The Ashley Reeves Story is based on the extraordinary true story of a common teenage girl who had to battle for her life three times; first in the woods, then in the hospital, and finally in court.
Who is Ashley Reeves?
17-year-old Ashley Reeves was a high school junior who was residing in Millstadt, a village in Illinois, with her parents and younger sister Casey. She was doing well in school, had many friends and even a boyfriend named Jeremy, who was adored by her parents.
Ashley was eagerly awaiting graduation. Little did she know that just a year before she was set to walk across the stage, Ashley would experience the unbelievable and live to tell her story.
What Happened to Ashley Reeves?
On Thursday, April 27, 2006, Ashley told her parents she was going to a job interview in Fairview Heights, a city approximately 20 minutes away from Millstadt. Ashley told her parents she would play basketball after the interview and would be home by her 10 pm curfew.
Ashley Reeves carried a change of clothes and left for the interview at 3:30 pm in Jeremy’s car, which she had borrowed for the day.
By 10:30 pm, curfew had come and gone, yet there was no sign of Ashley. Her mother, Michelle, asked her youngest daughter Casey if she had spoken to Ashley, but Casey said she hadn’t heard from her sister all day.
Michelle and Casey called Ashley several times and left multiple text messages, but she never responded, unlike her.
Following her gut feel that something had gone wrong, Michelle called St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office.
At first, officers were sure Ashley was out with her friends and had lost track of time, but eight hours into the investigation, they found Jeremy’s car abandoned in Laderman Park, Belleville, 15 minutes away from Ashley’s home.
Investigators found Ashley’s bag inside the car, which contained the clothes she would have worn had she gone to play basketball.
Detectives quickly realized this wasn’t a typical case of a rebellious teen resisting her parents’ strict curfew; this was a missing person investigation, and time was of the essence.
Detectives brought Jeremy in for questioning since he was Ashley’s boyfriend and it was his car she had been driving, but they quickly understood he was not involved in her disappearance.
Jeremy told detectives he had let Ashley borrow his car to go to a job interview followed by a basketball game.
Detectives questioned why Ashley would play basketball at a park so far away from her home when there was one right in her neighborhood.
Unless she was meeting someone.
While detectives inched closer in the search for Ashley, Michelle called the phone company; since Ashley was only 17, her phone was in her mother’s name. She was able to get access to her phone records detailing all of her incoming and outgoing calls.
Michelle went through the records and realized there were several calls from one specific number. Michelle called the number and connected with 26-year-old Samson Shelton.
Michelle asked Samson if he had seen or heard from Ashley. He said no, and before she could question why he was communicating with her teenage daughter, he abruptly hung up the phone.
Fortunately, Ashley kept her friends updated on her private life and what they told detectives sent chills down Michelle’s spine.
According to Ashley’s friends, she was romantically involved with an older man. The two would often gather to play basketball together, and Ashley had plans to meet him the day she went missing.
That man was Samson Shelton.
Samson was a driver’s ed teacher and gym coach at a nearby high school. He was also a pro wrestler on the side. Unsurprisingly, his nickname was “The teacher.”
Some of Samson’s female students referred to him as the “cute” teacher; others thought he was strange and a bit full of himself.
Detectives discovered that Samson was Ashley’s teacher in 2001 when she was in the seventh grade. They had reconnected in February 2006, two months before she went missing.
They often met in Belleville, where Samson lived with his mother and grandmother, near Laderman Park, where detectives found Jeremy’s abandoned vehicle.
It was now Friday, April 28, and Ashley had been missing for an entire night. Michelle was overcome with pain as disturbing thoughts crossed her mind: Was Ashley cold? Was she hurt? Was she suffering?
Detectives went to the high school where Samson worked and took him in for questioning. Almost quickly, they knew he was involved in Ashley’s disappearance.
At first, Samson kept a cool and calm attitude; he was friendly, polite and even cooperative with the investigation. However, as detectives uncovered more and more of his deceptions, the truth began to spill out of his mouth.
When questioned about his relationship with Ashley, Samson said the two were simply friends who rarely met to play basketball.
Samson maintained his relationship with Ashley was strictly platonic, but when confronted with statements from Ashley’s friends that their relationship was romantic and sexual, he changed his story in a desperate attempt to victimize himself.
Samson told detectives Ashley had become fascinated with him. He painted the picture of an obsessed teen with a crush who called him at all hours of the day and night. Samson said he had been avoiding Ashley for days, hoping she would leave him alone.
Several hours into the interrogation, Samson confirmed that not only did he have sex with his former student, but he was with Ashley on April 27, the day she went missing.
According to Samson, he was driving when he got into an argument with Ashley. He wanted to end the relationship, but Ashley got upset and started screaming at him. He pulled over, unfastened Ashley’s seatbelt and told her to get out of the car. When she resisted, he pulled her out and left her on the side of the road.
Samson insisted Ashley was still alive when he last saw her, that there was no way he would have hurt her because he had a ‘very weak stomach.‘
Samson said he cared for Ashley and was just as concerned for her well-being as her family, but would someone who cared for another drop them stranded on the side of the road in the dark?
Phone records showed Samson never even attempted to call Ashley afterwards to see if she was safe. Instead, he went to a local country bar and danced the night away.
Samson’s story had changed so many times. Detectives did not believe a word he said. They pleaded for him to tell the truth; Ashley had now been missing for nearly thirty hours, and time was running out.
It was only when detectives mentioned the disappointment Samson’s grandmother would feel towards his actions that he started to cry.
12 hours into the interrogation, Samson described in cold and disturbing detail precisely what he had done to Ashley and where he had left her to die.
According to Samson’s videotaped confession, he didn’t just pull Ashley out of his vehicle and leave her on the side of the road. The part-time pro wrestler put the teen in a chokehold and dragged her out of his car. He then heard a loud pop, and Ashley went limp.
Realizing he had snapped her neck, Samson panicked and pulled her into the woods, where he strangled her with his bare hands. When he realized Ashley was still breathing, he strangled her again with his belt.
Using his foot for leverage, Samson put the belt around Ashley’s neck and pulled as hard as he could until the belt snapped.
After the belt broke, Samson choked Ashley a third and final time with his hands before taking off and leaving her to die on the cold hard ground deep in the woods.
Following his confession, Samson agreed to lead detectives to Ashley’s body in Citizens Park, a 45-acre park in Belleville located only 12 minutes away from Ashley’s home.
However, it had rained throughout the night, and once they arrived at the park, Samson could not remember exactly where he had left Ashley.
Armed with flashlights, detectives frantically searched throughout the woods for thirty minutes. As they began to question whether it was all a trick by Samson, they finally saw Ashley. She was lying on her back; her hands were up to her chest. Her tongue was sticking out of her mouth, and hundreds of insect bites covered her body.
As the disappointment of being unable to save Ashley in time washed over detectives, her hands suddenly moved. Then, her chest began to rise. Ashley was alive.
Miraculously, after being attempted 3 times to strangle nearly to death and left in the cold for over thirty hours, Ashley had survived.
EMTs rushed to the scene and transported her to the local hospital, where she was put into an induced coma.
Detectives knew the importance of the first 48 hours and wasted no time in the search for the missing teen. Had they not been able to convince Samson to lead them to her, it is highly unlikely Ashley would have been found in time.
Samson was arrested and charged with first-degree attempted murder.
As he was taken into custody, Samson asked for a private bathroom. He said he suffered from a urinary stress disorder and would be ‘miserable’ if he was forced to urinate in front of others. His request was promptly denied.
Samson proved to be a true narcissist who showed no empathy and no guilt for his actions. Despite his detailed confession and the fact that he led detectives to Ashley, he pleaded not guilty and never apologized to her.
What Happened to Narcissists Samson Shelton Then?
Shockingly, Samson was released on bail and placed on house arrest; a man who had snapped a teen’s neck, strangled her three times and left her for dead deep in the woods was allowed to live in the comfort of his own home for an entire year as he expected trial.
Just before Samson faced charges of attempted murder in court, his mother Susan phoned the police stating he had tried to commit suicide by ingesting a concoction of various prescription pills and alcohol.
When deputies and emergency responders arrived at Samson’s home, they found him seemingly unconscious with the words, ‘do not resuscitate‘ written on his chest.
As EMTs attempted to revive Samson, he suddenly became alert and began attacking them with punches. He was then transported to the local hospital, where he allegedly made racial slurs towards a nurse and kicked 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 empathy from potential jurors.
A month later, a psychiatrist determined Samson was mentally competent to stand trial. Still, Ashley’s family decided they did not want her to suffer through a retelling of the horrifying attack she had suffered on April 27 and signed off on a plea deal. Samson accepted the plea deal and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, his projected parole date is April 22, 2024.
Where is Ashley Reeves Now?
Ashley made an impossible recovery. Although she could not remember the day Samson tried to take her life, Ashley refused to let his offensive actions prevent her from fulfilling her dreams.
A few months after the attack, the incredibly strong and brave teen had relearned how to talk, eat and drink. A year later, she graduated from high school and started volunteering at a violence prevention center.
Today, Ashley is 32 and has two children.