Brittney Dwyer: Troubled teen Brittney is taking a road trip, at the end of which is her grandfather’s house, a reputed fortune, and a bloody murder.
Stacey Barker: The horrific story of a young mother, the baby she didn’t want and the terrible atrocity she’d commit to free herself of maternal responsibilities.
Stella Williamson: Stella had been the subject of gossip for decades. Now she’s dead and those rumors are about to be tested.
Elise Ledvina: Religious fanatic Elise has been hearing voices in her head. She believes that they are instructions from God – telling her to kill.
Rosie Alfaro: The family had shown her nothing but kindness. She repaid them by taking their most valued possession – the life of an innocent little girl.
Marguerite Fahmy: An Egyptian prince is murdered at a plush London hotel. The killer’s identity is not in question. But why did she do it?
Paula Sims: When Paula’s first child went missing everyone believed that the baby had been abducted. Second time around, the story was somewhat harder to swallow.
Deadly Women Volume 10
Tracey worked security at the club and was perfectly suited to the job. Standing 6'2" and with bulging muscles, he was an intimidating sight to potential troublemakers. He was also a ladies’ man and a smooth talker. Tracey liked to boast that he’d done work as an underwear model and had been a pro football player. He also said that he’d been a stunt double for Vin Diesel and a bodyguard for Tom Cruise. None of it was true, of course, but Tracey told his stories convincingly, and they were a hit with the ladies. Even Sandee Rozzo was not immune to his charms. In November 2001, the pair started working out together. Soon after, they became involved in an intense sexual relationship.
But the fling would not last. Soon after it started, co-workers started noticing that Sandee often had bruises on her body. Tracey boasted to his friends that this was because she liked rough sex. Meanwhile, the couple started getting into public spats which sometimes ended in shouting matches and often had to do with Tracey’s cheating. Then there’d be a reconciliation, followed by another squabble. It all became a predictable cycle. Matters eventually came to a head one night when the couple were caught by a police officer, making out in their boss’s Mercedes in the Green Iguana parking lot. Tracey thought that the whole thing was a joke, but Sandee was furious that the cop had seen her naked. It led to yet another, all too predictable, blowout.
After the parking lot incident, relations between the couple became strained, not least because Tracey insisted on parading other women in front of his girlfriend. Then there was a makeup of sorts and the pair went home together. The following day, Sandee arrived at work with two black eyes. Asked about this, Tracey trotted out his usual excuse, claiming that the injuries had occurred during rough sex.
Sandee, however, was telling a different story. She claimed that they had been drinking and had gotten into an argument. Then the confrontation had turned physical and Tracey had beaten her into submission and then raped her. He had also threatened to kill her and her daughter if she said anything about it. Sandee took those threats seriously, but after a week of soul searching, outrage got the better of her fear. She went to the police and reported the assault and rape.
Tracey was shocked when the police arrived to arrest him. He swore that he was innocent, but the ludicrous explanation he offered for Sandee’s injuries hardly helped his cause. He claimed that he had hit her with a pillow and that she’d fallen on a bed. He also denied outright that he had raped her. Fortunately for him, the rape charge would soon be dropped. Sandee had waited too long before reporting it. A rape kit would no longer be effective in detecting DNA or medical evidence. The charge that Tracey was facing was common assault, but that was serious enough. If convicted, he faced up to ten years in prison.
It is at this point in the story that a third player enters the picture. Ashley Laney was 19 years old and had just graduated high school. She was a bright girl, scoring A’s and B’s on her final report card. She also had a troubled home life. Ashley’s father was a jailbird, frequently incarcerated for long periods. This made the teenager somewhat vulnerable, easy pickings for an arch-predator like Tracey Humphrey. In the autumn of 2002, Tracey walked into the Planet Smoothie where Ashley was working. He started hitting on the fresh-faced teen. In no time at all, they were dating. Within weeks, they had moved in together.
Ashley Laney was not typical of the women that Tracey normally went out with. She was naïve, rather innocent, and totally in awe of her new boyfriend. And that suited Tracey just fine. Here was someone who he could bend to his will, someone who would buy his tall tales about starting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and about protecting Tom Cruise, someone who would listen sympathetically when he spoke about his bitch of an ex who was trying to send him to prison on a trumped-up assault charge. In the run-up to that trial, Ashley confided in a friend that she hated Sandee more than anyone else in the world. She had never even met the woman.
On July 4, 2003, Tracey and Ashley surprised everyone in their circle by getting married. The ceremony was less than romantic and was conducted without a minister at the gym where Tracey worked. There would also be no honeymoon. Tracey was due in court within five days, to answer charges of assault. It was a date he would never keep. A day after the Humphreys’ wedding came the news that his accuser, Sandee Rozzo, was dead. She had been gunned down by an unknown assailant as she sat in her car.
Tracey was an immediate suspect, of course, but he had an alibi. At the very moment that Sandee was being killed, he was taking delivery of a pizza at his apartment, miles away from the scene. When the pizza deliveryman confirmed this, Tracey appeared to be off the hook.
But Detective Scott Golczewski was not so sure. From the crime scene, he knew that the murder had not been random. This wasn’t a carjacking gone wrong. This was a bloodbath. Sandee had been shot eight times, the bullets fired at point blank range. That pointed to someone with a personal vendetta, and who but Tracey Humphrey had such a motive. Looking to explore this avenue, Golczewski decided to question Tracey’s new bride.
Ashley Humphrey was extremely tense when the detective arrived at her apartment. So anxious, in fact, that she twice excused herself during the interview, saying that she needed to go to the bathroom. From there, Golczewski could hear her retching. When she returned, she looked pale and drawn. Golczewski knew the signs. Ashley was on the verge of a breakdown.
But just when the detective thought that she was about to crack, Tracey arrived and cut the interview short. Golczewski left with the distinct impression that Ashley knew more than she was saying about Sandee Rozzo’s death. He would receive validation for his hunch from an odd source – the Tampa Fire Department.
A month before the Rozzo murder, firefighters had been called to the scene of a car fire. The vehicle in question was totally destroyed by the flames and turned out to belong to Ashley, who had reported it stolen that very day. Suspecting that this might be a case of insurance fraud, arson investigators did a background check on the owner and unearthed some unusual information. Ashley had recently bought a software program that allows you to search for someone online. She had also paid for an online search, using her credit card to track Sandee Rozzo’s home address.
Convinced now that Ashley was involved, Golczewski went to question her mother and soon slotted another piece of the puzzle into place. David Abernathy, her mother’s boyfriend, admitted that he had recently loaned Ashley his gun, a .22-caliber Ruger. The same caliber firearm had killed Sandee Rozzo. Abernathy also said that another of his guns, a Chinese-made SKS assault rifle, had been stolen from his home a month earlier.
The net was closing fast on Ashley Humphrey. But the police still had to put her in the vicinity of the crime scene at the time of the murder. This was done via cell phone records. Ashley’s cell phone had pinged off an antenna near the Rozzo home within minutes of the shooting. And there was more. Within a short timeframe, either side of the murder, twenty-two calls had passed between Ashley and her husband Tracey.
On December 18, 2003, five months after the shooting, Ashley Humphrey was arrested and charged with murder. The suspect had toughened up considerably in the intervening months. There would be no trips to the bathroom this time. She simply insisted that she did not even know Sandee Rozzo. Then she asked for an attorney.
But Ashley’s tough talk would not last long. Softened up after three weeks behind bars, she asked to speak to Det. Golczewski. In the subsequent interview, Ashley admitted to killing Sandee Rozzo. She’d done it, she said, because she was afraid of losing Tracey. She then launched into the quite amazing story of an elaborate murder plot. The fatal shooting on July 5 had not been the first attempt on Sandee’s life. Ashley had, in fact, been stalking her for weeks.
Ashley’s original plan had been to gun down her rival as she left her place of work. To do this, she’d stolen David Abernathy’s SKS assault rifle. She’d then staked out the Green Iguana parking lot, waiting for hours before Sandee eventually appeared. Then she lined her up with the scope, fixed her in the cross-hairs and pulled the trigger. At that range, in perfect conditions, it was an easy shot.
But Sandee wasn’t hit. Initially, she seemed to duck for cover but then she straightened up, got into her car and drove off. It appeared that she had mistaken the gunshot for a backfire. It was only then that Ashley realized what had happened. She had fired into the door panel on the passenger side of her own vehicle. This is a common mistake with novice shooters who don’t seem to realize that the barrel is lower than the scope and needs to be clear of obstacles.
Now Ashley had a problem, a bullet hole in her car which could connect her to the shooting if and when she went through with the murder. Panicked, she decided to torch the vehicle and to report it missing. The rifle was discarded in a wooded area. She would not use it again. Shortly after, she borrowed David Abernathy’s .22. Within six weeks, she would use it to deadly effect.
Describing the actual shooting, Ashley said that she had again waited outside the Green Iguana. Her plan was to shoot Sandee as she exited the club but she’d dozed off, waking just in time to see her intended victim pulling away in her black BMW. She’d given chase, following Sandee for 25 miles to her home, getting out of her car and approaching Sandee in her driveway. Sandee had started screaming when she saw Ashley walking towards her, holding the gun. But Ashley wasn’t backing down this time. She started firing and didn’t stop until her victim was slumped forward, only held in place by the seat belt, her body riddled with bullets. Then Ashley had walked calmly back to her own vehicle and drove away.
Golczewski had no reason to disbelieve Ashley’s story. In fact, it tied in exactly with the forensics. But he still had unanswered questions. What was Tracey Humphrey’s part in all this? The twenty-two calls made around the time of the murder suggested that he was somehow involved. So, too, did his convenient alibi. Had he encouraged his young bride to carry out the shooting? Had he coerced her? Ashley wasn’t saying. She was taking all of the blame on herself. Now the abruptly arranged wedding was starting to make sense. In the state of Florida, a wife cannot be compelled to testify against her husband.
And yet, the police were convinced that Ashley had not come up with the murder plot on her own. They were almost certain that it had been Tracey pulling the strings. This belief only deepened when they started looking into their suspect’s background and learned that he was an ex-con with a long record for violent offences against women. Had he gone to trial for the attack on Sandee Rozzo, he would have been looking at hard time. It was motive enough for murder, a murder he now looked like getting away with.
But that was something that Golczewski was not willing to accept. The detective’s next move was to recruit one of Tracey’s fitness clients, Tobe White, and convincing him to wear a wire. He was hoping that the suspect would say something incriminating on tape. Tracey didn’t do that exactly but he did ask White if he would provide Ashley with an alibi. This, along with the cellphone records, was enough for a murder warrant.
Whether or not the authorities had sufficient evidence to build a winnable case against Tracey is a matter of conjecture. As it turned out, they would soon have something far more substantial to rely on. Offered a 25-year term rather than the death penalty prosecutors were seeking, Ashley finally flipped on her husband. On the eve of his February 2006 trial, she agreed to testify against him.
According to Ashley’s testimony, Tracey had begun exerting control over her right from the start of their relationship. He dictated when she could go out, where she could go, and who she could see. He was also physically violent, beating her frequently. On more than one occasion, he knocked her unconscious. Despite all of this, she remained devoted to him, terrified that he would leave her. It was to forestall this very possibility that the couple had entered into a deadly pact.
During one of Tracey’s frequent outbursts, a desperate Ashley had told him that she would do anything to hold on to their relationship, even kill Sandee if that would make his legal problems disappear. Tracey had jumped on this offer right away. From then on, the murder plot was set in motion. There was no chance that Ashley would be allowed to back out. In fact, Tracey became so angry after the first attempt failed that Ashley feared he might kill her.
And so to the night of the murder itself. According to Ashley, Tracey was on the phone with her, urging her on as she approached Sandee’s vehicle, telling her to get it done. After the shooting, she called him to let him know that Sandee was dead. He then told her to get rid of everything that could connect her to the murder. It was, as the prosecutor put it, as though Ashley was the loaded gun and Tracey had his finger on the trigger. She would never have become a killer without his malignant influence.
That was also the way that the jury saw it. In March 2006, it returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder, resulting in a sentence of life without parole. Tracey subsequently appealed that ruling and lost. He is currently incarcerated at Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami.
As for Ashley, she is serving her 25-year sentence at Homestead Correctional Institution in Florida City. She was 21 years old when she began her prison term. She will be 46 by the time she walks free.