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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4 thoughts on “Retired police lieutenant’s perseverance leads to confession”

  1. We all know who did this.. I remember – I do remember the horror and the sadness and knowing that he got away with it.I’m Sure You Know who it is too.

    1. Am curious… Is the one you thought was responsible, the actual person mentioned in the press release? The reason I ask is that the victim’s family knew for an almost certainty but couldn’t say who it was, for a myriad of reasons.

  2. My heart goes out to the family(s) having to suffer for all these years. One of the nieces of Carolee is our close friend and I can see the pain in her eyes when she would relate the details relating to this situation… before and after the newly released information.

    In my opinion, the ones responsible for the hit & run and death of little Carolee SHOULD BE PROSECUTED to the fullest. After all, they had the luxury of living after that instance (even if they had to deal with the trauma and guilt of what they did) yet what about that little girl and her family?!?!?! What about the justice they deserve? Where is it? I agree in the fact that closure is vital to moving onward, however, when someone is guilty of a crime of this magnitude, they should feel/experience the consequences of what their act has produced, not from guilt, but from civil, legal repercussions.

    My wife and I watch these Cold Case shows that were on TV alot and wonder why can’t they prosecute, even after the so-called Statue of Limitations have been exceeded? The situations presented on TV almost always puts the bad guy out of commission by locking them up, partly because they had the good life, as it were, when the victim never had the luxury of such. I’m all for showing compassion and forgiveness to those who need it, however when I see/hear of things like this going on as a result of professional blundering, and injustices… I get VERY upset about it. If it were my child or family member, I would seek some sort of legal action against him/them for what they had done out of negligence and irresponsibility and then had the gall to pretend like nothing ever happened for all those years.

    Personally, I don’t know what I would do if I came face to face with these men, or the officers involved in this case who dropped the ball and let it all fall through the cracks. The men committing the crime should pay to the family a sum of money, even though it will not bring her back, but will help in other ways.

    Just because a crime has fallen by the wayside, does not mean it should be ignored. What has this country come to when justice is not met as it ought to.

  3. my heart goes out to this family, i wish the guy that did this would stand in front of the mother and sister and tell them he is really sorry and mean it and ask for forgiveness.

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