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Couple Murders Store Manager Who Got Them Fired As Part Revenge, Part Black Friday Heist
After Ashlea Harris pointed to David Mallory and Carter Cervantes as the most likely culprits to have robbed an American Eagle store, the couple was furious.
Ashlea Ann Harris loved working in retail where she could meet new people every day. However, her loyalty to the store where she was employed would tragically lead to her death.
Harris was born in 1983 and grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. She was raised in a large and loving family and made friends wherever she went.
“She was the really cute, fun, outgoing person and so a lot of people were attracted to her, regardless of whether they were a boy or a girl,” Ashlea’s best friend Stephanie Naylor told “Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Unsure of her career path, Harris began working in retail in her early 20s. By 2011, she was an assistant manager at an American Eagle Outfitters store at Fort Worth’s Hulen Mall.
But on the morning of November 28, 2014, a call came into the Fort Worth Fire Department from the River Ranch Apartments, where Harris lived.
“I think there’s a fire upstairs in the apartment above me,” the caller said in his 911 call, which was obtained by “Snapped.”
Firefighters put out the blaze and found 31-year-old Harris dead on her bedroom floor. Her feet and hands were bound with duct tape and she was covered in blood, according to Texas’ Amarillo Globe-News newspaper.
As word of the fire spread throughout the community, Harris’ friends rushed to the scene, desperate for information.
“I said, ‘Can you tell me anything?’ He said, ‘I’ll ask you a question, does Jeremiah 29:11 mean anything to you?’ And I just fell down. I mean, my knees gave out. I said, ‘That’s Ashlea’s tattoo,'” said Naylor.
Investigators determined the fire started in Harris’ bedroom and that rubbing alcohol had been used as an accelerant, despite its low flammability.
“For that reason, the fire seemed like an afterthought to me,” Fort Worth Police Detective Ernie Pate told “Snapped.”
Harris’ apartment showed no signs of forced entry and none of her valuables were missing. Whoever was the last person to leave had locked the door behind them. Her truck was still in the apartment complex’s parking lot.
Harris’ friends told investigators that she had been working around the clock in anticipation of the Black Friday sales event which started that morning. One of Harris’ friends had stopped by after Ashlea got off work on Thanksgiving night and stayed until around 5 a.m. They told authorities Harris usually left her keys on the kitchen counter, and that her home and car keys were on the same keychain as the keys to the American Eagle store where she worked. All were missing.
A break came when one of Harris’ neighbors told police that on the morning of the murder, he noticed a black, two-door Infiniti parked in the apartment complex’s parking lot which didn’t belong to any of the residents. Harris’ boss told investigators the car was similar to a vehicle owned by former American Eagle Outfitters employee Carter Cervantes.
Cervantes had worked at American Eagle Outfitters for several years and managed a store in Amarillo, Texas.
“She was the one that you wanted to like you because if you got on her bad side there was no coming back from it. She would always find a way at work to make it harder on you,” former co-worker Leticia Groen told “Snapped.”
Cervantes had hired 19-year-old David Mallory and soon began dating him, in violation of company policy.
“They weren’t supposed to be dating because she controlled his pay, she controlled how much he worked, and she would just give him more preferential treatment. Our district manager basically gave her the option to quit or to get transferred,” said Groen.
While Cervantes moved six hours away to Fort Worth, Mallory stayed in Amarillo. After missing several shifts, he was fired and barred from working at other American Eagle stores. The two reunited in Fort Worth and moved in together. Cervantes helped Mallory falsify documents so she could hire him at the Hulen Mall location where she worked with Harris.
It didn't last long. In August 2014, a hooded burglar had stolen $18,000 from the American Eagle Hulen Mall store following Texas’ Sales Tax Holiday Weekend. Harris reported Cervantes and Mallory as the likely suspects after Carter was seen leaving a door in the back of the store unlocked, according to the Amarillo Globe-News.
Though the theft remained an open case with the Fort Worth Police Department, American Eagle believed it had enough evidence to fire Cervantes and Mallory.
“Carter did hold this against Ashlea, because Ashlea was the one that turned them in,” said Groen.
Harris’ autopsy pointed to a rage killing. A medical examiner found blunt force trauma to her face and head and trauma related to strangulation on her neck and throat, according to the Amarillo Globe-News.
“This was somebody who killed her out of anger. This was torture,” prosecutor Kevin Rousseau told “Snapped.”
Police tracked Cervantes and Mallory to an apartment near the Hulen Mall. In the parking lot was a black two-door infiniti like the one seen at the crime scene.
Fort Worth Police Detective Jerry Cedillo was staking out the apartment on the morning of November 29 when he saw Cervantes and Mallory get in her car and drive to the Hulen Mall. Cedillo went to the American Eagle store where Harris' boss was waiting for the owners to open up.
Following Harris’ murder, the locks had been changed and the Black Friday proceeds were still inside.
“At that point, no one other than law enforcement knew that there was any keys missing. The locks at American Eagle were for precautionary reasons,” Cedillo told “Snapped.”
Investigators believed Cervantes and Mallory were planning to rob the American Eagle store. Officers found Mallory waiting in Cervantes’ car in the Hulen Mall parking lot and took him into custody. He was arrested for not having his driver's license on him.
“On Tax Free Weekend and Black Friday, those were our highest deposit days,” said Groen. “Carter would always joke, ‘If I were ever going to steal a deposit it would be after Black Friday or Tax Free Weekend.'”
Cervantes was later located at her apartment and agreed to meet with detectives. She claimed she spent Thanksgiving cooking dinner for her and Mallory and they watched movies afterward. She denied being at the Hulen Mall that morning.
During a break in questioning, Cervantes was given a bottle of water and left alone in the interrogation room. Surveillance cameras caught her wiping down the bottle after drinking from it in order to remove any traces of DNA.
Cervantes was allowed to go home. Though Mallory was arrested for driving without a license, he was also released from custody.
Investigators obtained a search warrant for Cervantes and Mallory’s apartment and found a shopping receipt from November 21 for shovels, gloves, duct tape, rope, and a tarp.
“She purchased what I’m going to describe as a murder kit,” said Rousseau.
Surveillance footage from the Hulen Mall captured Cervantes trying to break into the American Eagle store on the morning of November 29 with Harris’ stolen keys, unaware that the locks had been changed.
“At that point is where it all becomes apparent why they killed Ashlea Harris. They were there to get the keys,” said Cedillo.
Knives and a loaded gun were found inside Cervantes’ Infiniti while the shovels and other items were in the trunk of Mallory’s vehicle. Blood was found on the floor mats of Cervantes’ car. It matched Ashlea Harris' DNA.
“In addition, we got Ashlea’s DNA on this gun that was in Carter Cervantes’ car,” said Kevin Rousseau. “The most likely thing that caused that was being pistol whipped.”
On December 4, 2014, arrest warrants were issued for Carter Carol Cervantez and Clarence David Mallory Jr. They were arrested and charged with capital murder, according to the Reuters news service.
Text messages obtained from Cervantes and Mallory’s phones showed them plotting Harris’ murder as part of a planned Black Friday heist. They originally planned to bury Harris at a grave site detectives found north of Abilene, Texas. Investigators believe the fire was an abrupt change in plan.
“It was evident to us that Carter was the mastermind behind this and I think David was the muscle. She’s the one that coordinated everything and came up with the plan,” said Cedillo.
In May 2016, 27-year-old Carter Carol Cervantes was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Clarence David Mallory, 22, would meet a similar fate in August 2017. He was also found found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole, according to the Dallas Voice newspaper.