Femme Fatale

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Kathleen barely remembers what she said to reporters, but she does recall pieces of her interview with Denver Police Department detective Jaime Castro. He struck her as kind and easy to talk to. She listed everyone she could think of who knew Brenda, and his response stayed with her: "This sure isn't a lot of people she's associated with."

As word of Brenda's murder trickled through Capitol Hill, the people who'd known her, or of her, scratched their heads. The victim was described as an over-achieving college student who volunteered at a drop-in shelter for women and children in her spare time. Was it the same Brenda Denton? The same bad-ass, punk-rock chick infamous for drunken bar fights? They didn't realize that Brenda had spent years trying to shed that image. The lover of film noir and true crime stories was going to be a different kind of femme fatale. She wanted to see that the bad guys, especially those who hurt women, got what was coming to them.

Four months after Brenda's body was found, the police released her apartment back to its owner. Her mother, Marilyn Pierce, was asked to come to Denver to take her daughter's things. She'd wanted to donate Brenda's clothes to the shelter where she volunteered, but it was difficult to make such arrangements long-distance. Marilyn decided to take family heirlooms and some mementos for herself and Brenda's daughters, sisters, nieces and nephew. The rest was left for the management company to clear out.

Spencer Krzyzek hadn't thought about Brenda for a long time when, this past summer, he found himself entranced by a painting at a friend's apartment. The man worked for a company that managed the Belcourt apartments, where a woman had been murdered a few months before. Spencer thought there was something familiar about the piece, and his friend told him it had come from the murdered woman's apartment. The artwork -- along with many of the victim's belongings -- had been left behind by the family, and he was organizing a garage sale to dispose of her stuff. At least what was salvageable; the smell had permeated most of her things. He was about to go clean out Brenda's apartment, he said.

"Brenda?" Spencer asked.

"Yeah, that's her name. Brenda Denton."

Spencer took another look at the painting he'd seen so many times on Brenda's wall. There was blood on it. "You can't wipe that off," he told his friend. "She'd rather you have it that way."

Spencer couldn't believe that no one had bothered to tell him Brenda was dead, that he'd never caught the murder victim's name until now. But news about the crime had been scant. "It was just a quick little blurb, because everybody was all hot and heavy on the whole Brent Brents thing, so nobody even heard," he says.

Before the sale, Spencer went through Brenda's things, saving her black leather jacket, some books about punk rock and old punk 45s, including one by the Alcoholocaust, a defunct band that once included Jim Clark, one of Brenda's ex-boyfriends. Among the boxes of books and records, he also found three CDs burned with what appeared to be every document, photo, program and website Brenda had ever saved to her computer.

Brenda's own writings offer clues about the woman whose life was as much an enigma as her death.

Her essays for school often dip deep into her past. In one, she wrote that from the time she was a little girl, she used novels and old movies with glamorous stars as an escape from small-town Texas, where she felt like an ugly duckling: Audrey and her sleek sophistication; long gloves, long cigarette holder, and her cat with no name. Lana, cool and crisp, leading men to their dooms with an arched eyebrow. Marlene, remote and mysterious.Š And then there was Jean Harlow. Feisty and witty, even if I couldn't match her physical beauty, I certainly could her screen persona. As my tastes matured, I related more and more to the sassy broad that could hold her own against the most manly man. She represented a budding feminism and a refusal to take any shit, and I loved her for it.

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Jessica Centers