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Older but Bitter

Sixty-eight-year-old Wanda Crawford hasn't killed anyone yet. But authorities say it's not for lack of trying.

Besides, Crawford told the caseworker, it would be a good followup to her career as a nurse. (Crawford would later claim that the original caseworker and all those who reviewed her biennial license renewals had misunderstood her words--she'd simply been a nurse's aide for a now-defunct psychiatric hospital in Walnut Creek, California. But from 1975 until 1994, Crawford never bothered to clear up her records, in which caseworkers noted variously that Crawford had been a registered nurse, a psychiatric nurse and a hospital supervisor.)

Child care might seem an unlikely career path for a woman like Wanda Crawford, who has told law enforcement officials that she received little care or nurturing from her own family. Her mother worked in a nightclub in California, Crawford told a probation officer who conducted her pre-sentence interview in Stephanie's child-abuse case. Her father was an alcoholic. And when she was still small, Crawford told the probation officer, her parents placed her in a California orphanage. (Crawford's mother, Goldie Stone, who now lives in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, declined comment for this story.)

Though she told the probation officer that she had problems with men because she was "too outspoken," Crawford married early and often. In 1979, on her fifth try at wedded bliss, she said "I do" to James Darnell, a man five years her junior who held down a civilian electrician's job at Butts Airfield at Fort Carson. Darnell moved into Crawford's home on Rushmore Drive.

In hindsight, Selina says, Darnell appeared to be cowed by his wife. "He was very passive," she says. "Wanda runs the show in that family. He does whatever she says, when she says it and how she says it.

"Wanda," she continues, "made [Darnell] sound like a blankety-blank, always putting him down and saying how stupid he was and how she had never wanted to have kids with him because he was too dumb."

But in late 1992, when Selina first came to visit, Crawford was on her best behavior, and what Selina saw impressed her. Crawford's sprawling ranch home--just five minutes from the De La Rosas' house and Selina's office--was immaculate. There was plenty of room for the children to play, both inside and out, and Crawford's fees were just $65 per week.

Selina and Troy also liked the fact that Crawford was older than some of the other daycare providers they'd spoken to. Troy calls it "the Grandma effect."

One of Selina's few concerns was that Crawford smoked cigarettes; Selina didn't want to subject her baby to secondhand smoke. Crawford assured Selina, however, that she didn't smoke around the kids, that she had two air purifiers and that she was giving up the habit, anyway.

When Crawford's references gave her glowing reviews, the De La Rosas decided they'd found the perfect place for their baby.

Selina gave birth on Christmas night, 1992. "The doctor said she was one of the healthiest babies that he'd seen in a long time," Troy testified at Crawford's trial. The infant had dark hair and doe eyes. They named her Stephanie Marie for the sole reason that they liked the name. After the nurses whisked the baby away and cleaned her up, they placed a red stocking cap on her head in honor of the holiday.

Selina's two-month maternity leave ended March 1, 1993, forcing her back to the 8-to-5 world. Troy, however, was working evenings and weekends at a northside liquor store, which meant he and his wife could split child-care duties and that Stephanie required only a sitter on a part-time basis.

"In the beginning," Selina testified at Crawford's child-abuse trial, "I thought it was nice. Her house was very clean, and the children seemed happy. When I first started taking Stephanie, I never had any indications that [she] would cry. She was fine when I dropped her off."

But things changed in early July, when Troy accepted a job as an insurance agent. His hours would be much the same as his wife's. Stephanie would have to go to Crawford's house five days a week. It was after that, the couple says, that they began noticing problems with Crawford's care.

Selina began to worry that her daughter wasn't getting enough to eat while at Crawford's; the baby wasn't gaining weight and never had dirty bibs at the end of the day. Selina knew, too, that Crawford was still smoking, despite her claims to the contrary. In addition, Stephanie was getting diaper rashes during the week. The condition would clear up over the weekends, Selina says, only to reappear after Stephanie had spent a day or two back at Crawford's.

At Crawford's trial, a former friend with whom she'd had a falling out testified about what life was like at the house on Rushmore Drive once the parents left. Gladys Richards, who lived with Crawford for a few months and sometimes served as a substitute babysitter, told the jury that Crawford seemed to care more about keeping her house clean than she did about interacting with the children. "It irritated Wanda that I would lay on the floor and play with them," Richards told the court. "She said it spoiled them." Richards also testified that when Stephanie would cry, Wanda would take her and put her in a playpen in another room and close the door. Crawford held an equally disapproving view of Selina De La Rosa--annoyed, said Richards, by Selina's habit of talking "baby talk" to her child.

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