A MURDER RUNS THROUGH IT
March 1, 1989 — January 9, 2002
On the day she disappeared, Ashley Pond was a twelve-year-old girl, just weeks away from becoming a full-fledged teenager. She lived in Oregon City, Oregon, with her mother, Lori Pond, and three younger siblings. That particular morning she was running a little bit late for the bus.
Life had never been easy for Ashley, but the previous four years had been especially hard. Her parents divorced, and in those proceedings it was learned that David Pond — her mother’s husband and the only father Ashley had known — was not Ashley’s father. Instead, science and an Oregon court determined that her father was a man named Wesley Roettger, Jr.
While unearthing the truth accomplished David Pond’s goal of paying less child support, losing her father upended Ashley’s world and was the first step toward the unraveling of her young life.
When Ashley got over the shock of learning David Pond was not her father, she began to have regular weekend visits with Wesley Roettger, the man that science and an Oregon court had determined was her biological father, Wesley Roettger.
Unfortunately, these regular visits turned out not to be healthy for Ashley, and when her father demanded sex from her on Christmas Eve 2000, Ashley had had as much of the abuse as she could take and finally reported it.
Just twelve days later, on January 5, 2001, Wesley Roettger, Jr., Ashley Pond’s biological was indicted on 40 counts of raping and sexually abusing his own daughter over the course of several years.
The kind of man who will rape a child is not the kind of man who has any honor or integrity. All Wesley Roettger wanted was out, so with the help of his attorney, Jerry Seeberger, he mounted a defense that did not rely on Rottger’s innocence, but instead relied on undermining Ashley’s credibility, painting her as a troubled young woman who would lie about everyone and anything.
During his incarceration, while awaiting trial on the forty-count indictment, Roettger learned that Ashley had also accused Ward Francis Weaver, III, the father of a close school friend of Ashley’s, of sexually abusing her. Roettger relayed the information to his attorney, Mr. Seeberger, who in turn, asked Ward Weaver about the allegations.
Ward Weaver’s response to the inquiry was to tell Ashley he would testify on behalf of her father and tell the court that she was a liar. Weaver’s witness intimidation tactics coupled with Jerry Seeberger’s efforts to undermine the credibility of a twelve-year-old sex abuse victim worked, and in due time, Mr. Seeberger was able to successfully arrange a plea deal for his client, Wesley Roettger, Jr.
This despite the fact that just the day before the plea deal was handed down, Roettger’s own girlfriend, Mary Campobasso, reported her suspicions to child welfare that Roettger had sexually abused his daughter.
Meanwhile, Ashley Pond’s mother, Lori, had troubles of her own. Police were often called to the apartment where she lived because she had locked the children out of the home or was suspected of being drunk.
From January 25, 2001, to January 9, 2002, the day her daughter Ashley disappeared, law enforcement had contact with Lori Pond with regard to her parenting on five separate occasions. The complaints varied; Lori Pond would lock her children out of the house, get involved in domestic disputes that put the children in danger, and frequently drank to excess.
Despite all of the chaos, it was determined that Ashley and her siblings were receiving “minimally adequate care,” so no interventions were made.
Looking back at what happened to Ashley Pond, it is difficult to understand why child protective services and law enforcement weren’t able to intervene before the sequence of events that led to her murder unfolded, but in part because she was a considered a low-value victim, and in part because she didn’t have someone like Jerry Seeberger to represent her interests — no one with a voice loud enough to be heard was on Ashley Pond’s side.
On September 6, 2001, Jerry Seeberger’s campaign to save his client by discrediting a twelve-year-old sexual assault victim, ended with a stunning success for Wesley Roettger. In a sweetheart of a plea deal, all but one of the charges against Ashley Pond’s biological father were dismissed.
As The Oregonian reported in a timeline of the last year of Ashley’s life:
Sept. 6 — Owen [Clackamas County deputy district attorney] drops 39 counts against Roettger, who pleads no contest to one count of attempted unlawful sexual penetration. He is sentenced to 120 months probation.
What wasn’t known on that fateful day, as Jerry Seeberger and his client Wesley Roettger took their victory laps over having destroyed Ashely Pond’s credibility, was that Ward Weaver, III, was now free to exact his own revenge against her.
That Thursday that Wesley Roettger, Jr., received his get-out-of-jail-free card, Ashley Pond received a death sentence, and the clock was ticking down on the 125 days that remained of her short, difficult life.
Despite what in retrospect looks like a completely insufficient punishment, after her father’s conviction on the one count, Ashley rebounded and, according to The Oregonian, during the months of October and November of 2001:
…family members, her teacher and her next-door neighbor all notice a change in her [Ashley’s] attitude. She starts getting her work done on time at school, taking on more responsibility at home and changes from a sad, quiet person to a very bubbly girl.
This improvement came even with the usual chaos of Ashley’s mother’s lifestyle. Lori Pond’s drinking continued to attract notice from neighbors who made numerous calls to child welfare workers; those workers, in turn, twice asked Oregon City police to do a welfare check of the children.
But in a sign of what was to come, on Christmas, Ashley told family members she was scared of Ward Weaver, III.
Fifteen days later she would disappear.
January 9, 2001
According to newspaper reports about the day Ashley disappeared, she was last seen alive when she left her home that morning.
When she didn’t return home from school that Tuesday, her mother, Lori Pond, reported her daughter missing to police. Over the next few weeks, it seemed that each day brought a new headline, but no news about Ashley’s whereabouts:
OREGON CITY POLICE LAUNCH SEARCH FOR MISSING GIRL — January 16, 2001, The Oregonian
POLICE ASK FOR FBI’S HELP IN FINDING 12-YEAR-OLD — January 22, 2001, The Oregonian
SEARCH FOR MISSING GIRL EXPANDED— January 23, 2001, The Oregonian
SEARCH INTENSIFIES FOR 12-YEAR-OLD — January 24, 2001, The Oregonian
DOG JOINS HUNT FOR MISSING GIRL — January 25, 2001, The Oregonian
POLICE LOOK AT ADULTS TIED TO MISSING 12-YEAR-OLD — January 27, 2001, The Oregonian
SEARCHING FOR ASHLEY POND — January 27, 2001, The Oregonian
But for all the headlines, there was no indication of what had become of Ashley Pond.
It would be another seven months before law enforcement would find the remains of Ashley Pond, just blocks away from her home, buried under a slab of concrete at the home rented by Ward Weaver, III.
There is no question that Ashley Pond was a troubled girl, who had been abandoned by those charged with her care at every turn.
Her mother, Lori Pond, was just 16 when she gave birth to her first child, and, as time would prove, ill-equipped to care for herself and even less equipped to care for another human being.
The man who Ashley thought was her father for the first eight years of her life, David Pond, was more than willing to let her be collateral damage, when, as part of the divorce proceedings from Lori, he established that he was not Ashley’s father after all.
Wesley Roettger, Jr., the man who was her biological father and first reported molester, helped to destroy his own child to save himself with the able assistance of his attorney, Jerry Seeberger.
Then there was Linda Virden, a teacher at the elementary school Ashley attended the year before she disappeared. Ms. Virden poured a lot of herself into trying to save Ashley, and the loss devastated her.
In 2004 in an interview with The Oregonian, Ms. Virden said of Ashley:
“She was one of the most badly abused kids I’ve ever seen,” said Virden, a former reading specialist at Gaffney Lane Elementary School. “This was a child that fought very, very hard to survive.”
Ashley’s efforts did not save her. She reported the men who abused her; a teacher and her neighbors reported that conditions at her home were unacceptable, and ultimately nothing was done.
While Ward Weaver, III eventually was imprisoned for her murder, Ashley’s biological father now lives overseas. In a notice that can be found by searching his name on the Internet, he describes himself as a retired minister in an open marriage who is “looking for action.”
The system failed to protect Ashley Pond. The lives of Wesley Roettger and Ward Weaver were deemed more valuable than Ashley’s, and the failure to protect Ashley and hold her abusers to account would lead to more abuse and more murder.
Herald and News, (Klamath Falls, Orgeon)
The Oregonian, (Portland, Oregon)
Thought Company (website)