“The Ashley Reeves Story is based on the extraordinary true story of an ordinary teenage girl who had to fight for her life three times – first in the woods, then in the hospital, and finally in court.
Who is Ashley Reeves?
Seventeen-year-old Ashley Reeves was a high school girl living with her parents and younger sister Casey in Millstadt, a village in Illinois. She did well at school and had many friends and even a boyfriend named Jeremy, who was adored by her parents.
Ashley was looking forward to graduation. Little did she know that just a year before she was due to cross the stage, Ashley would experience the incredible and live to tell her story.
What Happened to Ashley Reeves?
On Thursday, April 27, 2006, Ashley told her parents that she was going to a job interview in Fairview Heights, a town about a 20-minute drive from Millstadt. Ashley told her parents that after the interview she would play basketball and be home by 10:00 p.m.
Ashley Reeves took a change of clothes with her and at 3.30 p.m. left for the interview in Jeremy’s car, which she had borrowed for the day.
By 10.30 pm the police time had passed but there was no sign of Ashley. Her mother Michelle asked her younger daughter Casey if she had spoken to Ashley, but Casey replied that she had heard nothing from her sister all day.
Michelle and Casey called Ashley several times and left several text messages, but unlike her, she did not answer.
Following her intuition that something was wrong, Michelle called the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office.
At first, the officers were convinced that Ashley had gone out with friends and lost track of time, but after eight hours of investigation, they found Jeremy’s car abandoned in Laderman Park in Belleville, a 15-minute drive from Ashley’s home.
Investigators found Ashley’s bag in the car, which contained the clothes she would have worn if she had gone to play basketball.
Detectives quickly realized that this was not a typical case of a rebellious teenager defying her parents’ strict curfew; this was a missing person case, and time was of the essence.
The detectives called Jeremy in for questioning because he was Ashley’s boyfriend and it was his car that she had driven, but they quickly realized that he was not involved in her disappearance.
Jeremy told the detectives that he had let Ashley borrow his car to go to a job interview followed by a basketball game.
The detectives questioned why Ashley would have played basketball in a park so far from her home if there was one in her neighborhood.
Unless she was meeting someone.
While the detectives were getting closer to finding Ashley, Michelle called the phone company; as Ashley Reeves was only 17, her phone was in her mother’s name. She was able to access her phone records, which detailed all her incoming and outgoing calls.
Michelle reviewed the records and realized that there were several calls from one particular number. Michelle called the number and contacted 26-year-old Samson Shelton.
Michelle asked Samson if he had seen or heard Ashley. He answered in the negative, and before she could ask why he was contacting her teenage daughter, he abruptly hung up the phone.
Luckily, Ashley Reeves informed her friends about her private life, and what they told the detectives made Michelle throw a cold shoulder.
According to Ashley’s friends, she had a romantic relationship with an older man. The two often got together to play basketball, and Ashley had planned to meet him on the day she disappeared.
The man was Samson Shelton.
Samson was a driving instructor and sports coach at a nearby high school. He was also a professional wrestler. No wonder his nickname was “The Teacher”.
Some of Samson’s pupils called him the “nice” teacher, others thought he was strange and a bit smug.
Detectives discovered that Samson was Ashley’s teacher in 2001 when she was in seventh grade. They had met again in February 2006, two months before her disappearance.
They often met in Belleville, where Samson lived with his mother and grandmother, near Laderman Park, where detectives found Jeremy’s abandoned car.
It was Friday 28 April and Ashley had been missing all night. Michelle was seized with pain as disturbing thoughts entered her mind: Was Ashley cold? Was she hurt? Was she suffering?
The detectives went to the high school where Samson worked and took him in for questioning. Almost quickly, they realized that he was involved in Ashley’s disappearance.
At first, Samson remained cool and calm; he was friendly, polite, and even cooperative with the investigation. However, as the detectives uncovered more and more of his deceptions, the truth began to spill out of his mouth.
When asked about his relationship with Ashley, Samson claimed that the two were just friends who rarely met to play basketball.
Samson claimed that his relationship with Ashley was only platonic, but when he was confronted with claims from Ashley’s friends that their relationship was romantic and sexual, he changed his story, desperately trying to make himself the victim.
Samson told detectives that Ashley had a crush on him. He drew a picture of an obsessed teenager who was in love and called him at all hours of the day. Samson said he had avoided Ashley for days, hoping she would leave him alone.
Several hours after the interrogation, Samson confirmed that he had not only had sex with his former pupil but had also been with Ashley on 27 April, the day she disappeared.
According to Samson, he was driving the car when he had an argument with Ashley. He wanted to end the relationship, but Ashley got upset and started shouting at him. He stopped, unbuckled Ashley’s seat belt, and told her to get out of the car. When she resisted, he pulled her out and left her by the side of the road.
Samson insisted that Ashley was still alive when he last saw her and that he would never have hurt her because he had a “very weak stomach”.
Samson said he cared for Ashley and was concerned for her welfare, as was her family, but would anyone who cared for another person leave her by the side of the road in the dark?
Phone records showed that Samson did not even try to call Ashley afterward to make sure she was safe. Instead, he went to a local country bar and danced the night away.
Samson’s story had changed so many times. The detectives didn’t believe a word he said. They begged him to tell the truth; Ashley had been missing for almost thirty hours and time was running out.
Only when the detectives mentioned that Samson’s grandmother would feel disappointed by his actions did he start to cry.
After 12 hours of questioning, Samson described in cold-blooded and disturbing detail exactly what he had done to Ashley and where he had left her to die.
According to Samson’s videotaped confession, he did not simply pull Ashley out of his vehicle and leave her by the side of the road. The professional wrestler, who works part-time, put the teenager in a chokehold and dragged him out of his car. He then heard a loud explosion and Ashley was left weak.
Realizing he had broken her neck, Samson panicked and dragged her into the woods, where he strangled her with his bare hands. When he realized that Ashley was still breathing, he strangled her again with his belt.
Using his leg as a lever, Samson put the belt around Ashley’s neck and pulled as hard as he could until the belt broke.
After the belt broke, Samson used his hands to choke Ashley for the third and final time before running off and leaving her to die on the cold hard ground deep in the forest.
After confessing, Samson agreed to drive detectives to the location of Ashley’s body in Citizens Park, a 45-acre park in Belleville just a 12-minute drive from Ashley’s home.
However, it had been raining all night, and when Samson arrived at the park, he could not remember exactly where he had left Ashley.
Armed with flashlights, the detectives spent thirty minutes frantically searching the woods. When they began to wonder if it was all a trick by Samson, they finally saw Ashley. She was lying on her back, her arms raised to her chest. Her tongue was hanging out of her mouth and hundreds of insect bites covered her body.
When the detectives were overwhelmed with frustration that they had not been able to save Ashley in time, her arms suddenly started moving. Then her chest began to heave. Ashley was alive.
Miraculously, after being strangled nearly to death three times and left out in the cold for more than thirty hours, Ashley had survived.
Emergency medics rushed to the scene and took her to a local hospital, where she was induced into a coma.
Detectives knew how important the first 48 hours were and wasted no time in searching for the missing teenager. If they had not been able to persuade Samson to lead them to her, it is unlikely that Ashley would have been found in time.
Samson was arrested and charged with attempted first-degree murder.
When he was taken into custody, Samson asked for a private toilet. He said he suffered from a urinary stress disorder and would be “miserable” if forced to urinate in the presence of others. His request was immediately refused.
Samson turned out to be a true narcissist who showed no empathy and no guilt for his actions. Despite his detailed confession and the fact that he took the detectives to Ashley, he did not admit his guilt and never apologized to her.
What Happened to Narcissists Samson Shelton Then?
Shockingly, Samson was released on bail and placed under house arrest; the man who broke a teenage girl’s neck, strangled her three times, and left her dead deep in the woods was allowed to live in his own home for a whole year as he awaited trial.
Shortly before Samson was charged with attempted murder in court, his mother Susan called the police to report that he had attempted suicide by taking a mixture of prescription pills and alcohol.
When deputies and emergency services arrived at Samson’s home, they found him apparently unconscious with a note on his chest reading “do not resuscitate”.
When the paramedics tried to revive Samson, he suddenly became alert and started attacking them with blows. He was then taken to a local hospital, where he allegedly swore racial slurs at a nurse and punched her in the face.
The judge presiding over Ashley’s case questioned Samson’s mental state, but prosecutors believed his suicide attempt was just a way for him to gain the empathy of potential jurors.
A month later, a psychiatrist determined that Samson was mentally fit to stand trial. However, Ashley’s family decided they did not want her to suffer through the horrific attack she suffered on 27 April and signed a plea agreement. Samson accepted the plea agreement and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, his scheduled parole date is 22 April 2024.
Where is Ashley Reeves Now?
Ashley recovered impossibly quickly. Although she cannot remember the day Samson tried to take her life, Ashley did not let his abusive actions keep her from fulfilling her dreams.
A few months after the attack, the incredibly strong and courageous teenager had relearned how to speak, eat and drink. A year later, she finished high school and started volunteering at a violence prevention center.
Today, Ashley is 32 years old and has two children.