In the summer of 2004, Ashley Martinez and her younger brother ended the July 4th weekend with a day at the pool at Krug Park in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Their mother, Tammy Mack, put 15-year-old Ashley in charge, dropped them off around noon and told them she would come back to pick them up at the end of the day. But when she returned, her son was waiting for her, but Ashley was missing.
According to Ashley’s brother and others at the pool that day, Ashley was there for a few hours before borrowing a friend’s cell phone to make a call before leaving the pool. Tammy told Dateline that several people saw her daughter get into an unknown vehicle with an older man.
“When I got back to the pool that day, her brother was waiting for me,” Tammy told Dateline. “But Ashley – she was gone. At first I thought she had run away. It was typical of her, yes, but in the same breath, it wasn’t. Something was wrong. not in all of this.
Tammy explained that Ashley ran away once, in 2001, but didn’t get far and returned home a day later. Given this story, Tammy admitted that at first she believed her daughter had just run away from home. But she quickly felt that this time was different.
Two months before her disappearance, Ashley and her mother had left to choose a cat to adopt. Ashley selected a long haired gray cat that she named Coco. Tammy told Dateline that her daughter, who was in eighth grade at Robidoux School at the time, seemed happy and was very close to her two brothers.
Tammy found it strange that when Ashley disappeared, she left all of her personal belongings behind, including the daily medications she needed and her three pet cats.
Concerned for her well-being, Tammy said she filed a missing person report with the St. Joseph Police Department. Ashley’s friends and bystanders at the pool were questioned and told police Ashley had spoken of running away. She was believed to be with Christopher Matthias Hart, 32, who fit the description of the man she was seen with at the pool.
In the weeks and months since Ashley’s disappearance, Hart has been arrested on several occasions on unrelated charges. The current investigator on the case, Sgt. Jason Strong said he couldn’t comment on the case as it is still open. He wouldn’t say if Hart had ever been considered a suspect. Hart was sentenced to 15 years in Missouri for assault and tampering with a motor vehicle and was released in 2015.
In 2017, a cousin of Hart contacted the local newspaper News-Press now and claimed that she had seen Ashley and Hart together before Ashley’s disappearance and that they had talked about driving in Oregon. The cousin added that she planned to join them, but withdrew at the last minute.
In early 2021, according to News-Press Now, Denise Campbell, a former school administrator at Robidoux Middle School, wrote in a sworn document that she saw the teenager with a man other than Hart in the fall of 2004.
The authenticity of the affidavit was verified by News-Press Now, which reported that it had been notarized by a notary public and signed by a witness whose name, however, is illegible.
Sergeant Strong said authorities at Dateline followed up on all recent information on the case and used Ashley’s DNA to compare with unidentified bodies found in the area, but nothing has come of it. where Ashley was.
“We’ve been actively investigating this matter for years – we haven’t stopped,” Sgt. Strong said Dateline. “We’ve hit a lot of dead ends, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up.”
Sergeant Strong added that authorities have recently received new information which they hope will lead to answers.
This week marks 17 years since Tammy last saw her daughter’s dazzling smile as she waved at her at the pool. All she wants now is closure.
“I miss her, she’s my daughter, of course I want her to be safe at home,” Tammy said. “But I know her too and I don’t think she would have gone that long without ever contacting someone.”
Tammy said she believed her daughter may have found herself in a dangerous situation that she couldn’t get out of.
For years, Tammy has spent her mornings online and on the phone trying to locate her daughter. Pool vigils have been held, bike rides and races have been held in Ashley’s honor, and research has been carried out over the past two decades but nothing has ever been found.
“It’s been 17 years long,” Tammy said. “Sometimes I wonder what she would be like today. But sometimes I don’t want to. I just consider her to be my bubbly and happy 15 year old daughter.
In July 2014, Ashley’s family and the St. Joseph Parks, Recreation and Civics Department planted a sugar maple at the Krug Pool. Tammy told Dateline that the specific tree was chosen because in the fall its leaves turn red – Ashley’s favorite color. The idea for the tree was Ashley’s grandmother’s idea.
Earlier this year, Ashley’s grandmother passed away. Now the family are going to plant another tree in her honor, right next to Ashley’s tree.
“There hasn’t been a day that I don’t think about her and wonder if she’s okay,” Tammy said. “I’m not sure she’s alive, but I’m still trying to be hopeful.”
Ashley was 15 when she disappeared. She was last seen wearing blue denim shorts, a black top, a black bikini with a red cherry print under her clothes, white Reebok sneakers with red accents and a ring with two hearts joined together.
At the time, she was 5’3 ” tall and weighed about 110 lbs. She had sandy blonde hair and blue eyes, and a scar on her left wrist. His tongue, navel and ears are pierced. She would be 32 years old today.
Anyone with information on Ashley’s case is urged to contact the St. Joseph Police Department at 816-271-4777 or 816-271-4747. Tips can also be requested from the Missouri State Highway Patrol at 1-800-877-3452.