Ashley Reeves’ story – She survived three strangling attempts

Ashley Reeves’ disappearance in late April 2006 confounded her parents. The 17-year-old wasn’t rebellious and always kept in touch whenever she was late. The tension in Ashley’s household grew as multiple calls and text messages went unanswered. A call to the phone company revealed that Ashley had contacted Sam Shelton several times before her disappearance. 

Sam Shelton was a well-known driver’s ed and physical education teacher in the area. At first, he presented as calm and cooperative, but his ever-shifting narrative informed officers that he knew something about Reeves’ disappearance. 

Ashley Reeve’s story plays out in Lifetime’s Left for Dead: The Ashley Reeves Story.

Sam Shelton finally agreed to lead investigators to where he left Ashley. However, rain in the area distorted his memory of the exact place he left her. Frantically, police searched the wooded area until they found what they thought was Ashley’s body. 

Ashley lay in the fetal position, with her tongue sticking out and skin ravaged by insects. A sudden chest movement showed that Ashley was still alive, much to the delight of investigators. EMTs rushed her to hospital, where doctors placed her in an induced coma to give her time to heal. 

Police initially questioned Ashley’s boyfriend, Jeremy, concerning her disappearance. She’d been driving his car, but authorities found nothing to link Jeremy to any wrongdoing. Jeremy told police that he lent Ashley the vehicle to go for an interview and, later, a basketball game. 

Authorities found Jeremy’s car abandoned in Laderman Park, Belleville. It didn’t make sense for Ashley to be there as there was a basketball park in her neighborhood. The only explanation that made sense was that Ashley drove to Belleville to meet someone. 

Phone records revealed that Ashley had made several calls to Sam Shelton. Sam lived in Belleville near Laderman Park, the same area where police found Jeremy’s car. Therefore, police brought Sam in for questioning as a minor suspect. 

However, his inconsistent narrative swiftly made him the main suspect. After nearly 12 hours of interrogation, Sam came clean. 

He stated that, following an argument with Ashley, he dragged her out of his car in a chokehold. The hold snapped Ashley’s neck, and she went limp. Sam then hauled her body to the woods and strangled her again with his hands. 

Realizing that she was still breathing, Sam wrapped a belt around her neck and pulled until it snapped. Three times Sam tried to kill Ashley, and three times he failed. 

Reeves had no memory of the attack due to the severe brain injuries she suffered. She had to relearn how to move her limbs, talk, and swallow. Today, she raises two children and works as a caregiver in Illinois. 

During a 2017 episode of Crime Watch Daily, Ashley visited the site where Sam left her for dead. “It’s kinda hard to believe that this is actually where I was for that long and in that condition,” Ashley said. “[It] makes me feel like maybe I am as tough as everybody says I am. I’m a fighter and I just keep wanting to push myself harder and harder.”

Surprisingly, a court agreed to grant Sam bail a placed him on house arrest. As he awaited trial, Sam tried to end his life by ingesting pills and alcohol. 

He plastered the words ‘do not resuscitate’ on his chest, attempting to dissuade EMTs from reviving him. EMTs ignored the message and revived Sam, who woke up irate and violent. 

He racially insulted a nurse at the hospital and kicked her in the face. The episode forced the presiding judge to order an evaluation of Sam’s mental state. Prosecutors argued that Sam faked mental illness to garner sympathy from jurors. 

A psychiatric evaluation found Sam mentally fit to stand trial. Before the trial, however, Sam agreed to a plea deal that gave him 20 years in prison. 

Susan, Shelton’s mother, told CBS News that the family ‘reluctantly’ agreed to a plea deal. They insisted that ‘the continuing demonization of Sam’ prevented him from getting a fair trial. 

The family also didn’t want Reeves to testify. “Ashley needed to have some peace,” St. Clair County State’s Attorney Robert Haida said. 

Ashley expressed relief after the case’s conclusion. “I’m glad it’s over with,” she said. “I just want to continue with my life and not worry about it.”

Sam remains incarcerated and becomes eligible for parole in April 2024.