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Murder Suspect Said Missing Ex-Girlfriend Had 'Every Opportunity To Walk Away'

Ashley Hardin was found dead just hours after she disappeared from her Illinois home. Her ex, Rayshawn Smith, has now been charged with her murder.

By Jax Miller
A personal photo of Ashley Hardin

An Illinois man was arrested for murdering his ex-girlfriend — but her family says he first took to Facebook to apparently defend his actions.

Rayshawn Smith, 46, stands accused of killing his former girlfriend, Ashley Nicole Hardin, 38, shortly after she disappeared from her home in Rockford, Illinois — about 90 miles northwest of Chicago — in the wee hours of Saturday morning, according to the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office.

Hardin’s body was found behind Ecolab — a business in Roscoe, Illinois where Hardin reportedly worked — several hours after her son reported her disappearance, according to a criminal complaint obtained by the Rockford Register Star.

Smith, who was quickly named as a person of interest in Hardin’s disappearance, was arrested later that morning and charged with first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated unlawful restraint, according to the sheriff’s office.

Although an official cause of death is pending, authorities stated in court documents that “there seemed to be significant injury” to Hardin’s head, and said they believed that that Smith “struck Ashley Nicole Hardin extensively on or about the head.” They also allegedly found a “projectile” underneath her head, but don't believe she was shot, according to the Star.

Officers with the Rockford Police Department had responded to Hardin’s residence on Saturday morning at around 3:45 a.m., the sheriff’s office stated. According to the complaint, Hardin’s son reported seeing his mother near a white vehicle outside their residence, after which she disappeared.

Hardin was found dead about four hours later when the Roscoe Police Department received a report of a dead body behind Ecolab.

At the crime scene, investigators found two live rounds and a number of unused zip ties, according to the complaint.

Surveillance video from Ecolab captured Smith’s white Cadillac entering the parking lot at 2:56 a.m. — 50 minutes before Hardin was reported missing — and leaving nearly 40 minutes later. Investigators alleged that, in that period, Smith “secretly confined Ashley Nicole Hardin against her will” inside his car.

A man alleged to be Smith then posted a chilling video, tagged to Hardin’s Facebook page, at 4:40 a.m., as referenced in multiple local news outlets — including the Star and the Rockton-Roscoe News — and reviewed by Oxygen.com.

“People are gonna call me crazier and wonder why I did what I did?” the man believed to be Smith asked in the video. “Deception.”

A police handout of Rayshawn Smith

The man who appears to be Smith went on to claim that he had been “up front” with Ashley when they first began their relationship, opening up to her about his desire to be with multiple other women — and about having both “anger issues” and previous felony convictions.

According to the Rockford Register Star, Smith reportedly spent time in prison following a 1995 conviction for home invasion.

“I gave her every opportunity to walk away. I gave her every opportunity to be honest with me,” the man who appears to be Smith continued. “But instead, she chose to constantly deal in deception. And I’m tired of it. Period.”

The profanity-laced video also accused Hardin of being romantically involved with several local church pastors, but offered little in the way of evidence.

Many of Hardin’s friends commented on the post after it went up and seemingly before news of Hardin’s murder was made public. A man claiming to be Hardin’s brother demanded that the videographer tell them where Hardin was, with several expressing their hope that Hardin would be found safe.

A woman who appears to be  Hardin’s mother later asked why the video was still up on her daughter’s page despite multiple people supposedly reporting it to Facebook. 

Smith was arrested shortly before 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, following a traffic stop in downtown Rockford, according to the criminal complaint. Inside his vehicle, police recovered a machete, zip ties and Hardin’s medications.

Blood was also found inside Smith’s car.

At Hardin’s residence, officials then discovered three milk jugs filled with gasoline; one of them had seemingly been emptied out on the home, according to the complaint.

Hardin’s friend, Kyla Trevio, told NBC Rockford affiliate WREX that Smith had driven a wedge between her and Hardin, resulting in the friends not speaking between 2017 and 2020.

“I knew that he had problems,” Trevio stated. “But I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that he would play God and decide whether she lives or dies.”

At Smith’s first court appearance on Monday, Judge Tamika Walker ordered Smith to undergo a mental health examination.

Jail records show Smith is currently being held on $2 million bail at the Winnebago County jail, with his next court date scheduled for Aug. 31.

Hardin leaves behind three children.