Retired police lieutenant’s perseverance leads to confession

Carolee Ashby

Carolee Ashby

by Carol Thompson

Russ Johnson may have retired from the Fulton Police Department, but his mind never retired the hit-and-run case of four-year-old Carolee Ashby.

Johnson’s perseverance is what led to the confession from the driver who killed Carolee on Halloween night in 1968.

There have been many twists and turns in the case over the years, as well as dead-end leads, but Johnson detoured around every dead end, determined to bring closure for the family.

The case was reopened in 1999 and Johnson, who kept a black and white photograph of Carolee taped to his computer tower next to one of his own daughter, began pouring through the thick files searching for clues or anything that may have been overlooked.

He had hoped to solve the case before he retired in 2005, but that didn’t happen.

Johnson went to work for a pharmaceutical company, but the case continued to haunt him. Last year, he reached out to the Fulton community on a Facebook group page dedicated to happy memories of the city.

In his March 17, 2012 appeal, Johnson acknowledged that his post didn’t pertain to a happy memory but asked if anyone could recall anything or had any information that could be helpful.

That post led to a message from a Florida resident, who had lived in Fulton at the time of the accident. The witness came forward and alleged that soon after the accident, the mother of the driver of the car asked her to give an alibi for her son.

She would later give a statement to police, who then questioned the suspect and subsequently received a written confession.

“I’m so happy for them,” Johnson said of the Ashby family. “That family has been suffering for 44 years.”

Johnson commended the Fulton Police Department for the work they did in solving the case.

The confession brings to an end the decades of speculation as to who killed Carolee and the years of torment the family suffered not knowing.

Carolee and her sister, Darlene, were walking to the store with a cousin on Halloween night to buy candles for Darlene’s birthday cake. The trio went into the store, bought the candles and bought Carolee an ice cream cone.

Darlene Ashby McCann recalled that they went to Fay’s Drug Store on South Second Street to get the candles.

“There was no sidewalk and we went to the four corners to cross,” she said. “My cousin ran across the street and I took my sisters hand to cross. I stopped in the middle, facing west, and the next thing I knew my cousin was screaming and I realized my sister had been pulled out of my hand.”

McCann said she didn’t see Carolee; only her ice cream cone laying in the road.

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