Live Fast, Die Young

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

Presley had not forgotten the girl who was trying so hard to be an adult. He knew, even if she didn't, that Jenny was in way over her head.

He went out to the jail, where Johnston was spending her 38th birthday. Jenny was a nice kid, she said, one who'd taken a lot of the younger kids at the park, including Johnston's, under her wing. When she thought no adults were watching, Jenny would drop her tough act and play like a child herself, or she'd loan her clothes to girls near her own age, just like any teenager.

Jenny was afraid to tell the police what had happened, Johnston said. "Please don't mention my name," the woman added, "or he might come after me or my kid, too, if he found out I was talkin' to you."

Presley drove to the trailer park and located Staskiewicz. Why hadn't he cooperated with the first deputy? "I was drunk," Staskiewicz responded. "And I still think I'll take care of the situation my own way."

When the detective asked about his relationship with the girl, Staskiewicz produced the note from Mabel Carpenter. Jenny wasn't home at the moment, he said. In fact, she was on a bus, on her way to see her mother in Thermopolis, Wyoming. He planned to call later to make sure Jenny had arrived safely. "If Jenny's there," he told Presley, "I'll have her give you a call."

But Presley wasn't about to count on Staskiewicz. He contacted the Thermopolis Police Department and asked them to locate Mabel Carpenter and her daughter. He soon got a call from Mabel, who said she was in a mental-health institution. She had just talked to her daughter, she said, and Jenny had told her about the assault.

"I told her she had to go back and tell the police," Mabel said. "I told her not to run away or come to Wyoming."

Even so, Presley was surprised to get a call from Jenny a little later. She was back at the trailer park.

Jenny was afraid to talk about what had happened. Stroud was "crazy," she said. But she agreed to meet with Presley on December 3.

At that meeting, Jenny identified Stroud by name, description and address and picked Corkins out of a photo lineup. She told Presley everything...about the handcuffs, the leash, the beating, the threats, the sexual assault. "He took pictures," she said.

While he had her, Presley asked Jenny about her background. Despite her problems with her mother, Jenny was surprisingly tender when she discussed her family, so much so that Presley wondered if they were talking about the same people.

However, he noted that when she spoke about Staskiewicz, she didn't talk about being in love. He was someone who could protect her, someone who would be there when she got home, someone who would go looking for her if she was late. But love wasn't part of the equation. "He's my guardian," she said, denying any sexual relationship.

As Jenny talked, an occasional tear would come to her eye, and she'd angrily wipe it away and change the subject. Presley knew she hated having him see her cry. A fourteen-year-old girl in her position could not afford to show any weakness.

Presley pretended not to notice. If her "guardian" was high and drunk most of the time, if her life was punctuated by fear and violence, it wasn't much different from what she'd known since birth. Jenny was just playing the cards she'd been dealt.

After the interview, Jenny went home with Staskiewicz. As he watched the girl walk away, the detective reminded himself again to call his daughters that night and tell them how much he loved them.

Two days after the interview with Jenny, Presley descended on Rock Ledge Mansion with a contingent of detectives and deputies.

They found the apartment and the evidence as Jenny had described: the handcuffs, the studded Harley-Davidson belt, the pornographic videos, the sexual devices, a 35mm camera and two rolls of exposed film.

As a convicted felon, Stroud wasn't supposed to have firearms. But the officers found three high-powered handguns--a .44 Magnum, a .45 caliber and a .357 caliber--as well as a .22 caliber pistol and a rifle. Stroud claimed the weapons belonged to his wife.

They also discovered drug paraphernalia and a small quantity of marijuana and cocaine. Stroud said that the drugs weren't his and that he didn't know how they got there.

Inside a briefcase, Presley found pamphlets on how to make a homemade silencer, as well as formulas for explosives and methamphetamine. There was also an old badge identifying the carrier as a Department of Justice Dangerous Drugs Agent, the precursor to the DEA.

Presley had the film developed. In some photographs, Jenny appeared apprehensive and afraid; in others, she was smiling like a willing participant, with only the welts and bruises indicating that the smile was a lie. He saw a girl in a survival mode. Still, the detective knew the photos of a smiling Jenny might prove a problem for the prosecution, even if she was underage.

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