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Ashley McArthur killed her friend Taylor Wright over a stolen $34,000

Ashley McArthur in court
Image: Murder Masterminds

The Ashley MacArthur case

Taylor Wright was a 33-year-old private investigator and former police officer from Pensacola, Florida. She worked in the Jacksonville Police Department from 2008 to 2009, and then again from 2012 to 2013. ‘Officer Taylor Wright was a brave and spirited young officer, who we were happy to rehire to service when she returned to the area in 2012,’ recalled Jacksonville Police Deputy Chief Timothy A. Malfitano.

On 14th September 2017, Taylor was reported missing by her domestic partner, Cassandra Waller.

A search of Taylor’s home uncovered that nothing was missing; all of her personal items were still inside and her car was still parked in the driveway. Public Information Officer with the Pensacola Police Department Mike Wood stated in the media: ‘We've investigated it, and at this point in time we have no reason to believe foul play was involved.’

Investigators had determined that Taylor had sent a text message to Cassandra saying that she needed to get away for a few days, and they had received a handful of reports from people who believed that they had spotted her since she vanished. Mike Wood stated: ‘Well I can't go into everything, but I can tell you our investigators have looked into this, and we don't have any reason to believe, that this is nothing more than an adult who has chosen not to contact others.’

Taylor’s loved ones weren’t so sure. They all said that Taylor wasn’t the type of person to just up and vanish, especially not without letting her family and friends know where she was going. Her former colleague, Sgt. Brad Braithwait said: ‘When they said she was missing I knew that wasn't like Taylor to not contact her family or her friends. Taylor always used to like to talk to people so I knew there was something wrong.’

Cassandra also shared her belief that the text message she received from Taylor wasn’t actually from her. She said that the language in the text message didn’t sound like the language Taylor would typically use.

Investigators were able to establish that the last time Taylor was seen was on 8th September. On that day, she had spent much of the time with her friend, Ashley McArthur, who was also a former technician at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. She told investigators that at one point during the day, they had stopped by her house in Pensacola. When she came back outside, she found that Taylor had disappeared.

While investigators initially reported that they did not suspect foul play was involved, they began to look into McArthur as a person of interest. They discovered that on 16th August, she had deposited a cashier’s check for $34,000 in Taylor’s name into her own bank account. She then lifted it out of the bank and placed it in a safe deposit box. That money had since been spent.

Investigators then learned that Taylor had been trying to get that money back. When they compared the signature on the $34,000 check to the signature on other checks deposited by Taylor into her own account, they appeared to be different.

When McArthur was presented with this evidence, she claimed that Taylor was hiding large amounts of money and trying to get her son back from her ex-husband. She alleged that Taylor was going from bank to bank to cash big cashier checks.

On 19th October, investigators turned their attention to a property that McArthur and her family owned in search of Taylor or any evidence that could point them in the right direction. They embarked on a wooded area that was located behind a property that the McArthur family owned on Britt Road. Here, they found the body of a woman inside a ‘clandestine grave’ that had been covered in concrete. The body was immediately identified as Taylor Wright. She had been shot in the back of her head.

McArthur was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She was ordered to stand trial but before then, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for a separate crime. In the two years leading up to Taylor’s murder, McArthur had skimmed thousands of dollars from jukeboxes that her family business had rented to various bars. She was convicted of racketeering and organized fraud.

The murder trial began in August 2019. During opening statements, prosecutors focused on the fact that McArthur was the last person to see Taylor alive and the that she potentially had motivation to kill her. They had also obtained surveillance footage of McArthur purchasing soil and cement, which they said was used to cover Taylor’s grave.

Prosecutors theorised that Taylor was shot by McArthur after she confronted her about the stolen money. Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen said to the jury that Taylor needed that money for court proceedings and to cover child support costs, and she had sent numerous text messages to McArthur requesting access to the funds. She stated: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Ashley McArthur had a motive. Ashley McArthur had the opportunity. Ashley McArthur murdered Taylor Wright and then she tried to cover it up with lies, concrete and plotting soil.’

According to McArthur’s defence team, the prosecution had no physical evidence or murder weapon that connected her to the murder of Taylor. Defence attorney John Beroset said: ‘There will be no physical evidence introduced in this trial to show you that Ashley McArthur had anything to do with the death of Taylor Wright.’ He also called to question Taylor’s mental stability at the time of the disappearance, citing rumours that Taylor was taking drugs

Ultimately, the jury sided with the prosecution and McArthur was found guilty of first-degree murder. The conviction came with a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison.

McArthur subsequently appealed her conviction. She argued that the jury had inadvertently seen a photograph of herself pointing a shotgun. She also argued that the court had erred in allowing certain evidence to be presented, including statements she made to investigators, cell phone records and Taylor’s text messages. In April 2021, the Florida First District Court of Appeal upheld the first-degree murder conviction and life sentence of McArthur.