Trial and Tribulations | News | Denver | Denver Westword | The Leading Independent News Source in Denver, Colorado

Trial and Tribulations

Conversations stopped and heads turned as Joanne Cordova walked a along the fifth-floor corridor of the Jefferson County courthouse. She smiled at those who met her gaze, though she was trembling inside. She'd seen them nudge each other, thought she knew what they whispered as she passed. Used to be...
Share this:
Conversations stopped and heads turned as Joanne Cordova walked a
along the fifth-floor corridor of the Jefferson County courthouse. She smiled at those who met her gaze, though she was trembling inside. She'd seen them nudge each other, thought she knew what they whispered as she passed.

Used to be a cop...Colfax did that happen? She kept her head high as she walked on toward the courtroom where 37-year-old Robert Lee Riggan Jr. waited for his trial to resume. He was accused of killing her friend, a 22-year-old prostitute named Anita Paley, in May 1997.

Dressed in a conservative, cobalt-blue suit with a dark blouse buttoned to her throat and accompanied by a witness advocate, Cordova looked like a businesswoman. Her thick, dark hair was pulled back from her face, emphasizing her high cheekbones and deep-set, dark-brown eyes. Her nose was slightly crooked--broken by another prostitute several weeks earlier.

All you have to do is tell the truth, she reminded herself. Don't get defensive.

When she was a Denver cop in the 1980s, Cordova had dreamed of a day like this. A day when she would march into a courtroom as a key prosecution witness fighting to convict a killer. The defense attorney would attack, of course, but she would deftly turn aside his cross-examination and, speaking calmly and directly to the jury, testify for the victim. Then the jury would find the defendant guilty, justice would be served, and she would be the hero.

Over a decade later, she was finally part of such a trial, and it had begun just the way she'd fantasized. The day before, October 15, 1998, she had been called to the witness stand by the prosecution and asked about the three days she had spent with Riggan just prior to Anita's death.

Cordova thought things had gone well. She'd been careful to make eye contact with the jurors, as she'd been trained to at the police academy, and they had paid close attention to her answers. A rather striking blond juror seemed particularly attentive, nodding each time a point was made and taking notes on a legal pad.

But this morning the defense attorneys would have their turn, and Cordova knew they'd be casting stones. She was no longer a cop, shielded by a badge and the respect it brought.

No, Joanne Marie Cordova was a prostitute and crack-cocaine addict whose fall from grace would be laid bare by the defense. She had stopped using crack to keep her head straight for the trial, and she wasn't turning tricks anymore. But it wouldn't matter once she was on the witness stand. She felt alone and ashamed, fragile as a robin's egg, and she didn't know how she would hold up under the defense attorneys' attack.

She did know she had to try. For Anita, who was so alone in the world that no one had come to the trial of her accused killer...not even the press, although this was a death-penalty trial. The empty rows behind the prosecution table, normally reserved for the victim's family and friends, spoke volumes about the tragedy of Anita's life.

Cordova could have taken off, like the other prostitutes whom the prosecution had subpoenaed. But she stayed, not just to testify for her friend or because she could easily have been Riggan's victim herself.

She stayed because this trial was also about redemption for Joanne Cordova.
No matter how deeply the defense attorney probed into the darkest corners of her life, Cordova knew he would not find them all. In that courtroom, she alone was aware of how far back the seeds of her self-destruction had been planted.

As she approached the courtroom doors, she saw a tall, well-dressed man leaning against the opposite wall. She recognized him as one of Riggan's defense attorneys, Nathan Chambers. She smiled timidly and murmured, "Good morning."

Chambers nodded, though he didn't smile. "Good morning," he replied.
Cordova turned and walked through the heavy wooden doors. As Chambers moved to follow, he was asked what he'd thought of her testimony the previous day. He shrugged.

"She's a whore."

Joanne Cordova was born into a good Catholic family, one that went to church every Sunday. The kids attended parochial schools, got good grades and stayed out of the way of the strict nuns. Joanne never saw her parents fight. She was never spanked. In the morning a hot breakfast was always ready, and dinner was on the table promptly at 5:30 every night.

Only Joanne and her sister Jeannie, who was ten months older, knew about the "bad thing" that had come into Joanne's life.

When Joanne was about nine years old, her family would go to a neighbor's home on weekend nights, where the adults would play board games while the kids entertained themselves until it was time for bed. Then the man of the house would insist on tucking in the Cordova girls.

There, in the dark, he would make Joanne touch him in ways and places she knew were wrong. But intuitively, she also knew this was something her parents would not want to hear about.

When Joanne was twelve, she was gang-raped by a half-dozen boys at a neighbor's house. The worst part, she remembers, was looking up to see her younger brother staring in through a window. Her mother came and found her hiding in a closet of the house.

Joanne should have said something. But she'd known the house was off-limits, and she worried about what her mother would say. So she kept quiet.

The boys, of course, had scattered by the time Joanne was escorted out of the house. But her mother marched her down the street to the home of one of the boys she'd seen leaving. "What happened?" Joanne's mother demanded of the boy.

"We didn't ball her," the boy blurted out.
Joanne's mother just stood there blinking, as if the possibility of that happening to her daughter had never occurred to her. She and Joanne just turned around, went home and never talked about it again.

The subject of sex was taboo in the Cordova household. As Joanne would later say, "I was thirteen before I learned that a man's penis was not always hard."

Joanne escaped inward, reading mystery books. Her childhood heroes were Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, kids who used their minds to foil adult criminals. She thought she would make a good detective.

For the outer world, Joanne learned to hide behind a mask. That way no one could touch her, no one could hurt her, and she was protected. She looked out on life as though through someone else's eyes--someone tougher, someone who didn't care.

By fourteen, Joanne was the neighborhood rebel, always testing the boundaries, looking for trouble and not knowing why. She'd sneak out at night and drink or try drugs.

At seventeen, she ran away from home with her high-school sweetheart. She returned pregnant. He joined the Army to show that he loved her and could support her and their son, and she tried to become a good enlisted man's wife, a good mother. He made $400 a month, $150 of which went for rent, the rest of which she stretched to cover food and diapers and the $20 in savings she set aside each and every month. She doted on her son.

But this life was too tame for Joanne. Bored, she found a way for her husband to get out of the Army on a hardship discharge. Her family was moving to Denver, and she wanted to go, too.

The young couple and their son arrived in Denver in 1978. A year later they divorced. Joanne told her husband he could live in any other state but that she and her son would remain in Colorado.

Her ex-husband would later turn to armed robbery and lead police on one of the biggest manhunts in Oklahoma history.

Joanne's future would be no less infamous.

In 1980 Joanne was working as a cocktail waitress at a country bar, still using her ex-husband's last name of Shannon. She was 21 years old, looking for excitement.

By now she'd had her first taste of cocaine, from a dentist who'd introduced her to "freebase," a smokeable form of the drug. It was a nice high, but generally, she preferred alcohol--a convenient mask--when she partied.

Her best friends were an odd pair. One was a cop's daughter, the other a high-priced call girl. It was through them that she met Wayne Moore, a high-rolling attorney who liked to wine and dine pretty women and give them lavish gifts: expensive jewelry, clothes, shopping trips to the West Coast.

One night, one of Joanne's friends told her that Moore found her attractive and that there might be good money in it if she was willing to go to bed with him. She laughed at first--Moore was fat, and she wasn't the least bit attracted to him. But he was also persistent, and she was envious of the gifts he'd given other girls.

"How much?" he wanted to know.
Other guys had bought her dinner and a movie and expected to get laid; it wasn't like any lasting romance had evolved simply because they were more physically attractive than Moore. So she gave in to him three times and was surprised afterward that she didn't feel cheap. Her favors certainly had not come cheap: He'd given her checks for $500, $400 and $350.

Moore seemed taken with her. He said he was going to buy her a new Mercedes, and Joanne believed him. But then he skipped town and his checks bounced.

Joanne was still mad about that when another girl told her Moore had left because the FBI was after him. She called the FBI and asked about the rumor; someone there took her name but didn't offer much in the way of information.

Joanne wrote the whole experience off. After all, she was not a prostitute.

Two years passed before Wayne Moore's name came up again. Joanne had worked her way up from administrative secretary to a job as a systems analyst at NCR. Then one day she got a call from an attorney, who explained that he worked for two oil companies that suspected Moore of embezzling millions of dollars.

"The FBI gave me your name," he said, and asked Joanne to meet with him.
She took a taxi to a hotel, where she met with the attorney and another man: Truman Leuthauser, a sergeant with the Denver Police Department who had a side business working with companies to look into reports of theft, drug abuse and other problems. The men asked her a few questions, but she didn't know much about Moore's activities. "I just thought he was a wealthy guy with a lot of money to blow," she said, telling them about the bad checks.

After they were through asking questions, Leuthauser offered Joanne a ride home. "Know what kind of car this is?" he asked, opening the door for her. She shook her head. "It's a Jaguar," he said, obviously expecting her to be impressed.

Joanne thought the cop was a bit on the "geeky" side. He was dressed in a cheap polyester suit and trying desperately to cover encroaching baldness. But he apparently had money, so when he asked for her telephone number, she gave it to him.

And Leuthauser quickly demonstrated his generosity. Joanne had told him she'd lost a contact lens, and when he dropped her off at her mother's house, he placed a $100 bill on the coffee table. "Buy yourself another lens," he said.

It wasn't long before the two were romantically involved. Joanne had never been treated so well. They ate at the best restaurants. He bought her furs and jewelry. She taught him how to dress--whether good blue jeans or Cassini suits. They went to the dog track nearly every day, and when they won, which was often, he'd take her shopping.

"Pick out an outfit," he'd say. After she did, he'd tell her to pick out another. It was nothing for him to spend $300, $400 on her at a single stop. Not even Moore had been so generous, and if she saw a connection between the two men, she ignored it. She was in love.

Leuthauser was fifteen years older than Joanne, but that didn't matter. If anything, his maturity and the way he took charge of her life made her feel safe. Several months passed before Leuthauser admitted that he was married and had kids, but by then she didn't care. He rarely spent a night away from her. He was hers, and she'd fight for him.

While he made good money as a Denver cop, where he'd been on the force since 1967, Leuthauser made even more with his moonlighting. Joanne listened raptly to his tales of catching bad guys and was thrilled when he invited her to be one of the "operatives" he placed at companies to spy on the employees.

It was like being in a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery. She'd always thought she'd make a good detective.

Then a friend of Leuthauser's told Joanne that the Denver Police Department was looking for new recruits. She asked Leuthauser what he thought of her applying--he liked her to run the big decisions in her life past him--and he encouraged her. But she failed the general-knowledge entrance examination.

Although Joanne was disappointed, it wasn't the end of the world. She still had her job with Leuthauser's moonlighting business. And she had a key role in that company's Associated Grocers case.

Leuthauser was directing a seven-month police investigation into theft and drug use at AG, reporting to DPD Captain Larry Britton. At the same time, Leuthauser was receiving "consulting fees" from the company.

Joanne Cordova was one of the undercover informants he'd planted at AG to take note of any questionable or criminal activities by other employees. She managed to make a series of heroin buys that resulted in the arrest of two Associated Grocers truckers.

All told, over fifty AG employees lost their jobs, although only a few were ever prosecuted for criminal activities. Many workers claimed the company had instigated the investigation in order to break their union, a claim AG denied.

After the success of the Associated Grocers operation, Leuthauser formed a new corporation called Corporate Consulting Services Inc. and invited Cordova to be his partner. He even listed her on the incorporation papers as company vice president and secretary. She threw her energies into the business, designing the company logo and letterhead, even helping Leuthauser come up with a slogan: "Minimizing Losses to Maximize Profits."

But work would be put on hold for one week. Associated Grocers had been so pleased with the results of the sting that the company bought Cordova, Leuthauser and several employees an all-expenses-paid trip to Manzanilla, Mexico, that would run from December 2 to December 9, 1982.

A week before she was scheduled to leave for Mexico, however, Joanne saw in a newspaper advertisement that the Denver Police Department was recruiting again. The entrance examination was scheduled for December 7.

Joanne wanted to be a cop, but she didn't want to miss the trip, either. So it was arranged that her sister, Jeannie, would take the test for her.

When she returned from Mexico, she learned that Joanne Cordova had passed the entrance exam and had been admitted to the police academy.

During her 22 weeks of training there, Joanne passed a battery of other tests--academic, physical, psychological. She never thought that the one test she didn't take would turn out to be a problem.

Joanne liked being a cop, but it wasn't easy being a female on the force. Not only did she get less respect from the criminals on the street than her male counterparts did, but she got less from many of the men she worked with. While she had several good partners, she thought of others as "slugs" and the "epitome of the jelly-doughnut cop," officers who showed little initiative. They didn't appreciate her gung-ho nature.

Still, Cordova was commended for her initiative and was soon receiving outstanding performance reviews. But among her less enthusiastic colleagues, she also earned a reputation of being "difficult" to work with. She ignored them and tried to go about her work as she believed it should be done.

Joanne believed she would easily make detective someday--but her goals were much more lofty than that. She wanted to make lieutenant, then captain. She looked up to other female officers, especially Lieutenant Miriam Reed, an intelligent, dedicated officer who everyone thought had a shot at becoming Denver's first female chief of police. If not, Cordova fantasized, maybe I will.

She wasn't interested in small-time crimes. Although her patrol area included Colfax Avenue, she ignored the women who stood on the corners there, hopping into cars for short, frantic assignations. She knew that most of those women were drug addicts who lived from one trick to the next, just getting enough money to stay high.

Cordova wanted to catch the robbers and the burglars and the rapists. She dreamed of catching a killer and testifying at his trial, seeing that justice was done.

Her instructors at the police academy had taught her how to present herself in court. Listen politely to the attorneys, but address your answers to the jury. Make good eye contact...jurors believe witnesses who look them in the eyes. And whatever you do, don't let the defense attorneys get under your skin.

Finally, she got her chance to put a murderer away--even if the crime wasn't exactly a whodunit. A man called the police dispatcher to say he'd shot his wife in the head.

Cordova and her partner were the first to arrive on the scene. The man hadn't lied: His wife lay in a pool of blood in the middle of the living room. But Cordova knew that many cases were thrown out of court or lost at trial because of sloppy police work, and she was determined to do this by the book.

"She was yelling at me," the shooter said as Cordova strained to catch every word. "I picked up a beer can and took a drink. Then I picked up a gun and told her, 'I'm going to shoot you if you don't shut up.'" But his wife kept yelling, and so he'd pulled the trigger.

Joanne remembered what he said and wrote it down verbatim.
Months later, she went to court and testified as she had practiced. Word for word, she recounted the defendant's statement.

The cross-examination wasn't as dramatic as she'd envisioned; the defense version of events was that the gun had gone off accidentally. But Cordova recounted what the defendant had said and stuck to it.

The man was convicted. It was the proudest moment of Cordova's career.

Life was good for Joanne Cordova. She was a decent cop. She was still in love with Leuthauser. And she was also part owner, or so she thought, of a company that allowed her to buy nice things--a Corvette, a Bronco II, a home with a $1,000-a-month mortgage. The moonlighting business was going well, even though new Denver mayor Federico Pena had promoted Tom Coogan to police chief. Coogan had declined to grant Leuthauser hundreds of hours of overtime--some from the Associated Grocers investigation--and had also transferred him from the detective bureau into a substation as a night patrol supervisor.

As Joanne became more secure professionally and personally, she grew tired of Leuthauser controlling everything she did in her private life. She also found that he was not only cheating on his wife, he was cheating on her. And in 1985, two and a half years after their affair began, Joanne called it quits.

Leuthauser did not take it well. She would later claim that he told her, "I made you, I can break you." And that, she believed, was exactly what he proceeded to do.

On July 27, 1985, Joanne's 27th birthday, she got a call from her sergeant saying a Denver Post reporter was asking for her. She returned the reporter's call.

He wanted to know if she was aware that criminal charges of second-degree forgery, criminal impersonation and conspiracy had been filed against Joanne Cordova and her sister, Jeannie. According to the charges, the reporter told her, the Denver Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau was saying that Jeannie Cordova had taken the police entrance exam for Joanne when she was in Mexico, and as a result, Joanne had been "impersonating" a police officer for the past two-plus years.

Joanne didn't know how to respond. She panicked and denied the whole story. She didn't even know where Manzanilla was, she told the reporter. Then she hung up, reeling.

Where had the information come from? According to Internal Affairs, Captain Britton, who was soon to retire from the force, had claimed he'd overheard the Cordova sisters talking about the test in a bar. But that was ridiculous. For one thing, Joanne never went to bars with her sister. Although he would later deny it to her face, she believed the accusation could only have originated with Truman Leuthauser.

The day after the call, the Denver Post ran a story under the headline "Cop on the beach as sister took examination."

At first Cordova dared to hope that the incident would blow over. I didn't commit a crime, she told herself. I cheated. I got through the academy on my own...I'm a good cop. But while several of her supervisors came to her defense and said she was a fine officer, neither the newspapers nor the Denver district attorney were going to let it drop.

Three days after the story broke, Joanne Cordova resigned from the police department and gave up the only dream she'd ever really had.

Devastated, she couldn't eat or sleep. Former partners and colleagues called to check up on her, worried she might do something drastic. But while she didn't want to live anymore, neither could she kill herself.

It was her mother who insisted that Joanne not take the betrayal lying down. "Don't you let that man do that to you," she said. "Fight back."

Joanne thought about what her mother had said. Of all the men who had hurt her--the molester, the neighborhood boys, Wayne Moore--none had hurt her like Truman Leuthauser.

She got angry--and then she got even. Leuthauser wasn't the only one who could cast a few stones.

Joanne went to Internal Affairs and gave a 77-page deposition that, among other things, identified which of Leuthauser's outside activities she thought the department would find questionable. And it had been Leuthauser's idea that her sister take the entrance exam, she told the investigators. She figured the department would want to know how one of its senior officers had steered a naive, 22-year-old woman.

In August the Rocky Mountain News broke the story that Leuthauser was under investigation by his own department for improperly using the police laboratory and other facilities for his private projects. He was also being questioned about accepting consulting fees while conducting police business.

The article mentioned Joanne Cordova, who was still facing charges, only in passing. It quoted former Captain Britton, who had since taken a job with Associated Grocers, as saying he'd had no knowledge of Leuthauser accepting fees while officially on that job as a detective. Other AG officials, however, told the newspaper that Leuthauser had worked for them on a daily basis and was paid between $20 to $30 an hour.

Leuthauser resigned from the police department. He kept his consulting business, but Cordova's name was removed from the official paperwork.

Ultimately, the Cordova sisters received deferred sentences. If they stayed out of trouble, the charges would be removed from their records.

Joanne Cordova did not stay out of trouble.

On May 7, 1997, Joanne Cordova was walking across Colfax Avenue when a man in a blue minivan pulled up. "Hi," he called out. "Can I ask you something?"

Cordova stopped and peered inside the van. She didn't know the man--a white guy with strange, pale eyes--but she recognized the woman in the passenger seat as another Capitol Hill hooker.

The man said he was Bob Davis and introduced the hooker as "my wife, Debbie Davis." He was trying to buy his wife some cocaine. Did Cordova know where they might find some?

That Cordova recognized a local hooker and knew exactly where to find cocaine showed how far she'd fallen since 1985. She'd lost her job, lost her jewels, lost her cars, lost her home... lost her self-respect.

All she had left were a few clothes, a crack pipe and her life. Such as it was.

It wasn't like she'd resigned from the force and woken up the next day a crack-addicted prostitute. The slide had taken some time. But each time she dropped lower, she could trace her fall back to that newspaper headline: Cop on the beach as sister took examination.

At first she drowned the pain with alcohol. Then in 1990, she was introduced to crack cocaine. Like freebase, it was a smokeable form of the drug. But unlike freebase, it left its users jonesing for more. Snorters and freebase users always wanted more coke; crack addicts had to have it.

For crack, she'd screwed up a good job she had with American Express. After stealing about $13,000 from the company, she'd spent eleven months in prison, losing custody of the only truly wonderful thing that had happened to her since 1985, her daughter. Still, she knew the girl was better off with her father, a one-night stand who wouldn't even let Cordova see the girl.

Out of prison in January 1995 and on parole, Cordova had stayed clean for ten months, working two jobs, saving her money, living with her son and his girlfriend.

At night she'd lie awake, wondering what her life would have been like if she'd been able to stay a cop. Several of her academy classmates had already made lieutenant, and she'd been as dedicated as any of them.

Maybe I should have fought it, she'd think. She had cheated--what was the big deal? Other officers beat their wives, and they were still on the force. When she thought about what could have been it made her literally sick to her stomach.

One evening she went to dinner at a former inmate's house, and after the meal, there was cocaine for dessert. The cravings returned with a vengeance, and all of Joanne's thoughts about a future disappeared. Soon her money was gone. She was evicted from her apartment. Her life careened downhill.

Crack gave her a mask that protected her from the world--but it took everything she had to maintain it in place.

Cordova went from man to man, to whoever would help her get more crack. One boyfriend was the jealous sort. He'd get high and start accusing her of sleeping around. "You're nothing but a coke whore," he'd say. "You'd screw anybody who'd give you crack."

She'd heard herself called a coke whore so many times that one day she decided to see what he'd say if she really was one. So she got up from their bed and went into the bathroom, where she curled her hair and put on makeup. She pulled out her sexiest outfit and began to walk out the door.

"Where you going?" her boyfriend asked.
"You keep calling me a whore," she retorted, "so I'm going to see if anybody will pay for this body."

With that, she sauntered out of the house and toward a main thoroughfare. "Anybody out here want to pay for this body?" she yelled at startled motorists. "Who'd pay me to have this body?"

Cars began honking. Men smiled and said they'd be happy to pay.
Her point made, she returned to her boyfriend's apartment. She had no intention of selling herself for a drug. But she didn't know how deep her need for crack ran.

When her boyfriend was arrested and sent to jail in the spring of 1997, she found herself out on the streets with nowhere to go and a major drug habit. The next time a man offered money for sex, she at last hit bottom.

She truly was a coke whore.

Cordova was never comfortable peddling her ass on Colfax, so when she met a new trick, she "cultivated" him to become a repeat customer. She wanted to establish a clientele of "ten boyfriends" whom she could call when she wanted to exchange her "time" for money.

Still, she didn't kid herself about what she had become. Call girl. Hooker. Whore. And while she preferred to visit her "boyfriends," when she needed a fix she wasn't above climbing in the backseat of a car.

She was fortunate that not every man who wanted to spend time with her was looking for sex. She had her friend Jimmy, a local photographer whom she could count on when she got in trouble. And there was Shane Delray, a small black man who some people thought was a pimp; she knew him as a crack connection and a friend who would let her and some of the other girls crash at his apartment.

Prostitution was a nasty, dangerous business, nothing at all like the movie Pretty Woman, in which a millionaire who looks like Richard Gere falls in love with a hooker and takes her away from it all. Sure, there were guys who wanted to "rescue" prostitutes, but they were usually least, they were after they were through getting what they'd paid for.

Cordova didn't worry about AIDS. She'd always insisted on condoms, anyway, and she didn't inject her drug of choice, like the hookers who preferred heroin. There were faster ways to die than from disease.

She'd been sprayed with chemicals, had her nose broken, been beaten up and robbed. A gang member had pointed a shotgun in her face; another guy had threatened to kill her and "jack off over" her dead body. All over coke deals.

Although she'd never had any trouble with a trick, she didn't meet hundreds of men, like some of the girls. And she knew that prostitutes disappeared all the time or were found dead in alleys or stuffed into trash bins with the rest of the community's garbage. Sometimes you never heard if it was a drug dealer who'd killed them or some sick trick who figured nobody would mind if a prostitute died.

So far, Cordova had always managed to talk or fight her way out of the worst jams. She knew a day might come when she wouldn't be able to--but the need for crack outweighed everything else. Joanne and women just like her risked their lives every day, letting men use their bodies in ways that made her sick to think about, just for one more hit.

And the craziest part of all? Some john might turn ugly or some drug dealer would pull a knife, but if she survived the moment, a crack addict would head right back to the streets and risk it all again.

About the only thing that would interrupt the cycle was getting arrested for drugs or prostitution. And that would last only as long as it took to make bail or do the time.

This was Joanne Cordova's life in May 1997, when the guy in the blue van pulled over and asked if she knew where to find some coke.

Thinking she'd score as the middleman, Cordova got in the van and told Bob Davis where to go. The first stop was not a good one.

The dealer, a large black man, tried to short them. When Cordova complained, he said, "I'm going to drag you out of this van and beat your fuckin' head in."

Davis looked on as if the two were having a polite conversation. Well, Joanne thought, we know he's no gentleman.

She managed to calm the dealer down. And in the end, they located more crack for Davis to give his "wife," with some left for Cordova, who went on about her business. She never expected to see the guy in the blue van again.

As she was walking across Colfax the next day, though, someone started honking at her. She kept walking. She didn't want any cops who were around to see her approach the guy honking and arrest her for soliciting.

Cordova was feeling depressed, and all she wanted was to reach Delray's house, where she hoped she could sleep for a few hours. But the honker was persistent, and at last she looked. It was the man in the blue van. Bob Davis.

"I've been looking for you," he said. "I bought you some clothes."
Debbie Davis was apparently out of the picture. It didn't matter to Joanne. Some tricks were just like that--they wanted "pretend wives" for the day or for a few hours. Hell, once she'd married a Muslim guy, ceremony and all, just so he could have sex with her and still adhere to his religion. The "marriage" lasted three days, after which he paid her and they parted company.

Although she didn't believe a word he said, Cordova allowed herself to feel flattered by Davis. She needed an ego boost, and here this guy was saying he'd been looking all over for her...bringing her gifts. Just like Truman, she thought. She got in the van.

True to his word, Bob had a pile of women's clothes in the back. Most of them were too large for her, including a pretty pair of lacy maroon panties still on the hanger. She suspected Bob had originally gotten the clothes for Debbie, a heftier girl, but he assured her they could return them for something in her size.

They drove to a pawnshop, where Davis sold a stereo. With that money, he purchased beer and a bottle of schnapps and they drove to Sloan Lake.

As they talked, Cordova decided she kind of liked Bob Davis. For one thing, he hadn't asked her for sex. She figured it was coming, but at least it wasn't the first thing out of his mouth. For the moment, he seemed content to just chat--like they were some old couple.

She also was impressed with his apparent intelligence. He seemed to have moved around quite a bit and knew something of the world. His van was as tidy as an accountant's ledgers, everything stowed away in plastic containers that were strapped neatly in place. He had all sorts of camping gear and appeared ready for anything.

Davis told her he'd like to take her up in the mountains to his "favorite place in the whole world." It was some spot beyond Black Hawk, near an abandoned cabin. Maybe, he suggested, they'd get some things together and go up there the next day for a picnic.

"That'd be nice," Cordova murmured as she sipped a beer. She was feeling drowsy as the late afternoon sun poured in through the windows. "You're a nice guy, Bob Davis," she said, and meant it.

She woke in the dark to the sound of someone talking through a loudspeaker. The police were announcing that the park was closing and they would have to leave.

Davis waved at the cops and started the van. He had his hair combed over to one side and some nerdy-looking glasses on. "It's my Poindexter look. See," he said, pointing to the police cruiser as it drove off, "they think I'm just a normal guy."

As far as Cordova could see, Bob Davis was just a normal guy. A little lonely, maybe, a little anal about keeping his van tidy. Still, why wouldn't the police think he was just a normal guy?

They spent the night in the van, parked on a street in a quiet neighborhood. Davis had neatly laid out a sleeping bag for each of them. She was surprised when he made no attempt to have sex.

The next morning, Bob and Joanne went to a nearby cafe for breakfast, where they were served by a young blond waitress. She was just a girl, friendly and polite, but after she took their order, Davis leaned over and sneered, "She looks like a whore."

Who did he think he was sitting with, Joanne wondered, the Virgin Mary? She knew what she was, but he didn't need to be so rude.

The incident was quickly forgotten, however, as Davis took her shopping. He seemed to have a lot of money and urged her to pick out whatever she wanted. She chose several new pairs of 501 jeans, Reebok running shoes, underwear and two watches.

It was like Christmas. No one had spent that kind of money on her since Truman Leuthauser, and she hadn't talked with him for eight years. (He'd shown up for her sentencing in the American Express case, but she had been too ashamed to contact him after that.) The day got even better after Davis took her to buy crack.

Now Davis said he wanted to go on that picnic. It sounded like fun; Joanne hadn't been to the mountains for ages.

They were soon driving past the former mining town of Black Hawk. A few miles up the highway, Davis turned off onto a gravel road. A quarter mile or so up the road, he pulled into a turnoff in front of an old cabin.

Joanne got out and stretched as he opened the side door and carefully selected a few items, including a cooler containing several beers and a sleeping bag to sit on.

A little stream ran alongside the path they took past the shack, and a sign at the trailhead announced that Missouri Falls was up ahead. After a five-minute climb they reached a clearing, and Davis spread out the sleeping bag.

Joanne sat down, took a sip from the beer Davis handed her and listened as he talked again about how much he loved this place. The air was warm and the stream burbled pleasantly nearby.

The next thing she knew, she was waking up on the sleeping bag. She could tell by the position of the sun that she had been out for a while. Davis was gone. Frightened, she stood up.

"Bob?" she called out. There was no answer. "Bob!" she shouted.
Joanne hadn't paid much attention to her surroundings during the drive, and now she realized she had no idea where she was. Her fear rising, she walked quickly back down the path to the cabin. It was with a mixture of relief and anger that she saw the van.

She walked back up the path to the clearing. Partway there, she stopped short. Later, she would not know whether to describe it as a vision or a waking dream, but suddenly she saw herself lying face down in the stream...drowned.

Her heart was pounding when she walked back into the clearing. Davis was still nowhere to be seen, but she had the distinct impression that he was watching her. She knew that he wanted to hurt her.

Suddenly Davis walked into the clearing. "Where have you been?" she yelled, close to tears. "I was scared."

Instead of apologizing, Davis answered anger with anger. His face flushed. "Don't you ever ask me where I go," he shouted. "If we come up here and you want to take some time to yourself, I won't ask you a bunch of questions. The same for me."

Joanne was taken aback by his vehemence. She thought she'd better defuse the situation.

"Come on, sit down," she said, sitting down herself and patting the ground by the sleeping bag. "I'm sorry. I told you when we met that I'm an addict, and I'm just really, really hurting for something."

There, she thought, let him "rescue" me in my time of need. She wanted crack all right, more than ever after this. But she had to be careful not to push this guy's buttons.

Davis's angry countenance softened immediately. Now he wanted sex.
The demand caught Joanne off-guard. She'd known what the price was going to be for the clothes and cocaine. But a moment before he had been practically screaming at her, and here he was talking about wanting to do it "doggie-style."

Joanne shook her head. She was a prostitute, but a modest one. "Not here," she said.

When Davis protested, beginning to get mad again, she suggested, "How about in the van?"

The sex that followed was angry. He pulled Joanne's hair until she cried out and thrust himself as if to hurt her.

After he finished, though, he was suddenly good old Bob Davis again. He explained that he'd left her in the clearing so that he could look at an old mine shaft he'd spotted on a previous trip. He hadn't meant to alarm her.

They drove back to Denver and he took her out to dinner. They again spent the night in the van. The next day Davis took Joanne to Five Points to buy more crack.

After the purchase, Joanne got back in the van and smoked the drug. This time Davis wanted to be repaid right away.

"You got your rocks--now I want to get my rocks off," he said. He suggested they have sex right there in the parking lot across from the dealer's house.

"Not here," she said. "Let's find some place more private."
Davis threw the van into gear. As he drove, he kept pointing to different spots and asking, "How about here? How about here?"

They were all too public for Joanne, but Davis was getting angrier by the minute. Feeling desperate, she remembered the previous day. "The mountains," she said. "How about we go back to your favorite place?"

Davis nodded, and they were soon on the interstate headed west. They got past Black Hawk, but they never made it to the turnoff. Instead, Davis spotted an empty construction site, veered into it and stopped the van. He ordered Joanne into the back. Again the sex was angry, punishing.

When Davis finished, he got back in the driver's seat and headed toward Denver. They made it almost to the Evergreen Parkway exit off of I-70 when they ran out of gas.

Now Joanne was really in trouble. It was her fault they had run out of gas, Davis said. If she'd just agreed to have sex in the parking lot, they wouldn't be in this fix. He grabbed a gas can and jumped out for a walk to the nearest filling station.

"While I'm gone, fix us some sandwiches," he ordered. He handed her a knife and a can of tuna fish.

Joanne did as ordered, although it wasn't easy. The knife he'd given her had a long, thin blade--the sort used to filet fish. It was so narrow, she could hardly get any mayonnaise to stay on.

She would remember that knife when she'd forgotten other things about that day.

Back in Denver, Davis took Joanne shopping. He was happy and talkative, telling her about growing up in Iowa, where his dear mother still lived in a big white mansion.

He also told her he'd been making a living as a petty thief for the past eight years, mostly as a "booster," or shoplifter. He was proud of his cleverness and bragged about the twenty different identification cards he carried and how he could change his looks like a chameleon to "throw off" the cops.

They spent the night in his van. The next morning, Monday, May 12, Joanne told Davis she needed to get dropped off for an "appointment." Really, she just needed some time away from him, but she agreed to meet up with him later.

It was the crack talking. As long as he supplied the drugs, she could put up with his temper and his crude sex.

She left her new clothes in the van. "See you in a couple of hours," she said.

But when Joanne returned at the appointed time, he wasn't there. An hour and a half later, he still hadn't shown up. Cursing herself for having left her stuff in the van, Cordova got a ride back to Colfax Avenue.

A few hours later, former police officer Joanne Cordova was arrested for soliciting an undercover cop. She complained that he'd entrapped her.

It was the luckiest break of her life.

Bob Davis--whose real name was Robert Riggan Jr.--didn't waste much time hooking up with another Capitol Hill prostitute. This one was named Charlene Snow.

As he had with Joanne, he took the woman to buy crack. But Snow, who told him to call her "Brandy," wasn't as modest as Joanne. She paid for her drugs with sex on demand.

As he had with Joanne, Davis invited Brandy to go to the mountains, to a cabin that was his favorite place. He was prepared for any eventuality, he assured her, pointing to the camping equipment in the back of the van. Davis noticed when Brandy's eyes rested on a hatchet with a sharp side and a flat, hammerlike side. He laughed and told her he was ready for anything.

When Davis arrived at Shane Delray's house the next day to pick up Brandy, she'd just gotten high and didn't need the crack. So she suggested to another hooker that she might want to meet the "guy in the blue van."

Sure, Anita Paley said. She was new to prostitution and rarely had enough money to buy more than the smallest quantity of crack.

A little over five foot tall, just 105 pounds, Anita looked even younger than her 22 years. But she'd already had a hard life. Her father had died when she was young, and her mother soon remarried. Anita was a sweet and loving child, her mother would later say. But she was pregnant and out of the house by sixteen.

She married the father of her child, a little girl born on Halloween, 1991. But money was tight, the marriage was unhappy, and Anita's husband blamed her. Her mother often thought Anita was depressed.

Somehow she found the time and resources to go back to school and earn her high-school equivalency degree; she followed that with two years of college to receive a certified nurse's license. Anita hoped to someday become a registered nurse, and she kept taking courses with an eye toward fulfilling that goal. In the meantime, she worked at a nursing home--a job she loved.

Anita had a second child in 1993 but soon separated from her husband. She moved back in with her parents.

In 1995, Anita found a boyfriend. He convinced her to leave the children--one with her former husband and one with her former mother-in-law back East--while she traveled around the country with him. He also introduced her to crack cocaine.

By the time the couple arrived in Denver in June 1996, Anita was an addict. Her boyfriend left her to fend for herself, which she did initially by working in strip bars. But her wages and tips weren't enough to cover her habit, and by the spring of 1997 she had turned to prostitution.

That April she met Shane Delray, whose current girlfriend was in jail, so she filled the void until "Gigi" got out. By that time, Anita wanted Delray to herself, but Gigi wasn't giving him up. It was all he could do to keep them apart.

Anita grew more depressed. One day Delray found her in the bathroom cutting her wrists. She wasn't doing a very good job of it. After he took her to the emergency room to get bandaged, he told the other girls that he thought Anita had done it more for attention than anything else.

But she was obviously a troubled young woman. She told Delray and the other hookers she met that she was schizophrenic. Somewhere she found a book on the subject. She was reading it in May, when Brandy introduced her to Bob Davis.

Bob seemed nice enough. He bought her crack right away, and that was a good thing. He also invited her to pick from a pile of new clothes he had in the back of his van. Most were too big for her tiny frame, but she did keep a pair of lacy maroon underwear. Then he took her shopping where, he said, they could exchange the other clothes for something that fit.

He told her he'd appreciate it if she'd pretend to be his wife. She went along with the idea--why not, she was high and happy--and made sure people in the store knew she was Mrs. Bob Davis. She wanted to do a little pretending herself. "I like to be called 'Buffy,'" she said. So from then on, that's what Davis called her.

Davis said he wanted to show her his favorite place in the whole world. Anita thought a trip to the mountains sounded like fun.

But when Anita returned to Delray's house in the early hours of May 15, 1997, she was distraught. Delray asked what was wrong. "The guy in the blue van raped me," she said, and burst into tears.

She'd expected he'd request sex. But Davis hadn't asked; he'd just used her, violently, as though her feelings didn't matter a bit.

Still, Davis had promised to buy her more crack, she told Delray, so she planned to meet him again later.

Anita spent the rest of the morning reading the Bible on the couch, then went out for a walk. While she was gone, Joanne Cordova showed up.

"Hey, Jo-Jo, I need to talk to you," Delray said. He guided her to a room where he could speak to her in private. "I need to ask you something, and I want you to be honest with me."

"I've always been honest with you, Shane," Joanne replied. "What's up?"
"The guy in the blue van--what's he like?" Delray asked. Whatever his other shortcomings, he liked Anita, and he didn't want her dealing with some sick guy who got off by hurting hookers.

Joanne shrugged. She really didn't know what to think of Bob Davis--a nice guy one moment, bizarre and scary the next. All she knew is that she wished she hadn't left her new clothes in his van. "Why?" she asked.

"Anita says he raped her."
Joanne's first inclination was to wonder if Anita was just trying to get more attention from Delray. But as she remembered the not-so-nice side of Davis, she thought maybe there was something to it.

Joanne, too, liked Anita and considered her a friend. Anita tried to act tough, like she'd been on the streets her whole life--she'd told everyone that her parents threw her out of the house when she got pregnant--but Joanne thought othewise. To her, Anita seemed frail and naive...innocent in a world where there was no such thing.

Anita didn't own much more than the clothes she wore. About the only things she had left of her former life were photographs of her daughters.

Joanne had been surprised when she learned about Anita's children. She told her about her own two kids and her guilt about having failed as a mother. But Anita didn't want to talk about her children. That only made her cry.

Joanne was still at the house when Anita returned. She had to get ready for her date with the guy in the blue van.

Joanne had been looking for Davis since she'd gotten out of jail. She wanted her clothes, and she asked Anita to get them.

Anita said she would. When the van pulled up, she headed out the door, the rape apparently forgotten. Joanne thought she looked happy.

He must be buying her a lot of crack, Joanne thought, not without envy. She called after the younger woman, "Get my bag, Anita, and I'll owe you forever."

The little blonde turned and smiled. "Okay," she shouted back. "I promise." Then she was gone.

To be concluded next week.

Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Westword has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.