley was like every teenager her age. She dreamed of becoming a model, and was known for being a fun-loving girl, with an interest in swimming. She was drawn to love stories and would often watch Lifetime movies with her mother, Tammy Mack, and was in constant contact with her friends, either in person at sleepovers or on the telephone. She also had a more reserved side to her, with interests in reading and writing.
In 2001, Ashley ran away from home. She didn’t leave her home state, Missouri, and was only missing for one day before voluntarily returning on her own.
Two months before her disappearance, she and her mother had gone to adopt a new cat for the house. Ashley had picked out the kitten herself, a longhaired grey cat she named Coco.
At the time of her disappearance, she was 15 years old and an eighth grader at Robidoux School.
LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:
At 12:00pm on July 6, 2004, Tammy dropped off Ashley and her little brother at the pool, located in Krug Park, in the vicinity of St. Joseph Avenue. The last time she would see her daughter was when she walked through the pool’s gated entrance.
According to those who were at the pool that day, Ashley was there for a few hours, before borrowing a friend’s cellphone and making a call. She then left the pool. While one of her friends had thought she’d left in order to go to a nearby convenience store, it’s reported she was seen getting into an unknown vehicle.
When Tammy returned to Krug Pool a few hours later, she found that only her son was waiting for her. When asked about Ashley’s whereabouts, he said she’d left the pool of her own accord and had gotten into a friend’s car.
Given Ashley’s history, Tammy at first believed her daughter had simply run away from home. Concerned for her wellbeing, she filed a police report.
When she went missing, Ashley had left behind all of her personal belongings, including the medication she took to control her bipolar disorder and her three pet cats.
Upon the police report being filed, many of Ashley’s friends were contacted. Through these discussions, it was learnt that Ashley had recently talked about running away.
In order to bring in leads, missing persons posters featuring Ashley’s image and description were put up in the area surrounding Krug Pool.
Police eventually learnt that Ashley hadn’t planned to run away alone. Reports came in that she’d planned to head to California with 32-year-old Christopher M. Hart, who lived in her neighbourhood. At the time, Hart was on parole for second-degree assault, and had previously been convicted of unlawful use of a weapon, drug possession and resisting arrest. Given this, investigators were eager to locate and speak with him.
Eleven days after Ashley went missing, Hart was arrested in Olympia, Washington for purse snatching. While in custody, he gave authorities a fake name, which meant they were not aware he was wanted for questioning in Missouri. As such, they released him.
Two months later, on September 7, 2004, Hart was arrested again, this time for failing to make a scheduled appearance in court. At the time, he had been staying with a cousin in Olympia. It was then that police in Washington state learnt his true identity and that he was wanted in Missouri. However, no sign of Ashley or the car he was believed to have been driving – a 1995 Pontiac Bonneville with Missouri license plates 377MPY – were found, and his cousin claimed to have never seen nor heard of her.
Despite their attempts, investigators were unable to get Hart to divulge any information regarding the missing girl’s whereabouts. Before he was scheduled to be arraigned in court, he began to act in a way that’s been described as bizarre and was sent to Western State Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
In 2005, numerous truck drivers participated in 18 Wheels Angels, a national missing persons locator program created by Project Jason. It enlisted the help of drivers and business travellers from across the country to put up missing persons posts along their travel routes. Ashley’s was one of the cases featured.
That same year, Project Jason also aided in numerous other projects to help spread the word regarding her disappearance. They added her to their Adopt A Missing Person program, where a person “adopts” a case and shares it with those they come into contact with. They also teamed up with JB Scott Publishing from Anniston, Alabama to feature Ashley in its monthly Through the Gears publication, which had a national circulation of around 150,000.
In order to get the word out about Ashley’s disappearance, Tammy contacted numerous other organizations.
A $5,000 reward was established by the Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation for information leading to her location and safe return.
On July 6, 2005, on the first anniversary of her disappearance, Ashley’s friends and family held a candlelight vigil at Krug Pool. It featured white roses, pictures and other personal belongings.
For years, Tammy spent the majority of her mornings online and on her phone, trying to locate Ashley. She now only does this every so often.
Ashley was one of the missing children honoured during Miles For The Missing, an annual bike ride that ensures missing youngsters are not forgotten.
In June 2017, a search was organized on the north side of St. Joseph, in the area of Huntoon Road and West Highland Avenue, just east of I-229. It saw several acres of private land and properties searched with the use of specialized equipment, bloodhounds and assistance from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Police have not shared what, if anything, of interest was uncovered.
The social media buzz surrounding the search prompted a new witness to come forward, Julie Wahlgreen. Wahlgreen is Hart’s cousin, and claims to have seen him and Ashley together on at least two occasions just before she went missing. She claimed the pair had discussed driving to Oregon, a trip she’d initially agreed to join them on. However, on the day Ashley went missing, she backed out, citing a “bad feeling”, and last saw Hart driving to Krug Pool to pick up the now missing girl.
Investigators with the St. Joseph Police Department have made numerous attempts to speak with Hart regarding Ashley’s disappearance, but he refuses to cooperate with the investigation. He is currently serving a 15-year sentence in the Missouri Department of Corrections for second-degree assault and tampering with a motor vehicle.
Given the on-going nature of the investigation, police have not been able to comment on specifics. While there have been no arrests in the case, they say they’ve investigated thousands of tips, and have used Ashley’s dentals and DNA to compare her with unidentified bodies found in the surrounding area. They will not say if Hart has ever been considered more than a person of interest.
It’s believed Ashley may still be in the local area or possibly in Kansas City, Missouri. Numerous tips have been received regarding her whereabouts, primarily from Kansas City and Olympia. While there is no evidence to show she ever arrived in Washington, it is possible she may have travelled there or to Nebraska.
Tammy has shared that she does not believe her daughter would have stayed out of contact with her friends and family, nor would she willingly have stayed away for so long. While she understands that Ashley may no longer be alive, she hasn’t given up hope that she’ll be found, and continues to circulate posters with her photo and age progression images. She remains in contact with investigators and the media.
1) The primary theory in the case is that Christopher Hart is responsible for Ashley’s disappearance. As very little information of substance has been uncovered, and with Hart refusing to cooperate, all investigators and online sleuths are able to do is speculate as to what happened after Ashley got into Hart’s car.
While many lean toward the probably of foul play, without a body or the vehicle in question, it’s difficult to say if Ashley is alive or dead.
In July 2014, the St. Joseph Parks, Recreation & Civic Faculties Department and Ashley’s family planted a sugar maple tree in the south parking lot of Krug Pool, an idea thought up by her grandmother. According to her family, that specific tree was chosen because its leaves turn red, Ashley’s favourite colour, during the fall.
That same month, a candlelight vigil was held around the tree. Featuring music and prayers for her safe return, it saw her friends and family pay their respects for the missing girl.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Ashley Renne Martinez was last seen at Krug Pool, located at 3541 St. Joseph Avenue, in St. Joseph, Buchanan County, Missouri on July 6, 2004. She was 15 years old, and was last seen wearing blue jean shorts; a black top; a black bikini with a red cherry print under her clothing; white Reebok sneakers with red accents; and a ring with two hearts joined together. At the time of her disappearance, she stood between 5’3″ and 5’5″ and weighed 110 pounds. She has sandy blonde hair and blue eyes, and has a scar on her left wrist. Her tongue, naval and ears are pierced. She may smoke Menthols cigarettes, and may occasionally drink alcohol and smoke marijuana.
Currently, her case is classified as an endangered runaway. If alive, she would be 31 years old.
Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the St. Joseph Police Department at either 816-271-4777 or 816-271-4747. Tips can also be called into the Missouri State Highway Patrol at 1-800-877-3452.
Image Credit: The Doe Network