Police & Courts

Monroe City man charged in death of missing woman

By FORREST GOSSETT
Special to The Herald-Whig
fgossett@courierpost.com
Posted: Aug. 8, 2020 4:00 pm Updated: Aug. 8, 2020 4:08 pm

PARIS, Mo. — A Monroe City, Mo., man was charged Saturday afternoon in the death of a missing Monroe City woman.

Jerry Asbell, 29, was charged with first-degree murder of Amanda Johnston, 32, by Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Talley Kendrick Smith. He also was charged with armed criminal action. He is being held in the Monroe County Jail without bond.

According to the charging document, Asbell could face up to life imprisonment with no parole, or the death penalty if convicted on the murder charge.

Jessica Ellsworth, 37, of Monroe City, was charged with felony tampering with evidence in the case. She is in the Macon County Jail.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Eric Brown said Johnston's body was found off a road in rural Pike County early Saturday morning after an extensive four-day search.

"Her body has been discovered, and her next-of-kin have been notified," Brown said late Saturday morning.

First responders said Johnston was discovered in a ravine near a rock quarry on Route B, just east of U.S. 61.

Johnston went missing Wednesday from her home. Brown said that at about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Monroe City Police went to a home that callers said had been burglarized.

Brown said police conducted an initial investigation, and mobilized the Northeast Missouri Major Case Squad, as evidence indicated that Johnston was likely a crime victim.

According to a probable cause statement filed Saturday, Asbury allegedly killed Johnston shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Police said Asbell offered money and methamphetamine in exchange for a ride in Johnston's car. They ended up in St. Jude Cemetery in Monroe City, police said. They said Asbell used a semiautomatic handgun to kill Johnston.

"A witness to the crime told law enforcement that Asbell attempted to discharge the handgun toward Johnston. However, the safety was on, causing Asbell to have to release the safety before shooting Johnston," police said in their statement.

Asbell then drove Johnston's car from the cemetery in an attempt to conceal the death and destroy evidence, police said.

"Johnston's body was discovered in a remote location," police said. "Asbell also attempted to conceal/destroy evidence of his criminal act by cleaning the inside of Johnston's vehicle."

Police say Ellsworth helped Asbell in his attempt to conceal and destroy evidence by helping him remove Johnston's body from the cemetery.

"Ellsworth admitted, during a post-Miranda interview, that she assisted Asbell with moving Johnston" so that Johnson's car could be driven by Asbell from the cemetery.

Asbell was already in the Monroe County Jail, after being charged with first-degree kidnapping, second-degree assault and armed criminal action in a separate case.

According to a probable cause statement, Monroe City Police Department entered the house where the 911 call originated and found a woman with facial abrasions and a bleeding foot.

Police said that Asbell came out of a room with arms raised over his head.

However, police say that once he was escorted out of the home, Asbell began to fight Monroe County sheriff's deputies.

Police said he was searched and a needle with a "clear substance" was pulled from his right front pocket, and that he had two Social Security cards and a food stamp card that did not belong to him.

Officers from eight agencies, including the Monroe City Police Department, Monroe County Sheriff's Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, joined the investigation to search for Johnston.

Herald-Whig reporter Ethan Colbert contributed to this article.

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