Mom's Away!

Silvia Johnson just wanted to be a "cool mom."

From September 2003 to September 2004, she held innumerable parties at her Arvada home, where she provided alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamines to kids from Arvada West High School -- the school her elder daughter attended. She also had sexual relations with at least five boys, ranging in age from fifteen to seventeen.

When one of the boys finally told his mother what was going on, the Arvada Police Department launched an investigation. Speaking with a detective late last year, Silvia readily admitted to committing the majority of the crimes of which she was accused -- including furnishing underage boys with alcohol and drugs and then having sex with them. She'd never been popular when she was in high school, she explained, and her behavior now made her feel like she was one of the gang, a "cool mom."

The press went wild. Stories about Cool Mom ran in papers from Calgary to Melbourne. Good Morning America made Silvia's confession the topic du jour in late January, and The O'Reilly Factor featured it as one day's "Most Ridiculous Item."

In a culture where Stacey's mom has got it going on and the American Pie geek gets props for banging Mrs. Stiffler, Colorado's Cool Mom was just another wet dream in the collective consciousness. The high school coach who sleeps with the fifteen-year-old mid-fielder from the girl's soccer team deserves to have his head cut off, but the 41-year-old mother doing drugs and screwing her daughter's teenage friends? Awesome!

In the end, though, Cool Mom's behavior was pretty far from cool.

The Arvada neighborhood where Silvia and Jeffrey Johnson lived with their three children is the sort of recent housing development where a strong wind can still wreak havoc on a young landscape. From the central, artificial lake, brown-and-beige suburban homes unfurl in a sea of neatly trimmed lawns and garages ornamented by fake stone. In neighborhoods like this, every cul-de-sac is its own community.

During the late '90s, as many as seventeen children under the age of fifteen lived in an eight-house stretch along the 6300 block of Holman Court. The kids rolled deep together, moving from one house to another until the sun went down and it was time to go home. Silvia Johnson often acted as den mother to the crew, organizing Easter-egg and treasure hunts, putting together the nearby elementary school's annual '50s-themed carnival and charity auction, hounding the block for donations and volunteers. She carpooled like everybody else, let her next-door neighbor store extra electrical equipment in her garage, attended and held barbecues and was generally well-liked.

"She was nice and very outgoing," one neighbor remembers. "I found her to be a bit hyper. Sometimes you would get into conversations with her that just wouldn't stop, but she did a lot for her kids and our little community here. She was a very nice person who tried very hard."

Maybe a little too hard.

As the three Johnson children grew older, Silvia and Jeffrey's relationship began to disintegrate.

"The police came over a few times," neighbor Dorrel Bowler says. "Fights between husband and wife type stuff, but for the most part, they kept it inside."

"In the later years, when the kids were older, they were having marriage problems," another neighbor agrees. "Occasionally you would see a police car over there, but nobody wanted to get involved. It wasn't our place."

The cop cars were a harbinger of things to come.

After Jeffrey moved out, eventually divorcing Silvia, the house that had once welcomed the entire neighborhood suddenly saw a new crop of people going through its doors.

"There were lots of parties," Bowler comments. "The boys were often very rude. I don't know if it was the drugs or what, but they always acted real tough and were very curt. They'd speed off in their cars at all hours of the night."

Another neighbor watched the parties from across the street. "I had a kid about the same age as Silvia's eldest daughter, so I'd be waiting up for my girl to come home," she says. "And I would see carloads of guys getting out, five, eight at a time, and going into the house without knocking or anything. This was after the divorce, too, so often Silvia's kids wouldn't even be there. It would just be her alone and these boys, partying. I wondered what the heck she was doing over there, but I wasn't going to stick my nose in it."

What the heck she was doing ultimately filled police reports with tales far more lurid than an episode of Desperate Housewives. They were more on par with Penthouse letters.

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Adam Cayton-Holland