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4-9-07 Unsolved Murder of Oconee County Teenager in August 1970 –PART 2

SEE PART 1 for Background ... Crime Magazine Ca 1974

SEE PART 1 for Background

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Crime Magazine

     Ca 1974

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Crime Magazine Article Continued……..

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The historic county of Oconee, Georgia, derives its name from a small tribe of Indians who once roamed the woods in the’ southeastern section of the Peach State. Today, the Indians are gone, but much of the forest remains.

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Oconee is as yet a relatively unpopulated area, although it is beginning to get some spillover from Clarke County and the city of Athens to the north, where is located the University of Georgia. The only towns of any size in Oconee County are Watkinsville, the county seat, and Bishop, just a few miles to the southwest.

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It was here that the white prospectors forced the Indians from their homes in a greedy search for gold. As the natives fled before the ruthless invasion, their march was marked with death. In history, the crimson fate of the Indians as they trekked from Oconee County to die along the rugged terrain became known as the infamous Trail of Tears.

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            In this tragedy-ridden setting was born, on Monday, August 24, 1970, a murder which matched the horror of that heartless history….

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Oconee Sheriff Charles Holcomb doggedly pursued the killer

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            MORNING OF THE MURDER

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            At about 11:45 on that mournful-to-be Monday, teen-aged Harmony Caro Treesmith telephoned her best friend, Debra Anne Ashe. The two girls were in the habit of talking by phone at least once a day, even if they had only moments before seen each other in person.

            “I’ve got something I want to talk with you about,” Harmony Carol stated when Debra Anne picked up the phone.

            Instead of the usual warm response, Debra Anne’s voice took on an anxious tone. “Look, I’ve got to go,” she murmured. “I’ll call you back later.”

            Harmony Carol Treesmith was not to be put off. “What I’ve got to say won’t take a minute,” she protested.

            But Debra Anne Ashe’s voice became filled with distress. “No, no, I’ve got to hurry!” she exclaimed. With that, she hung up the receiver….

            A half hour to 45 minutes later, 16-year-old Simeon Smith strolled up to the Ashe dwelling, situated just outside the town of Bishop, Georgia. At the front door, he knocked and called out Debra Anne’s name.

            Puzzled at receiving no response, the youth walked to the nearby home of Henry and Mary Riverton, where he and his sister had, a few minutes earlier, arrived for a short visit.

            Simeon Smith had been a classmate of Debra Anne Ashe’s before he moved to nearby Athens. He and his sister had driven to Bishop to help the elderly couple, Mary and Henry Riverton, with their shopping. That chore completed, the youth decided to drop in on his former schoolmate.

            Now, with an ominous silence surrounding the home of Debra

Anne Ashe, the youth told Henry and Mary Riverton about his foreboding. The elderly pair, together with Simeon’s sister, decided to join Simeon as he returned to the dwelling next door to investigate.

            The sight which greeted the startled eyes of the group will forever be etched in their memories of nightmares….

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            DISCOVERY OF BODY

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            Debra Anne Ashe, a once-vivacious, auburn-haired schoolgirl, sprawled on the floor of her bedroom. The sickening sight of blood from an angry wound in the back of her head mingled with the red of her hair. Life obviously was slipping rapidly from the gravely wounded girl. A glance at the surrounding scene was sufficient for the shocked onlookers to determine that the injuries were not the result of an accident. To add to the grisly tableau was the fact that Debra Anne was nude from the waist down!

            Only one other person was present in the dwelling of doom: he was Debra Anne Ashe’s seven-year-old brother, Steve. But although the lad must have witnessed the attack on his sister, he obviously would be of no help in determining what had happened. The child is mentally retarded....

            Without delay, Sheriff Charles Holcomb, of Oconee County, was summoned from his office in Watkinsville. So was the victim’s mother, from the restaurant where she worked as a waitress, in nearby Athens.

            The shaken mother stopped only long enough to notify her husband, Donald, at his father’s residence in Athens.

            The victim’s frantic parents arrived simultaneously with Sheriff Holcomb. Minutes later, an ambulance pulled up in front of the dwelling. Accompanied by her weeping mother, the injured girl was rushed to the hospital, while the worried father stayed behind to assist with the investigation into the deadly assault on his teen-aged daughter.

            One of Sheriff Holcomb’s first acts was to contact, via the two-way radio in his cruiser, the office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at Athens. He sought assistance from that highly successful crime-solving agency.

            With this move completed, the official began a meticulous survey of the crime premises. At the spot in the bedroom where the girl’s head had lain was a large dark-brown-colored splinter from a piece of close-grained, finished wood. A similar section was found in the kitchen. These, no doubt, were from whatever had been used to bludgeon the schoolgirl.

            However, there were no signs of a struggle in the dwelling; the bed in the victim’s room was not in disarray and there were no overturned chairs or other items of furniture or utensils out of place.

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            HANDICAPPED BROTHER

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            Cautiously, so as to not frighten the mentally handicapped child, Sheriff Holcomb and the youngster’s father talked with Steve. The victim’s seven-year-old brother knew that something terrible had happened, and just as obviously he wanted to help. But to begin with, his answers were conflicting when he was asked where he had been when his sister was attacked. Nor could the lad give any indication who had been at the Ashe residence that day after his parents had left.

            Unable to learn anything from the child as to what he had witnessed, Sheriff Holcomb turned to the others on the scene.

            It was highly unusual, the official learned, for Debra Anne Ashe and her brother, Steve, to be left alone in the dwelling. Their father, Donald Ashe, was an employee of the Anaconda Wire and Cable Company, in Athens. Normally, he left for work around 3:30 p.m. each day. However, as luck would have it, on that particular morning he had departed from his dwelling at 10 or 10:30 and had driven the 10 miles to Athens, where he had to have the radiator on his car repaired; then he had gone to his father’s home nearby, where he left his disabled car. He had taken with him on the errand his other son, Terrell, five years old. Donald Ashe was at his father’s residence when notified about his daughter’s sad fate.

            As for the victim’s mother, she normally left home for her job as a waitress each day around 10 a.m., and returned about 10 p.m. Her husband usually stayed with the three children until he went to work, at which time their neighbor, Mary Riverton, came to the Ashe dwelling to baby-sit until their mother arrived home.

            Before she went to work each day, Mrs. Ashe told her daughter, Debra, what to prepare for lunch.

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            HAD STARTED NOON MEAL

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            An examination of the kitchen by Sheriff Holcomb indicated that Debra Anne had begun the meal just minutes before she was attacked: a small skillet was greased, a batch of cornbread batter had been mixed and the oven was on in preparation for baking.

            While Sheriff Holcomb continued his preliminary probe, there came to his assistance Van Worthy and Choice Johnson, agents of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

            At this time, the three lawmen talked extensively with the witnesses—particularly the victim’s neighbors, Henry and Mary Riverton, and with Simeon Smith and his sister, who had found the body and had given Sheriff Holcomb the only substantial clue thus far in the probe, outside of the wooden splinters which presumably were from the attack weapon.

            Simeon Smith and his sister told the lawmen that they had returned at about 12:15 that fatal afternoon from shopping with the elderly Riverton couple, and had made their horrifying discovery.

            Simeon Smith went on to say that, while returning from the shopping trip, he made a crucial observation: parked in the front yard of the Ashe residence was a light blue car. But by the time he had come over to call on Debra Anne, the sedan was gone.

            Unfortunately for the officers, the traffic of police cruisers in and out of the driveway of the Ashe driveway had eliminated any possibility of a trace remaining of the suspected sedan’s tire tracks as evidence in the mystery.

            Thus, in addition to the splinters from the attack club, the officers had the information that the assailant had arrived and departed in a blue sedan.

            On the other hand, another lead to be lost, along with the tread impressions, was a vital witness who could have provided a description—or possibly the name—of the attacker!

            At the entrance of the road leading to the Ashe residence is the dwelling of an elderly man who had retired from his job that year; he spends most of every day seated in a rocking chair on his front porch. Ironically, if the elderly retiree had followed his usual routine, he would have been in an excellent position to spot the mysterious blue car when it pulled into and out of the road to the Ashe dwelling. Unfortunately, he had not. The man who would have been a perfect eyewitness had been ill that day and had been in bed when the attacker came and went….

            To further complicate the crime investigation was the fact that there was no sign of forcible entry at the dwelling of tragedy. Donald Ashe told the officers that the doors to his home normally would be unlocked unless Debra Anne, becoming suspicious of anyone who might call, would hastily have locked them.

            An examination of the premises showed that, at the time of the attack, the front door was open. This could be accounted for by the fact that the mentally retarded lad, Steve, might have left the door ajar. Dusting for telltale fingerprints proved unproductive.

            The crime was also puzzling in other respects. Debra Anne Ashe, when she was found in a pool of blood, was clad only in a blouse and a bra; her panties lay on the floor near her bed. Her shorts were draped on the nearby dresser.

            Of special significance was Debra Anne’s wet bathing suit in the bathroom. This led to the conclusion that perhaps the schoolgirl had been changing from the bathing garments to her shorts when she was attacked.

            But that theory in itself led to further questions: What was the motive for the vicious beating administered to the 14-year-old redhead? Had a Peeping Tom watched the youngster as she splashed in the backyard pool which her father had set up for her and her brother? Had the sex-distorted mind of the pervert been aroused by the sight of the scantily clad body of the vivacious girl, so that he had waited until she’d gone into her bedroom to change before he made his way into the dwelling to confront the half-nude girl? Was it possible that he struck her down when she resisted his advances?

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            FATHER CHECKED THE HOUSE

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            At Sheriff Holcomb’s request, the victim’s father checked the house. To rule out the possible motive of robbery was the fact that nothing was missing.

            There remained the chance that the teenager had been ravished, but only a medical examination could determine that likelihood. On the other hand, none of her garments were ripped. This could indicate one of two possibilities: either Debra Anne had, indeed, been changing from her swimsuit when the assailant struck—or she could have been forced to disrobe by the assailant wielding a weapon.

            The answer to many of Sheriff Holcomb’s questions might, of course, be supplied by Debra Anne Ashe. But the teen-ager, gravely wounded, was unconscious in the hospital at Athens. Most frightening was the likelihood that the 14-year.old redhead might never recover to tell what had happened that mournful Monday morning….

            Tragically, the official’s fears were to prove only too correct. However, that sad turn of events was to come later; in the interim, Sheriff Holcomb and his colleagues from the GBI proceeded with their probe into the attack on the redheaded schoolgirl.

            Each of the witnesses in the baffling bludgeoning was interrogated separately at the scene by each of the lawmen. The sleuths paid particular attention to 16-year-old Simeon Smith, who was the first to suspect foul play when Debra Anne failed to answer his greeting upon his arrival at the dwelling that early afternoon. The lad and his sister told the lawmen that they had seen the mysterious blue automobile parked outside the Ashe residence upon their return from the shopping excursion with the victim’s neighbors, Henry and Mary Riverton. But beyond the color of the sedan, neither could offer any further information concerning the events of that day.

            Simeon Smith had the normal teenaged boy’s interest in and knowledge of automobiles, but unfortunately he had paid little attention to the one in the Ashe driveway. Nevertheless, the youth and his sister did agree that the car in question had been parked facing the entrance to the driveway; this automatically eliminated the chance that the youngsters would have noticed the blue sedan’s license plate. Georgia, in common with most other states, does not provide tags for the front of the car.

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            ELDERLY NEIGHBORS

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            The elderly neighbors, Mary and Henry Riverton, had returned home to rest after the shock of finding Debra Anne Ashe so brutally beaten. But a short interview in their home confirmed for the lawmen the account given by Simeon Smith and his sister.

            By 4:30 p.m. that eventful Monday, the investigation at the Ashe home was complete. Sheriff Holcomb drove to Athens with GBI Agent Johnson. From his office, the sheriff telephoned the hospital, where bad news awaited. Debra Anne Ashe had suffered a severe skull fracture and was at that moment undergoing surgery in an effort to save her life. The physician reported that the teenager was in critical condition.

            With the crime theory taking a turn from assault to the strong likelihood of homicide, GBL Agents Worthy and Johnson, the following morning, conferred with Sheriff Holcomb as they reviewed what had been learned before. Actually, the evidence was pitifully little. In fact, virtually everything on which the lawmen could form a coherent theory concerning the crime was contradicted by something else.

            For example, the semi-nude state of the girl would logically point to her having been the victim of a sex attack. Also indicative of such a crime was the very brutality with which the wounds had been inflicted. In the face of the findings one could assume that Debra Anne had been struck by passion-crazed rapist who was frightened away before he could consummate his assault.

            On the other hand, the lack of rips in the victim’s clothing and the presence of the damp bathing suit in the bathroom would make it clear that the teen-ager simply had been changing her clothes when the attacker entered the dwelling.

            A second possibility was that a prowler seeking loot had been interrupted in his nefarious task by Debra Anne when she’d come out of the bathroom and entered the bedroom to get her shorts. However, that theory was materially weakened by the absence of any evidence whatsoever of the premises having been ransacked.

            There was a third possibility: that the pretty, redheaded teen-ager had been voluntarily entertaining someone in her home. And that the visitor had turned violent for a reason known only to himself. But that was a theory which Sheriff Holcomb dismissed with a certainty he felt about nothing else in the case. The official was acquainted with Debra Anne Ashe; he had known her for many years. To him, such an occurrence, considering the splendid, highly moral character of the schoolgirl, was not only unlikely but also an impossibility.

            Sheriff Holcomb, because of his dedication to his duties, had made it a practice to know all of the residents in his jurisdiction. Thus he was in a position to be familiar with not only the ill-fated youngster but also with her entire family and with most of her circle of friends.

            Sheriff Holcomb is a native of Oconee County. For almost seven years, he had been a deputy sheriff in that section of Georgia until elected to his present post of top law-enforcement official, His administration has always won the approval of Oconee County’s residents; they have recently elected him to a second four-year term. Even with the rapidly growing population of the county—spurred by mushrooming Athens to the north—Sheriff Holcomb is still on a first-name basis with almost every one of the adults and with many of the youngsters in his bailiwick.

            Nevertheless, with the concurrence of GBI Agents Worthy and Johnson, the sheriff decided that perhaps it would be best for the probe to secure an even more thorough insight into Debra Anne’s background and activities than he already had.

            The Ashe family have lived in their present dwelling in Bishop for about seven years; prior to that, they had resided with the parents of the head of the household on the same property. Eventually, Donald Ashe built a home for his own family just down the road from that of his parents.

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            DEBRA ATTENDED OCONEE COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL

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                Debra Anne had attended Oconee High School, in Watkinsville, about 14 miles from Bishop. She was not, according to her mother and father, permitted to date any of the youths in the community. Therefore, in seeking the possibility of a secret suitor, the lawmen began questioning Debra Anne’s classmates and friends.

            The interrogations confirmed exactly what Sheriff Holcomb knew from the start: Debra Anne was not the sort of girl to disobey her parents by meeting boys against their wishes. No one could recall ever having seen the pretty redhead with an admirer—although on one occasion she had been brought home from a party by a boy accompanied by another couple.

            Like every other teen-ager, of course, Debra Anne had been attracted to certain youths and had been known to hold hands with them in the school corridors. But that’s as far as the “romance” had gone, from what the investigators could learn.

            Debra Anne Ashe was an average student; she had a healthy interest in athletics and was active in the Bishop Baptist Church and its Sunday School. All in all, she was a well-rounded, level-headed, personable, well-liked and attractive girl. It was difficult to understand how she had somehow run afoul of a person to whom those attributes meant so little that he had smashed in her skull.

            The gathering of information concerning the victim’s history consumed all of the day following the attack and part of the next one. However, that particular Wednesday was marked by tragic news: After a valiant fight, the surgeons had lost the battle to save the life of Debra Anne Ashe. The affable teenager had succumbed to the bludgeoning without ever regaining consciousness.

            Thus, while mourning the youngster’s death, Sheriff Holcomb lost what he had always regarded as his best opportunity to avenge the brutal attack. He had hoped that Debra Anne would name her assailant and provide a motive for the crime.

            However, with the elimination of that possibility, Sheriff Holcomb and his colleagues redoubled their efforts to identify the assailant—now a murderer.

            Under the circumstances, the investigators felt justified in doing something they had not previously wanted to do: search Debra Anne’s personal belongings. Prior to the youngster’s death, such a move might provide a lead to the killer.

            Among the slain teen-ager’s effects the lawmen came across a number of notes and letters, Few, though, mentioned the full name of the boys with whom she’d been acquainted; almost invariably, there appeared only initials. Even so, many of the persons about whom Debra Anne had written were immediately identified as classmates and local acquaintances—but one reference eluded the sleuths. In several places the initials “B.P.” were used.

            It required many hours of legwork before the officers finally identified the most likely candidate as Brad Pferton, a high school senior from Augusta, who occasionally visited friends in Athens; he had met Debra on one such trip.

            When interviewed in Augusta, Brad Pferton confirmed that he indeed was the mysterious B.P. in Debra Anne’s notes. He was not, however, able to assist the homicide investigation in any way—except one. He established once again that Debra Anne Ashe was no teen-aged “make-out”; on the contrary, she’d been a virtuous girl.

            A letter among the slain girl’s belongings caused the hard-pressed lawmen to sit up and pay attention. As was true with Debra Anne’s other notes, this one used only initials to identify the person to whom it was addressed. However, there was a major difference in this letter, which obviously never had been mailed. It was in every sense a love confession; such an epistle from a girl as demure as Debra Anne was surprising.

            The salutation was “To J. N.” There was no address.

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            INVESTIGATORS QUERIED TEEN’S FRIENDS

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            For weeks, the investigators queried the slain teen-ager’s friends and acquaintances concerning the possible identity of he mysterious J. N. None of those queried could help; no one, in fact, even knew an acquaintance of the infatuated teen-ager whose initials were those in the letter. That is, until a girl friend recalled that Debra Anne had had a “crush” on Joe Namath, flamboyant quarterback for the New York Jets!...

            Meanwhile, the autopsy and the scientific examination of the two splinters of wood—presumably from the murder weapon found in the victim’s bedroom—had added significantly to the information surrounding the murder.

            It was established that the half-nude schoolgirl had not been raped.

            And the crime lab technicians had determined that the splinters were from the butt of a gun—exactly what type of rifle or handgun had been used to bludgeon the young beauty, the scientists couldn’t say.

            The post-mortem disclosed that Debra Anne Ashe had suffered several severe blows on the back of the head, which had fractured her skull. Bruises on her arms indicated that she had been grabbed, probably unexpectedly, from behind. There were also lacerations on her forehead and on one hip; these injuries, it was surmised, occurred when she had fallen after being attacked.

            Funeral services for the popular, virtuous girl were held on Friday, August 28, 1970—four days after the murder. Grieving relatives, friends and classmates were out in numbers—also attending were lawmen working to solve the horrible homicide. Sheriff Holcomb was operating on the theory, which he had assumed from the start, that Debra Anne Ashe had been assaulted by someone with whom she’d been acquainted; thus it was conceivable that that person might, out of morbid curiosity, attend the victim’s last rites.

            The lawman’s hunch bore fruit! Midway through the funeral ceremony, his eye fell on three teen-aged boys who appeared extraordinarily nervous. What’s more, their discomfiture appeared to increase as the services progressed. Not lost to the official were the surreptitious glances the youths cast toward each other—and in his direction.

            At the end of the services, Sheriff Holcomb unobtrusively followed the youngsters out of the chapel. His interest in the jittery trio increased when he saw them enter a light blue car—the same type which witnesses had seen parked outside the murder dwelling!

            Sheriff Holcomb trailed the suspects’ auto to the outskirts of the city, then forced it off the road.

            What had looked like a break in the mystery fell apart when, upon interrogating the three youths as to their whereabouts on the day of the slaying, they established that they had ironclad alibis which checked out, leaving no doubt as to their innocence in the murder.

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            LAW OFFICERS WORKED LONG HOURS

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            In the weeks following the brutal bludgeoning of the redheaded schoolgirl, Sheriff Holcomb could be found in his office every night. More often than not, the lights would burn there well past midnight, as he reviewed whatever information he and his hard-working colleagues had gathered that particular day, trying to fit such data into that which had been obtained from the first day the investigation began. GBI Agents Worthy and Johnson were in conference with the indefatigable sheriff every day, while the GBI Supervisor, M.S. “Mitt” Calloway, from Washington, Georgia, lent his valuable investigative experience in an effort to track down the killer or killers.

            Meanwhile, over in adjacent Clarke County, Sheriff H. Tommy Huff had followed the progress of the probe with great interest. He grew even more intrigued upon learning that there was a possible tie-in between the murder of Debra Anne Ashe and that of another crime whose investigation he, himself had been conducting in his own jurisdiction. For weeks, a 14-year-old girl in Clarke County had been plagued by obscene telephone calls. Sheriff Huff had succeeded in taping several of the pervert’s monologues. When the lawman learned that Debra Anne Ashe also had, on at least one occasion, been the target of a sick sex criminal’s telephone abuse, he immediately offered the tapes to Sheriff Holcomb so that the latter could play them for several of Debra Anne’s friends and relatives on the chance that they could identify the voice. However, this stratagem failed.

            Despite all their hopes of a reasonably quick solution to the murder of the schoolgirl, it now became apparent to the hard-pressed sleuths that the task of tracking down the slayer would be neither easy nor quick. However, far from discouraged, Sheriff Holcomb and his associates methodically began to expand the scope of the probe.

            At the time Sheriff Holcomb took on the tedious task of going through the registration files covering the automobiles in the county; he made note of every blue car which might fit the description of the one that had been seen by the witnesses parked in the driveway of the slain schoolgirl’s home.

            Although this chore meant that the sheriff often had to stay up until 3 or 4 a.m., he knew that in the long run it would save time. Because of the official’s wide acquaintance with residents of the county, he could eliminate, because of the owner’s excellent reputations many of the cars which otherwise would have to be checked out. He was also in a position to cross out many autos which were blue, but were of a shade other than the one in question.

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            400 - 500 VEHICLES CHECKED

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            However, every other suspected vehicle—some 400 to 500—was checked, and the owner interrogated. In those instances where the motorist worked in one of the local plants or in any other establishment in which time cards were used, his whereabouts for the period when the slaying occurred was verified by checking such records. Despite several promising leads developed from this operation, all of them eventually petered out.

            Everyone residing on the road which leads to the murder dwelling or in that immediate neighborhood was questioned closely. Also interviewed were all of Debra Anne’s teachers and the school officials; in addition, the storekeepers anywhere close to the Ashe residence on the west side of Bishop were queried as to strangers they might have seen.

            Any time a new name cropped up during the interrogation, the lead was immediately followed up.

            However, all of the time-consuming work went for naught.

            Polygraph tests were administered b about a dozen and a half people—suspects as well as witnesses. Not satisfied with that procedure, Sheriff Holcomb obtained the services of a professional hypnotist from Atlanta, Georgia. Thus, the most important witnesses, including young Simeon Smith, who’d found the body of the bludgeoned redhead—were placed under hypnosis in the hope that subconsciously they had noted more than they could recall. Nevertheless, the exercise in extrasensory crime detection unfortunately proved of little value in breaking the homicide mystery.

            When the backlog of names of people and possible suspects to be checked got too long, GBI Agent Billy Stone, from nearby Thompson, Georgia, joined the probe for a couple of weeks, to help dwindle the work load. His keen mind left little undone in the matter of sifting out leads.

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            SHERIFF HOLCOMB ASKS GOVERNOR MADDOX FOR HELP

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            In early fall, 1970, the investigation reached a dead end. The killer of Debra Anne Ashe remained at large; this, despite the fact that the industrious lawmen had talked with at least 1,500 persons during the preceding months, seeking a clue which might solve the baffling crime. Sheriff Holcomb was convinced that somewhere among those 1,500 people lurked the schoolgirl’s killer. He was so convinced of the hunch that he called then-Governor Lester Maddox, requesting an appointment to discuss the fantastic facets of the mystery. The request was granted that same day.

            “Governor,” the sheriff began without preamble, “I need help!” Then, as briefly as possible, the lawman outlined the facts he’d gathered in the murder of Debra Anne Ashe and he explained the exhaustive probing he and the other GBI agents had accomplished in their search for the savage slayer.

            “I now have the best investigators in the GBI,” he continued. “What I want is more just like them, especially in the field of homicide.”

            Without hesitation, Governor Maddox instructed an aide to contact the headquarters of the GBI and arrange for a squad of scientific sleuths to join their colleagues in Bishop, in an all-out effort to bring the fatal bludgeoning of the schoolgirl to a successful conclusion.

            When Sheriff Holcomb returned to his office several hours later, GBI Supervisor Calloway, Agents Johnson and Worthy were waiting for him. In the next few days, additional GBI agents under the command of Captain J.E. Carnes, of Madison, were assigned to assist their colleagues. The group included Lieutenant D.C. Gormley, also from the GBI barracks in Madison; Lieutenant R.E. Hightower and Sergeant R.C. Patterson, from Atlanta; plus the four agents who had helped Sheriff Holcomb during the earlier stages of the probe but who had had to be reassigned because their expert services were needed elsewhere in the state.

            In their speculation, the investigators reasoned that Debra Anne Ashe, at the time she had left the swimming pool in the back yard and returned to her dwelling, had slipped out of her bathing suit and was clad only in her bra and panties when she’d answered the phone call from her girl friend. After hanging up the receiver, Debra Anne had raced back to the bedroom to finish changing her clothes. That’s when the killer, perhaps a Peeping Tom who had been watching the vivacious youngster splashing around in the pool in the back yard, had made his way into the dwelling. When the redheaded schoolgirl resisted his advances, the inflamed intruder had bludgeoned her….

            It is possible that, at this point, the would-be rapist had become aware that the victim’s mentally retarded brother, Steve, had witnessed the assault. In panic, the marauder had fled.

            This, then, was the hypothetical reconstruction of the murder. But whether or not the details were accurate or wrong remained locked in the unfathomable mind of seven-year-old Steve Ashe, who, because of his condition, could not tell the lawmen what he saw….

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            EVIDENCE REVIEWED AGAIN

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            With renewed impetus, the group of lawmen sat down to review every phase of the investigation. For almost a full day, with a tape recorder taking down their deliberations, the GBI agents and the sheriff pored over the reams of data, interviews, results of lie-detector tests and interrogation of suspects—which had been gathered during the preceding months. At the conclusion of the session, the officers decided that there remained only one course: to begin again and cover every piece of ground from start to finish.

            In putting together the various pieces of the puzzle, the sleuths knew that the victim’s mother had left for her place of employment as a waitress at 10 a.m. that fatal day. As for her husband, before he departed from the dwelling a few minutes later, he had filled the swimming pool in the back yard so that Debra Anne and her handicapped seven-year-old brother could refresh themselves from the heat of the day. The helpful schoolgirl apparently had entertained the ailing youngster for some time, until she returned to the kitchen to begin preparing lunch, as her mother had instructed.

            During that household chore, the phone rang. The caller was Debra Anne’s close girl friend. That’s when the doomed redhead exclaimed, “Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you back later.”

            With determination, the investigators set about their task, talking with every witness— every acquaintance, friend and relative of the slain girl—everyone who might be a suspect and those who might even be suspected of being a suspect! Appeals were issued to the news media, asking those persons who had information concerning the murder to come forward.

            It was all of no avail. Despite one of the most intensive investigations ever conducted in Georgia, the savage killer of Debra Ashe remains at large today.

            Furthermore, the crime in its ambiguity as to motive remains as puzzling today as it did on Wednesday, August 26, 1970, when the savagely bludgeoned, brutalized body of the pretty, redheaded schoolgirl was found.

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            DID SHE KNOW HER SLAYER

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            Was the affable teen-ager indeed slain, as the sheriff suspects, by someone she knew well? Was she still alive when the mysterious blue car drove away from the dwelling at about 12:15 p.m., to be bludgeoned in the short 15 minutes between the time the automobile left and the time young Simeon Smith came over to call on his ex-schoolmate, only to find her unconscious and near death? Why was Debra Anne so anxious to terminate the telephone call from her long-time friend that morning at 11:45 a.m.? Was the ill-fated girl’s half-naked condition due to her having fallen prey to a would-be rapist or was she simply changing clothes at the time she was bludgeoned in her bedroom? Did she interrupt a prowler bent on robbing the premises and, as a result, paid with her life?

            Above all, if the sheriff could just sift out the wheat from the chaff, would there be something in the massive amount of Information compiled during the course of the investigation to point directly at the killer?

            Somewhere in or near Oconee County, a murderer should take note: Sheriff Charles Holcomb never gives up. And he’s still sifting….


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