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LITTLE GIRL LOST

SHE WATCHED HER MOTHER BEING MURDERED, BUT HER BIGGEST TRIALS ARE YET TO COME.IN THE CHILD'S BEST INTEREST AFTER SURVIVING A HAMMER ATTACK THAT KILLED HER MOTHER, ALEXIS STORKSON FINDS HER FUTURE STILL UP FOR GRABS.


Six-year-old Alexis Storkson emerges from her first-grade classroom, scanning the greenery that surrounds her Arvada elementary school in search of a familiar face. She soon finds one: Chris Perry, her father, is standing beneath a small tree, wearing a broad smile and holding out his arms. Within five seconds, a grinning Alexis has thrown herself into them.

The moment is picture-perfect, as Perry had anticipated: Knowing how Alexis reacts when she sees him after school, he'd readily agreed to let a newspaper photographer capture the image.

In many ways, Alexis is accustomed to this type of media scrutiny. She's been in the public eye since last year, shortly after her fifth birthday. In the six months that followed, she appeared in countless print and TV news reports and was the focus of an episode of The Montel Williams Show. Although Alexis did not appear on stage, a still shot of her looking forlorn was intercut with images of the men and women fighting for a piece of her. Alexis came into the world an accident--the product of a six-week relationship between two people who wound up at each other's throats--but she became a pawn in a custody battle royale.

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The tug-of-war over Alexis began shortly after her 1988 birth in Denver to Julie Storkson, a young woman who supplemented her income as a phone-sex operator by littering bad checks from one end of the country to the other, and Perry, a frequently unemployed sort who a year later would be charged with stealing copper from an abandoned Central City mine. But the public didn't take notice of this scrap until April 1993, when Julie, her live-in lover and their two-year-old daughter, Gloria, were brutally slain in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, print shop that Julie managed. Julie and her lover were clubbed to death with a claw hammer, while Gloria died of smoke inhalation as the result of a fire apparently set by the killer.

Alexis, then five, was at the scene. The attacker used the hammer to punch a hole in the top of her skull. When firefighters found her, she also had wounds on her hands--she may have regained consciousness after the murderer left and then burned herself trying to put out the flames consuming her mother.

The next day, Clarence Reaves, a machinist at the print shop who'd been fired just before the murders, was charged with the crimes. Meanwhile, as Alexis was struggling to survive in a Philadelphia hospital, the seeds of the custody fight were being sown. Four days after the murders, Debra Buck, the owner of the print shop, and her husband, Don, filed for temporary custody of Alexis, claiming that they were "the only family friends" the little girl had. The Bucks soon moved to make this status permanent, saying that Julie had asked them never to let Alexis slip into Chris Perry's hands. They at first failed to mention that Don had slept with Julie a few months before her death, or that Debra had paid for Julie to abort what she said would have been Julie's second child by her live-in lover.

The scrap that followed pitted Chris Perry, who said he'd been searching for Alexis for more than three years, against the Bucks, who objected vociferously to publicity given the matter unless it was instigated by them. Among the accusations tossed back and forth was a suggestion by Julie's father, Robert Storkson--a 300-pound-plus truck driver with a quick wit, a fierce temper and a willingness to say practically anything to anyone--that Don Buck could have been involved in the killings.

Finally, in October, Perry won the custody case and brought Alexis back to Colorado with him. But the case didn't end there. The Bucks appealed the decision, setting the stage for nearly another year's worth of legal sniping. A New Jersey appellate court is expected to consider the appeal later this month; it has the power to reject the Bucks' argument, reverse the initial judgment or set new hearings. It's unclear if Alexis would be made to testify in the custody case if new hearings are ordered, but she's likely to be asked to appear whenever Reaves finally goes to trial in the murder case, in late 1994 or sometime in 1995. After all, she's believed to be the only person still alive who saw the killer of her mother, her half-sister and the man she knew as her father.

All of which means that Alexis may soon be attracting the attention of even more photographers like the one her dad is letting snap her picture. But when she sees the camera, Alexis doesn't smile. She buries her head in Perry's chest. And leaves it there for a long time.

Chris Perry first saw Julie Storkson in 1987 at Lakeside Amusement Park, where he and his sister Sandra were working. Chris was twenty at the time and had been entrusted with supervising the crowd at the Scrambler, which he describes as "kind of an orbital buffing pad." About Julie he says, "She was a customer, and I was just talking to her dad. And her dad gave me her phone number."

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