Charmin' Billy

William Cody Neal knew how to spin a story. Believing him was murder.

Every time Cody walked in, they'd play his song, "Strokin'," by Clarence Carter, and he'd reward them by spending lavishly on the beautiful young women who surrounded his table.

Jennifer thought she didn't have a chance with Cody, as he called himself. She was petite -- her nickname was "Baby Half-Pint" -- and didn't think she compared to the "supermodels" who fastened onto the man they'd started calling "Wild Bill Cody." But on her nineteenth birthday, September 29, 1992, Cody came over to the stage where she was dancing and laid out a thousand dollars in one-dollar bills. And he asked her out.

Jennifer had made it a policy not to date customers -- if "date" was what you'd call what most of them wanted. "Usually it was, 'I'll give you $500 to come home and fuck me," Jennifer remembers. But Cody was different. He was never so crude as to suggest a simple exchange of money for sex.

Life of the party: "Wild Bill Cody" Neal.
Life of the party: "Wild Bill Cody" Neal.
Rebecca Holderton, Candace Walters and Angela Fite all made fatal mistakes: They believed William Neal.
Rebecca Holderton, Candace Walters and Angela Fite all made fatal mistakes: They believed William Neal.


Previous Westword articles

"Judging the Judge,"
September 30, 1999
After a year on the Jefferson County bench, Brooke Jackson knows it can be a real hot seat.
By Steve Jackson

"Judgment Day,"
May 6, 1999
The state's first death-penalty panel spares the life of Robert Riggan.

"He'd get you to sit down and talk about yourself," she says. "And with dancers, that always meant some sob story -- life was rough, or we got family problems, or we're insecure about our looks. And he always knew the right words to say. He'd make you feel like you were an angel from heaven in his eyes. You'd want to be with him."

So she broke her rule and went out with Cody. On October 2, he picked her up and took her to a Chinese restaurant. She didn't like that kind of food, but it didn't matter; she liked the way Cody talked to her.

Like the other girls, Jennifer had her own hard-luck story. Her father had walked out on her mother and her when she was three. Then there had been a succession of other men, many of them abusive to her mother, until her mother remarried when Jennifer was six.

Jennifer didn't like dancing or the men who wanted to buy her. Nor did she like the lifestyle that went with strip clubs; most of the other girls were into cocaine. Jennifer wanted nothing more than to be married. There would be no more dancing, and she and the man who loved her could settle down in a little house and raise their children in a healthy environment.

Two days past her nineteenth birthday, she found herself hoping that this handsome man might be the answer to her dreams.

"He wasn't the guy you see in the orange jumpsuit," she says. "He was older than me, but he acted like he owned the world. And he still looked real good in a tight pair of Wranglers."

Cody also seemed to know exactly what her dreams were. He challenged her to pick an ice cube from his glass with her chopsticks. "If I could do it the first time, we were going to fly to Las Vegas and get married," she remembers.

It took two tries, "so I had to wait five months."

In the meantime, two days after that first date, Jennifer moved in with Cody. He said he was part-owner of a security company, Dynamic Control Systems, and she thought it had to be a good business. He always had new cars, and he continued to spread cash around whenever they were partying. For all his extravagance in public, though, he lived in a tiny apartment with mismatched furniture and not even a couch in the living room. But Jennifer decided she didn't care. Although his money had attracted her attention, he was what she really wanted.

Cody was very romantic. He'd fix her bubble baths and spread rose petals on their bed. He bought her nice clothes, including sexy little negligees, and liked to take her out. His place was her place, he said, with one exception: a little bedroom that he kept locked and told her not to go into.

In general, Cody was secretive about his past life. He told her he'd been married three times before. He bragged that he'd put his third wife in the "loony bin" after she tried to kill him, but wouldn't elaborate. He'd been in the Army, he said, a member of the elite Airborne Rangers, where he'd learned wilderness survival skills that would allow him to live indefinitely in any country. He hardly mentioned his family, except to say that he was very close to his mother. He talked about his dad maybe once.

Although Jennifer used birth control and he used condoms, she soon became pregnant. Not long after finding out, she saw another side of Wild Bill Cody.

A gay friend had asked her to go out. She knew Cody was a little jealous, that he didn't want her seeing her usual friends, and he'd warned her often that other men saw her as a sex toy. But she figured that it was okay to see a gay man. Besides, she and Cody weren't married.

But when she got home, she found that Cody had packed all of her possessions into two garbage sacks and was kicking her out. Nineteen years old and two months pregnant, with nowhere to go, she begged him to forgive her. She would do anything to make him happy.

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