Live Fast, Die Young

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

Then Corkins agreed to cooperate. Without any prodding, she told a story that was almost word for word a recounting of Jenny's.

Stroud was charged with first-degree kidnapping and first-degree sexual assault. Not long after, Presley heard that Stroud was trying to arrange for the murder of Jenny Carpenter.

Presley moved to protect Jenny. On January 31, 1991, the court ordered that Jenny's deposition be taken immediately "should Ms. Carpenter be unavailable" for Stroud's trial. The idea was to remove any incentive Stroud might have to silence Jenny: Even if she was killed, her testimony would live on to convict him.

But in the meantime, Stroud contacted Jenny's father and offered to buy Duden a Harley if he'd get his daughter to move out to California. Duden thought it sounded like a good deal, but Jenny refused.

With the blessing of the court, Presley placed the girl in protective custody and had Jenny transported to a foster home in Castle Rock.

But she lasted there only a week before taking off, and Presley wasn't surprised when reports filtered back that she'd returned to Staskiewicz. Deputies were sent to the trailer park on several occasions to pick up Jenny, but she always managed to hide.

Jenny counted on Staskiewicz to keep her safe. Staskiewicz's "brother," Tim, had even loaned them two guns: a cheap, black .25 caliber for Jenny, and a cheap, black .380 caliber for Staskiewicz.

March 10 was an eventful day at the trailer park. Word spread like wildfire that a bounty hunter was in the area looking for an alleged hitman, Fred French, who had a drug warrant out for his arrest. Staskiewicz was worried that French was after him and Jenny.

Then Staskiewicz caught two juvenile males breaking into a neighbor's trailer, trying to remove stereo equipment. He brought the equipment into his own trailer for safekeeping and called the police to report the crime.

Having done his good deed for the day, Staskiewicz and Jenny joined friends who were headed for a popular shooting range in the mountains. Staskiewicz was a little short of money for ammunition, so he'd scrounged around the trailer to find a few bullets. But his gun was soon empty, so he borrowed more from a friend, Randy Menzies, who was also shooting a .380.

After the bullets ran out and the smoke had cleared, Staskiewicz and Jenny returned home for a quiet night in front of the tube.

Steve Pilgrim, a short, twenty-year-old blond kid, dropped by the trailer that night, complaining that people had been mistaking him all day for Fred French. He was worried the bounty hunter might make the same mistake.

Staskiewicz and Jenny were both on edge. Pilgrim saw the .25-caliber gun lying on the kitchen counter near the front door; Staskiewicz showed him a black .380, then stuffed it in his back right pants pocket. Pilgrim was hoping to score some meth, but Staskiewicz's connection was out of town. So Pilgrim left, disappointed, about 10:30 p.m.

Staskiewicz decided to visit Warren Qualls, who lived with his wife in a trailer a couple of rows over. Qualls, who had a history of drug arrests, wasn't surprised to see Staskiewicz carrying a gun. The rumor that a hitman was after Jenny was all over the park.

The two men smoked a little pot before Staskiewicz headed back to the trailer, where he'd left Jenny. They had rented Next of Kin, a movie starring Patrick Swayze as a Chicago cop who returned to his Kentucky home to avenge his brother's brutal murder, and he wanted to watch it.

Qualls went to bed about 1 a.m. One or two hours later, he was awakened by what he decided must have been a car backfiring. He reached for a cigarette, then got up to use the bathroom.

Looking out the window, Qualls could see the front of Staskiewicz's place through a narrow opening between other trailers. A man who seemed to have hurt his left leg was stepping off the porch. Qualls caught a silhouette of the man, enough to see that he was white and had a beard and dark, collar-length hair. The yellow glow of the porchlight illuminated the man's green military field jacket and his flat-topped green cap, which resembled the military caps worn by the soldiers at the Fort Carson base south of town.

The man quickly disappeared from view. Because of the limp and the beard, Qualls thought this visitor might have been Roger Hunter, who lived a row away from the Staskiewicz trailer.

Barking dogs and strange popping noises disturbed other restless residents of the trailer park that night.

Dawn Reed was awakened by her dogs. She thought it was about 3 a.m. when she got up and looked out her window just as a white man in an Army field jacket walked by. It was dark, but she thought the man was Robert McDonald, another trailer-park resident.

Someone else saw a 1970s Chevy pickup driving away from the Staskiewicz trailer. A woman saw truck headlights going toward the trailer between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., but she also saw a car heading that way a half-hour later.

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