Live Fast, Die Young
The sun was just beginning to dip behind Pikes Peak when Detective Mark Finley turned off the highway between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs and onto a narrow back road. Gravel crunched beneath the wheels of his car as he steered through the seedy collection of single-wides that made up the "mobile home community," past a sign that read "Family Park...10 mph."
He found the trailer he was looking for in the farthest corner. It wasn't hard: Patrol cars had already pulled up alongside it, their blue and red lights bouncing off the aluminum trailer, turning the dusk garish and surreal. Uniformed deputies were stretching yellow crime-scene tape around the perimeter, while spectators, many of them as disheveled as their neighborhood, gathered in the street.
Finley parked and got out of his car. March 11, 1991, had been a warm day, but as the sun set, the air quickly cooled, and a few flakes of snow floated on the slight breeze.
Stan Presley, another detective from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, was already at the scene. He'd been on his way to the juvenile detention center when the call came over the radio at 4:20 p.m. Recognizing the address, he responded immediately. Two bodies, male and female. Had to be Steve Staskiewicz and Jenny Carpenter.
Denver Outlaws / Major League Lacrosse All Star Game
TicketsSat., Dec. 29, 6:00pm
Presley said as much to Finley, who was assigned to lead the investigation. "But I'm not sure," he added. Presley had taken a quick look at the victims, but the trailer was dark, and death had a way of altering even familiar features. And in this instance, the girl's face was a bloody mess. "Her hair's red, so it's probably Jenny."
Finley looked at his colleague. Presley was a hard guy to read. He could be angry as hell and not show it, but now he seemed more surprised than anything. They both were.
Nobody would shed any tears over Staskiewicz. His demise was what cops jokingly refer to as a "misdemeanor homicide"--hardly a crime at all. He was a scumbag, a drug dealer and in-your-face intimidator in the local "meth" crowd. Thirty-seven years old, he had a history of petty crimes and had never shown the slightest inclination that he was ever going to change. He'd been begging to bump heads with a bullet.
But Jenny's murder was harder to handle. She was only fifteen, abandoned by her father and mother, who'd handed her over to Staskiewicz two years earlier. Jenny was tough and streetwise, a pretty face and woman's body disguising a child. As far as the detectives were concerned, she'd never really had a chance to be anything more than what she needed to be in order to survive.
Finley felt the anger rise. It felt like failure. "The SOB pulled it off," he muttered.
They'd been told that Charles Stroud, another scumbag, wanted Jenny dead. Stroud didn't want Jenny testifying against him for raping her.
When a jail informant sent a warning that Stroud was arranging a "hit," Presley tried to protect Jenny. He'd gone to court and had her placed in a Castle Rock foster home. But after a week, the girl had run away. Back to Staskiewicz. Back home to die.
The surprise was that Stroud had the kind of muscle to get the job done from inside a jail cell. Witnesses died in mob movies, not in real life. But it didn't get more real than two dead bodies. And now Finley had to catch the killer.
At least he knew where to start--with Stroud. This should be over pretty quick, he thought, as the snow began falling more persistently.
He was only off by five years.
When Stan Presley met Jenny Carpenter in 1989, he'd been a cop for eleven years. She was just thirteen.
Steve Staskiewicz, a man with long, dark hair and a drooping moustache, had been stabbed during a fracas at a farmhouse east of Colorado Springs. Jenny was with several women who went to the hospital to check on him.
Among local law enforcement authorities, Staskiewicz had a reputation as a drug user and dealer. Presley assumed the farm was a front for a methamphetamine laboratory. Although the drug is easily cooked up with readily available chemicals and using household utensils, even bathtubs, meth labs generally are located in rural areas--in part to hide the cat-piss stink of production.
Not surprisingly, Staskiewicz was uncooperative, a real tough guy, when Presley asked what had happened. He said he didn't know who had stabbed him. But not to worry, the 6'3" Staskiewicz told the detective, he'd take care of the son of a bitch himself.
The detective looked at the pretty little redhead with the hard hazel eyes. He knew she was young, but he was surprised to learn how young. Jenny was doing her best to come off as hard-boiled as the older members of her crowd. Then again, folks in the meth community always looked old beyond their years.
Presley had first come into contact with that crowd in the early 1980s, as a young police officer in Texas. The drug was in the control of biker gangs, often Aryan Nation types who, he quickly learned, cared as little for other people's lives as they did their own. Not much, in other words. They were armed to the teeth and violent with whoever crossed them--customers, cops, innocent bystanders, each other.
Since the Sixties, methamphetamine had gained a sort of hint-and-wink acceptance in American society--from the housewife trying to lose a few pounds to the businessman who wanted to get a jump on the competition to the college student cramming all night for finals. But they were mere dabblers compared to a real speed freak.
In El Paso and neighboring Teller counties, by the late 1980s meth had supplanted cocaine and heroin as the hard drug most popular with those people sociologists politely refer to as the lower socioeconomic white class. The "white trash" drug of choice.
The reasons for the drug's popularity were in part economic, in part social. Although meth can be as expensive as cocaine, the high lasts hours as opposed to minutes. Injected, snorted or ingested, the chemicals release adrenaline into the bloodstream that pumps up the production of dopamine, the naturally occurring chemical in the brain that triggers feelings of pleasure, creating at once a sense of euphoria and strength.
Small wonder the drug appealed to a group of people who increasingly believed the world had shifted against them, giving everyone else--the rich, the college-educated, the coddled minorities--the upper hand. One hit and the user instantly rocketed from the bottom of society to the top, self-confident and invincible. At least as long as the high lasted.
But meth has several unfortunate side effects, acne and muscle tics the least of them. The drug also causes heart irregularities, even failure, as well as liver and kidney damage. It suppresses the appetite, leading to extreme weight loss among frequent users who must take increasing amounts to feel good. Longtime users look faded, stretched, their skin sallow, their hair and eyes like they've been sticking their fingers into light sockets. It's as though for every hour spent on top of the world, the drug exacts a toll--adding a line to the face and a vacancy to the eyes, stealing a day, a month, a year from a life. And that's just on the outside.
The mind is also under attack. Heavy users frequently exhibit paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. Up for days without food or sleep, they are unpredictable, violent--and sometimes deadly. Meth users and guns go together like bread and butter, bees and flowers, bloodletting and Charlie Manson (a notorious meth user).
This was the world of Steve Staskiewicz. And because of him, Jenny's world.
Presley made a mental note to check up on the relationship between Jenny and Staskiewicz. Street kids, both boys and girls, were sometimes used by adults in the meth crowd as prostitutes and little thieves. Watching Jenny leave the hospital with Staskiewicz, he thought of his three daughters, two of them close to Jenny's age, living with his ex-wife in Texas.
He made another note to call them the next day.
Jenny Carpenter had hair the color of burnished copper and a wide, bright smile. She was born in Vallejo, California, four days after Christmas 1975. Her life went downhill from there.
Jenny's father was Sheldon Duden; he was seldom around. He claimed to be a member of the Hell's Angels and boasted a string of petty criminal offenses. Her mother, Mabel Carpenter, had had her own troubles with the law, most of them related to drugs and alcohol.
In 1989 Mabel Carpenter moved with Jenny to Colorado Springs. For a while Jenny went to Horace Mann Junior High, a low-slung collection of brick buildings in a working-class neighborhood. But Jenny soon dropped out and ran away from home; she didn't get along with her mother.
When Mabel Carpenter moved on to Wyoming, Jenny stayed behind, living on the streets or with whatever "friend" would take her in.
One such friend was Rebecca Corkins, a thirty-year-old with a felony conviction for forgery. Corkins was blond and blue-eyed and more than twice Jenny's age, but the two were about the same size, just a bit over five feet tall.
Corkins invited Jenny to live with her in an apartment owned by Charles Stroud, whom Corkins had met in a community corrections program. Stroud was a 33-year-old three-time felon with a reputation as a drug-deal middle man, enforcer and sometime informant. Stroud claimed to have clout with the cops--not just the local vice squad, but the DEA and the FBI. He even had an official-looking badge from the Department of Justice.
Colorado Springs's meth community was a small world. Its members didn't necessarily associate with each other, but they all knew who was who and their place in the social strata: They knew who they could intimidate and who could intimidate them.
Stroud and Staskiewicz were aware of each other, but that was about it. Their common denominator was Corkins, who in turn introduced them to Jenny.
At some point in 1989, Jenny and Corkins had a falling out, and the older woman kicked the girl back out on the streets. Too young to work for a living, thirteen-year-old Jenny was at the mercy of whomever would take care of her. Staskiewicz volunteered.
The trailer park where Staskiewicz lived was cheap but no bargain. Although a few residents tried to grow a bit of grass and put up playsets for their kids, most of the lots were dirt and weeds, as barren as the lives of the transient population that passed through between jail stints.
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 police...in 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.
Stroud parked the truck next to the garage, got out and began walking up the stairs that led to his apartment. "Do you want me to take her up now?" Corkins called after him, but he shook his head.
"What's going on?" Jenny asked. She was truly afraid now. Corkins didn't answer.
Stroud returned carrying a pair of handcuffs. Too late, Jenny tried to get away. But with Corkins holding the girl, Stroud soon had her restrained. Jenny began to cry.
"Shut up!" Stroud snarled as he removed his belt, which he looped around the handcuffs. Using the belt as a leash, and with Corkins pushing from behind, Stroud pulled Jenny from the truck and yanked her up the stairs into the apartment.
After hooking the belt over a bathroom door, pulling Jenny's arms over her head, Stroud disappeared with Corkins. The frightened girl pleaded to be released.
Stroud returned alone. "Shut up and stop crying," he demanded. "Or else." He held up a thick leather belt with a Harley-Davidson buckle and metal studs.
When Jenny didn't comply, Stroud began to beat her with the belt, striking the back of her legs, her buttocks, her shoulders and the sides of her chest. Every once in a while he'd pause and order Jenny to stop crying and to call him "sir." When she continued to whimper, he warned her that he was going to use an electric stun gun unless she did as she was told. Jenny did her best to choke back her tears.
Stroud disappeared again. This time when he returned, it was with a handful of ice cubes. He yanked Jenny's pants down and pulled her shirt above her breasts, then began rubbing her with the ice, saying,"I've always wanted your sexy body."
Jenny tried to fight and managed to pull one hand free before she was restrained and beaten again. Realizing her struggle was futile, she pulled herself together and stopped crying.
Satisfied, Stroud unhooked Jenny from the bathroom door and led her into a bedroom. Corkins was on the bed, dressed in a negligee and watching a pornographic movie. Stroud sat down, forcing Jenny to sit between his legs and watch the movie. He demanded that she drink beer, and each time she finished a bottle, he handed her another--six or seven over a twenty-minute period. And all the while, he kept telling her to address him as "sir" or face the stun gun.
After Jenny finished the last beer, Stroud told her he was going to take off the handcuffs. But if she tried to run, he warned her, his dog would "take care of" her. Afraid of the animal, Jenny could only nod.
Corkins seemed to enjoy threatening the girl. But Stroud cautioned, "This ain't about a grudge, it's a lesson." The lesson included forcing Jenny to perform oral sex on Stroud and Corkins, on whom she was also to use various sexual devices.
As she would later tell Presley, all Jenny wanted was to survive. So when Stroud demanded that she wear sexy garments and then strip or perform with Corkins while he took photographs, she complied. She even smiled as ordered.
Early the next morning, Stroud finally tired of the games. He gave Jenny a ride back to within a block of Staskiewicz's trailer. "You were great tonight," he said. "I'm going to get you $100."
In fact, he told her, if Jenny wanted to come live with him, he'd set her up with her own escort/ prostitution service where she could earn a lot of money. She was living with a loser, Stroud said, and she could do a lot better with him.
Jenny let herself into the trailer. Staskiewicz was out, apparently looking for her. She hadn't been home long when she got a call from Corkins warning her not to talk about what happened "or you'll get hurt."
Jenny may have been tough, and she may have been "fifteen going on twenty-five," as detectives would later say. But with her body aching and her spirit sagging, she did what any young girl might have done in that situation. She called her father.
Just that past summer, Sheldon Duden had come to visit, playing the big man, telling all Jenny's friends that he was riding with the Hell's Angels. Surely he'd want to help his daughter.
But now Duden couldn't be bothered. His fatherly advice: "Take a hot bath and forget about it."
When Jenny told Staskiewicz what had happened, he reacted angrily--not out of concern for Jenny, but because Stroud had messed with something that was his. That called for retaliation.
But Staskiewicz had to be careful. While he wasn't afraid of Stroud, neither did Stroud fear him. He'd have to move slow, get a feel for how their little community would react, for who would side with whom.
In the meantime, Jenny was scared to death. With no one else to talk to, she called a woman she knew from the trailer park.
Linda Johnston was in jail when she talked to Jenny. She told a deputy about the assault, who in turn reported it to his superiors. A deputy was dispatched to the trailer park, but Staskiewicz wouldn't cooperate. The report wound up on Presley's desk.
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."
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.
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.
Given Staskiewicz's drug connections, it wasn't odd to see people visiting the trailer park at all hours. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and everyone went back to sleep. Everyone but Steve Staskiewicz and Jenny Carpenter.
On March 11, 1991, at 4 p.m., El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Trevor Martin arrived at Trailer F-4. He was following up on an alleged burglary reported by Staskiewicz.
Martin got out of his cruiser just as two girls, about eight or nine years old, walked up with a large dog in tow. The dog, they explained, was Steve Staskiewicz's dog, Kiva, which they had found roaming around the park. They were on their way to return the dog and, they hoped, borrow a dress from Jenny.
"She should be home," the girls said. They ran up to the trailer and went inside as the deputy followed more slowly. A moment later, the girls bolted from the trailer, screaming.
Cautiously, Martin went up on the porch and peered in. Two bodies were lying just inside the front door. The trailer was dark, but the bodies appeared to be that of a male and female. There was a lot of blood. He ran to his car and called it in.
Arriving at the trailer a few minutes later, Detective Presley went far enough into the trailer to get a look at the victims and confirm what his heart already knew was true. He didn't want to disturb the crime scene, so he didn't stay long. One of the victims, the male, lay sprawled on his back, the long dark hair on the right side of his head matted with blood. The female lay with her feet up toward the male's head, her head face down on his lap. She was young. Her hair was red. His heart sank.
Presley went back outside to wait for help.
It arrived in the form of Detective Finley. The fifteen-year law enforcement veteran had a reputation in El Paso County for his tenacity and his refusal to ever give up on a case. He had just spent two years cracking a murder investigation involving Mexican drug lords from California in which the only clue was the fact that the victim's watch was set to the Pacific time zone. Finley's colleagues didn't know him to have much of a life away from the office, except for his love of hunting. He was one of those cops who was married to the job.
Detective Brad Shannon drove up a few minutes later. His blue eyes and round, open face made him look like a Boy Scout who hadn't aged, just got bigger. This was his first homicide, and he approached the scene with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. He didn't go inside the trailer, though; Finley assigned him the task of collecting the names of witnesses.
Finley had never met Jenny or Staskiewicz, but he was familiar with the case against Stroud, having helped Presley conduct the Rock Ledge Mansion search. At first he, too, believed Stroud had managed to silence Jenny. But he wasn't in the trailer long before he began to have doubts about that theory.
For one thing, the bodies had apparently been moved, dragged to the front door from a black chair by the woodstove. There was blood on the back of the chair and a larger pool in the seat. Hitmen didn't usually waste a lot of time moving bodies around unless they planned to remove them altogether. But if that was the killer's plan, why take them out the well-lit front door rather than the back?
It just didn't look like a contract murder. The couple hadn't been shot in the back of the head, execution-style; nor did the bodies appear to have defensive wounds. In fact, there were no signs of a struggle, such as overturned furniture, nor any indication of forced entry.
Finley noted that the television was on. The screen was snowy, as though a video in the VCR had played through, and the volume was still up, filling the trailer with static.
The male, Staskiewicz, had been shot once in the right side of his head just above the ear, with the bullet exiting his jaw on the other side. The girl, however, had been shot three times.
Maybe she had reacted to the first shot that killed her boyfriend, Finley thought. Or, being younger, it had simply taken more to kill her. One bullet had struck her on the right side of her forehead, another had hit her in the right jaw, and a third had entered under her chin and gone up, exiting through the top of her skull.
The evidence he gathered that night, together with witness statements and what he learned about the couple over the next few days, convinced Finley of several things.
The couple had been sitting in their usual TV-watching positions: Staskiewicz in the black chair, Jenny on the footstool with her head on his lap.
They were feeling no pain. Staskiewicz had marijuana, cocaine and codeine in his blood; Jenny had taken phenobarbital, a depressant that would have slowed her reactions.
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.
When Shannon checked, he found that a Tim Kennedy had signed for the weapon, leaving an Arvada address that turned out to be the home of his parents.
Shannon called Kennedy's mother and asked about Tim. "I haven't seen him in a year," she said. She didn't have time to talk, she added, and hung up.
Shannon called again the next day. This time Kennedy's father answered. "He was up here last week," he told the detective. In fact, Tim had been living with his folks through mid-February.
On a hunch, Shannon checked with Colorado Springs pawnshops for Kennedy's name. One shop told him that a Tim Kennedy had pawned a Davis Industries .380-caliber, serial number A8607720, on March 11 at 1:25 p.m.--three hours before the bodies of Staskiewicz and Jenny were found. Kennedy had redeemed the gun two days later, on March 13, leaving the Arvada address.
Shannon gave the owner his business card. "If he comes back," he said, "give me a call."
On March 20, the pawnshop owner did just that. "The guy you were lookin' for was just here," he said. "He pawned a gold necklace."
This time, though, Kennedy had included a local telephone number on the pawn slip. The detectives tracked the number to a low-rent apartment.
It was an unseasonably warm day when Finley and Presley arrived at the apartment of Tim Kennedy. The door was open, and they could see a man sitting on the floor in a pile of trash with his back to the detectives.
Finley knocked. Without turning, the man answered, "Come on in, hitman."
Finley's jaw dropped even as he announced who they were. Kennedy, too, looked surprised when he turned around. "Hey, how'd you guys find me?" he asked.
Kennedy appeared to be in his thirties, about six feet and thin, a typical meth user with pale, acne-ravaged skin, dark, stringy, collar-length hair and the jitters. He had a close-cropped beard and moustache and was wearing a green flat-topped cap.
Finley told him they were investigating the murders of Staskiewicz and Jenny. Kennedy nodded. They were good friends, he said. "I think it was the bikers who kidnapped and raped Jenny."
"Hey, then you won't mind comin' down to the office to talk," Finley replied.
Kennedy shrugged and agreed. On the way to the sheriff's office, he told the detectives he'd just smoked a joint. He seemed to be trying to appear relaxed.
When they arrived at headquarters, Finley told Kennedy he was not under arrest and was free to leave. However, they wanted to videotape the interview. Kennedy said he understood.
Kennedy did not seem overly concerned with catching his friend's killer. "I'm not really his brother," he said. "He just called me that sometimes."
"We have information that you were there that night," Finley told him. That was pure bullshit; they had no information placing Kennedy at the murder scene.
But Kennedy bit. "Uh, yeah," he conceded. "I left about 10:30."
Not possible, Finley said; someone else had been at the trailer about that time, and he hadn't mentioned Tim being around. Kennedy gave it some thought, then remembered that he'd arrived about 10:30 and left between 12:30 and 1 a.m.
"We watched a movie," he said. When he left, Staskiewicz was sitting in his chair and Jenny's head was on his lap.
Finley asked why Kennedy had said, "Come on in, hitman." It was a joke, he replied. He'd thought they were his landlord, who'd been kidding him about having friends killed by a hitman.
"Did you kill them?" Finley asked.
Kennedy looked him in the eyes. "No, I sure didn't," he said.
Kennedy admitted he had loaned Staskiewicz two guns. "They were afraid of the bikers who raped Jenny, and I was just tryin' to help," he said. The guns were a black .25 caliber and a black AMT brand .380; he hadn't seen them when he visited that night.
Finley asked if the .380 he gave Staskiewicz was the same gun he had pawned the day of the murder. Kennedy shook his head. No, he said, the gun he pawned was a Davis brand .380. "If you want, you can check it out," he added. "It's at my apartment."
The detectives returned with Kennedy to his apartment. Garbage and food wrappers littered the living-room floor. Kennedy pointed to a black gun that lay in the middle of the trash. Finley picked it up; it was fully loaded. He noticed that the serial number had been ground off: a felony. In a corner of the room was a grinder.
The Davis certainly fit the "cheap gun" description of Staskiewicz's neighbors; it could be purchased for $90 or less. And it was as unreliable as it was cheap. An AMT, on the other hand, was a better weapon and cost about $240. That was the gun Kennedy said he had loaned Staskiewicz.
Finley went to get a search warrant while Presley remained with Kennedy. When he returned, the detectives began digging through the garbage. Finley found eighteen live rounds of .380 ammunition. Six were taken from the Davis. The rest were scattered on the floor of the bedroom and living room, hidden under the trash like cockroaches. The brands were carefully recorded: five rounds of Remington Peters, thirteen stamped Winchester.
"When did you give the .380 to Steve?" Finley asked. Somewhere around March 2, Kennedy replied. His friend also had two television sets and a stereo receiver that were his; he wondered if he would be able to get them back.
At the apartment, the detectives collected more than 1,100 pills--pharmaceutical drugs like phenobarbital and codeine, for which Kennedy had no prescription. The presence of "downers" in the home of a speed freak was not the contradiction it seemed; depressants take the edge off the meth. Otherwise, a user might never get any sleep. "We're investigating a homicide," Finley assured him. "We don't care about your drugs."
The search moved from the apartment to Kennedy's 1972 green Torino, a piece of junk that looked like it barely ran. Under the front passenger seat, Finley found a Winchester bullet container. In the trunk was a pair of Army pants and a crude, hand-lettered cardboard sign that read: Take me serious--if you fuck me I'll end up slapping you, your old lady or girlfriend till I get all my shit or cash--I am dead serious I don't use police now or ever asshole!
Kennedy said the sign was meant for a guy in the neighborhood whom he suspected of breaking into his apartment.
Finley noticed that Kennedy limped on his left leg. "What did you do to your leg?" he asked.
"I shot myself accidently," Kennedy replied. "About two months ago. In Denver. The bullet's still in there."
Timothy John Kennedy was born in Craig in 1956. The family moved from the Western Slope when he was a boy, though, and he'd spent most of his life in Wheat Ridge and Arvada.
Tim graduated from Arvada West High School in 1975. He was smart and industrious, starting his own hauling business after graduation; eventually he became a carpenter and a member of the carpenters' union. But somewhere along the line, drugs--especially methamphetamine--took over his life.
Kennedy lived with his parents well into his thirties--but that didn't keep him out of trouble with the law. There were arrests for possession of narcotic equipment, dangerous drugs and carrying a concealed weapon. Whenever he was arrested, his parents would bond him out. The family spent thousands of dollars sending Tim to drug-treatment programs, his sister later told Finley. But a methamphetamine habit is one of the most difficult addictions to break.
Kennedy's behavior got worse, more bizarre. He sent a bullet flying into the attic of his parent's house. Then in February 1991, a month before Staskiewicz and Jenny were murdered, he was taken to a hospital claiming his parents were trying to poison him.
While there, Kennedy admitted to an Arvada police officer that he had a gun in his car. In his report, the officer noted that it was a stainless-steel AMT .380. But to the exasperation of the Colorado Springs detectives, the officer had failed to take down the serial number. And he'd turned the gun over to Tim Kennedy's dad.
If there's anything that whets the investigative appetite, it's catching a suspect in a lie. And the detectives trying to solve the homicides of Staskiewicz and Jenny soon snared Kennedy in several.
One. Kennedy said the AMT .380 he gave Staskiewicz was black--but Finley had checked with the manufacturer, who said that model was issued only in stainless steel.
Two. Shannon went to Lutheran, the hospital where Kennedy said he'd gone right after he shot himself--and he'd been there, all right, but weeks after the shooting, when the wound got infected. While in Arvada, Shannon also learned that Kennedy had a stainless-steel AMT.
Three. Although Kennedy said he gave Staskiewicz an AMT, several witnesses saw Staskiewicz with a cheap, black .380, which fit the description of the gun found in Kennedy's apartment on March 20.
CBI criminologist Cordell Brown had determined that the bullets that killed Staskiewicz and Jenny had come from one gun--and that gun had been narrowed down to several brands, one of which was an AMT. But a Davis had been ruled out.
Shannon's next assignment was to find the AMT, or at least its serial number. He called Kennedy's mother and asked if she had any medical bills from when her son had shot himself. It was obvious that she was going to protect her boy, but if he asked about something that had happened months before the homicides, she just might tell the truth, thinking it would clear her son.
Shannon's ploy worked. Tim, she said, had gone to a medical center in Raton, New Mexico.
Soon Shannon had a detailed report written by New Mexico state trooper James Montoya on January 5, 1991. Kennedy had told him he'd shot himself near Walsenberg. Originally he thought it was a flesh wound, but when it didn't stop bleeding, Kennedy stopped at a small medical center in a tiny New Mexico town. The center was unable to deal with such a serious wound and had him transported to Raton, where Montoya was called in to investigate.
According to Montoya's report, the gun Kennedy shot himself with was a stainless-steel AMT .380, serial number A53334.
By now, although he wasn't ruling out other suspects, Finley was convinced Kennedy was their man.
It was possible that Kennedy had killed Staskiewicz and Jenny because he hoped Stroud would reward him. In that case, Jenny was the target, and he'd killed Staskiewicz because he was in the way.
But Finley didn't believe it. He thought Kennedy was angry at Staskiewicz, angry enough to kill him, and Jenny was just caught in the middle.
The story of her life.
After that, Finley thought, Kennedy had tried to make it look like a hit. Shooting Jenny three times, including the execution-like shot under her chin. Moving the bodies to make it appear as though they were killed near the door. A bloody imprint on the front of Staskiewicz's pants indicated he had been rolled partly over so that the killer could remove something from his back right pants pocket--the Davis that Pilgrim had seen him place there.
What had made Kennedy angry enough to kill one of his few friends? Finley and Presley had slightly different theories.
Finley thought Kennedy had probably traded the television and VCR for drugs. The detectives had talked to a number of witnesses who said that Kennedy would trade whatever he had, whether it was guns or homosexual favors, for drugs, then later complain that he had been "ripped off." In this case, when the drugs were gone, he had wanted his stuff back--and Staskiewicz, a bigger, stronger man used to bullying addicts, had refused.
Presley speculated that the men had quarreled over payment for pharmaceuticals that Kennedy had fronted Staskiewicz, including the drugs coursing through the victims' veins that night.
Both detectives thought that the sign found in Kennedy's trunk was an attempt to threaten a man he wouldn't dare challenge physically. Perhaps he meant to tape it to the trailer door that night, but instead found the couple home and wound up invited inside.
Sitting there on the couch, his mind crying out for more meth, Kennedy had decided on that last option: murder. He'd been "ripped off" by his brother who had everything--a pretty young girlfriend, a real home, his television, VCR and stereo, his pills, his money. Even his guns.
So he stood up and put a bullet through Staskiewicz's brain. Lights out.
And then he killed Jenny, who, as she had all her life, struggled a moment longer to survive.
Everyone would think it was Charles Stroud who had ordered the deaths. The police would be looking for a hitman, not a friend.
It's one thing for detectives to have a theory, quite another for them to prove that theory in court. Finley knew he had a complicated case, made even more so by a host of other suspects.
There were the two men Qualls and Reed had identified as being at or near the scene that night: Hunter and McDonald. Neither had great alibis.
Hunter said he'd been at home with his wife and kids. But it was his son that Staskiewicz had caught breaking into a neighbor's trailer.
McDonald was a drunk who couldn't even remember what he had been doing that night.
And then there was Stroud. A female inmate reported that Corkins was talking like she and Stroud had arranged the murder. But authorities tried wiring the inmate several times, and no matter how slyly she brought up the subject, Corkins made no such claims. At one point, in fact, Corkins denied having anything to do with the murders.
More problematic was the report on the hitman, Fred French. The night following the murders, the sheriff's intelligence unit had told Finley they had information that French was in town to do a hit. French had left Colorado Springs in September 1990 and moved to Florida; his employer there said that while he couldn't account for French's whereabouts on the weekend of the murder, he hadn't missed any time on either side of those two days.
Finley couldn't find anything more than that original report that French was ever in town. He didn't buy that French had hurried back to Colorado Springs, somehow surprised a very suspicious Staskiewicz, then shot the couple with Staskiewicz's own gun.
An alternative suspect was an acquaintance of Staskiewicz's named Patrick Dudley. A woman had reported that a friend had picked up Dudley near the trailer park that night and that Dudley had blood on his clothes.
But when Finley finally located that friend after a month of searching, the man said he'd told the woman nothing of the sort. He hadn't heard about the murders until March 12, and he'd asked the woman to pull up to a convenience store so he could buy a newspaper to find out who had been killed. The woman had seen him recently with Dudley, he said, and had somehow put the two stories together.
Dudley, who had an extensive criminal history, told detectives he was drunk the night of the murder and had spent it at a friend's house, which was confirmed by the friend and the friend's daughter. However, Dudley had information of his own to supply.
On March 8, he said, he'd spent the night at the Staskiewicz trailer. And he wasn't the only visitor that night. Another guy had been introduced by Jenny as Staskiewicz's brother, Tim. "He had an old Doberman pinscher with him that could hardly walk," Dudley added.
Everybody was flashing their guns, talking about Stroud's threats. Jenny had her little .25, Staskiewicz a black .380. And Tim, he said, was lying on the couch with a stainless-steel automatic on the floor by his side.
It was an important bit of news. Dudley's information placed the black gun with Staskiewicz and the stainless steel with Kennedy, just two days before the murder.
Still, Finley didn't give up on the hitman possibility. With other detectives, he tried to re-enact a scenario in which a gunman coming in the trailer's front or back door could take the couple by surprise. But nothing worked except the theory that the gunman had stood next to the couch and shot Staskiewicz as he was watching television, then turned the gun on Jenny.
Only a friend could have come so close. And Kennedy had placed himself at the scene at the right time and put the victims in the correct positions.
Soon Finley had more evidence incriminating Kennedy, this time from the CBI crime labs.
Every gun barrel leaves different markings, distinct as fingerprints, on a bullet as it exits. That's how the CBI's Brown could determine that the bullets that killed Staskiewicz and Jenny were not fired by the Davis .380.
But semi-automatic handguns also leave marks on the casings ejected as the bullets are fired. Under microscopic analysis, these markings are every bit as telltale as the marks on a bullet.
By late April, Brown was able to determine that two of the spent casings that Benner had collected at the shooting range had been fired from the Davis .380 taken from Kennedy's apartment. That meant the gun Staskiewicz had taken target-shooting March 10 was the same gun Kennedy had pawned the next day.
That was also the gun seized at Kennedy's apartment. And Brown concluded that three of the live rounds found in Kennedy's apartment had once been chambered in the same weapon used to kill Staskiewicz and Jenny.
If Kennedy had said that on the night of the murders he'd traded his stainless-steel AMT for the black Davis he'd previously loaned Staskiewicz, he might have had a better story. But Kennedy told Finley he'd given the AMT to Staskiewicz a week earlier and kept the Davis for himself; on videotape, he'd said he hadn't seen any guns at the trailer March 10, much less switched them.
After receiving the CBI reports, Finley and Benner went to talk to Kennedy's landlord, Gerald Erikson. The 44-year-old had had his own run-ins with the law, including a 1989 arrest for drug possession.
Erikson described himself as a friend of Kennedy's who had rented the apartment to him in February. At the time, Erikson said, Kennedy had showed up carrying a bag containing two guns, both .380s. One was a black "Saturday Night Special," the other a stainless-steel model that he later saw in Kennedy's apartment.
Kennedy dropped by Erikson's apartment March 11, as the murders were being reported on a TV newscast. Kennedy said he'd left his television and VCR at the victims' trailer. "He wanted to go pick up his stuff," Erikson remembered.
"Tim's been taking too many drugs," he added. "He also thinks he deserves Steve's Harley because Steve used to call him 'brother.'"
Soon after the detectives interviewed Erikson, he and Kennedy were on the outs.
Kennedy brought a glass of Kool-Aid to Finley, claiming that his landlord was trying to poison him and his dog. "She's trained to detect poison, and now she won't drink out of the toilet," he said.
Erikson evicted Kennedy, who sued him in small-claims court and won. After that, Erikson told the detectives, Kennedy told him he'd better watch his step "or the same thing could happen to you as happened to those two people in Colorado Springs." Erikson had known right away what two people his former friend was talking about.
The landlord, who wrote notes to himself on his arms and admitted he'd taken a few too many hits of LSD back in the Sixties, said Kennedy had told him the murder victims "tried to fuck my dog."
After losing his apartment, Kennedy moved back in with his parents. He was a loner. Too unkempt and into his drugs for a girlfriend. An interest in tarot cards and satanic rites scared his few remaining friends away.
In the months following the murders, Finley took his evidence to the district attorney several times, asking that Kennedy be prosecuted. The DA always refused. The case was too complicated, he told Finley, and a jury would never keep it straight. Black guns. Stainless-steel guns. Marks on casings. Bullets found on floors. Besides, the witnesses were all a bunch of felons and drug addicts.
On November 1, 1991, Charles Stroud pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping; the other charges were dropped. As a habitual offender, he was sentenced to fifty years.
For Presley, it was a bittersweet victory. A truly bad man was going to spend a long time in prison, but Jenny, who'd finally stood up for herself, wasn't around to see it.
Finley was glad to see Stroud go. He was smarter than the rest of the meth crowd, and therefore more dangerous. He probably enjoyed seeming powerful enough to have ordered a hit from his cell--a big man with a long arm.
And in a way, Stroud was responsible for the murders. If he hadn't decided to teach Jenny "a lesson," she wouldn't have reported him to the police, and there would have been no threat of imaginary hitmen that the real killer could use as a screen--a screen that complicated the case enough that the district attorney's office refused to prosecute.
Finley's arguments with the DA grew more heated. If Jenny had been the daughter of some upstanding member of the community, he complained, there would have been press conferences and pressure to bring a tough case to court. But because this was Jenny Carpenter, a street kid with no one to speak for her, her killer was walking the streets a free man.
Finley didn't kid himself about Jenny. She probably would have grown up to be just like any of the other human wrecks out at the trailer park. A burned-out woman old before her time, numbed by drugs and alcohol, with a couple of kids running around her feet who would likely grow up just like their mom and her mother before her.
But good kids can come from bad beginnings. And Jenny deserved the chance to prove herself one way or the other.
In April 1992, Detective Mark Finley left the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and took a job with the Teller County Sheriff's Office. There were several reasons for the switch, including his frustration over the failure to prosecute Tim Kennedy.
Before Finley left, he sat down with Brad Shannon. He handed the young detective the case file, and they talked about what avenues Shannon might pursue.
They'd submitted the bullets taken from the bodies, as well as live cartridges from Kennedy's apartment, to the FBI. The feds were developing a new technique that could compare the composition of the bullets; those tests had yet to be completed.
Otherwise, there wasn't much left to do. They agreed it was unlikely that Kennedy would feel the need to unburden his conscience and confess to a friend or family member. He just wasn't the sort.
Finley thought Kennedy had gotten away with murder.
Tim Kennedy was living with his parents, convicted of drug possession and on probation, when the FBI analysis of the bullets arrived on Shannon's desk in October 1992.
It was more damning evidence against Kennedy.
According to the report, one of the bullets in Jenny's body "was of the same compositional group" as the live cartridge removed from the Davis .380 taken from Kennedy's apartment. The second bullet "was of the same compositional group" as two of the live cartridges found on Kennedy's floor. The spent bullets from the crime scene--one taken from the wall by the woodstove and the other found in the cup--were "of the same compositional group" as two of the live cartridges recovered from the Davis and one from Kennedy's floor.
"The specimens are either analytically indistinguishable or they exhibit such close compositional association as to be consistent with originating from the same source," the FBI concluded.
Shannon contacted Special Agent Roger Peale at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Just what in hell did all that mean?
Well, it meant the bullets didn't just come from the same manufacturer or that they were packaged on or about the same date. "The bullets," Peale said, "came out of the same box."
But even that wasn't enough to convice the DA to file a case.
In January 1995, John Anderson was sworn in as the new sheriff of El Paso County. He appointed homicide detective Lou Smit to head that department. Smit, in turn, asked Finley to return.
His first day back on the job, Finley met with Shannon, who handed him the Kennedy file. "I'm sure you'll want this," Shannon said.
Finley nodded. "I'll take it." He could hardly wait to get started again. Jenny's was a restless ghost.
Soon afterward, Smit introduced Finley to John San Agustin, a partner in a Denver company that specialized in computer-aided case preparation. Finley wasn't so much of an old dog that he wasn't willing to try a new trick, especially after San Agustin showed him how he could use a CD-ROM to make a complicated case easier to understand.
In the Kennedy case, it organized the material for a logical presentation. Click on a diagram of the trailer. Click again and there was a photograph of the trailer. Click again and it was a photograph of the living room. Click again and it was a close-up of the victims. Click, and there was a photograph to accompany the explanation of ejector markings on a casing. There was even an animated version of how Finley believed the murders took place.
Armed with the CD-ROM, Finley went to talk to Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeanie Smith and Deputy District Attorney Dan Zook. The presentation lasted three hours. When Finley finished, Smith said she agreed that Kennedy's was a complex case and that without the San Agustin program, she might not have been willing to prosecute. But now all she wanted to know was, could he find the witnesses after four years? "If you can, file it," she said.
"I'll do it," Finley replied. But it wasn't easy.
The witnesses had scattered. He found Hunter in a KOA campground in Georgia. McDonald had fallen out of a truck, drunk, and died. Pilgrim was living in a rural area of Arkansas. He found Qualls in Michigan, but Qualls ran all the way to Texas before authorities could serve him with a subpoena. Several other witnesses were in various prisons. But Finley eventually found them all.
Smith, who had been elected district attorney, was satisfied. Five days before Christmas 1995, nine days from what would have been Jenny's twentieth birthday, Finley and Shannon drove to Arvada with an arrest warrant for Timothy John Kennedy. They waited at the Arvada police department while local officers picked him up.
Finley was shocked when he caught sight of Kennedy. The years and the drugs, and perhaps his conscience, had been hard on him. He was only 36, but his beard had turned gray, and his body was rail-thin. He looked like a corpse.
Kennedy was surprised to see the El Paso detectives, too. Shannon thought he looked defeated, but Finley wasn't so sure. All he knew was that Kennedy had had four years that Jenny never got.
The detectives hoped that Kennedy would talk to them. But he immediately invoked his right to remain silent and have a lawyer appointed.
In most murder trials, the seating directly behind the prosecution table is reserved for the victim's family. But there was no grieving family sitting there this past summer, mourning the death of Steve Staskiewicz or Jenny Carpenter.
Finley had managed to find a sister of Staskiewicz's in California. He notified her of the trial and warned her that she wouldn't hear "many nice things being said" about her brother there. She never showed, nor did anyone else come for the man who'd called acquaintances "brother."
That didn't particularly bother the detectives. But it did trouble them that no one was there for Jenny.
Presley had pointed Mabel Carpenter out to Finley once during a hearing on Stroud's case. Other than that, Jenny's mother had been present to identify her daughters remains two days after the murder, then disappeared. Finley sent letters through the Social Security Administration notifying her of the murder trial, but Mabel Carpenter never showed.
Nor did Jenny's father. Sheldon Duden had told Presley about the Harley offer from Stroud and his disappointment that Jenny wouldn't go along with it. Then, after her death, he called up Finley, obviously intoxicated. "My baby," he wailed. "They killed my baby..."
Finley was disgusted. Duden had visited the trailer in the summer of 1990 and had seen how Jenny lived with Staskiewicz. (After their murders, there could be no doubt about the relationship: The dead man's semen was found inside Jenny's body.) But Duden had done nothing to save his daughter.
"Don't call back until you're sober," Finley said, and hung up. Apparently, sobriety was too much to ask. Jenny's dad never called again, and he didn't show up in court.
The only people in the room who cared about Jenny's life and death were the detectives, Zook (now the chief deputy district attorney), and deputy DA Paul Sanford.
The prosecutors brought on the San Agustin CD-ROM, the video interviews with Kennedy, the detectives who'd worked the case. Finley spent two days on the stand being questioned by both the prosecution and defense, but he didn't mind: Someone had to speak for Jenny.
And when necessary, Zook and Sanford called their witnesses, which turned out to be a hit-or-miss proposition.
Qualls was a mess. He was still convinced that the murders were a contract hit and that killers would be after him for testifying against Kennedy. In his terror, he embellished his original story until it became nonsensical.
Dudley was much better, and placed the stainless-steel gun at Kennedy's side two days before the murder. But Dudley looked like "one mean son of a bitch," according to Finley, and during cross-examination, the defense suggested Dudley was the real killer.
Piece by piece, the prosecutors built their case. The black Davis was put in Staskiewicz's pocket the night of the murder and in Kennedy's hand the next day. Using the animated re-enactment, bullet trajectories and photographs of the bloody chair, they showed how the murders had to have occurred. Using the videos, they had Kennedy place himself at the murder scene at 1 a.m. The CBI and the FBI analyses provided the links between the bullets that killed the couple and the casings found at the scene to the stainless-steel AMT.
What had appeared to the prosecutors' predecessors as a hodgepodge of details became a trail leading right to Tim Kennedy.
Before the trial, defense attorney Kenneth Dresner complained that the delay in filing the case had damaged his client's right to a fair trial. Evidence and witnesses who might have helped had disappeared, he argued.
Judge Thomas Kane refused to dismiss the case, but he allowed Dresner to introduce hearsay about the possibility of a hitman. The defense attorney described Stroud's abduction and sexual assault as a truly horrifying, vicious attack--the work of a monster who would not hesitate to have a young girl killed if she dared testify against him. He pointed to Dudley and French.
The defense had its own troublesome witness in Gerald Erikson, who testified on behalf of his sometime friend. On cross-examination, Erikson slipped. The prosecution asked if Kennedy had any military clothing. "Oh, no," he said. But wait, there was that time when he and Tim thought the Russians were getting ready to invade and they decided to run away into the woods and become survivalists. They'd bought military clothes then.
Then Dresner put his client on the stand.
Jail had done Kennedy good. He was off drugs and had gained twenty pounds; his complexion was improved and his blue eyes bright and alert. He seemed like a different person.
"Bet that's not real popular in the jail library," Shannon said.
"You'd be surprised," Kennedy responded.
Dresner had cleaned up his client, cut his hair, bought him nice clothes to wear. He'd even hired a professor from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to coach Kennedy on how behave in court and speak before a jury. He appeared relaxed and friendly. He smiled a lot.
Kennedy took the stand and admitted he had lied to the police. He said he had switched guns with Staskiewicz the night of the murder.
No, he hadn't killed the couple. Personally, he'd had the hots for Jenny. And such was the bond between him and Staskiewicz that his "brother" had even offered Jenny to him one night. He claimed he'd never made the comment "Come on in, hitman."
Kennedy's parents, who chose not to comment for this story, sat behind him through the whole two-week ordeal. Shannon felt sorry for them. They appeared to be in their seventies, and this had to be tearing new wounds across old scars. Kennedy's mother watched her son like a hen ready to protect her chicks. But when Tim took the stand, his father sat with his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands.
"He knows Tim's lying," Shannon thought.
So did the jury. After two weeks of testimony, they went to deliberate Kennedy's fate. Their first vote was 8 to 4 for conviction; the "no" vote contingent worried they were convicting Kennedy for being a liar.
But after three days of reviewing the videos and the rest of the evidence, they too were convinced that only Kennedy, not some hitman, could have killed Staskiewicz and Jenny. On August 8, 1997, they returned a unanimous verdict of guilty.
Early on, the prosecution had decided not to seek the death penalty. The only possible aggravating circumstance would have been robbery--Kennedy had taken the Davis from Staskiewicz's pocket. But then, Kennedy was only retrieving what was his.
Rather than take a chance that a jury would be reluctant to vote for first-degree murder if it meant sending Kennedy off to die, the prosecutors opted for putting Kennedy away for the remainder of his life.
On September 29, Timothy John Kennedy was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.
When she died, Jenny was "fifteen going on twenty-five," the cops said. But no matter how grown up she tried to act, she was still just a child. And little is left to remember that she ever lived.
She's just a mug shot in the Horace Mann Junior High yearbook, a pretty girl who looked happy on the day the photograph was taken. But there is no record of whether she liked art class or hated English. There's no picture of her as a cheerleader or athlete, no mention of whether she ever went to a school dance with a boy her own age.
She wasn't even around long enough to get a copy of the yearbook and have schoolmates write teenage messages like "Stay cool!" "Friends forever!" "See you next fall!" There was no next fall for Jenny.
When Lou Smit, who has since gone on to become a special investigator in the JonBenet Ramsey case, retired from the El Paso County office, he gave the detectives there a small plaster cast of a baby bootie. On it is printed: "Standing in their shoes."
The detectives who investigaged Jenny's murder need no such reminder. They still beat themselves up wondering if they had been more tenacious, more thorough, more farsighted when they first came across the girl, whether she might still be alive today.
They knew that Jenny made choices, but she never really had a chance.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.