Ashley Yamauchi was a nanny doing what she could to take care of her 8-year-old daughter. Ashley went out on the night of Dec. 15, 2008, and was brutally murdered.
What really happened the night Ashley Yamauchi was killed, and why is no one talking?
To make ends meet, Bay Area native Ashley Yamauchi worked as a full-time nanny. At 25, Ashley gave birth to her little girl.
"She became more responsible," said Ashley's brother Heath Yamaguchi. "She made sure that she was well taken care of."
Unfortunately things didn't work out between Ashley and the father of her child. But by most accounts, they kept things amicable, and split custody of the daughter.
Eventually, Ashley met a new man named Parker, and they quickly became a serious couple.
"I knew Parker. I'd met him through her. He was a nice guy. He cared about Ashley a lot," said Ashley's friend Kelli McCormack. "She always knew that that's who she would end up with. They had their problems but she's always said that that's who she was gonna end up with."
There was at least one report of domestic violence during their five-year relationship, and though the two appeared to stick it out, by the time Ashley was 33, she seemed to be making some big changes. She was preparing to pack up and move to New York.
"To go to school, to be an esthetician," said Kelli. "She had talked about it for several months before, and when she had the opportunity, she really wanted to do it."
"Just two weeks before she passed, we were actually, my mom and I were helping her move her stuff, pack her stuff up," said Heath.
"I think she was excited about school, you know, but she was having a little bit of problems also, I guess with somebody else," said Ashley's mother Dolly Yamauchi.
That somebody else, Ashley's mom believes, was the father of Ashley's daughter.
"Because I don't think he wanted her to go to New York," said Dolly. "I think there was a big feud going on then about her deciding to go there."
Ashley never made that trip.
On Monday, December 15, 2008, Ashley walked from work to hang out at one of her favorite bars, a place well known to San Rafael Police Lieutenant Raffaello Pata.
"It was called the Fourth Street Tavern. I used to go there. It just was a great place. It was one of those places where you felt comfortable going there," said Lt. Pata.
"She frequently went there and I know she was friends with the people that were regulars there," said Kelli McCormack. "The bartender I know was a friend of hers because I've seen in her camera pictures of him at her house."
And as far as anyone knows, that bartender was one of the last people to see Ashley Yamauchi alive.
The next morning, December 16, on rain-slicked streets from the night before a gruesome discovery was made in the parking lot behind the Fourth Street Tavern.
"We heard what was reported to be a dead child, actually, naked behind this bar," said Lt. Pata. "We got there and it was really clear when we walked up that this was a very bad incident."
Torn clothes, bruised flesh; Ashley's asphyxiated body left wedged between a parked car and an old chain-link fence.
"I have to tell you it was one of the more difficult scenes that I had been to," said Pata. "It was a very violent crime scene. It looked to me like she fought very hard. She did everything that she could to get away from this person, that this was like a desperate struggle to survive."
There was evidence of a sexual assault as well.
"It was pretty obvious that that if that wasn't the primary motivator for the attacker, it definitely was included in the attack," said Lt. Pata. "She was found nude from the waist down."
Ashley's mother helped confirm the identity of Ashley's body.
Was it crime of passion or was it a crime of opportunity? Those are the questions police are asking after Ashley Yamauchi was found dead in a parking lot behind her favorite bar.
"This has been a difficult case from the beginning. We have not caught a break on this," said San Rafael Police Lt. Raffaello Pata.
In the hours after the discovery, investigators canvassed the area, starting with the large apartment complex immediately adjacent to where the murder occurred.
"As part of our investigation went and knocked on every door, and we couldn't find anybody that had heard anything," said Lt. Pata. "It had stormed the night before. Some people suggested that it was because the rain was coming down pretty hard. You'd think somebody had heard something, but we're told they didn't."
Investigators also collected as much evidence as they could at the scene, including DNA from Ashley's body. But because of her prolonged exposure to the rain the night before, the tests came back inconclusive.
"We found some physical evidence that is helpful," said Lt. Pata. "Technology has not totally come along to the point where we can test all of it."
So no smoking gun pointing to Ashley's killer, and no witnesses outside the bar. But when police started asking questions inside, a clearer picture of Ashley's final hours began to emerge.
"At the bar itself really was the bartender and a couple of the patrons that were inside," said Pata. "This was close to closing time. What I know is that she went outside with somebody that she'd met in the bar and who knows, a lot of people go out the back door to have a smoke, whatever. What we're told is the bartender closed the door and locked it, because he didn't want people going in and out of the back door. That was a business thing."
But Ashley's friend Kelli McCormack says she's heard a slightly different version of the night.
"I heard she was talking to somebody who she knew that was in that circle, in the back of the bar, and some guy walked up and said 'What are you doing with my girl?' And that the guy she was standing with just ran away 'cause he was scared," said Kelli.
No comment from police on that rumor, but Lt. Pata says they did eventually track down the person Ashley supposedly left with that night.
"Took a little doing to find that person, but we eventually did," said Pata. "He was a person that was very interesting to us because of, he had some behavior things that made it kind of suspicious, you know. He pretty much picked up and left right after the incident, didn't stuck around, didn't come forward to the police."
But the man apparently denied any involvement, and with no physical evidence or witnesses to the murder, cops had no cause to charge the unidentified man.
He wasn't the only person police wanted to talk to. There was the father of Ashley's child, who police questioned and quickly released.
And then, someone else: Parker Harper, Ashley's long-term boyfriend. Though the two had lived together for most of their five-year relationship, at the time of Ashley's murder she was staying with a friend before moving to New York, and Parker was living elsewhere.
In fact, Parker himself says he was one of the first people questioned by police in the hours after Ashley's death. And now he's agreed to sit down with Crime Watch Daily to tell his side of the story.
"She had texted me [the night she was killed], telling me that she was going to go down to the bar. I just texted her 'Goodnight, be careful,' and that was it," Parker said.
And then, the morning after:
"I texted her a few times that morning and she didn't respond, which wasn't really that odd," said Parker. "I figured she was still asleep. And the police came to my work and basically took me outside and told me, you know, that she had passed away. From there we went to the police station.
"Obviously I'm going to be the first suspect because unfortunately in most of these situations it is someone you know, and it is a man, or like a domestic violence situation," said Parker.
And even Parker admits there was reason to suspect this could have been that, regarding the domestic issue years ago between him and Ashley.
"We liked to party, I was drinking, she was drinking, and things got out of hand, people got shoved," said Parker Harper. "I have anger issues, but I worked really hard to work on those issues of mine, you know, and that's something I really regret in my life."
Parker says he and Ashley quickly patched things up after that.
"Past that first interview I didn't feel like I was a suspect at all, but it obviously has to cross their minds," said Parker.
Officially, police have ruled out no one. But according to Parker, as well as Ashley's friends and family, their relationship was strong, and even though Ashley was getting ready to move, temporary distance didn't mean permanent separation.
"Hopefully you know like marriage and more family, you know, but I mean that was something we both wanted and talked about, but that didn't really happen," said Parker. "She's the only women that I ever loved."
And when it comes to the person who so violently took her from the world?
"What kind of worthless piece of [----] steals an 8-year-old's mother because they can't have their sexual needs met?" said Parker. "That's [----] disgusting."
So who was that man? After questioning multiple people and following up on several leads, police decide to go back to the bar to ask more questions, and that's when everything suddenly changed.
"We were told that they did not have to talk to us, and then all the sudden everybody didn't want to talk to us without a lawyer, which blew us away," said Lt. Raffaello Pata.
It's been eight years since soon-to-be retired Lieutenant Rafaello Pata began investigating the savage murder of Ashley Yamauchi.
"I have a year and a half left," said Lt. Pata. "I really don't want to leave with this left behind. I want to bring some justice to Ashley, to her daughter. I don't think people should get away with murder."
But since the beginning, police have caught few breaks.
To Lt. Pata's surprise, everyone at the bar suddenly stopped talking.
"I think initially he [the bar owner] was trying to be as helpful as he could, but without speaking for him I could only assume that there was some apprehension perhaps because it happened in the bar," said Pata. "It brings attention, unwanted attention to them by the police and by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and the community in which they're in, so I get that. But this is homicide."
Ashley's loved ones say it's long past time for someone to say something.
"I do feel that the bar has something, they know something, I really feel strongly about that," said Dolly Yamauchi, Ashley's mother.
Crime Watch Daily wanted to get the bartender's side of the story, but failed to reach him by phone. Still, we were determined to give him his say.
"Who was she [Ashley] talking to that night?" said Kelli McCormack. "He [the bartender] was the one serving her all night. He would know if someone was buying her drinks. He would know if she was talking to a stranger or somebody that she knew. He I think has more answers than anybody."
And with that assertion in mind, we tracked down two possible addresses, but both were dead ends.
Lt. Raffaello Pata says police may be closer than ever.
"I looked at this case yesterday just to go over it one more time, and I was rereading a statement from somebody and it kind of made my blood go cold when I read it," said Lt. Pata. "I believe we've talked to this guy. I think the person that did this has sat where you're sitting and we've had a conversation. I can't prove it, which is why this case has gone no farther, at this point, but I just have this sick feeling that we may have talked to this person."
Lt. Pata says he's now narrowed his focus to at least three people, and while he couldn't tell us who they are, he says they should know justice could be coming soon.
"We resubmit physical evidence all the time in this case, so we're not done with it. It's just a matter of technology catching up to what we have," said Lt. Pata.
A $50,000 reward has been offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in Ashley Yamauchi's murder.