4-year-old Ashley was last seen at her family's residence in Memphis, Tennessee on September 16, 1996. Ashley's aunt, Joyce Wade Lindsey arrived at her house the previous day for a visit. Joyce was having personal problems at the time and her sister & Ashley's mom, Vicky Lee Morris allowed her to stay with the family. Joyce and Ashley met for the first time and seemed to have gotten along. On September 16th, Joyce got permission from Vicky to watch Ashley during the day. Vicky called Ashley's babysitter and told her Ashley wouldn't be arriving that day. Vicky also allowed Joyce to take Ashley's older half-sister, Erica Nicole Manning shopping after Erica came home from school. Vicky called Joyce around 9:15 that day and was told everything was okay. Vicky later told investigators that she thought she heard Ashley playing in the background during the phone conversation. It was the last time anyone heard from Ashley.
Erica came home from school at 3:15pm later that day and noticed Joyce was intoxicated from drinking alcohol. When Erica asked where Ashley was, Joyce told her that she'd been picked up by someone that she assumed was Ashley's babysitter earlier in the day. Joyce took Erica out of the house and began driving while drunk. She told Erica to call her parents' home and tell them that she & Joyce were shopping and they would be staying in a motel. Joyce continued to drive and refused to let Erica call her parents later that night when they got to the motel. The next day on September 17th, Joyce and Erica visited a laundromat and washed bags of clothes in Joyce's trunk. Erica told authorities that Joyce left her at the laundromat while she took the car to a car wash. She also said that Joyce's car was still dirty when Joyce returned, but there was a strong odor of bleach in the trunk. Joyce claimed that the car wash was crowded and she spilled a bottle of bleach inside the car.
Later that afternoon, Joyce drove Erica back to her home and drove off. Vicky and her husband, Carl Morris had already filed missing kids reports on both Erica and Ashley with the police by that time. Vicky and Carl learned that Ashley wasn't with Erica and knew that Joyce lied about the babysitter getting Ashley from their house before. Carl chased Joyce in his car and brought her back to their home while Vicky called the police. Investigators say that Joyce tried to leave while being questioned about Ashley's whereabouts. They found a loaded pistol in her purse and noticed the bleach odor in her car.
Joyce was arrested for kidnapping and her car was thoroughly examined. Blood stains were found in the trunk of Joyce's car which matched to Ashley, and second degree murder charges were filed against Joyce in the case of Ashley's presumed death. She was also charged with theft and forgery when authorities found Vicky's checkbook, checks, and a ring in the car. She was convicted on all counts in 1999. Joyce has maintained that she never killed Ashley. She says Ashley cut her hand on a piece of broken glass inside her car on the day she was last seen and that Ashley was waving her arms around while Joyce attempted to give first-aid to her, therefore causing the bloodstains in Joyce's car to appear. The police didn't believe her story.
Vicky testified at Joyce's trial and stated comments that may have proven a possible motive for Joyce's crimes. Vicky was accepted custody of Joyce's daughter in 1989, but was unable to afford to keep her, so Vicky released her into the custody of the state and the child's father was given custody. Joyce was reportedly furious with Vicky's decision and allegedly told her she "ruined her life." Vicky also said that Joyce believed that Ashley resembled her daughter. Ashley has never been located and Joyce's appeal was denied in 1999, and she continues to serve her prison sentence. Ashley has a strawberry birthmark on the nape of her neck. It's unknown what she was wearing on the day she disappeared.