The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.
Clarence W. “Jack” Ashenbramer (1909-1996) and his wife Helen Grace returned from a weeklong vacation to their home at 920 Piatt Avenue in Mattoon at around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 27, 1972. Their son’s red 1967 Ford Fairlane with a white stripe was not parked outside.
When they entered the back bedroom where their 34-year-old son Kenton Gene Ashenbramer was staying, they made a sickening discovery. He was lying across his bed with multiple stab wounds, a knife nearby. The horrified parents called police and an investigation was launched.
Kenton Ashenbramer was a former Marine with three children who worked at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and had lived in Mattoon since 1955. On Saturday evening, August 26, 1972, he met two 26-year-old women, Ann Cole and Shirley Mae Moutria, at a bar called Club Oasis, 1406 Broadway Avenue in Mattoon.
The previous day, Ann Cole and Shirley Mae Moutria left East St. Louis, Illinois and traveled to visit Moutria’s mother in Watson, south of Effingham. Ann and Shirley then went to Mattoon on Saturday to find Shirley’s ex-husband and two kids. They checked into a motel, then went bar hopping. At Club Oasis, Kenton and Shirley hit it off. Shirly was described as having shortly-cropped blonde hair and masculine features.
At around 1:00 a.m., Kenton and Shirley decided to go back to Kenton’s house while Ann returned to the motel. Eyewitnesses saw Kenton and Shirley on his parent’s porch at the corner of Piatt Avenue and N 10th Street around 2:00 a.m. That was the last time he was seen alive.
Shirley later confessed the couple drank, took drugs, and had sex. In a letter to her parents, she said she became sick and wanted to leave but Kenton tried to persuade her to stay. She blacked out, and when she regained consciousness, Kenton was dead.
She claimed she was abused as a child and raped by a truck driver the previous summer, and her encounter trigged a violent reaction. Coles County Coroner David Swickard had determined Kenton died from a deep stab wound to the abdomen at approximately 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Shirley stole Kenton’s car and fled west with Ann Cole, triggering a nationwide manhunt.
After two months on the run, the FBI apprehended the two women on October 31 in El Monte, near Los Angeles, California. Ann voluntarily returned to Coles County to face charges of vehicle theft, while Shirley Mae Moutria was extradited to face charges of theft and three counts of murder. She initially pleaded innocent, but later changed her plea to guilty in exchange for a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter.
On Thursday, March 8, 1973, Judge Carl Lund sentenced her to six to 18 years in prison and recommended psychological treatment.
- “Police probe fatal stabbing.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 28 August 1972.
- “Report suspects located in stabbing probe.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 29 August 1972.
- “Police seek woman.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 2 September 1972.
- “FBI joins probe of slaying.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 22 September 1972.
- “Woman to Be Arraigned Today in Stabbing Case.” Decatur Herald (Decatur) 6 November 1972.
- “Manslaughter plea heard.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 8 March 1973.
- “Woman sentenced in fatal Mattoon stabbing.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 9 March 1973.