Connie Wellman has feared the worst since her niece disappeared two years ago. She last saw Ashanti Conde, then 29, in February 2018.
“I think about her every day,” Wellman said.
Even as she grieves, Wellman can’t give up hope. That complex mix of emotions flared recently when Wellman was spring cleaning her garage and came across a box of Conde’s clothes. The discovery inspired Wellman to pull out her sewing machine.
“The clothes still smell like her,” said Wellman, 54. “I didn’t want to give them to the Goodwill. She’s petite, so they didn’t fit anyone in the family.”
At a loss, Wellman reached for scissors: “I said, ‘Let me cut all these pockets out of the jeans.’ ”
Wellman, an actress and model, shared a love of fashion with Conde. As a tribute to her niece, Wellman sewed pieces of Conde’s clothes into something new — a halter crop top, a skirt and a sleeveless blouse. Wellman incorporated bits from Conde’s children’s clothes, as well. Yet Wellman said she doesn’t want anyone to wear the items. They are meant to be a beacon — “to give her inspiration if she’s out there to start life over,” Wellman said.
Conde lived off and on with her grandmother, Wellman’s mother. Wellman moved her mother into her house in Clark County’s Felida neighborhood a few years ago, which is how she ended up with boxes of Conde’s clothes.
Each detail of the refashioned clothes tells the story of Conde’s life; Wellman penned an explanation by hand and entitled it “Not One Perfect Stitch.”
“Flowers represent the feeling of loss, cut off from what’s dear and loved,” Wellman wrote. “Snaps represent … new beginnings. … Big pockets, little pockets … dreams get tucked away.”
Wellman said her niece, a mother of four, had been struggling before she disappeared.
“She knew the streets,” Wellman said. “Life was up and down for her.”
Over the past two years, Vancouver police and other Washington and Oregon law enforcement agencies have followed up on tips about Conde to no avail.
Conde was last seen leaving a Washougal home in a car with an acquaintance, Michael Conley, according Crime Stoppers of Oregon, which issued a renewed call for tips in June. So far, it hasn’t yielded any new leads.
Conley’s body was found March 9, 2018, near a dirt road above the snow line northeast of Dougan Falls. Law enforcement found no signs of foul play in Conley’s death.
The car, stuck in deep snow and mud, was abandoned more than a mile away. Search-and-rescue efforts didn’t find any traces of Conde (5-foot-3-inches tall, 125 pounds, with black hair and green eyes).
All communication from Conde, including through social media, ended Feb. 22, 2018. Crime Stoppers of Oregon asks anyone with information about Conde to call 503-823-HELP (4357).
Wellman said she has heard all the theories — the most grisly that Conde is dead, eaten by pigs — but doesn’t want to believe them. “I hope she’s out there and sees this and comes home.”