Live Fast, Die Young

She was fifteen going on twenty-five, but three bullets made sure Jenny never saw sweet sixteen

Staskiewicz was a hot-tempered loner. Although he called a lot of his associates--usually customers--"brother," he had few real friends. The exception seemed to be a guy known to residents of the trailer park as Tim. Staskiewicz referred to him as "brother" so often that some neighbors believed the two were actually related. Tim had loaned him a television and VCR and always seemed to have pharmaceutical drugs by the handful.

Staskiewicz worked sometimes as the park handyman and took the occasional odd job. His trailer was furnished with whatever he could scrounge. On one end was the bedroom, whose windows were covered with blankets. Then came the kitchen and then the living room, with a wood-burning stove on the far side and Tim's television and VCR against one wall. On the opposite wall, a Confederate flag hung above a black leather chair, where Staskiewicz would recline to watch TV. Visitors sat on an old couch to his right.

After Jenny moved in, the couple could often be found watching TV, with Staskiewicz in his chair and Jenny sitting in front on a matching footstool, leaning back with her head on his lap. Just a girl and her guardian and Home, Sweet Home.

The claim that Staskiewicz was just Jenny's "guardian" didn't fool any of the neighbors, not that they cared. She was his old lady, and he rarely let her out of his sight unless he was off to find drugs or, less frequently, working.

Worried that he was headed for a fall if the cops caught on, Staskiewicz contacted Mabel Carpenter and got her to write a note naming him Jenny's "legal guardian," with full rights to sign for her "in case of emergency." But Staskiewicz didn't do a very good job of guarding her on November 10, 1990.

Whatever had transpired between her and Jenny, Corkins still held a grudge. She complained about the girl to Stroud, who on a number of occasions had expressed his attraction to the teenager.

The year before, Stroud had married a pretty and surprisingly together young woman. A student, she wasn't part of the regular meth crowd. Police investigators would later shake their heads and wonder what she saw in Stroud.

He wasn't the sort of guy most girls would take home to Mom and Dad. Stroud's first conviction was in 1977 in Wisconsin, for armed robbery. Two more convictions--attempted armed robbery and assault--followed his move to Colorado. But somehow he always avoided serving much hard prison time, a fact that Stroud boasted had to do with his high-up connections.

As a matter of fact, sometimes Stroud seemed to get away with murder. Several years earlier, he'd been living with a woman and her young son in eastern Colorado, on a remote property with two trailers. One was occupied by Stroud and his girlfriend, the other by another couple.

According to what those neighbors later told police, one day Stroud burst into their trailer waving a gun. "Get down," he yelled, knocking over a table behind which he took shelter. They were under attack by a motorcycle gang, he said, an announcement that pinned his frightened neighbors to the floor for several minutes.

Finally Stroud pronounced the all-clear, stripping off his pants--which smelled suspiciously like gasoline--and throwing them into his neighbors' washing machine. Only then did he ask them to call the all the excitement, he had forgotten to mention that the gang had firebombed his trailer. He had narrowly escaped, but his girlfriend and her son were still trapped inside.

When local fire-department volunteers arrived, they pulled the badly burned woman and boy from the trailer. The woman died a few days later; the boy survived, although he was maimed for life.

No evidence of a gasoline bomb was found. But no charges were ever pursued against Stroud, which surprised the El Paso County detectives who later investigated the story.

By November 1990, Stroud was no longer living with his wife. He'd taken a job in Manitou Springs as caretaker of the Rock Ledge Mansion, where he lived in an apartment over the garage.

When Jenny had arrived home about 8 p.m. on November 10, Staskiewicz wasn't around. But Stroud's truck was parked in front of the trailer.

Jenny had met Stroud through Corkins, and although his dog, a large Chow named Cody, had bitten her, Stroud had never given her any reason to fear him. She approached the truck and said hello. Stroud responded in kind, told her that Corkins was inside the trailer and invited Jenny to sit in the truck until she came out. It was cold and windy, so Jenny got in, although she left the passenger door open.

A minute later, Corkins appeared and pushed Jenny to the center of the seat as she got into the truck. As Stroud started to drive off, Jenny protested that she couldn't leave without letting Staskiewicz know where she was going. But Stroud told her he just needed to make a phone call and get some cigarettes, after which he promised to bring her right back.

They stopped at a store and picked up the cigarettes, but instead of returning to the trailer park, Stroud headed toward Manitou Springs. Alarmed but trying not to show it, Jenny asked again to go home. But Stroud just kept driving until he reached the mansion, whose owners were out of town.

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