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S2 / EP20: Concrete, Potting Soil and Lies: The Murder of Taylor Wright

This is one of those cases that makes no sense. The crime is absolutely senseless and the suspect is not who you would expect in a crime of this nature. Money makes people do crazy things, but it's still shocking that someone would throw their life away for it and take an innocent victim down with them in the process.


If you get the opportunity, I suggest watching this trial - every day of the trial was taped and you can view it on YouTube. The prosecutor in the case was outstanding, she tackles the case single-handedly, and is one of the best trial attorneys I've seen, and the witnesses in this case are some wild and uh, interesting (to say the least!) characters.


Be sure to find and connect with me on Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok!

 
 

Transcribed Episode / S2 EP20: Concrete, Potting Soil and Lies: The Murder of Taylor Wright


[Host]

This podcast contains content that may not be suitable for some listeners - listener discretion is advised. Be sure to head over to thecrimeshack.com for all available episodes, merchandise, and show notes, and subscribe to us for free wherever you get your podcasts. As you know it takes a lot of research and time to keep this podcast going, you can help this show by subscribing to my YouTube Channel, purchasing merchandise, joining my Patreon, or just by Buying Me a Coffee. My podcast is currently sponsor-less, and any support from my listeners is much appreciated!


This will be the last episode of this season as I look forward to spending the holidays with friends and family, and I’ll be returning in January with more of the content you love.


I’m sure you’ve heard of the biblical phrase, “The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil.” I had posted a video on TikTok and misquoted this phrase, and wow, did I get major backlash for it! I’m sure there are many different translations of that phrase, but essentially it means that nothing good will come from having an unhealthy attachment to wealth or money. Historically, either the lack of money or the excess of money, seems to be the reason behind a lot of murders, and that phrase couldn’t be more true than in this next case. This case also emphasizes that you should be extra careful who you trust, even if that person seems to be a really good friend.


For this story we’re going to be heading over to the east coast to Pensacola Florida or what is also known as the “Panhandle.” Pensacola is nestled in the Gulf of Mexico and is surrounded by 50 plus miles of coastline and is the westernmost city in the Panhandle. The population is around 50,000, give or take a couple thousand.


The year is 2017 and Taylor Wright, a 33 year old private investigator, a former police officer, and a single mother, had recently relocated to Pensacola and was in the process of moving in with her girlfriend Casandra Waller, after going through a divorce from her husband of 10 years, Jeff Wright. Jeff lived in North Carolina and had full custody of their 6 year old son Drake. Even though their divorce was finalized, they were still arguing over custody and financial issues. They had a significant amount of money in a shared bank account, and Taylor was required by the court to pay child support to Jeff.


Taylor wasn’t too happy about her ex-husband having both full custody of their child and getting all of her hard earned money. In retaliation, in the middle of July 2017, she withdrew $100,000 from their joint bank account with the intention of hiding it from Jeff so he couldn't get to it. The court, of course, found out about it, and she was ordered to put the money back into a joint escrow account otherwise she could go to jail. The court set a date of September 7th to review the status of the funds with the couple, but Taylor asked for an extension (which was basically her way of delaying putting the money back into the account), so the court date was moved to September 12th.


Now once Taylor withdrew the money, she didn’t use it to go on a lavish vacation or buy a car or buy any other expensive items for herself - she just didn’t want her ex husband to have it.


Not having a lot of close friends in Pensacola, Taylor was happy when she met a friendly local, a woman named Ashley McArthur. Ashley was also a mom, was married and seemed like a genuinely cool person who knew a lot of people around town. The two women became good friends and spent a lot of time together hanging out and going to each other’s houses.


Ashley was an attractive 40 year old, who had a teenage daughter and who’d been married to Zach McArthur for about 3 years. Zach had previously been in law enforcement but had gotten into a car accident about 6 years prior which left him injured and not able to go back to work. He sued the other party involved in the accident, and was awarded a settlement from their insurance company of roughly about $50-$60,000. Since that time, he had worked maybe a total of 3 days, but let his wife handle all of their finances and bills.


He had a debit card linked to their joint bank account, but had no idea how much was in their bank account at any given time - ignorance is bliss I guess - and totally trusted his wife to handle their money. He just seemed like a laid back guy who didn’t have to work and was just enjoying life. During court testimony it was implied by Ashley that the two had an open sexual relationship, but that was never confirmed or denied by her husband.


Back in the early 2000’s Ashley had also gotten into a car accident that resulted in a minor back injury and caused her to sometimes walk funny - sort of favoring her back - and would at times prevent her from lifting or moving heavy objects. She had worked as a crime scene technician for less than a year and then began working for her family’s business, Pensacola Automatic Amusement, who owned and managed pool tables, jukeboxes and video games that were placed in businesses around town.


She’d spend a lot of her time at one of her family’s clients, Stix Billiards in Pensacola. Stix was a pool hall and bar where Ashley would manage their pool tables and jukebox - she’d collect the money produced by them every week. The owner of Stix was a guy named Brandon Beatty. Brandon was married, but he and Ashley struck up a sexual relationship, which wasn’t a secret to the employees of Stix. As a way to show her affection, she purchased a cellphone for Brandon and would pay his cellphone bill, buy snacks and beer for his pool hall, and would also pay for some of Stix’ utility bills - all without her husband Zach’s knowledge. You could say that Ashley was slightly more invested in the relationship than Brandon seemed to be.


Because Ashley hung out at Stix quite a bit, she also became friends with a couple of the bartenders there, Audrey Warner and Jessica Wheeler, and eventually Audrey was introduced to Taylor.


Now Taylor was in the process of moving in with her girlfriend Casandra and was excited about it and looking forward to the new change in her life, despite the stress of what was going on financially between her and Jeff. Although her and Casandra’s relationship seemed to be moving in the right direction, they did run into a few bumps in the road.


[Trial Testimony: Casandra Waller/Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]


[Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]

And had you and Taylor recently had some trust issues?


[Casandra Waller]

Yes.


[Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]

And was there a conversation that you and Taylor had at Ashley McArthur's home?


[Casandra Waller]

Yes.


[Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]

Who all was there?


[Casandra Waller]

Ashley, Taylor and I.


[Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]

And what did you learn during that meeting I guess?


[Casandra Waller]

That Taylor had cheated on me, she had another relationship.


[Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]

Anything else?


[Casandra Waller]

Yes. Taylor told me that she had done drugs.


[Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]

Did she say what kind of drugs?


[Casandra Waller]

She said cocaine.


[Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]

And did she say how many times she had done it?


[Casandra Waller]

She said three times.


[Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]

After that conversation did you and Taylor remain together as a couple?


[Casandra Waller]

Yes.


[Host]

This caused a rift in the relationship and the couple decided to separate for a few days…but they ultimately ended up patching things up and worked it out.


With things appearing as if they were going in the right direction for Taylor, there was still the issue of the $100 grand that she took out of the joint bank account. She knew there was an upcoming court date where she would have to prove she’d put the money back into the escrow account, otherwise they could throw her in jail. Struggling with doing what was legally the right thing to do, versus causing more anguish for her ex husband, she chose the latter.


On July 18th, she asked Ashley if she would go with her to the bank. Taylor then transferred $83,000 of the $100 grand out of her checking account, then withdrew $15,000 of it, in cash. She asked Ashley if she would safeguard the $15,000 for her, which of course she said she would. In fact, she told her she would even open up a safety deposit box and put it in there for her.


Taylor then also had the bank issue two cashiers checks for $34,000 each out of that same account. It’s pretty obvious that Taylor was moving the money out of her account for fear that her ex would somehow manage to get his hands on the money.


If you're completely confused at this point as far as what money went where, Taylor has handed Ashley a total of $64,000. for safekeeping, entrusting her with the money until she needed it back for her upcoming court hearing.


Ashley, now with $64,000 in hand, instead she went to her bank, signed the back of that $34,000 cashiers check, forged Taylor's signature and deposited into one of her own bank accounts.


And what about the $30,000 in cash that Taylor had handed to her? That cash was quickly used to purchase a $30,000 fishing boat for her boyfriend, Brandon Beatty.


Ashley wasted no time in spending the rest of the $34,000, using some of it to pay off credit card debt, for miscellaneous expenses, gave money to her daughter, covered some of Stix Billiards business expenses and also purchased an $8,000 motorcycle for Brandon.


Taylor assumed her money was safe with her friend, had no knowledge that Ashley had deposited the money into her own account, that Ashley had forged her signature, or that Ashley had spent all of her money.


Over the next seven weeks, Taylor started hounding Ashley about her money - her court date was coming up, and she was gonna need that money back. Ashley gave excuse after excuse: “I’m too busy," "maybe tomorrow we can go and get it out," "how about the next day,” etcetera etcetera.


Finally on September 7th, Ashley met up with Taylor and Casandra at Twin Peaks Restaurant to go over a plan to get the money back. Casandra remembered that night, saying the atmosphere was very tense because Taylor couldn't understand why Ashley was making it so hard for her to get her money. The two finally agreed that Ashley would pick up Taylor the next day and take her to the bank to get the money out.


The next morning, September 8th, Ashley left her house between 9 and 10am, telling her husband she was going to take his truck, a Ford F250, to help Taylor finish moving into Casandra’s place. Zach was going to the nearby city of Cantonment to go see a friend and to get the oil changed in their other car and was planning on meeting up with Ashley for dinner that night.


Ashley picked Taylor up around 10am and went to a nearby city to look at a car that Taylor was thinking about buying. Casandra sent a text to Taylor at 11:20am asking if everything was ok, and Taylor told her everything was good and they were headed over to the bank. The two women then headed over to a Tom Thumb Grocery Store at around 11:50am, where Ashley bought a couple of drinks for them before getting back on the road.


About three hours later, Casandra, having not heard from her girlfriend since that morning, texted Ashley where they were.


[Trial Testimony: Casandra Waller/Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]


[Casandra Waller]

I think she texted she said "We're okay."


[Bridgette Jenson]

And what was the nature of that conversation?


[Casandra Waller]

I asked her where they were, and I hadn't heard from Taylor.


[Bridgette Jenson]

What did she tell you?


[Casandra Waller]

She told me that Taylor was emotional, that she was out riding a horse on Ashley's family's farm in Milton and that they'd be home shortly.


[Host]

Ashley texted Casandra again after 5pm, telling her that she was still upset about her ex husband, and that Taylor got an Uber and left her house around 5-5:30pm. She explained she had some jewelry of Taylor’s and was going to drop it by Casandra’s house because she didn’t want to hold onto it.


Ashley had dropped off the jewelry that night and told her that Taylor had left with a couple of bags, one with clothes in it, the other with some papers and $30,000 in cash and checks in it. Again, this didn’t make any sense - why would Taylor take off with all that cash?


[Trial Testimony: Casandra Waller/Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]


[Bridgette Jenson]

Now after Ashley left your house that night on the 8th, did you hear from her any more that night?


[Casandra Waller]

I did. She texted me late in the evening, it was almost midnight. She sent me a screenshot of a text that she received from Taylor. And she just said "I'm sorry to text you so late, I just thought you might want to see it."


[Bridgette Jenson]

Did that text message sound like Taylor to you.


[Casandra Waller]

That one seemed very odd.


[Bridgette Jenson]

Why did it seem very odd?


[Casandra Waller]

Because she said court and the move was stressing her out. She was stressed with court, she wasn't stressed out about the move at all, she was very excited.


[Bridgette Jenson]

You're talking about the move, you mean moving...


[Casandra Waller]

Moving into my house.


[Host]

Taylor just skipping town was not normal behavior - she had a young son, she was about to move in with her girlfriend - she wouldn’t just leave. Casandra knew something was wrong, so she called the police but they told her to contact Taylor’s ex husband first to see if he knew where she was.


Jeff told Casandra that he hadn’t heard from her all day either, said that her son had been trying to call her, but got no response, only a few texts back, which wasn’t normal - Taylor would usually call her son, not text him. Jeff did his own investigative work, and went on Facebook to see if any of Taylor’s friends knew where she was. He contacted Ashley McArthur, and she told him the last time she’d seen Taylor, she was stressed and had two backpacks with her that had money in them but she didn’t know where she was.


Casandra then began calling around to local hospitals to see if Taylor had checked into any of them. Two days after not hearing from her, Casandra filed a missing persons report. Almost a week went by with still no word from Taylor. Worry now turning to anger, Casandra just assumed that she’d decided to leave her. She called up Ashley and asked her if she could help her go through Taylor’s car - which was still parked at her house - and move her things out of her house and store them at Ashley’s family’s warehouse.


The two women went through Taylor’s car, where they found one of the bags that Ashley had told her Taylor took with her - some clothes were inside of the bag. The other bag was found in one of Casandra’s bedrooms but didn’t have cash or checks in it. They really didn’t discuss why the bags were there and not with Taylor, as Ashley had previously said. They also found four knives and two guns. Ashley took pictures of the weapons and Casandra told her to just take the knives and guns because she didn’t want them. Ashley then sent pictures of the guns that same day to Brandon Beatty, telling him that she had some guns for him.


After the missing persons report was filed, the investigation into Taylor’s whereabouts began. Detectives met with Casandra to get an initial timeline of the day Taylor went missing. They searched the home for signs of foul play and found Taylor's ID, her passport, some money, and also came across a revolver that curiously had a missing bullet. Casandra quickly explained that the gun had been borrowed from the McArthur’s for protection. Jeff Wright had warned her that Taylor had gotten violent with him in the past and that she probably needed to protect herself. The gun was a piece of possible evidence, but they didn’t have any other indication that Casandra was involved in Taylor’s disappearance. Their next stop was to pay a visit to Ashley, who Casandra told them was the last person to see Taylor that day.


When Detectives arrived at the McArthur home, Ashley and her husband were there and Zach mentioned to the detectives that he had no idea where Taylor was, but allowed the officers to search through the home.


Ashley admitted she’d seen Taylor that day, that they’d run a few errands and had gone horseback riding at her family’s farm in Milton. She mentioned that she took Taylor to the bank, she’d withdrawn a large amount of money, put it in a duffel bag and had taken it with her when she left. She assumed Taylor probably left town because of her divorce hearings or that she was scared to go to jail because of her involvement with drugs.


Thinking Taylor may have skipped town with the money, police contacted Jeff. He said he didn’t know where Taylor was, hadn’t seen her since August and hadn’t heard from her since she texted Drake on the 8th. Officers discovered that the two had been in a contentious divorce and Taylor was bothered by the fact that she didn’t have custody of her son, so Jeff became an obvious suspect with a possible motive.


But Jeff had a solid alibi. He lived in North Carolina and his whereabouts the day Taylor went missing were verified by his employers and his wife. With the ex-husband being a dead end, police were either looking at Taylor as having voluntarily skipped town with a bag full of money, or that someone knew more than what they were letting on.


It seemed authorities were hitting a dead end, with no sign of Taylor and no suspect on their radar, they needed to pull Taylor’s phone records to see if it could provide any other helpful information on what happened to her.


Once authorities obtained the phone records, the puzzle of what happened to Taylor White slowly began to be pieced together.


They started with Ashley and brought her in for an in-person interview at the Pensacola Police Station on September 18th.


She knew the story she was going to tell before she even walked in there - she’d picked up Taylor that morning and they’d made a few stops before going to Ashley’s family’s farm in Milton. When asked for the address of the Milton farm, she said “hmmmm, she didn’t remember, she’d have to get that for them later.” The two women then drove back to Ashley’s house, and Taylor called an Uber to pick her up and take her to a bar. After that, she had no clue where Taylor went.


She decided to mention another tidbit of information to the detectives. She told them Taylor had an affair with a woman in Biloxi and that Casandra and Taylor had fought about it and about Taylor’s drug use, so maybe she went to Biloxi or maybe a drug treatment center? She also told them Taylor was worried about the upcoming court date with her ex and she was afraid he was going to try to put her in jail. She also confirmed that, yes, she had loaned Casandra their gun because Jeff had told her about Taylor being violent in the past. When asked if she thought that Casandra and Taylor had an altercation, she said no, she didn’t think so.


The officers asked if they could take Ashley’s phone to review the contents, which she agreed, but when they later asked her for her password to both her phone and her iTunes account, she gave them multiple different passwords, but “shockingly”, none of them worked.


Her demeanor during that interview was super casual. She was relaxed, excessively talking, she was even laughing and flirty with the detectives but she didn’t express that she was concerned or sad that her good friend was missing. The detectives weren’t being fooled by her facade, and they were getting a much clearer picture of what had happened to Taylor, but still at this point didn’t have enough evidence to make an arrest.


Ashley would make several follow up calls to the detectives, asking if they had any updates, giving them bits and pieces of additional “information” that they thought “may” be useful in their investigation - such as Taylor may be in this city or that city. In one conversation the detective asked her if Taylor owed anyone money or if anyone owed her money and Ashley stated “no.”


Zach McArthur was eliminated as a suspect as it was confirmed he was out of the area the day of Taylor’s disappearance, but their focus began to narrow in on Ashley. The McArthur’s bank records were pulled and that’s when authorities discovered the $34,000 cashiers check in Taylor’s name that was deposited into their account. The couple’s cell phone records were also pulled, and combined with the bank records, painted a much different picture of what happened that day, then what Ashley had told them.


On October 19th, search warrants were obtained and executed on three separate McArthur owned-properties. That same day the searches were being done, detectives asked Ashley to come into the station - they had to give her back her cell phone, but also wanted to make sure she wouldn’t try to get in the way of the searches on the properties and to confront her about the new evidence they’d uncovered.


Ashley met with Detectives Richard Ghigliotty and Chad Willhite. This time, she was less relaxed, less flirty, and much more on edge, and was surprisingly still willing to talk to police.


Ready to lay out all the evidence they had on her, Detective Ghigliotty read Ashley her Miranda rights, and it was at this moment you could visibly see Ashley tense up. On the desk in front of them, they laid out the cell phone tower maps. They explained to the cell phone tower maps showed that she’d spent the majority of the day Taylor went missing - not at her aunt’s property in Milton, like she told them - but on her other family’s property on Britt Road in Cantonment, which was about 18 miles from Ashley’s house.


She was caught in a lie and she knew it, and finally admitted to them that, yes, she was there.


They told her when she attended the wedding the next day with her husband in Robertsdale Alabama, her phone pinged in that location, but so did Taylor’s phone. Apparently Taylor’s phone was with her at the wedding. Ashley and Zach left the wedding separately, telling her husband that she had to go into work - which was not the truth - her phone records showed she headed back to the Britt Road property.


The detectives questioned her about any business deals she and Taylor were involved in - trying to see if she would explain the reasons for the large deposits of money - Ashley made up a story that they’d planned to sell t-shirts and tactical products with Taylor, but didn’t get around to finalizing the details of it.


At this point in the interrogation, the questioning became more direct and detectives started to put the squeeze on Ashley. She became more and more nervous, crossing her arms, her eyes darting back and forth from detective to detective.


She explained she would sometimes loan Taylor cash because her accounts had apparently been frozen. She said she’d loaned her about $20,000, giving it out in $1000 or $1500 increments per week. This was not true and the detectives knew it. Her explanations started to become confusing and muddled and she was having trouble giving clear answers to the detectives. They asked her if she had ever signed Taylor’s name on any checks, and she said “no.”


After pressing her further, she admitted that Taylor had deposited a cashier’s check for about $34,000 and that the signature on the check didn’t match up to Taylor’s writing - didn’t admit she had done anything with the money - and denied knowing where Taylor was, or what happened to her. She claimed that it wouldn’t have surprised her that Taylor would’ve skipped town, regardless of her son Drake, because she told her she never wanted kids.


Meanwhile while the interrogation was going on, the investigators were still searching the Britt Road property. It wasn’t long before they discovered an area located just behind a heavily wooded fence line which appeared to have some type of potting soil spread on the ground with large pieces of dried, hardened concrete mixed in. When they sifted through the potting soil, they saw a tarp.


Pulling back the tarp, they saw the remains of a human skull. After bringing in Forensics to sift through the area, heavily decomposed human remains were found buried in a shallow grave. They’d been covered with a tarp, and then covered with potting soil and dry concrete, which had hardened during the rain. The remains were removed and taken to the medical examiner for examination. Detectives Ghigliotty and Willhite were quickly notified that a body had been found on the Britt Road property. Ashley was arrested and charged with the first degree murder of Taylor Wright.


An autopsy was conducted on the skeletonized remains. Found with the remains was a t-shirt, shorts, panties and a bra, but no shoes, and a single .38 caliber class bullet found in the skull. Also with the body was a necklace which had a bullet pendant on it. The necklace belonged to Taylor and dental records were used to confirm her identity.


The cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was ruled a homicide. The direction of the bullet went from the back of her head to the front, in an upwards and slightly right to left side direction.


After being arrested, Ashley posted bail and was free ahead of her trial, but in March 2018, she was charged with a separate crime. In addition to the money she stole from Taylor, she was also stealing money from one of Pensacola Automatic Amusement’s clients. Over a span of two years, she had skimmed about $13,000 from a jukebox placed at a lounge in Pensacola.


During summer of 2017, she was supposed to meet with a rep from that lounge at Automatic Amusements office to discuss their lost revenue, when a fire broke out at the building. An accelerant had started the fire and Ashley was charged with arson, racketeering and fraud. Ten months later she was found guilty of the racketeering and fraud charges but not arson, and was given a sentence of seven years.


So while she was in the middle of serving that prison sentence, her trial for the murder of Taylor Wright began in August 2019.


Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson argued that the motive for the murder was financial; when Taylor continued to bug Ashley about wanting her money back, that she got irritated and killed her.


When investigators pulled Ashley’s bank records, they discovered the deposited checks and cash that Taylor had entrusted to her and also what she had spent the money on.


Ashley’s friends and family testified at trial, retelling the interactions and conversations that they had with Ashley and how, more than once, Ashley talked about being annoyed with Taylor and wanting to kill her.


Brandon Beatty testified at trial and said that he’d never met Taylor. Brandon explained that Ashley would pay some of Stix’s bills, and had bought him a phone, a boat and a motorcycle during their relationship.


[Trial Testimony: Brandon Beatty/Prosecutor Bridgette Jenson]


[Bridgette Jenson]

Did there come a point where Ms. McArthur was spending money on your business.


[Brandon Beatty]

Yes Ma'am.


[Bridgette Jenson]

Did there come a point where Ms. McArthur was spending money on you personally?


[Brandon Beatty]

Yes Ma'am.


[Bridgette Jenson]

About how long into your friendship or relationship did that start occurring?


[Brandon Beatty]

Pretty much out the gate.


[Bridgette Jenson]

In a year's time frame, how much money do you think she spent?


[Brandon Beatty]

No way of really knowing to be honest with you.


[Bridgette Jenson]

Did Ashley ever introduce you to a Taylor Wright?


[Brandon Beatty]

No Ma'am.