DENVER—Just before Valentine’s Day, 25-year-old Ashley Mead was gaining self-confidence through a budding friendship she’d found online, while struggling to end a volcanic relationship at home.
Police believe that it was this tricky entanglement that led to her violent death.
On Feb. 12, the day she and her 13-month-old daughter went missing, Ashley texted her best friend that she was “fed up” and ready to leave the baby’s father, Adam Densmore.
“These were not happy, best friend texts,” Morgan Jeknavorian recalls with regret.
More texts came from Ashley at around noon, this time with a photo of Densmore passed out on the couch. She titled the picture “Blob.” By 3:30, her texts to Jeknavorian stopped. Hours later, neighbors told police they saw Ashley take out the trash but they didn’t notice anything strange.
What happened between Sunday night and Tuesday morning when Ashley failed to show up for work is the bizarre story of a frantic cross-country search that ended in rural Oklahoma with Ashley’s disemboweled torso in a purple suitcase.
That day, Wednesday, Feb. 15, Densmore, 32, was arrested on a highway outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, just 40 miles from where police say he tossed the suitcase in a dumpster. Her other body parts, police suspect, are likely scattered somewhere along his path.
Authorities were relieved to find the couple’s tiny red-headed daughter, Winter Daisy, alive in Densmore’s car. The child was placed, unharmed, into foster care where Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett tells The Daily Beast she is doing fine.
Oklahoma cops caught up with Densmore after he hung up from a 20-minute phone call telling Boulder police that he knew they were looking for him. During that call, Densmore confessed that on Sunday, during an especially terrible fight, he told Ashley he hated her and hoped she would die. But he also claimed that Ashley was alive when he took their child and left the apartment. That long phone call allowed cops to track him down, and as they ducked him into a waiting police car, they noted he had a fresh bite on his arm.
Ashley was almost 20 years old when she and Densmore struck up their relationship in a restaurant where they both worked in Shreveport, Louisiana. Ashley had moved from Pennsylvania to attend Centenary College. Densmore, a handsome, dark-haired Army veteran, had dreams of being a chef. When he got the chance to relocate to Boulder for culinary school under the GI Bill, Ashley eventually followed him and at the time of her murder, she worked as a teacher. “Silly Ms. Ashley” as her pre-school students called her, was described at her memorial as a “bright light” with a huge smile who wore big glasses and colorful leggings.
“She was a beautiful human being,” her mother told The Daily Beast in a Facebook message. Claudia Bunce says she has no words to describe the shock and confusion she feels over Ashley’s horrific death.
When police first interviewed Bunce, she told detectives she had been worried about the relationship for a while, a point echoed by Ashley’s friends who tell The Daily Beast that the relationship was emotionally abusive. After seven years of breaking up and getting back together again, Ashley had recently confided to Jeknavorian that Densmore blamed her for his drinking and substance abuse.
“She was miserable, trying to escape but also to do right by Winter,” Jeknavorian said.
Court documents reveal several events which may have contributed to Densmore’s downward spiral. According to the arrest affidavit, just a week before she disappeared, Ashley had a paternity test that proved Densmore was Winter’s father. The document also says he had recently lost a job and had begun going by the name of “Samus.” With Ashley threatening to take Winter and leave, she told her friends, he would have no one left.
Investigators theorize that this could be why, likely that Sunday night, Densmore, in a rage, strangled Ashley in their tiny apartment, dismembered her, and drove her body hidden in her own white Volvo across the country with their child in the car. Authorities believe Densmore drove south through the night to New Mexico before he headed east for the long drive across the Texas panhandle toward his parents’ farm in Haughton, Louisiana. According to the affidavit, during the drive, Densmore woke his folks with a phone call after midnight on Monday, Feb. 13.
“I did something stupid,” he told them, according to police.
At this time back in Boulder, no one knew something horrific had happened to Ashley.
She had taken Monday off.
That evening, at around 8 p.m., he and Winter arrived at this parents’ home. The next day, Tuesday the 14th, alone on the property, police believe the disturbed veteran dismembered his former girlfriend’s body in the backyard shed with plans to dispose of the evidence on a grisly road trip back to Colorado. He and Winter were gone by Valentine’s evening, just as police were working against time to solve what had become a double missing persons’ investigation.
Earlier that day, detectives were called to do a welfare check on his and Ashley’s public housing apartment on the east side of Boulder. Coincidentally, one of them was Rick French, the officer who, 20 years ago, was first on the scene of the still-unsolved JonBenet Ramsey murder.
At Ashley’s unlocked apartment, police found her driver’s license, her cellphone, burritos in the oven, and moving boxes in the bedroom.
Realizing that Ashley and her beloved baby were missing, and hearing from friends that the young mother never left without telling people of her plans, police scrambled to find her and the baby she never left behind.
On Facebook, the morning of the 15th, Ashley’s mother, who lives in Pennsylvania, sounded an alert that was shared 338 times. “Ashley didn’t show up for work yesterday... if anyone hears from her, please let me know.” Morgan Jeknavorian remembers hearing Ashley was not with Densmore and Winter when he’d stopped at his parents’ home in Shreveport. “I knew she was dead.”
As family and friends tagged each other with alerts, the hunt immediately expanded from Boulder, to involve the FBI and cops from Louisiana, to Oklahoma. Just after 1 p.m. that day, Densmore was taken into custody.
“We got lucky,” said a police officer who requested anonymity. “Because of a couple of minimum wage store clerks being inquisitive and observant.” He’s crediting the employees of the Wal-Mart and the service station who noticed Densmore’s bizarre behavior around the dumpster and contacted the police in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.
In July, Densmore will have a preliminary hearing on several charges including first degree murder and abuse of a corpse. The court will also hear from several police detectives and the Oklahoma coroner who performed the autopsy on Ashley’s incomplete body.