Groomed & Trafficked – The Ashley Higgins Disappearance

ashley_standish_higgins_1Photo courtesy of The Charley Project

It’s the oldest unsolved missing person case in Orange County California. Two girls take a bus from Costa Mesa to Vegas and only one returns. What happened to Ashley Higgins and who was this mysterious older boyfriend she was going to see? Was he the man Ashley’s mother seen in the paper, the man arrested for running a prostitution ring?

Ashley Standish Higgins, 19 had recently graduated from the Newport Harbor High School and gotten an apartment in Costa Mesa, California. She shared the place with an older African American male named Lee Pippin. His name will come up later in this strange tale.

November 5, 1982, Ashley and her friend Melissa took a bus from Costa Mesa California to Las Vegas. Ashley was going out to meet her boyfriend and Melissa went along for the ride. When the two girls arrived at the Tam O Shantar hotel and met the boyfriend, Melissa got a terribly uneasy feeling. The boyfriend was a much older man and he gave Melissa the creeps. Everything about the situation worried her and she tried to convince Ashley to leave with her. Ashley refused. The last time anyone saw her she was heading down to the lobby to see a ring her boyfriend wanted to show her.

Melissa left the hotel and promised to meet up with Ashley at the bus stop on Sunday to head back to Costa Mesa together. Unfortunately, Ashley never arrived at the bus stop. Thinking she just missed her friend, Melissa headed home. Melissa was arrested immediately upon her return. While Ashley was an adult, Melissa was a 17-year-old minor on probation. She wasn’t allowed to leave the state. She would go on to get into drugs and it would be a long time before she even realized her friend was a missing person.

While Ashley was away, her roommate, Lee Pippins made several calls to Vegas. He called hotels, police, and hospitals. Why would he make so many strange calls to Vegas while his roommate was away? Strangely he also called a few select cities including Albuquerque, New Mexico. When law enforcement checked Ashley’s credit card it appeared Pippins had been using it.

What happened to Ashley Higgins? Who was this older African American man she met in Vegas? Why was her roommate making so many strange phone calls? Why was he using her credit card?

At first, law enforcement wondered if the woman wanted to disappear. It wasn’t uncommon for a 19-year-old to run away. The family refused to believe this. Why would she run away when she knew she was to inherit a large sum of money soon? Wouldn’t it make more sense to stay, collect the inheritance, and then leave?

Shortly after Ashley’s disappearance, her mother notices a newspaper article about the arrest of a man named Richard Leon Johnson. She immediately recognized him claiming she had seen him at her daughter’s apartment. Johnson was arrested for pimping and pandering. Could Johnson be Ashley’s boyfriend?

In 1978, Richard Johnson had been indicted by the El Paso County Grand Jury on pimping and pandering charges. His house and four vehicles were seized and eventually repossessed, but he somehow remained free and received probation. Disturbingly, Johnson was already on probation for pimping charges, but instead of being incarcerated he received another probation. If that isn’t disturbing to you then read on my friend. The Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph reported on April 18, 1978, that the prostitutes that were set to witness against Johnson couldn’t be located. What happened to these witnesses? Did they ever turn up? Were they murdered?

Later investigations revealed Johnson’s prostitution ring closely aligned with the cities Ashley’s roommate, Lee Pippins was calling on the weekend of November 7, 1982. Also, nearly a month after the pretty blond-headed girl went missing, her credit card was used to rent a car in Las Vegas. We all remember who had it that fateful weekend, right?

Were Pippins and Johnson grooming an innocent girl for their human trafficking ring, or were they, innocent bystanders? I hardly think they were innocent, but how could they not be tied to this case?

Everyone hoped Ashley had run away and she would appear when it was time to inherit her money, but she never came.  It was pretty obvious by this point that Ashley Higgins met with some sort of foul play.

Ashley’s brother, Andrew is a retired police officer and he’s spent nearly forty years looking for answers. He truly believes his sister has been found somewhere in the Pacific Northwest and is currently classed as a Jane Doe. If you have any information on this case, please contact the Costa Mesa Police Department at 714-754-5157.


Distinguishing Characteristics:

  • Height: 5’2″
  • Weight: 120lbs
  • Hair: Blond
  • Eyes: Brown
  • A c-shaped scar on one knee
  • A surgical scar on chin
  • previously fractured hip from a childhood car accident
  • Front two top teeth are false

Further Reading:




All information used to create this content is a matter of public record and can be easily found online. Any participation or alleged involvement of any party mentioned within this site is purely speculation. As the law states, an individual is innocent until PROVEN guilty. I do not own the photos used in this post. All photos are used under the fair use act. No copyright infringement intended.©2017-2019. All rights reserved.

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This week’s Recommending Reading:

Human Trafficking (In the News)


Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets


TrafficKing: Jeffrey Epstein human trafficking case


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