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A young woman, Ashley Taylor, disappeared from a rural town still reeling from the shocking murders of two innocent children. Could the two be connected? Investigators soon uncovered the disturbing truth.
Ashley Taylor and Kevin Sweat were two high school outcasts who found love in Weleetka, Oklahoma. Friends described them as shy and quirky, but they seemed perfect for one another. They shared a special bond as two teens bullied in school, but they could forget the world around them when together. Kevin often went to Ashley’s house, where she helped care for her mother and her two younger siblings, who had special needs.
“That’s the glue that held Ashley and Kevin together,” Ashley’s friend Anna Film told “Killer Relationship with Faith Jenkins,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. “The sense that they were outcasts, and I think they found comfort in each other over that.”
The two drifted apart when Kevin finished high school, and Ashley finished her education from home while helping take care of her family. But in the spring of 2007, tragedy struck when Kevin’s older brother died in a hotel room of a drug overdose.
“Kevin went from a quirky young man to starting to become isolated, “said Faith Phillips, author of "Now I Lay Me Down." “He was brokenhearted by his brother’s death.”
But there was one silver lining: The tragedy helped reconnect the two lovebirds, who soon became inseparable years after going their own ways. Kevin moved in with Ashley to support her as she cared for her relatives. By 2010, the couple saved their money and began renting an apartment of their own. But after a few months, Ashley became withdrawn, and friends and loved ones believed Kevin was to blame.
“Ashley didn’t confide in us about the problems she was having with Kevin,” said Ashley’s aunt Dione Coy.
Neighbors later said they witnessed fights between Ashley and Kevin. Some suspected Kevin hadn’t appropriately dealt with the grief of losing his brother, believing his brother’s overdose was the result of foul play.
Friends and family were surprised when the couple got engaged. Following a romantic lakeside proposal, Ashley and Kevin started to plan a wedding and honeymoon down in Louisiana.
Ashley told her mother, Trish Taylor, she’d call her when they arrived in Louisiana, but she never got the call.
“I called them a few times,” said Trish Taylor. “But it was like the phone was disconnected or turned off.”
Loved ones became concerned when Ashley didn’t call for her younger brother’s birthday. Weeks went by, and no one could get ahold of the women who once looked forward to getting married. They grew more concerned when they learned Kevin hadn’t missed a day of work: The pair had never left for Louisiana.
They called the police and reported Ashley missing.
When friends and family confronted Kevin, he claimed he and Ashley had broken up. Kevin alleged that the pair argued in the car and he’d dropped Ashley off near a bridge on their way to Louisiana. He said he never saw Ashley again.
“It was shocking,” said Ashley’s mother. “Right then, I knew something bad had happened. I just didn't know what.”
Okmulgee Patrol Officer Lyndon Spears took Kevin in for questioning.
“I’ve dealt with multiple homicides, drug dealers, gang members, things of that nature,” said Spears. “But Kevin is the only person that I was ever in a room with that there was just something unnerving about him, about his aura.”
Kevin told Spears that they got into an argument and she got out of the car and she said, "It’s over, I never want to see you again." It struck investigators as odd that Kevin never returned to check on Ashley’s wellbeing and never tried to contact her again. But what struck authorities more was when he admitted that he’d been interviewed by law enforcement in the past, stating agents from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation questioned him about a gun he owned linked to the murders of two children three years prior.
In 2008, 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker and 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker were shot to death and left in a rural roadside ditch in Weleetka, just a few miles from Ashley and Kevin’s home. The double homicide rocked the small Oklahoma town and went unsolved for several years.
Upon interviewing Kevin, investigators learned Kevin purchased the gun in question one year before the children’s murders. Kevin claimed he sold the gun to another individual, and authorities never recovered the murder weapon.
Spears and other investigators obtained a search warrant for Kevin’s apartment and vehicle. Their concerns grew when they found Ashley’s wallet in the glove compartment and an ax in the trunk. Authorities brought in the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and got a second warrant to search Kevin’s computer.
“During the investigation, we learned that Kevin had some obsession with violence and guns,” said OSBI Special Agent Kurt Titsworth.
Kevin often blogged about his unhappiness in his relationship with Ashley and what investigators perceived as an ominous countdown leading to the time Ashley disappeared.
Special Agent Titsworth took Kevin for a ride to see where Kevin claimed Ashley exited the vehicle on the side of the road. Kevin told the agent he then went to the lake at the local Nichols Park for a few hours before leaving for his father’s house in Weleetka. When Titsworth followed up with another interview the next day, Kevin changed his story. Kevin then claimed he and Ashley went to the Nichols Park lake and argued over their upcoming wedding. He said he pulled out a knife and threw it at Ashley before she took the knife and cut herself before falling off the dock.
But then Kevin changed his story once more.
“The next story goes, she had the knife, she cuts the side of her neck and falls on the dock,” said Titsworth. “He picks up the knife, cuts the other side of her neck, killing her, and pushes her off into the lake. And that’s the last time he sees her.”
Authorities subsequently arrested Kevin Sweat for the murder of Ashley Taylor.
But searches of the lake at Nichols Park proved fruitless, and Ashley’s body wasn’t recovered. Friends and family held out hope that Ashley could still be alive, but that changed when Kevin’s father contacted Agent Titsworth and told him he found a woman’s ring in a burn pit on his property.
Ashley’s mother, Trish Taylor, confirmed the ring belonged to her daughter.
Investigators searched Kevin’s father’s property and found bones in the burn pit.
“I knew it wasn’t good. It was just horrible,” said Trish Taylor through tears. “And then I tried to tell my kids that they’ll never see their sister again. That was really hard.”
Furthering their search on Kevin’s property, investigators found shell casings and collected them as evidence. Eight of the nine casings matched the gun used to kill Taylor Paschal-Placker and Skyla Whitaker back in 2008.
“Right up until the end, we really struggled with what was his motive,” said former Okfuskee County Assistant State Attorney Maxey Reilly. “Because it was just hard to fathom why he would do what he did to the children.”
One of Kevin’s coworkers came forward and told authorities that Kevin hated the Placker family, blaming Paschal-Placker’s brother for his older brother’s drug overdose. Investigators said Kevin was out for revenge. They also believed that Ashley learned that Kevin shot the two children to death, which gave Kevin a motive for wanting her out of the picture.
Kevin pleaded guilty to all three murders in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table.
On the day of sentencing, while speaking with his attorneys in the courtroom, Kevin attempted to slit his lawyer’s throat with a razor blade he’d snuck into the courthouse. His attorney was left bleeding from his neck but survived the assault.
The judge sentenced Kevin Sweat to three life sentences without the possibility of parole.
“Ashley thought, for sure, Kevin was her soulmate and that they were going to spend the rest of their life together,” said Ashley’s aunt, Dione Coy. “To find out that he has this totally different side, this twisted, evil side, it was just unbelievable.”
Kevin Sweat is serving his sentence at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
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