Live Fast, Die Young

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

The way Finley figured it, the killer sat on the couch to the side of the black chair, watching the movie, as he worked up the nerve to kill. Making some excuse, or perhaps just rising, he stood and pointed the gun at Staskiewicz's head. POW! One moment Staskiewicz was watching Swayze shoot it out with the bad guys, and the next, somebody pulled the plug.

The blood stain on the back of the black chair was Staskiewicz's. The bullet that had passed through his skull was found behind the woodstove--a trajectory that confirmed the shooter had been standing in front of the couch, to the slain man's right.

In addition to the phenobarbital, there was another reason Jenny may not have moved quickly. Pieces of foam found in Staskiewicz's hair matched larger pieces found on the ground between the couch and the chair: The killer had used a homemade silencer.

The first shot into Staskiewicz's brain destroyed the silencer. That explained why several trailer-park residents reported hearing two or three pops, but never four.

Most of the blood pooled in the seat of the black chair was Jenny's. She had died with her head on her guardian's lap. The bullet under her chin was fired from such close range that it left burn marks on her skin; her blood had sprayed onto the Confederate flag behind the chair. Oddly, that bullet had landed in a cup on Jenny's left.

The evidence didn't rule out someone killing Staskiewicz and Jenny on Stroud's behalf. The homemade silencer attested to the fact that the killer had planned the murder, and the detectives couldn't help but recall the how-to pamphlets in Stroud's briefcase. But the killer was certainly no professional. He'd left too many clues, including four Winchester-brand bullet casings ejected from a .380 automatic. Staging the bodies was also a clumsy bit of theatrics: A hitman would have left them where they died. This killer wanted to make sure it looked like a hit.

Perhaps the killer hoped to collect from a grateful Stroud. More likely, Finley thought, was that the killer knew about the threats and figured the police would waste their time looking in that direction.

Considering how paranoid and suspicious Staskiewicz had become, who would he let get close enough to kill him but a friend?

Detective Shannon knew the reputation of the trailer park's residents and regular visitors, but he was still surprised by the sheer volume of their prior arrests. Three or four had been arrested for murder at one time or another; others had collected charges for drugs, assaults and weapons violations. Half admitted they were alcoholics or had a drug habit. The trailer park was a felon magnet.

Still, few murders are committed in heaven with angels for witnesses. So in the week following the murder, Shannon and other detectives dutifully canvassed the park for leads.

As they compared notes, several themes emerged. One centered on a guy named Tim, who some residents thought was Staskiewicz's brother and others believed was just a friend. No one seemed to know his last name; some heard it was Masterson, others thought Brown. "The guy with the old Doberman pinscher," Warren Qualls explained. "He's over there all the time."

Another involved a black .380 automatic that Staskiewicz had been carrying the night of the murder. Finley found the .25 beneath the chair, but the .380 was missing. Was it the murder weapon?

From the interviews, Presley learned that Staskiewicz and Jenny had gone shooting on March 10. If he could find shell casings ejected from the .380 Staskiewicz fired at the range, they could be compared to the casings found at the murder scene.

On March 12, Randy Menzies took Detective Robert Benner to the shooting range. Menzies had already turned over his own .380 so that it could be ruled out as the murder weapon by ballistics experts at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and he now pointed out where Staskiewicz had stood two days earlier. Benner collected seven casings from a .380.

On March 16, Finley and his colleagues searched Roger Hunter's trailer without finding any evidence. Hunter had a beard and limped on his left leg, like the man Qualls had described leaving the Staskiewicz trailer. Finley asked Hunter how he'd hurt his leg.

"It's not from an injury," said Hunter, an armed robber who had recently been released from a Southern prison. "It's a nerve problem I have with my back."

Hunter said he knew Staskiewicz had a .25 caliber and a black .380. "His brother gave it to him," he said. "I never met him, but the guy's name is Tim. He drives an older, maybe '68 to '75, green Ford Torino."

On the same day, the detectives searched the trailer of Robert McDonald. Again there was no evidence, but McDonald, who had a criminal record from Oregon, repeated a story that was becoming familiar to the detectives.

"Steve's brother, Tim, gave him the .380," he said. "I don't know the brand, but it was cheap and black."

It was Shannon who figured out Tim's identity. One of the witnesses in the trailer park recalled that Tim had given a gun to a friend, who subsequently was arrested in a Colorado Springs bar for carrying a concealed weapon. Tim had later retrieved the gun from the Colorado Springs Police Department.

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