Two former American Eagle Outfitters employees beat, bound, strangled and set afire a former co-worker who had identified them as possible suspects in an August theft at the store, according to court documents.
After the slaying of Ashlea Ann Harris on Nov. 28, Fort Worth police believe Carter Carol Cervantez, 25, and her boyfriend, Clarence “David” Mallory, 19, stole Harris’s keys to the Hulen Mall store, where she worked as an assistant manager, with plans to steal tens of thousands of dollars more collected from Black Friday sales.
Police, however, had the couple under surveillance and thwarted their plans when they confronted Mallory waiting in the mall parking lot the morning of Nov. 29 and arrested him for not having a driver’s license.
Both Mallory and Cervantez were later questioned by homicide detectives but denied involvement in the planned theft.
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The couple were arrested this weekend — Cervantez in Fort Worth and Mallory in Amarillo — on warrants accusing them of capital murder for Harris’s slaying and theft $1,500 to $20,000 for the August theft at the American Eagle store.
Both were being held in the Mansfield jail Monday morning. Bail is set at $500,000 on the capital murder case and $100,000 on the theft case.
Homicide Sgt. Joe Loughman described the suspects as “extremely violent and dangerous” and credited Fort Worth’s homicide unit, fugitive officers and the U.S. Marshal’s North Texas Fugitive Task Force in the surveillance and apprehension of the pair.
“All of the detectives assigned to the unit have worked tirelessly to bring this investigation to the point that we are at today,” Loughman said.
He said it remains unclear whether Harris was targeted in retaliation for identifying the couple as potential suspects in the August theft or “as a way to gain access to the store again.”
‘Body was partially burned’
Harris, 31, was found dead the morning of Nov. 28 in the bedroom of her River Ranch apartment in the 4700 block of King Ranch Road by Fort Worth firefighters responding to an alarm.
She had worked Thanksgiving night until shortly after 3 a.m. Friday as part of her store’s Black Friday sales. A friend had briefly visited Harris at the apartment after she got off work and last saw her alive upon leaving at about 4:40 a.m.
When firefighters were summoned to the apartment about three hours later, they found a small fire inside the bedroom and Harris’s body.
Her feet and hands had been bound with duct tape. Her body was face-down on the floor at the foot of the bed with obvious trauma to her face, head, neck and throat.
“Her body was partially burned along with several areas of her bedroom which included her mattress,” the affidavit states. “An empty bottle of rubbing alcohol was found near the body.”
Her wallet was found open on the bathroom sink.
A neighbor who lived below Harris told police that he heard a loud thump, followed by screaming and heavy breathing, at about 7:30 a.m. Minutes later, he told detectives, his carbon monoxide detector went off and water started leaking through his ceiling from Harris’s fire sprinklers.
The neighbor called 911 and looked out his window in time to see a black, two-door Infiniti G35 leaving from the parking spot in front of Harris’s apartment with its lights off.
Fired from jobs
Police soon began watching Cervantez and Mallory after learning that Harris had identified the two as possible suspects in an Aug. 24 theft at the store in which almost $18,000 in cash was stolen. Cervantez, police learned, also drove a black Infiniti.
Cervantez, also an assistant manager at the store, was seen on surveillance video leaving the store’s back door unlocked on the night of Aug. 23, the affidavit says. After the store closed, a man wearing a hoodie is seen on video entering the back door, going directly to the store’s safe and unlocking it.
Police suspect Mallory used a safe key that Cervantez had stolen from another assistant manager while at work.
Mallory failed to show up to work after the burglary and was ultimately fired.
Cervantez was suspended, and later fired, after an internal investigation into the theft by the store. She had admitted to the store’s manager that she had possibly left the back door unlocked.
“She responded that she did not see what the big deal was because the loss should be covered by insurance,” according to an affidavit related to her theft warrant.
Cervantez’s keys to the store were confiscated following her termination.
Affidavits indicate that the criminal investigation into the August theft was stalled after the detective assigned to the case was unable to contact the suspects. Homicide detectives Matt Barron and Tom O’Brien took over the theft case after Harris’s slaying.
Police were conducting surveillance on the pair on the morning of Nov. 29 and observed the couple driving together to Hulen Mall. Mallory dropped Cervantez off at the mall’s south entrance, then drove around the parking lot and parked away from the entrance.
When approached by officers, Mallory asserted that Cervantez had gone into the mall to fill out paperwork at a store that she managed. She was not, however, employed at the store that Mallory claimed, detectives would learn.
Mallory was taken in for questioning. Police searched the mall but could not find Cervantez.
Caught on surveillance
The mall’s surveillance video later showed Cervantez entering the mall through a fire escape, trying unsuccessfully to unlock the gate entrance of American Eagle Outfitters, and then leaving the mall and apparently walking home, the affidavit states.
The locks had just been changed, police say.
“American Eagle took the precaution to change the locks due to the crime committed against their employee,” Loughman said.
Homicide Detective J. Cedillo wrote that he believes “Carter was at American Eagle just prior to store employees to commit the theft of the store deposit.”
“Carter was attempting to gain entrances into the store and safe with the keys missing from Ashlea’s apartment,” wrote Cedillo, who investigated the case along with Detective E. Pate. “Carter worked for American Eagle for several years and is familiar with the amount in sales American Eagle conducts during Black Friday.”
An employee told investigators that the store had between $40,000 and $50,000 in the store safe after the Black Friday sales.
Police noted that when arrested at the mall and brought in for questioning by homicide detectives, Mallory was wearing a black ski mask pushed up on his head.
A subsequent search of the Infiniti revealed a 9 mm handgun under Mallory’s seat and a second ski mask in the trunk. A single walkie-talkie and a visual guide to lock picking was also found in the car.
Loughman said there were no signs of forced entry into Harris’s apartment and that it is unknown whether the suspects could have entered by picking the lock.
Tommy Harris, the victim’s father, expressed gratitude Monday to the Fort Worth Police Department for investigators’ hard work in the case and to the other agencies who assisted in taking the couple into custody, which police say included Department of Homeland Security agents in Amarillo.
“The two detectives assigned to the case, they worked diligently to get this thing worked out and get them apprehended as soon as possible,” Tommy Harris said.
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655