Mystery of mom's 2009 death haunts state woman
ELKINS, W.Va. -- The last day Ashley Wyatt saw her mother alive was Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009 at the Landmark Baptist Church.
She and her then-fiance, Jared Wyatt, slipped into church a little late and sheepishly took their seats behind Wyatt's mom, Pam Judy.
"I gave her my really cheesy grin and waved,'' Wyatt recalled. "She kind of smiled back in that relieved mom way, like `Well, she's late but at least she's here.''' After the service was over, out in the parking lot, Wyatt and her friends gathered around Judy, and Wyatt remembers them noticing how radiant Judy looked that day.
"Her hair was really straight and shiny and her makeup was perfect and all of the sudden I said, `Mom, you look beautiful today' and my friend Heather was like, `You do look really pretty today!'''
Wyatt then asked Judy to join her and Jared in celebrating her fiance's mom's birthday at Subway. Judy declined, but sent birthday greetings to Jared's mother.
"Then, we said goodbye because I was driving back to Morgantown since I had classes (at WVU) on Monday. I said `I love you,' and she said `I love you, too,' and that was it,'' Wyatt said.
Neither one of them suspected it was a final goodbye.
Four days later, on Nov. 12, 2009, Judy's burned body was found in her black Chevrolet Colorado truck at Little Black Fork in the Monongahela National Forest.
Despite the passage of three years since Judy's death, Wyatt feels she knows little more now about how her mother died than she did then.
"I just can't believe we really haven't moved very far from the day it happened,'' Wyatt said. "We are still at the same point we were when it happened. Everyone in our family kind of has this open blank.''
What is known about the day Judy died?
She reportedly logged off her home computer at 10:48 a.m., climbed in her beloved black Chevy Colorado truck and left her home, which was located along Mountainview Drive in the Lower Oak Grove addition of Elkins.
She was spotted in her truck at Parrack's Nationwide Insurance on Harrison Avenue in Elkins at approximately 11:30 a.m. Nothing is known of Judy's whereabouts until a hunter called the E-911 Center to report a truck burning in a remote area of the Monongahela National Forest.
Who Judy saw, where she went or what happened to her between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. that day remains a mystery -- and Wyatt is once again asking members of the community who may have seen Judy that day to tell their stories to police.
"When you have something where you're at a standstill, it takes somebody else,'' she said. "Giving even the smallest piece of information gives us somewhere to start.''
The Randolph County Sheriff's Department initially investigated the case before it was transferred to the West Virginia State Police about a year ago, Wyatt said.
Randolph County Sheriff Jack Roy would not directly discuss the case with The Inter-Mountain, but passed a message through his administrative assistant stating that the case had been handed over to the state police and specifically, Cpl. K.A. Corley.
Corley said there haven't been any breakthroughs, but the investigation in ongoing and citizen input could be key to cracking the case.
"Anytime that we can have citizens to give us a little bit of something, that's wonderful to us and we encourage that,'' he said. "Once you have a case of this magnitude where there's a lot of speculation, usually you want to get on it pretty quick. When you have a case where it's sat dormant for two years without any new information being given, it makes it difficult to do a lot of follow-up because without any fresh leads because you're still relying on evidence from three years ago.''
Corley said cold cases are "very emotional'' for family members and friends, who don't have any closure.
Nonetheless, "We're still working on it, and we haven't stopped,'' he emphasized.
Wyatt says she appreciates the courage of local people who have stepped up to the plate in the past and also understands the reluctance of anyone who's kept quiet for fear of retaliation.
Still, now that the case is under investigation by a new set of eyes, she is asking anyone who knows anything about Judy's activities on Nov. 12, 2009 -- including people who have provided information in the past -- to tell or retell their stories. (The Elkins detachment of the West Virginia State Police may be reached at 304-637-0200.)
Wyatt says Corley has been "just great'' about calling her with updates on the case, even when there are no updates to give.
"He'll call and just say, `Just wanted to let you know we're working on it, but we haven't found out anything new yet,''' Wyatt said, "and I really appreciate that.''
After all, Wyatt doesn't just miss her mother, she misses her best friend. Wyatt was Judy's only child and as a divorced, single mom, Judy had raised Wyatt alone. The fact that there wasn't a large age gap between the two fostered their closeness and contributed to Wyatt's friends coming know Judy as "the young, fun mom,'' Wyatt said.
Her mom was beautiful, intelligent and hardworking, co-owning a freelance court reporting business called Cole and Judy Reporting with her business partner, Cat Cole, Wyatt said.
Judy, who was only 39 at the time of her death, also loved music.
"When she bought a new CD she was super excited about, sometimes we would hop into her vehicle and drive around listening to it,'' Wyatt said. "I looked up to her so much. I remember I would walk into her bedroom and she would be just sitting on her bed reading the Bible, and I just wish I could be like that.''
Judy shared her unwavering faith in God and strong belief in the importance of attending church with Wyatt; Wyatt believes both have helped her cope on the hardest days.
Still, the mystery surrounding her mother's death is not only unsolved -- it's unshakeable.
"It's definitely something that's on my mind all the time, every single day,'' she said. "It doesn't matter whether you're working or just hanging out, it doesn't matter what you're doing you think about it.
"But you have to make the decision, `Am I going to let this tear me down or am I going to let it make me stronger and move on?''
The saddest aspect of her mother's death, Wyatt says, is its timing. Judy missed out on a list of important events that were about to take place in her daughter's life. Judy had been very much looking forward to seeing her daughter graduate with a bachelor's degree from WVU, get married, complete a master's degree program and start working -- important rites of passage Judy would never live to witness.
"She was very excited,'' Wyatt said. "She couldn't wait for my graduation. She couldn't wait for all that stuff.''