Finding Asha Degree, Shelby's Sweetheart

Home » Part Two ~ Debunking the Runaway Myth: Asha & Her Family’s Profile » Asha Degree’s Bookbag Resurfaced: What it Tells Us About the Offender

Asha Degree’s Bookbag Resurfaced: What it Tells Us About the Offender


We’ve certainly come a long way since my first page but the end is near and I believe my last page will uncover to those who know Asha Degree, her family and those around her, who did this awful thing that’s left what’s surely a million too many hearts broken and so many questions without answers.

As I mentioned, I don’t have the information that law enforcement has; I’m limited to news reports; so exactly what Asha’s bookbag contained is not be complete, here.

Eighteen months after what I’m convinced by now, is Asha Degree’s abduction from her doorstep (or a very few steps beyond it), a 44-year-old Burke County contractor, Terry Fleming found her bookbag on August 3, 2001 while clearing a lot for the construction of a house and its roadway some 26+ miles away. The bookbag was literally dug up by the grader’s machine. In it, he found a paper with Asha’s name along with a  phone number from inside the bag. Unaware of Asha Degree’s case, Fleming had an odd felling about the bookbag, and copied the information that he shared with his wife the next morning. His wife covered her mouth with a gasp saying, “Oh my God, Terry!”

Its location, condition and contents are telling and lend to what I believe is the identity of Asha Degree’s abductor(s).

Let’s look at the proximity of the bookbag to where Asha was last seen. The bag was some twenty-six miles north (on the west side of NC 18 and about six miles south of I-40 and Morganton) from where Asha was last seen and less than fifty yards off the highway in the Laurel Fork area. One might surmise that a true outdoorsman would venture deeper into a wooded area to bury the bag and I would agree.

If he wanted it to remain hidden. He could have even burned it.

I believe the perpetrator(s) wanted the bookbag found; hence, the bag was aptly placed. Too, it was doubly wrapped in two black trash bags, which are often more durable than white kitchen bags. The two heavier trash bags were strictly for preservation; surely the offender didn’t want its contents degrading.

Because this guy (or guys) is a ‘stager’ with the hair bow, marker and pencil, the three family photos along with the way Asha was made to walk along the highway, it’s only appropriate that he would barely hide Asha’s double-bagged belongings. He wanted them found and I’d hazard a guess that the bookbag was planted to thwart law enforcement from the true nature of the crime–in further defense of my known-abductor theory.

MOST IMPORTANTLY! The date the bookbag was found is eerily close to Asha Degree’s August 5th birthday. I’m not fond of coincidences where crimes and children are concerned, and this discovery may well be another intended ploy from the perpetrator(s).


Another consideration about the perpetrator is that he may have know the site was being improved, had seen Terry Fleming grading the site and buried the book bag knowing it would be found.


Page Poser: Do you find the bookbag discovery supports the known-offender theory or a stranger abduction? What questions do you want answered based on this finding?


The trash bag and its contents were sent for forensics to the FBI where the results of testing will certainly be kept from public eyes. But I can only wonder if the bookbag had soil similar to the shed’s where investigators believe Asha was. Certainly the muddied bookbag would have soil composition from the shed (if the bookbag wasn’t cleaned first).


Photo source: Thecharleyproject.




  1. Nicole says:

    I have read your entire website and I think that your known-abductor theory makes sense. What I don’t understand is: Why would Asha’s abductor leave the bookbag to be discovered? Does part of him want to be caught? Does he just want attention? I can’t think of what he could possibly have to gain by leaving clues.


    • findingasha says:

      Thanks for the questions, Nicole. I included them, and my response, on my new “Questions I Get Asked’ Page.


    • findingasha says:

      Hi Nicole, Actually, you’ve presented some compelling reasons for Asha’s abductor (and I DO believe she was abducted) planting the bookbag. He knew it would be eventually found; he wanted it that way. Because I think this person is local, he may have known the area would be developed, but anyone living in an area for any length of time could speculate upon an area being developed. I could guess with a reasonable degree of accuracy what areas will be developed near my home. He may have wanted to relive the excitement of the moment; he may have wanted to throw off detectives with the ideal, ‘I live this way; the bookbag is that way’ kinda thing. Only he knows. Too bad I don’t know if they let a dog sniff out the bags (the bookbag was double-bagged in trash bags)to identify any know scents (like all those individuals Asha was in personal contact with in the 3 days leading up to her disappearance).

      The clues are strictly to benefit his needs, for sure.

      Thanks for your thoughts and comments, Nicole–keep ’em coming!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jojo says:

    Hello, I think all of your arguments make a lot of sense and I totally agree this was all planned and staged by someone close to Asha.
    But (I may be being dim, its very late at night here) why would the perpetrator go to all the lengths he went to to stage this as runaway situation, only to then plant the bag to be found? Because surely that makes the runaway scenario seem completely false. If she’d ran away, she’d keep her bag with her. The bag being discarded makes it more obvious she’s not a runaway. Why wouldn’t he plant a clue that somehow makes it look like Asha’s is still alive and well somewhere instead? Wanting the bag found just doesn’t make sense to me just because I think he went to so much trouble to make it seem like she ran off willingly.
    For what purpose do you think he decided to have the bag discovered rather than just destroy it?
    I’m probably missing something obvious so please forgive me 😉


    • findingasha says:

      JoJo, It’s good to have questions posed on a regular basis. Like I’ve said, it takes a lot of minds with so really good insight like yours, so have at it!

      It’s true believe the runaway scenario was staged to throw the early investigation in a direction away from the perpetrator and the backpack was absolutely necessary as you mentioned and finding it buried, double-bagged 18 months later may have been a lame effort to again throw investigators into another direction–away from him.

      But in my mind, this finding only solidifies my belief someone close to Asha (not family), is responsible. I don;t want to be too specific, as it would be careless of me and I could be very wrong if someone recognized a person from what I say.

      The backpack served its purpose for the witnesses and scenario but keeping it would be reckless. It’s here I must ‘tip-toe.’ The double-bagging is an obvious effort to have its contents found and in identifiable condition. The fact that the discovery was only 50 yards off the highway may suggest he saw the construction/grading and placed it to be unearthed–most likely on her birthday. Very suggestive he knew Asha. Was he trying to say, ‘Your girl didn’t run away? Was this a way of showing remorse? A way to say, ‘The perpetrator lives/is from way over this way?’

      Who knows what the message was, but I believe the bookbag was just that: a message.

      Please remember, this is ALL speculation, MY idea of what may have happened and NOT an account one could take as gospel.

      Your questions suggest you are extremely insightful, so keep ’em coming. Thanks so much, JoJo.



  3. Jojo says:

    Thanks for your replies Wendy, I’ve read them with interest. I was pretty naive in assuming that the person responsible for taking Asha would want to keep up the impression that she had run away all that time after she disappeared. I realised after that with me being brand new to Asha’s case and not being in the US, I really have no idea how people perceived her disappearance at the time it happened and in the weeks and months afterwards. If he knew most people hadn’t been fooled by his ‘runaway’ scenario then he would have had no reason to do as I said above, planting false clues so it looked like she was still a runaway.
    So now I’m not clouded by that I can absolutely see why it would have been in his interest to have the bag found and for it to be found where it was. I feel it was most likely to divert attention away from himself and/or where he lived/worked etc. Thanks for keeping me thinking.
    Would you please give me some idea of the general perception of this case in the beginning? Were there many who believed Asha chose to take off on her own? Or did most people feel right away that it was planned by a person she knew? And was there a shift in attidudes from the first few days/week compared to 6 months/a year later? That info would just give me a bit of a better idea of what the feeling was around that time and what pressures the person responsible might have felt under. Thank you very much.


    • findingasha says:

      I’d be happy to help you find the info you need, JoJo. At the Sources page (you can see the links) the newspaper reports of that time shift, as does the articles of clothing and things missing from the home. At first, it was believed Asha ran away because she may have been unhappy over losing the basketball game; then ‘The Whipping Boy,’ a book her class had been studying get introduced and reports/law enforcement believe it may played into Asha wanting to runaway on a grand adventure. Later reports honed in on the shed (which is really a barn with no door, being used as a storage shed–see the images on the shed page), just after the business owner says she found the items on Tuesday morning but didn’t think the hair bow etc. had anything to do with “. . . the missing girl.” She didn’t say anything until Thursday, so you’ll see different accounts of when the items were found. For the record, she found the items on TUESDAY MORNING and not Thursday, the day she reported/produced the items.

      To answer your question, In the first few days, everyone who knew Asha said she’d never have left out on her own. Law enforcement had no idea (at least that’s what was reported).

      As weeks went by and no new signs of Asha, reports came out with a small mention here and there of ‘an abduction’ but there was no reference to the who, what and whys–none. This is why I believe said perpetrator could remain local– at least until the bookbag was planted (I have to be careful with my words).

      In MY OPINION (I have to emphasize this is my thought), this had to be a planned event because of the weather. Had it not been planned, Asha would have stayed inside–at least until the weather cleared up.

      If you or anyone has info that doesn’t agree with mine, feel free to correct me!

      Thanks for your interest and time. 🙂


  4. Jojo says:

    Thanks very much for taking the time, I will do more research. Great site btw.


    • findingasha says:

      You certainly have the insight for a case like Asha’s. Keep digging. I don’t have all the news articles but it sure is interesting seeing how each report changes with new developments. The editors, I’ve learned, never said they made an error, or even mentioned their previous article was updated with correct info. Hmmmm


  5. Jennifer sanders says:

    I also believe they need to get in contact with those who last saw her leading up to her disappearance. someone may give the police information and be the guilty party. they preserve things it would be nice if they preserve her life as well.there are cases of girls missing at the 20 years found alive.they may have been tortured be brainwashed yet found alive.who what when where and why even the best bed confession would be something.still pray she alive somewhere


    • findingasha says:

      It seems that every year on the anniversary of Asha’s disappearance that law enforcement will be re-interviewing ‘witnesses’ but I don’t believe that at all. I’m not at all happy with what I’ve gathered about the first–most critical–days of the ‘investigation.’


  6. Glenn says:

    I think it’s very clear that the perpetrator wanted the bag to be found at that location because it would further enhance the runaway hypothesis. As simple as that.


    • findingasha says:

      You’re absolutely right, Glenn. Did you notice the date the bag was found? I believe the perp hoped it would be found on Asha’s birthday. This theory fits with someone known to Asha (and local) being responsible for her disappearance. There’s just too much ‘coincidence’ with the bag, where and when it was found. I believe another theory is, the perp knew of the excavation and took advantage of it. I don’t know the condition of the two plastic bags used to bury Asha’s backpack, but the contents (from the picture) look near pristine and not exposed to the elements. While my theory may seem outlandish to many, consider the other dates the perp could have scoured the highway or other related area to bury the bag. The perp could have looked for excavation sites around Feb. 14 as well to–as you said–further enhance the runaway hypothesis. The perp may have looked for other opportunities to bury the bag or put it somewhere to be found. It just so happened a site was being excavated for a house at an ideal time. I’m sure you know from reading the blog that my words are my theories based on what I’ve read or have been told by a reliable source I promised anonymity to. Glen, I believe you’re on the right track, and if you have a idea that doesn’t jive with mine, I still want to hear it! Like I said on the first page, this case needs many minds with good insight, so keep on with your input–I and I’m sure Asha’s family appreciates all the time and effort. ~Wendy


  7. audrey says:

    I am from the Shelby area and I remember my parents telling me about this. Every time I visited them I would see the big sign on 74. I think about her every time I see it. I never believed that she ran away from home. I truly believe that the person who took her knows what is going on and where she is at. He may be putting clues out there that will eventually lead the authorities to her and to this perpetrator.


    • findingasha says:

      Hi Audrey,

      I sent you a private email, also but wanted to thank you for your input. It’s a great feeling knowing so many
      like you, still care about Asha and the Degree family. The sign is a sad reminder of where Asha was last seen
      and an even sadder one that her case still isn’t solved–especially with so many of us believing a person(s) who
      knows Asha is responsible for all this pain. Please stay posted for updates and thanks again!


  8. Casey says:

    Your doing great work here. I found your blog through reddit quite by accident and stayed up all night reading through it. I’ve been baffled by Asha’s disappearance for years and often Google her to see if anything has happened. It appears to be very cold.
    I think your theory has a lot of validity. Asha would not have been out there alone of her own accord. She was lured. Tricked.

    I’m getting side tracked here. I wanted to ask you if you think the men’s khaki pants which were found close to where her bag was found are connected or just coincidence? I believe they were also sent for processing.


    • findingasha says:

      Hi Casey, Thank you for your kind words. Like you, Asha’s disappearance baffled me and now, here we are. But I do think
      the timeline I’m working on will help with geographical profiling, distance decay and some other viable tools I’ve stumbled
      upon in the last year and a half.

      I’m not a big fan of ‘coincidences’ and missing children and this case is RIFE with them, I’m left shaking my head.
      The perp(s) is/are planters: planting candy wrappers, hair bows, unique pencils, etc.; so, it’s no surprise that the
      men’s khakis ‘happened’ to be on the scene. Now, I din’t know the condition if the pants, so . . . BUT the backpack being unearthed ‘coincidentally’ day away from Asha ‘s birthday says a lot about the guilty party. I can’t go into that just yet, but it goes along with the planting, and the location is no coincidence, either. I THINK the spot was chosen simply for the grading work being done, and NOT to throw LE off into a different direction.

      My hope is to get the timeline narrowed to within five/ten minutes. No, coincidences don’t work, here.


  9. Jennifer says:

    Hi, Wendy! I found your blog via a popular sleuthing forum that I like to read. I can still remember when Asha went missing, and all the news coverage that followed. I live maybe 20 minutes at most from where the bookbag was found. I agree that it’s no coincidence that the bookbag was found just days before her birthday. I also believe that the perp was someone she knew. Knowing what we know about her, her family, her lifestyle, fears, etc- there’s no way she would’ve just left in the dead of night, especially on a night with such horrible weather conditions that she was clearly unprepared for (no coat, hat, raincoat, etc). She was coerced somehow, or was just plain-out abducted somewhere very close to home. Your theory about the “special event” that needed to remain a “good secret” fits the situation very well, IMO.

    I often wonder if the person who planted that bookbag is still living among us undetected, or if that person may have planted the bookbag and moved from the area shortly thereafter. I tend to believe the person is still living around here, feeling like the case has gone so cold that they don’t stand a chance of being caught at this point. I’ve always wondered about that green car also. That car is so old that there can’t be many left on the road these days, especially in that color, and in this area. If that car really is related to her disappearance somehow, there are definitely some people out there who know something and just aren’t telling.

    I have read your whole blog page now, and truly enjoyed brushing up on the facts from the case, along with your theories. I would love to see some new updates soon, but I fear that the case is rather cold in LE’s eyes at least. It’s good that there are still people out there like you who are searching for the truth, and trying to keep this case on someone’s radar, even if it’s just those of us in the general public.


    • Hi Jennifer, Thanks so much for caring about Asha and reading up on the case. I do believe the answers are local and if we can keep the details fresh maybe someone will come forward–let’s hope! I DO know that fresh eyes are looking into Asha’s case, and I’m confident if there’s a stone that needs turning, they’ll see it. Keep thinking and if you’ve more insight to share, I’ll post it!


  10. John l says:

    Nine year olds are just starting to be self motivating enough to keep a secret, but young enough to still easily manipulate into simple acts. They waited many years if it was planted – which seems plausible, keep the items in lockup self tsorage, then wrap and hide for digger to find. Only problem I have is surely diggers often find trash like this (or what appears to be) and just plough it in. What if it had been wet that day ? It may be missed and just dug into spoil heap. In fact how much evidence has been missed that way ? Over years a lot I’m sure.

    Perhaps the backpack was buried to be found later, but why bury it ? It’s evidence you don’t wish to be found with – I’m sure that some hairs are on the tape and bags – it’s impossible to wrap something that large without it. That will for sure provide some insights – I hope they are being used well by law enforcement.

    Let’s hope some closure is found soon ….. blessings


  11. Richard Jeff says:

    What if she really ran away? What if she’s the one who burried her belongings, that she had a new life and won’t need ’em anymore?


    • I did broach the idea, Richard, but with her young age, the weather, and all those fears, I can’t move in that direction. I had someone from her (prior year) class mention Asha cried during a school-day field trip because she had never been so far away (under 50 miles) from her family. She was just that dependent on their security. But we need insight like yours, since I’m pretty one-sided and might miss valuable info. Thanks for your concern, Richard.


  12. Could Asha have packed her bag to change at school on her parents anniversary? Maybe the wrappers were thrown out of the window of the school bus passed by from other children. Wasn’t one truck drivers daughter in the same class as Asha. Did police check drivers who saw Asha route to find out if it was near bookbag area. Did police polygraph other relatives. I have seen reports that FBI has not released contents of backpack. Have you filed freedom of information request with FBI.


    • Hi Sherran, Yes I have atttempted an FOI but the case being open, I was told (on the phone) such a request would be denied. I’ve had several locals agree with youur statement about one of the truck drivers and mention the bookbag location, but I can’t elaborate, as it’s info I’m waiting to turn over to the FBI. I will call AGAIN tommorrow. Ths waiting business is VERY frustrating. Thank you for your concern about Asha. I DO believe we are closer to answers. We must keep the family in our hearts, and the case on our ‘tongues’.


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