Ashley Okland, a realtor with the Iowa Realty company, was hosting an open house on the afternoon of Friday, April 8, 2011. The 27-year-old arrived early at the model townhouse, located in the Stone Creek Villas subdivision in West Des Moines, Iowa, and made sure everything looked perfect for any prospective buyers who might stop by.
Shortly before 2:00 pm, a 53-year-old woman who worked for Rottlund Homes, the developer of the subdivision, heard noises coming from the model townhouse at 558 Stone Creek Court and went inside to investigate. She walked into a horrifying scene. Ashley had been shot twice and was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. There was no sign of her k*iller.
The terrified woman called 911 and an ambulance was immediately dispatched to the subdivision. Paramedics did everything they could to keep Ashley alive during the 12-mile drive to Iowa Methodist Medical Center, but their efforts were in vain. Ashley was pronounced de*ad later that afternoon.
The mur*der created a panic in West Des Moines, which was generally seen as a very safe area with little violent crime. The Stone Creek Villas subdivision, which consisted of 70 townhomes, was only a year old at the time and residents there were horrified when they learned of Ashley’s de*ath. A few of them had seen the ambulance racing away but had assumed that a construction worker had been injured; when told a realtor had been ki*lled some questioned if they had made the right choice when they bought their new home.
Ashley’s family was devastated by her d*eath. Her father, Tim Okland, told reporters that they didn’t believe Ashley had any enemies and they couldn’t believe that someone would have wanted to k*ill her. They wanted answers, but police had none to give them.
From the very beginning of the investigation, detectives struggled to make sense of the crime. Nothing had been stolen from the model home and Ashley hadn’t been sexually assaulted; the motive behind the ki*lling was unknown. It appeared that someone had entered the home with just one goal: to assassinate Ashley. With this in mind, investigators speculated that Ashley might have known her k*iller.
Ashley’s mother, Deb Cochran, agreed. She told reporters that the fact that there had been no signs of struggle indicated to her that her daughter hadn’t felt threatened by the kil*ler and hadn’t attempted to run away from him. “I’m sure she looked up, gave him a big smile, and that was it.”
Ashley’s younger brother, Josh, noted that his sister had been a very trusting person; it probably never crossed her mind that someone could have come to the open house to hurt her. She likely assumed the ki*ller was just another potential customer. Her sister, Brittany, hoped this was the case. She said she was haunted by thoughts of Ashley’s final moments and preferred to think that Ashley had never seen the shots coming and hadn’t had any time to feel fear before she was k*illed.
In an attempt to determine if anyone might have had the motive to k*ill Ashley, detectives combed through her background, digging deeply into her personal and professional life. Ashley had grown up in the tiny town of Kelley, Iowa, and attended school in nearby Huxley, Iowa. She was a 2002 graduate of Ballard High School, where she had been a popular student who participated in many different activities, including the 4-H Club and various sports. She also maintained exceptional grades, graduating in the top 3% of her high school class.
After high school, Ashley went on to Iowa State University. She graduated from there in 2006 with a degree in exercise science. She had initially planned to become a physical therapist, but ended up taking a job with a real estate company and found that she loved it. Her bubbly, outgoing personality and ability to make each person feel special was a perfect fit for a career as a realtor. Ashley worked for a couple of different companies before getting hired by Iowa Realty in 2010, where she started making a name for herself as a competent and compassionate agent.
In her free time, Ashley volunteered with several different organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and a group that provided free clothing for young professionals just getting started in their careers. Ashley loved to help others and threw herself into these volunteer opportunities. She also loved traveling, playing golf, going to concerts, and spending time with her friends and family.
Ashley and her boyfriend had moved to West Des Moines and adopted a dog, but Ashley remained a small-town girl at heart. Although she loved all the activities available in West Des Moines, she visited her parents and siblings frequently. She had never indicated that she was having any kind of problem with anyone; she was thriving both at work and at home.
Hoping to find some kind of lead, detectives combed through Ashley’s home and work computers as well as her social media accounts, email accounts, and cell phone records. They learned that she had sent a text message to a friend just minutes before she was attacked; there was nothing in the message to indicate that anything was wrong at that time. It was clear that whatever had happened to her had happened quickly.
Unable to find anyone in Ashley’s personal life with a motive to mu*rder her, detectives wondered if she might have been ki*lled by a jealous competitor or unsatisfied customer. After receiving dozens of tips regarding a male in a black SUV who had been seen talking to Ashley at Stone Creek Villas on a few occasions in the months leading up to her mu*rder, detectives sent out an email to Iowa Realty and Prudential First Realty asking if any of the real estate agents could help identify this man.
Described as being “scruffy-looking” and driving what was believed to be a black Cadillac Escalade, the young man had been seen in the area of the model townhome several times in February and March. Ashley had spoken to him on a couple of occasions and at least one witness recalled seeing him following her in his SUV when she drove out of the subdivision. Investigators stressed that this man was not a suspect and had not been seen in the area on the day of the m*urder; they believed he was most likely another realtor and simply wanted to interview him to see if he might be able to provide any information that could help identify Ashley’s ki*ller. Despite a massive media campaign, the man never came forward.
While detectives worked to find Ashley’s kil*ler, real estate agents across the city wondered if they were possibly in danger. Iowa Realty contacted all of its agents on the day of Ashley’s mu*rder and told them that they were not to hold any open houses until further notice. Company executives did not want to risk the safety of any of their agents.
Although law enforcement officials still weren’t sure of the motive behind Ashley’s mur*der, they told residents that they didn’t believe there was an ongoing safety issue in the neighborhood. They recommended that residents use common sense and keep their doors locked just in case; they were also asked to immediately report any suspicious activity to the Des Moines police.
Shortly after the mur*der, Polk County Crime Stoppers announced that they were offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Ashley’s ki*ller. Friends, family, and local businesses donated money to add to the reward fund, and within weeks the reward was up to $150,000. It was the largest reward ever offered by Polk County Crime Stoppers, and tips about the case flooded into their tip line. Each tip was passed on to law enforcement but none of them led to the development of any substantial leads.
During the first four weeks of the investigation, detectives interviewed around 250 people and followed up on 538 tips and potential leads. A total of ten investigators from the West Des Moines police department, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and the Urbandale Police Department were working on the case full-time, but despite all their hard work, they still had no idea why anyone had wanted to ki*ll Ashley.
The case gained national attention and forced real estate agencies across the country to consider whether they were doing enough to protect their employees. Sadly, Ashley wasn’t the first realtor to be kil*led on the job — and she wouldn’t be the last — but investigators were never able to connect any of the k*illings and didn’t believe any of them were related.
Despite the national attention and the large financial reward offered for information, Ashley’s case seemed to go cold almost immediately. Although detectives continued to follow up on every lead they received, they were never able to develop any solid suspects.
The model townhouse in Stone Creek Villas remained locked after Ashley’s de*ath; while Ashley and one of her co-workers had once led daily tours in the subdivision, the demand for units dropped dramatically after the m*urder. On a good week, agents might show two or three potential customers one of the vacant units, all by appointment only.
By the time the investigation hit the six-month mark, detectives had exhausted all leads but continued to solicit tips from the public. They noted that they were certain there were people who knew exactly what had happened to Ashley and they pleaded with them to call the tip line so they could finally make an arrest.
Ashley’s family tried to remain optimistic and hoped that they would eventually obtain justice for her. Her mother told reporters that she prayed every day that police would finally make an arrest; the lack of progress was frustrating, but the family was committed to keeping Ashley’s case in the public eye so she wouldn’t be forgotten.
Ten years after the m*urder, they still struggled to deal with their immense loss. Her brother, Josh, released a statement to the media on the 10th anniversary of the crime, stating, “We have learned to adapt our lives without Ash but there is still an irreplaceable hole. We miss her all the time and cherish the memories we have.”
Over the years, investigators have continued their hunt for Ashley’s kil*ler but admit they don’t know anything more now than they did on the first day of their investigation. They have never been able to name any suspects in the case and believe that the only way it will be solved is if an eyewitness — or the k*iller — finally comes forward with the information they need to obtain justice for Ashley.
Ashley Okland was 26 years old when she was mur*dered in 2011; her k*iller remains unidentified and the motive behind her mu*rder is unknown. Friends and family had decided that one of the best ways to honor Ashley’s memory was to build an inclusive playground where all children, including those with special needs, would feel comfortable. The Ashley Okland Star Playground and Nature Trail was completed in 2014, ensuring Ashley’s name will never be forgotten. If you have any information about Ashley’s m*urder, please contact the West Des Moines Police Department at 515–222–3320.