UPDATE: Police Still Frustrated One Year After Murder Mystery

By: WSAZ News Staff Email
By: WSAZ News Staff Email

UPDATE 7/29/12 @ 11 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Police are still struggling to tie up a murder mystery that has remained unsolved for the past year.

Police found the remains of Ashley Crawford and Tonda McCarty-Nelson in a shallow grave off of Duncan Creek Road last July. The women had been missing for six weeks, along with Ashley's husband, Jeff Crawford.

Police later found evidence that linked Crawford to the crime and issued a warrant for his arrest. Crawford still hasn't turned up, but police are pursuing the case as if he is alive.

"We've gotten no information throughout the year to say that he's deceased," state trooper S.C. Allen, who is handling the case said. "We're working it as if he is alive and we're going to continue to do so until other information comes in."

Jeff and Ashley lived in a trailer on Jeffer's Ridge. Police found it burnt to the ground shortly after the three people went missing.

They're hoping someone will step forward and lead them to Jeff so they can put this cold case to a close.

"Small towns don't get a lot of murders," Trooper Allen said. "Especially something as gruesome as this. It doesn't happen around here and we don't want it to happen...that's why we want to get it solved."

Family members of both Ashley and Tonda spoke briefly with WSAZ.com but didn't want to make any statements at this time.

If you have any information on the crime, you're asked to call West Virginia State Police.



UPDATE 12/7/11 @ 7:40 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Gone without a trace -- a man believed to be the victim of foul play is now considered the cause of it.

Jeffrey Crawford, his wife Ashley and her cousin Tonda, went missing from Mason County in June. Six weeks later, the women were found dead. Now, Jeffrey Crawford is wanted in their murders.

Police have no evidence that Jeffrey Crawford is even alive. But, they have nothing that shows he's dead either. What they do have is a witness who is very clear about what was seen, making Jeff a wanted man in more ways than one.

“Yesterday, December 6, we obtained arrest warrants for Jeff Crawford for the murders of Tonda Nelson and Ashley Crawford,” West Virginia State Police Trooper S.C. Allen said.

That news came six months after the three first disappeared. They were last seen at Jeff and Ashley's home on Jeffer's Ridge in Mason County. But, all police found was the charred remains of their trailer -- the apparent result of arson.

Clues were scarce, and we spoke to Jeff Crawford's mother back then. She was certain something terrible had happened to her son.

“He would have called me," Shela Crawford said. "He tells everyone I'm his best friend. He would have called me.”

Then, six weeks later, Ashley and Tonda's bodies were discovered in a shallow grave not far from the Crawfords' home. But, Jeff was still missing. Now police say an eyewitness places Jeff at the scene of the crime -- not as a victim.

“They witnessed Jeff Crawford and a person or persons murder Ashley and Tonda,” Allen said.

Now, police are aggressively searching for Jeff, but so is Jeff's family. We caught up with them this weekend at an event to raise money to assist in the search for him. This was before they found out he was wanted for murder.

“All we want to do is find his body," his brother, Brent Matthews, said. "It's a horrible thing that's happened. I was really close to him, and it's tough.”

State police say they've received very little help from the public in this case. If you have any information that could lead to Jeff Crawford, you're asked to all the state police Mason County detachment at 304-675-0850.

We also learned Wednesday that Ashley and Tonda both died from blows to the head, but police refused to comment further from there.

The family said Saturday during the fundraiser that if Jeff was never found, then the leftover money would go to fund searches for other missing people. Presumably, now that Jeff Crawford is considered a murder suspect, the same would hold true for any funds raised for the search efforts.



UPDATE 12/7/11 @ 1:35 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A man who was reported missing back in June from Mason County, W.Va. is now the prime suspect in the murder of his wife and her cousin.

West Virginia State Police in Mason County have issued an arrest warrant for Jeff Crawford for the murders of Ashley Baird Crawford and Tonda Nelson.

The three were reported missing after the Crawford's trailer burnt down in Southside, West Virginia in June.

Six weeks later, Ashley and Tonda's bodies were found off Duncan Creek Road in Mason County. State Police say the women died of wounds to the head, but would not go into further detail about the cause of their deaths.

Today (Wednesday) WVSP tell WSAZ.com they're operating as if Jeff Crawford is still alive, but have no evidence to directly indicate one way or another.

They say a witness to the murder came forward in late July and saw Jeff and another person or persons kill the girls.

WVSP is actively searching for Jeff Crawford. The US Marshals Service has been called in to assist in the search for Crawford.

No other suspects have been named at this time.

WVSP says if anyone is found to be harboring Jeff Crawford, charges will be filed against them. If you know where Jeff Crawford is, call West Virginia State Police at 304-675-0850.



UPDATE 7/28/11 @ 7:28 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Crews are investigating a burnt trailer they hope could have clues to help track down the person who killed two women whose bodies were found in a partially uncovered grave.

State police have crews at Jeffers Ridge in Southside, Mason County. Jeff and Ashley Crawford's home burned down there the weekend they were reported missing.

Investigators searched the property when it first happened, but are now looking at it with a murder investigation in mind.

Crews plan to be on the scene throughout Thursday night.

State Police say autopsies for Ashley and Tonda have been completed, but they are not releasing the cause of death.

They will only say the time of death is consistent for the amount of time they have been missing.

Jeff Crawford was reported missing at the same time. He has not been found.

Crews are planning to search a car that belonged to Jeff and Ashley Crawford.

It was impounded several weeks ago after sheriff's deputies determined someone forged the title showing Jeff had sold the car.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com.



UPDATE 7/28/11 @ 10:20 a.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The investigation into who killed Ashley Crawford and her cousin, Tonda Nelson, has gone into overdrive with new leads and interviews. The women were two of three reported missing six weeks ago from the Mason County area. Ashley's husband, Jeff, is still missing.

The W.Va. State Police now plan to search the car that belonged to Jeff and Ashley. Sgt. E.B. Starcher said the car was impounded several weeks ago after Mason County Sheriff's Deputies determined a title showing that Jeff sold the car to someone else had been forged. Now, State Police are sending the car to the state crime lab for processing.

Sgt. Starcher also told WSAZ.com the autopsies on Ashley and Tonda's bodies are complete and the bodies have been released to their families. However, investigators are not releasing the cause of death and will only say the time of death is consistent with the amount of time they've been missing.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updated information.



UPDATE 7/27/11 @ 7:45 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- For the first time since human remains were found during the weekend in rural Mason County and later identified as two missing women, we had a chance Wednesday to visit the scene, as well as to talk at length with the grieving family.

WSAZ.com first broke the news Tuesday night that the remains of Ashley Crawford and Tonda Nelson were positively identified. The remains of both women were found buried along Duncan Creek Road -- miles off the main road in Gallipolis Ferry in Mason County.

On Wednesday, the scene was cleared, and the Smithsonian team brought in to help with the case has returned to Washington, D.C.

What started out as a dig site and then turned into a crime scene is now a memorial. Just as family members of the victims clear one hurdle, they're now facing another -- maybe an even larger one.

“I came around just to look over the hill and see where my cousins may have been put to rest,” Aaron Baird said.

This is one trip Baird and his family would rather not be taking.

“It's hard enough -- you have people who have been in a wreck in a car or a four-wheeler and die,” Baird said. “It's hard enough to deal with that. But, to know they were treated the way they were treated and put in like an animal. That upsets me to no end that there's someone out there who could do this and keep living their life.”

Police identified the human remains found in the rural area of Mason County as the bodies of Crawford, 26 and Nelson, 27, who were Baird’s cousins. That news came less than 24 hours ago, but what the family thought would bring closure has only opened a whole new set of questions and concerns -- starting with Crawford’s husband, Jeff, who's still missing.

“I think Jeffrey has some information on it,” Baird said. “I hope they find him and ask him. (I’m) not saying that he did it.”

But, above all else, this family wants justice and is praying for those answers sooner rather than later.

“Please, no matter what, risk yourself, give a word to help find who did this,” Baird said.

Family members said they identified the young women by photos police took of tattoos on their bodies.

As for the cause of death and how long their bodies were buried there, police and family are awaiting autopsy reports.

The dig site was in the middle of a popular hunting area. The Smithsonian team is an expert in quickly telling the difference between human and animal remains. Plus, the extra manpower led to a much quicker outcome.

State Police say they have several new leads they're working and have spent the day conducting interviews. They're hopeful they'll have a suspect soon.



UPDATE 7/26/11 @ 8 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A team from the Smithsonian has been sent back to Washington D.C. after remains were identified Tuesday of two missing women from Mason County.

According to West Virginia State Police, the search on Duncan Creek Road has ended.

They tell WSAZ.com Jeff Crawford is a person of interest they want to talk to. They say he is not accused of any crime, but they hope they can find him to get information about the deaths of Ashley Crawford, 26, and Tonda Nelson, 27.

The remains of the two women were found Sunday night by a hiker in the Gallipolis Ferry area of Mason County. They had both been missing for nearly six weeks. Jeff Crawford was also reported missing at that time and has not been seen since.

State Police also tell WSAZ.com the remains were found on a piece of property owned by a family member of Matthew Woods. Woods was arrested Friday and charged with the murder of Rene Gonzalez. State Police say at this time, these cases are not being connected.

State Police say autopsies will be performed on Ashley Crawford and Nelson Wednesday. Cause of death has not been determined.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest with this story.



UPDATE 7/26/11 @ 7:40 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia State Police have also confirmed that two bodies found in a partially uncovered grave in Mason County are those of two women reported missing for more than a month.

The remains of Ashley Crawford and her cousin Tonda Nelson have been taken to the state medical examiner's office in Charleston. The cause of death for both women has not been determined.

State Police worked with a team from the Smithsonian Institution throughout the day Tuesday. The team was called in after the remains were found Sunday night by a hiker.

Family members contacted WSAZ.com around 6 p.m. to report that they had been called in to identify the women.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/26/11 @ 6 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Family members have confirmed two of the three people missing from Mason County have been found dead.

Gary Baird, tells WSAZ.com police told him just before 6 p.m. Tuesday his daughter, Ashley Crawford, and her cousin, Tonda Nelson, were two of the bodies found over the weekend.

Crews in Mason County have been excavating human remains from a shallow grave found near Gallipolis Ferry Sunday.

WSAZ.com has not confirmed the whereabouts of the third missing person, Jeff Crawford.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/25/11 @ 5:45 p.m.
GALLIPOLIS FERRY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The unearthing of human remains from a shallow grave during the weekend calls for some expert help. Police closed off the remote area, and a long-term dig soon will begin.

Neighbors are either too scared or too curious. They tell WSAZ.com that bodies aren’t found too often in the remote area. And, there are a lot of curious people who police are asking to stay away.

Police say the body count is at least one, and any more information will come after a federal dig team from Washington, D.C., makes its way to Duncan Creek.

State Police say everyone should take the road closed signs very seriously on remote Duncan Creek road in the Gallipolis Ferry area of southern Mason County.

Police say at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday, some locals -- looking for arrowheads -- stumbled upon a shallow grave dug between the creek and the road. So far, investigators say at least one human body was buried in, what they call, a partially uncovered hole in the ground.

“The human remains have been there several days. We’re not sure of just how long, but we believe several days," State Police Sgt. E.B. Starcher said. "We know of at least one body now. There may be more; we still need to check that out.”

Starcher says both sides of Duncan Creek road are closed to traffic. The West Virginia Crime Scene Team was called in, and Monday, they decided they needed anthropological help from a Smithsonian Institution dig team from Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian team is en route to Mason County. Its members will begin the meticulous work Tuesday morning -- work that may last several days.

Many in Mason County are concerned about a possible connection there to three young people from the county missing since June. Based on current information, police say these are two separate cases.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/25/11 @ 2:22 p.m.
GALLIPOLIS FERRY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- For now, West Virginia State Police say a body found near Gallipolis Ferry is not connected to three missing people from Mason County.

West Virginia State Police say a group of people looking for arrowheads stumbled upon the remains of at least one person at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday night.

The remains were found beside a creek off of Duncan Creek Road near Gallipolis Ferry.

State Police say the grave site had been partially uncovered. Troopers told WSAZ.com Sunday night they estimated the body had been there for at least a few days and confirmed that information on Monday.

They are not saying if the remains are male or female, or if there is more than one body.

The remains have been sent to the State Medical Examiner's office.

Also on Monday, troopers told WSAZ.com that a team from the Smithsonian in Washington is coming in to help with the investigation.

The area remains an active crime scene.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updated information.



UPDATE 7/25/11 @ 10:21 a.m.
GALLIPOLIS FERRY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- No additional information has been released about the human remains found buried near Gallipolis Ferry Sunday night.

West Virginia State Police say a group of people looking for arrowheads stumbled upon the remains of at least one person at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday night.

The remains were found beside a creek off of Duncan Creek Road near Gallipolis Ferry.

State Police say the grave site had been partially uncovered. Troopers told WSAZ.com Sunday night they estimated the body had been there for at least a few days.

Investigators with the W.Va. State Police and Mason County Sheriff's Office remain on the scene Monday morning.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for update information

UPDATE 7/25/11 @ 12:21 a.m.
GALLIPOLIS FERRY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Human remains of at least one person, have been found in a wooded area in Mason County.

West Virginia State Police tell WSAZ.com a group of people looking for arrowheads in the woods stumbled upon the remains at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday night.

The remains were found off Duncan Creek Road..

State Police say the remains were found in a shallow grave that had been exposed. Troopers estimate the body had been there for at least a few days.

The WVSP Crime Scene Team has been called to the area to investigate further. The Mason County Sheriff's Department is also investigating.

They'll probably be there throughout the night until daylight, troopers say.

They also tell WSAZ.com it's too early to identify the remains.

UPDATE 7/20/11 @ 6:15 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A search continues in Mason County for three people who have been missing for more than a month.

Police have followed up on more than 100 leads, but still need your help.

Police think the missing three could be in South Carolina, or even Alabama, and may be hiding from someone or something.

Jeff and Ashley Crawford and Ashley's cousin, Tonda Nelson, disappeared around June 17.

Shortly after their disappearance, the couple's trailer burned down. While Jeff's mother fears the worst has happened, the lead investigator, who's talking for the first time, says he's not so sure.

“(There have been) numerous statements stating they all made utterances that they were going to the Carolinas to start a new life," Mason County Sheriff's Deputy T. Powell said. "They rented the trailer out. It looked like to me in preparation for actually being able to go. But, the mother says that he had changed his mind. She didn't believe he was going to that area, even though I got all these statements saying, 'Yeah, they was going to the Carolinas, and that's where they was headed to.”.

“So, you believe some monkey business was going on surrounding their vehicle?" WSAZ.com's Carrie Cline asked.

“Yeah, the title was forged," Powell said. "It was not the signature of William Crawford on the title. I do know that for a fact. Well, the car, I've actually taken possession of the vehicle. It's impounded inside storage, so no one can be around the car.”

“Do you think they're in danger?" Cline asked.

“At this point, I'm not ruling that out -- just due to the fact of no contact with the family members," Powell said. "No one's heard anything from them -- no cell phone usage, no bank account usage."

There had been numerous reports that a man was seen driving Jeff and Ashley's car. That man said he sold it to him -- something Powell say is not true.

However, he says he does have legitimate receipts showing the couple rented their trailer and collected money about two weeks before they disappeared.

If you have any information, you're asked to call the Mason County Sheriff's Department at (304) 675-3838.



UPDATE 7/14/11
SOUTHSIDE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Gone without a trace. It's a bitter reality a local mother is reluctantly having to face.

Four weeks ago, her son, his wife and the wife's cousin disappeared when the couple's trailer burned to the ground.

Police are investigating the case, but without much luck.

Thursday night, a grieving mother pleads for their safe return.

Shela Crawford remembers the day her son, Jeff, got saved at church.

“It was the best birthday gift I could have ever asked for,” Crawford said.

Now, Crawford's praying God will save him from the danger she believes he's in.

“He would have called me. He tells everyone I'm his best friend and I know he would have called me," Crawford said. "I just feel like he's not out there. I'm scared to death that something's happened.”

Jeff Crawford met and married Ashley Baird about six months ago.

Four weeks ago, on June 18, the couple's trailer on Jeffer's Ridge in southern Mason County, burned -- and the couple went missing.

“He's got a brother in North Carolina, he hasn't heard from him. He's got an aunt in Atlanta, she hasn't heard from him," Crawford said. "His son’s in Florida, they haven't heard from him.”

Nearly 28 days later, no word.

In the time he's been missing, Crawford said, what would usually signal celebration is a grim reminder of his disappearance.

“On June 29, he turned 29. He’s never gone a birthday and not called," Crawford said. "He usually starts a week before his birthday and tells me what he wants. Then, he'd call me."

The plot thickened when Tonda Nelson, a family member of Ashley's was later reported missing.

“Please tell. He's 29, but he's still one of my babies and I miss him everyday and I know someone has to know something. You have to. You don't just vanish. Somebody knows," Crawford said.

Both Jeff and Ashley were out of work and drawing unemployment.

But, Shela says they did look into it and neither account has been tapped since they disappeared.

Crawford also said her mother is very sick and has been for some time. She said Jeff would never leave on his own and put his family through this grief.

If you have any information about Jeff and Ashley Crawford or Tonda Nelson, you're asked to call the Mason County Sheriff's Department at 304-675-3838.


UPDATE 7/12/11
SOUTHSIDE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A third person has been reported missing and investigators are still searching for a couple from Southside, West Virginia.

Jeffrey Crawford and Ashley Baird were reported missing last month. The last time they were seen was June 18, the day a fire destroyed their trailer on Jeffers Ridge in Mason County.

At the beginning of July, Tonda Nelson was also reported missing.

Deputies with the Mason County Sheriff's Department says all three are believed to be in extreme danger and they believe their disappearances are very suspicious.

The couple had talked about moving to the Carolinas, but family and friends say they haven't showed up.

The Mason County Sheriff's Department tells WSAZ.com they are currently working on several leads and interviewing a number of people to try to find these three.

If you have any information, call the Sheriff's Department at 304-675-3838.



ORIGINAL STORY 6/23/11
POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Investigators need help in locating a couple missing since after a fire destroyed their trailer.

The Mason County Sheriff’s Office says Ashley Baird and Jeffrey Crawford have not been heard from since that fire along Jeffers Ridge in Southside. The fire was reported about 3 a.m. Saturday.

The Sheriff’s Office says the couple had talked to family members about moving to the Carolinas, but relatives and friends in the Carolinas have not had any contact with either person.

Investigators say the couple does not have a history of disappearing. They are treating this as a suspicious case.

Point Pleasant Fire Chief Jeremy Bryant tells WSAZ.com that an investigator with State Fire Marshal’s Office was at the trailer on Thursday as part of the overall investigation. According to the Sheriff's Office, at this time the fire is considered suspicious.

Anyone with information on the couple or anyone in contact with the couple is asked to call the Mason County Sheriff’s Office at 304-675-3838.


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