Exclusive: 'Vampchick' discusses double murder from behind bars
11/01/2016 11:44 am PDT
Ashlee Martinson was obsessed with horror stories, even writing stories about vampires and serial killers, but her closest friends could not imagine those dark fantasies could turn into a deadly reality.
In poems with titles like "Murder Madness," she calls herself a "psychopath in the dark," penning sinister words like "I can hear nothing but their screaming souls." Reality would become much darker than any story.
According to friends, when Ashlee Martinson moved to Rhinelander, Wisconsin at the age of 16, she seemed like your fairly typical teenage girl, if not a little on the shy side.
Ashlee lived at home with her mother, Jennifer, and stepfather, Thomas Ayers.
"Thomas was the father to the three other children in the home," said Oneida County Sheriff's Captain Terry Hook. "I think that she considered them her little sisters, and she and they considered her their big sister, and they had been around each other long enough to have formed that relationship."
But like a lot of girls her age, Ashlee started to go through some big changes: Dark makeup, dark clothes.
And there were her poems, disturbing words she wrote under the name "Vampchick." The morbid blog posts, the dark sketches -- were they all signs of a twisted soul, or just normal teenage curiosity? As Ashlee approached her 17th birthday, the darkness seemed to be taking over.
A friend of Ashlee's said she was constantly getting grounded, and she was talking about leaving home. That plan became even more solidified when Ashlee started seeing a young man named Ryan Sisco, who was 22. Before long, Ashlee's parents found out.
"I believe on March 7th, Ashlee's stepfather Thomas and her mother Jennifer had found out," said Capt. Hook. A big family fight allegedly ensued. According to reports, Ashlee took off, but didn't get far.
"At the time Ashlee was sent to her room," said Hook. "So then she goes to her room, Thomas leaves the house and then comes back in and asks 'Where is she?' and the mother says 'She's upstairs,' and he goes upstairs and that's when this all begins."
It's not until the next day, March 8, 2015, when 911 dispatchers get a series of strange calls from somewhere in Rhinelander.
"So we received numerous hang-up calls and we were trying to call and get a location," said Capt. Hook. "But because the cellphone coverage was very bad in that area it was very difficult."
Then, finally, a connection. Moments later, Police are racing to the home of Ashlee Martinson.
"We thought there might be a shooter in the upstairs," said Oneida County Sheriff's Sgt. Brian Barbour. "We also knew that there were three children that were also inside the house."
"Downstairs you wouldn't have known that anything had happened, but once you approached the staircase and go upstairs, it was a mess," said Hook.
Ashlee Martinson had created an alter-ego online, writing dark and twisted tales of blood and murder. But those make-believe stories were about to become all too real.
What police say happened inside the house is horrific: Shotgun on the bedroom floor, a blood-soaked knife tangled with hair, Thomas and Jennifer Ayers brutally murdered in their own home.
"There was blood everywhere, there was brain matter scattered across the upstairs," said Sgt. Barbour.
"It's obvious from the scene that there was a lot of rage, there was a lot of anger," said Capt. Hook.
"[Ashlee] was not there," said Barbour.
Jennifer's daughter -- Thomas's stepdaughter -- 17-year-old Ashlee Martinson was nowhere to be seen, on the run, it appeared, with the man she'd been seeing, 22-year-old Ryan Sisco.
"She became the number one suspect because she couldn't be located anywhere," said Barbour.
What police did find were Ashlee's three younger sisters still huddled inside the house. According to the girls, after one of them saw Ashlee fighting with their mother, Ashlee put them all in their room with food and juice, then tried to keep them there.
It was a full day before the oldest sister finally called 911.
"At one point they got out and walked around the house," said Hook. "They walked up to their parents, then went back into their room and slept in that room until the next morning. I think they were afraid. They were afraid that Ashlee was still in the house."
But as police soon learn, Ashlee left shortly after the killings, hiding out with Ryan Sisco at her friend Jonathan Rasmussen's house just a mile or so down the road. Rasmussen does remember seeing deep cuts on Ashlee's hand and leg, but it wasn't until the next day that both he and his dad learned how she got them. Rasmussen did know was where Ashlee might be going, and before long, authorities did, too.
"Ashlee and her friend Ryan Sisco took Thomas's truck and they left town and started driving down towards Tennessee," said Barbour. "The plan was to stay with an aunt in Tennessee and more or less start a new life."
They made it as far as Indiana. With guns drawn, police take their prime suspect and possible accomplice down without incident.
But they don't necessarily find the faces of evil they were expecting.
"I think at first when we got there we thought that it was this teen girl that had this older boyfriend and she wanted to run off, so she killed her parents," said Hook. "There's a lot underneath it that none of us knew about until we dug further into it."
"The most surprising thing was that Ryan Sisco had absolutely nothing to do with it. Had absolutely no knowledge of the crime until they were in the state of Indiana," said Barbour.
"We didn't have any idea who Ashlee Martinson was, so all we had was walking into her bedroom, looking at her walls, looking at what was on the internet," said Hook.
Like the dark blog she wrote under the pen name "Vampchick."
"Welcome to nightmare," her homepage began. "If you are ready, I will paint the streets red just for you."
"The national media came here and all we had to give them was 'Vampchick,' and all the crazy writings she had done and this really dark story that was all around her," said Hook. "That's who we thought she was."
But as investigators started digging deeper into Ashlee's home life, black and white conclusions began to gray -- especially when it came to her stepdad, Thomas.
"The only thing I can say to you was that [Ayers] was a convicted felon," said Hook. "For instance, involved in domestic violence and other things." Things like criminal mischief, kidnapping, and even sexual assault -- a list of offenses going back years.
"They found several firearms in the house," said Barbour. Ayers wasn't allowed to have firearms in the house.
Ashlee's sisters had even more insight.
"There had been abuse going on in the home," said Hook. "Abuse to the mother, abuse to animals at the hands of Thomas.
"They talked specifically about a dog. It was irritating Thomas, and he eventually killed the dog," said Hook.
And he'd allegedly choked and physically abused the children themselves.
A reason to run to get help -- but to kill? And if it was some sort of revenge killing, then what about the other victim, almost unrecognizable through all the gore: Ashlee's own mother?
"There was an overwhelming amount of stab wounds. Not just all over her body but her legs, her arms, her midsection. There was stab wounds all over her," said Barbour.
It was clear that the only way detectives would be able to get the answers they needed would be to ask Ashlee herself. And what she had to say would make everyone second guess what they thought they knew.
"The father was lying in the hallway up against a closet door outside of the bedroom," said Barbour. "Jennifer Ayers was on the stairs with multiple puncture wounds to her body."
When police started talking to Ashlee herself, she said they had it all wrong. In a shock to investigators, Ashlee immediately denies having anything to do with the two shotgun blasts that ended Thomas Ayers's life.
"She said that her mom shot her stepdad because her step dad went berserk," said Barbour.
After that, Ashlee says, she ran upstairs to find her mom standing over her stepfather's body, shotgun in hand. She said her mother started yelling and blaming her that it was her fault they were fighting. From there, according to Ashlee, it was a fight for survival with the woman who gave her life. If Ashlee was to be believed, she just got caught up in a tragic series of events that her mother initiated.
But there were a few little holes in that theory.
"She forgot that there were still three witnesses within the house," said Hook.
Ashlee's three younger sisters, the same ones she tried to lock in their room after the murders, told a very different story, one that started with those first two gunshots. Without going so far as to call her sisters liars, Ashlee continued to deny shooting Thomas.
But if she really did just kill her mother in self defense, why were there so many stab wounds?
"Ashlee reported that she had been sexually assaulted before," said Hook. "This was a boyfriend from when Ashlee was about 9."
According to records, her mother's earlier boyfriend assaulted Ashlee in his car while a neighbor watched.
"And I think that when all of those emotions came out, that's how we ended up with such a horrendous attack on her mother," said Hook.
Officers continue talking to Ashlee for hours, but it's still not until days later that Ashlee finally decides to tell the whole truth: That it really was her who killed both her parents.
"I think Ashlee was trying to get away from there, but she had gotten in this relationship with Ryan, and her parents found out about it, and as I said, it started this whole horrible event," said Hook.
While no one was looking, Ashlee retrieved one of the many loaded guns lying around the house, and made a fateful decision.
"Ashlee said that she had gotten the shotgun because she was going to kill herself that day," said Hook.
Thomas leaves the house and then comes back in and he went upstairs and started banging on the door. Then, according to Ashlee, she finally snapped.
"Either she opened the door or he opened the door, but the door was open when he was shot," said Hook.
"Two times," said Hook. In the neck and the side of the head.
The horror continued.
"And then her mother comes up the stairs and there's some kind of incident between the two of them, and at which point Ashlee gets a hold of a knife and stabs her mother between 30 and 40 times," said Hook.
"There is some Facebook post that Ashlee has posted the day before between herself and Ryan Sisco where she talks about Thomas and that she should just take a gun and shoot him," said Capt. Hook.
Specifically, she wrote: "...I want to kill him so [expletive] bad, just take one of his guns and blow his [expletive] brains out." One day later, that's exactly what she did.
"She thought about it and then carried through with the act," said Sgt. Barbour.
But the full context of the message may tell a slightly different story. Sent on the morning of what should've been a special day, Ashlee's 17th birthday, it began: "I woke up this morning to my stepdad beating my mom... I can't take [it] anymore, he's gonna kill her if she doesn't leave soon and I don't want to be around when that happens."
There was evidence to suggest the killings weren't planned.
"In the state of Wisconsin, when you're 17 years old, you are considered an adult," said Hook. "Had she been 16, she could have been waived into the juvenile system." She was one day away from that deadline.
Ashlee Martinson was initially charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of false imprisonment for trying to lock up her sisters.
"I believe they [the sisters] are very scared of Ashlee because they can't put together the Ashlee that they knew and the Ashlee that was there the last day of their parents' life," said Hook.
But in her own letter to the judge, Ashlee wrote: "Even though I have made my sisters into orphans, I know deep down that they are now in a more safe and loving environment. I do hope that one day that they will be able to forgive me."
At her arraignment and facing life in prison, Ashlee pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. But not long after that, her attorneys struck a deal, reducing the charges to second degree in exchange for a guilty plea.
"I think that and the district attorney probably agrees that it wasn't premeditated, or he wouldn't have dropped the charges to second degree," said Hook.
Though the prosecution asked for a maximum sentence of 40 years, she received 23. To some, it was too light for such a horrific crime. Still others thought Ashlee deserved way less.
"I myself feel sad for her for having to grow up in such a bad situation. But my job is to hold people accountable for crimes," said Capt. Hook. "If every child that lived in a home that abuse in it, killed their parents, there would be a lot of dead parents."
Today, Ashlee Martinson is serving her time at Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Since being transferred there roughly six months ago, she's received no visitors.
But that was about to change.
Crime Watch Daily wrote to Ashlee in prison, and she wrote back, saying she was finally ready to tell her story
Unfortunately, our cameras weren't allowed in the prison, but what Ashlee told us from inside those walls was too important to not be heard, so after working with administrators and Ashlee's social workers, she was allowed to make a collect call from prison to Crime Watch Daily.
"Thank you for letting me have this opportunity to tell my story," said Ashlee.
Though our own cameras weren't allowed inside, Ashlee sat down with me just days ago for exclusive new photos from behind bars. There were a lot of surprises from our two-day meeting, including the fact that since being imprisoned, Ashlee has gone on to receive her high school diploma -- one of the first in her family to do so. And there were even more surprises when Ashlee agreed to call us and go on the record.
"I'm happy. And I know this sounds crazy, because I'm in prison, but I feel like I'm free," said Ashlee. "I can wake up every day and know that I'm safe."
Safe, she says, from a lifetime of trauma and abuse that began when she was just eight, and her mom got a new boyfriend.
"He was extremely abusive," said Ashlee. "That man that man took everything from me."
Ashlee had trouble finding the words, but according to court documents, the man would throw things at her, burn her with cigarettes and much worse.
"He raped me when I was nine," said Ashlee.
And Ashlee says her mom, also allegedly being abused by that same man, not only failed to protect her -- she may have enabled it.
"She would send him in to tuck me in at night or to give me a bath," said Ashlee. "She knew she knew what was going on."
Ashlee says the abuse went on for roughly two years. And even though her mom eventually got out of that relationship, things didn't get any better.
While Ashlee fully admits Thomas Ayers never actually laid hands on her, she says what he did do was much worse.
So why didn't she just leave? Well, Ashlee says she tried.
"I was supposed to move out in with one of my friends," said Ashlee. "I was all packed up and ready to go that day but my step dad stopped me...
She says Ayers found about Ryan Sisco, and after that, she was essentially "grounded for life."
"Work and school was my freedom, he was gonna take it all away, I was going to be 100-percent imprisoned in that house, and I believed him," said Ashlee.
She says in that moment, she saw only one way out: grabbing a shotgun and retreating to her room.
"I was sitting on my bed," said Ashlee. "I even had the end of it in my mouth playing with the trigger. And then I heard my stepdad.
"I was scared of him. I am messing with his gun. One of his precious belongings. And I thought he was gonna snap on me. And i just reacted. I raised the gun and I pulled the trigger," said Ashlee.
Ashlee didn't immediately shoot her stepfather again, as has been widely reported. Instead, she says she just wanted to get away.
"I start running down the stairs, and I go, I was on the first landing and that's when I saw my mom," said Ashlee. "She ended up grabbing this decorative knife that was on a shelf and the next thing I knew the knife is in my leg."
Her own mother had stabbed her, says Ashlee.
"It was like a movie reel went off inside my head. It was like a flash of an image, memories of all the bad things that happened to me. That she put me through," said Ashlee. "And I remember stabbing her once, then twice, and then I black out. The next thing I knew there was just blood everywhere."
That's when she says she looked up and saw Ayers.
"And seeing him scared me more," said Ashlee. "I thought he was gonna get up, and he was gonna see what I did. I was scared what he was gonna do."
So she grabbed the gun once again.
"I remember pointing the tip of it, the tip of the gun against his head," said Ashlee. "And I pulled the trigger. Boom. And in that moment, I felt the chains break around me. I was free. For the first time in my life I felt that I was free. He couldn't hurt my sisters anymore. He couldn't hurt me anymore. He couldn't hurt anyone."
And there she sat, she tells me, in a complete daze, before remembering her sisters and securing them in their room -- a move she says was to protect them.
"I hope that one day that they can come to me and I can tell them what really happened. The truth," said Ashlee. "Maybe, maybe they'll understand, because I do want a relationship with them. I miss them so much.
"I am not a monster. I never meant for this to happen," said Ashlee. "It doesn't make it right, what happened. But I was just a girl, an abused girl, who was forced to make a really bad decision. I'm not the monster that they portrayed me to be."