Episode 118: Ashley Fowler

May 27, 2024

When sheriff’s deputies respond to reports of a disturbance at an apartment complex, they make a horrifying discovery. Can they get justice for Ashley?

Episode Media
Ashley Denise Fowler (Legacy)
Ashley Fowler (WJXT)
Otis Lee Tucker (Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office / Florida DOC)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a tragic case from Florida, one of a mother taken too soon and a predator who shouldn’t have been walking the streets. This episode discusses sensitive topics and includes graphic descriptions, so listener discretion is advised.

On the evening of November 1, 2022, a call came into the sheriff’s office in Jacksonville, Florida. Residents at the Auburn Glen Apartments on Southside Boulevard reported hearing loud banging noises coming from one of the units and the sound of someone screaming. Shortly after 9pm, deputies arrived at the scene. There, they encountered a woman who told them a harrowing tale.

According to the woman, whose name has been redacted from official reports, she had come home from work that evening to find that she couldn’t get into her apartment. The door was deadbolted and the chain lock was on. Annoyed, she banged on the door, hoping her roommate Otis would let her in. She heard some shuffling from inside, then the sound of the chain being removed. When the door opened, Otis stood there in the dark, dressed only in a towel. He said he had been in the shower when she knocked. Exhausted after a long day at work, the woman went inside and immediately headed to her room, getting ready to take her own shower. But when she emerged from her bathroom a short while later, she saw Otis standing in the hallway, his face and chest dripping with blood.

In her shock, the woman began registering other things she hadn’t noticed when she’d first entered the dark apartment. All the lights were turned off, and the apartment was in complete disarray – lamps were overturned, pictures had been knocked over, and there were dark stains on the floor and walls. The woman confronted Otis, demanding he tell her what in the world was going on. Otis said he had gotten jumped when he was leaving work and had come home to clean up. It wasn’t a big deal.

The woman did not believe him. She pulled out her cell phone and told him that she was calling the police. When she did, Otis pounced, grabbing the phone from her hand. Somehow, she managed to stay calm and convinced Otis to call her daughter so she could help them figure out what to do. Otis agreed, but when the daughter answered the phone, the woman shouted at her to call 911. This enraged Otis, and he grabbed the woman, wrestling with her as she continued to shout. She managed to get her hands on a knife sharpener from the kitchen and tried to fight him off, but Otis yanked it away from her, slicing her hand. He then grabbed her by the neck and pushed her out the apartment door, locking it behind her.

The woman stood outside the door for a moment, frozen in shock at what had just transpired. Then, she heard the sound of the back door sliding open and footsteps running away from the building. She rushed around the back and saw Otis fleeing into the night. The woman quickly went inside the apartment and locked the sliding glass door behind her. She closed herself in her bedroom and waited for help to arrive.

When Jacksonville deputies arrived at the scene, the woman recounted the horrific events of the last few hours. The deputies conducted a sweep of the apartment and the surrounding area, making sure Otis wasn’t lurking nearby. They didn’t find him, but what they did find was even worse. In the back corner of the dark apartment, hidden from view, was the body of a young woman. She had been badly beaten, an electrical cord wrapped around her neck. Otis’ roommate had no idea that while she was fighting for her life, another woman had already lost hers.

The woman’s body was taken to the medical examiner’s office for autopsy, and crime scene investigators processed the apartment for evidence. They found blood all over the apartment, splattered across the walls and floors and baseboards. In one of the bathrooms, they found a pile of men’s clothing soaked in blood. And perhaps most disturbing of all, they found fingernails and teeth scattered across the entire apartment. It was clear that the woman had fought desperately to save herself.

Investigators soon learned that the victim was 34-year-old Ashley Denise Fowler. Ashley had grown up in Jacksonville and was part of a tight-knit family. Her brother Taylor described her as funny and kind. He told CBS47, “She cared about everyone. Anytime I fell short she opened up her home for me or did whatever she could. That’s the type of person she was.”

But Ashley’s life hadn’t always been easy. She was strong-willed and determined to carve her own path. She became a young mother, giving birth to her first son at age 17. She went on to have three more sons, but according to her obituary, one of those sons sadly passed. Everyone who knew Ashley spoke about how much she loved her boys. She was devoted to them and would do anything for them. Now, they would have to grow up without her.

In the aftermath of Ashley’s death, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office issued an arrest warrant for 35-year-old Otis Lee Tucker. He was being accused of domestic battery for the attack on his roommate and grand theft for taking her cell phone when he fled the scene. Investigators knew that if they could catch him, they could get more information about what he had done to Ashley.

Ashley’s family had no idea why she would have been at the Auburn Glen Apartments that day. Her brother Taylor told News4 that they used to live around that area and she might walk through the parking lot as a shortcut, but she didn’t hang out there, and as far as they knew, she didn’t know anyone who lived in those apartments. The name Otis Lee Tucker was completely foreign to them. “Definitely no connection or relation to my sister at all.”

But Otis wasn’t a stranger to law enforcement. According to court records, Otis Tucker had an extensive criminal record filled with violent offenses dating back to his youth. In 2016, he was questioned about the case of a missing woman in Richmond, Virginia, but there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him. Six days earlier, Otis attacked another woman, beating and strangling her. She managed to escape and file a police report, and Otis was sentenced to five years in prison for the assault. While in prison, Otis attacked a fellow inmate and another two years was added to his sentence, but it was ultimately thrown out because of procedural issues. When Otis was finally released in March of 2022, the Virginia Department of Corrections allowed him to move to Florida where he would remain on probation.

Of course, it wasn’t long before Otis was in hot water again. In July of 2022, he was arrested in Jacksonville for making false 911 calls and lying to the police. According to News4, Otis wasn’t convicted of the charges, so even though he had violated his probation, he was allowed to remain in Florida. Just four months later, he brutally beat and strangled Ashley Fowler.

As Ashley’s family mourned her loss, Jacksonville sheriff’s deputies were searching high and low for Otis Tucker. Shortly before 5pm on November 2nd, less than 12 hours after his roommate had called the police, Otis was spotted walking along the sidewalk on Bowden Road, not far from Interstate 95 and just five miles from the Auburn Glen Apartments. The sheriff’s deputy who took him into custody observed that Otis had visible injuries, including multiple scratches on his neck, a swollen lip, and a deep cut on his forehead. Otis had narcotics in his pants pocket and was carrying two bags, one of which was a black bookbag. Inside the bookbag, the deputy found a hammer, its wooden handle covered in blood. He also found a cell phone and drivers license belonging to Ashley Fowler.

Otis was brought to the sheriff’s office for questioning. Detectives told him that he was their prime suspect for Ashley’s murder and that they would be collecting DNA samples from him. Otis asked if he could have a Coke, so detectives brought him one. Then, to their surprise, Otis opened the can and poured the soda all over his fingers. However, his attempt to wash away evidence was a failure; detectives were still able to collect DNA from under his fingernails, and it was a match to Ashley Fowler.

Otis Tucker was charged with two felony counts: murder in the first degree and tampering with physical evidence. The state of Florida also filed for two Habitual Offender enhancements, which would allow a judge to consider his previous convictions during sentencing.

In May of 2023, Otis Tucker took a plea deal, pleading guilty to second-degree murder and tampering with evidence. Four months later, in front of a judge, he recounted the events of November 1st. Otis said that he and Ashley had become friends in the months before her death and would often hang out at his apartment. According to Otis, on the day in question, he had been turned down for a job and had tried to drown his sorrows in a haze of narcotics. When Ashley came over to hang out that evening, Otis claimed that she tried to steal something from his apartment. This enraged Otis, and – fueled by drugs – he simply snapped. He grabbed a hammer and began hitting Ashley over and over again. As she fought for her life, Otis wrapped an electrical cord around her neck and strangled her until she was dead. When his roommate came home, he had been trying to clean up. He realized what he had done and ran off into the woods while sheriff’s deputies searched.

The judge listened to Otis’ version of events as well as statements from prosecutors and Ashley’s family. Otis’ own father made a statement, saying he believed his son was mentally disturbed because he had been abandoned by his mother when he was a child. The judge took all of this into consideration before sentencing Otis Tucker to life in prison.

Shortly after Ashley’s death, her brother Taylor told News4 that the family was hoping for justice. “My sister didn’t deserve this. She was a beautiful person… I really hope our justice system steps up and makes sure these criminals and people who have a clear history of hurting people stay put away.”

Otis Lee Tucker is currently serving out his life sentence in northwest Florida, far away from Ashley’s family. But investigators believe that Ashley wasn’t his only victim, that he may be a serial offender. In fact, he is the prime suspect in a case that has recently come back into the spotlight. We’ll take a look at that case next week.

In the meantime, let’s share Ashley’s story and keep her memory alive. She was a bright, fun-loving woman, a devoted mother who loved her children more than anything. She should still be here, shining her light on those around her.