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'We're Not Stopping Here': 'Cold Justice' Investigation Leads To Arrest In Aspiring Cop's Brutal 1997 Murder
Keith Jones was shot in the head at the Tides Motel in Fort Myers.
It's been a long 22 years for Keith Alan Jones' close-knit family. The 27-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran and recent police academy graduate was just looking for a good time when he was robbed and shot in the head in a Fort Myers, Florida motel room in 1997 — and his murder has remained unsolved since.
Kelly Siegler and her team from Oxygen's “Cold Justice” have had success working with the Fort Myers Police Department on three prior cases, and they returned to look into the Jones case. Siegler and investigator Abbey Abbondandolo joined Lt. Victor Medico, Detective Emily DeStefanis, and Detective Lesa Breneman to probe the 1997 murder again.
“I just miss him so much,” Jones' sister Marcia Hall told the investigators. “Such a beautiful light in our lives has totally been turned off.”
The family had harbored suspicions for years about the woman Jones was seeing on the night of his murder. Michelle Ashley was a dancer with the stage name Cappuccino at the local gentlemen's club Lookers. Police knew that Jones and Ashley had enjoyed a rendezvous at the nearby Tides motel after an evening at the club, and that Ashley had left the motel, then returned.
She told police at the time that she and Jones were talking in the motel room when four armed men burst inside and robbed Jones of the substantial amount of cash he was carrying. She claimed to have been held face down on the floor and that she heard the fatal shot. She willingly gave a statement to police at the time, but the four men she implicated in the robbery-murder left town, and there wasn't enough evidence at the time to charge them.
All of the men had criminal histories. One had turned his life around in recent years, according to police.
But Ashley's story didn't sit well with the investigators. She claimed that she and Jones had just been talking when she returned to the motel room later that night, yet Jones was in bed and mostly undressed, and multiple used condoms were found. Abbondandolo wondered if Ashley may have had sex again with Jones to put him in a vulnerable position so he could be robbed.
The team sent samples of Jones' fingernail clippings, as well as DNA found under the bedsheets, but nothing conclusive came back. Siegler called the results “disappointing, but not surprising.”
“We're just going to have to solve this case the old-fashioned way,” she said, meaning: They needed to track down possible witnesses.
Siegler and the team interviewed multiple former dancers, bouncers, and a manager from Lookers, but no one remembered Ashley or the four suspects. “It was kind of a revolving door there,” one dancer said. They then spoke with Ashley's younger brother, who didn't recall much, as he was 12 at the time.
However, he claimed that Ashley never said anything to him about allegedly being assaulted during the robbery — something she told police. The team thought it odd that she would leave that out when telling her family about a traumatic ordeal.
Investigators tracked down two of the male suspects, but both refused to speak about the incident. One shut the door to his motel room in their faces, while another, who was working as a realtor, just told them that he had “complied” as much as he was going to comply.
The case's breakthrough came with a former Lookers employee serving time in jail. The woman, who was not identified, had an excellent memory and remembered all four of the men — and Ashley. The woman said she had attended and organized many parties at the Tides Motel, where the four suspects would sometimes supply drugs.
She also said that Ashley worked with the suspects, fingering men carrying a lot of cash in the club. She recalled hearing Ashley tell the suspects, “That motherf--ker has a lot of money.”The suspects would follow the men to the parking lot and rob them at gunpoint, she claimed.
“They'd brag about it,” she said. “They always had guns, every single one of them.”
She also recalled the night of Jones' murder. Ashley returned to the club looking nervous after she left with Jones the first time, she said. And in the following days, she heard rumors around the club that the four men had killed someone. She stopped hanging around with Ashley because of her suspicions.
Siegler declared, “That might be the single most productive interview of a witness, period.”
The team interviewed one more witness that they couldn't identify, for safety reasons. According to police, that person remembered hearing Ashley telling the four suspects she had a “friend from out of town coming in” with “a lot of money.” Police said the witness told them, “I've got it all set up.”
Breneman said she then felt comfortable applying for an arrest warrant for Ashley — to start.
“We have a strong foundation for moving in the direction of a warrant for the guys,” she said. “I just want to fine-tune some points first.”
On Oct. 22, 2019, Ashley, 42 now, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. And law enforcement vows her arrest is not the end of this case.
“We're not stopping here,” Breneman told Jones' family. “This is the beginning of that road. We're going to get there.”
Ashley pleaded not guilty in late October 2019, according to Lee County court records. A trial date was not yet available.
For more on Keith Jones' murder, including video of the explosive interview with a jailed witness, watch the season finale of “Cold Justice” at Oxygen.com.