Apr 8, 2021 - News

Des Moines realtor fights for industry safety 10 years after colleague's unsolved murder

Ashley Okland, a realtor in Des Moines who was murdered 10 years ago.

Ashley Okland, a Des Moines-area realtor, was murdered 10 years ago during an open house. Photo courtesy of Jen Stanbrough.

On April 8, 2011, Des Moines realtor Jen Stanbrough was showing houses like any other day when her phone began to flash repeatedly with calls and texts — but, still in work mode, she waited to answer.

When she finally did, she expected to hear something had gone wrong with a closing. Instead, a fellow realtor told her that her close friend, Ashley Okland, had been shot twice at her open house in West Des Moines and pronounced dead at the hospital.

  • "I wasn't even in my right mind," Stanbrough told Axios, recalling that period. "It felt like a nightmare that you were living day after day after day."

Why it matters: 10 years later, no suspects have been named in Okland's murder, but Stanbrough has worked locally and nationally to create and share best realtor safety practices — something that wasn't typically taught before Okland's death.

  • Stanbrough said that she didn't give much thought for a long time to the potential dangers in her work — meeting strangers in vacant houses, parking in ways that allowed her to be blocked in and walking first into basements.

The state of play: Stanbrough helped create a pledge for realtors — the first of its kind nationwide — saying they will not show any home to a stranger without first meeting them at a public space and asking for identification.

  • She's also working to develop a realtor safety training course that includes best practices such as location and schedule sharing, awareness of phone service availability and knowledge of where exits are located in a home.

The big picture: Des Moines' local realtor association adopted safety practices after Okland's death and there's been more awareness nationally surrounding the issue in recent years — especially as more realtors have been killed since Okland, Stanbrough said.

The bottom line: Nothing is foolproof, according to Stanbrough, but she hopes these tools will allow realtors to come home safe.

  • "I can't bring my friend back. The pain will never go away — but I've tried to find a way to honor her and find a purpose."

Polk County Crime Stoppers is offering a $150,000 reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest in Okland's death. If you have tips, reach out here or call 515 223-1400.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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