Murder victim Jenny Crompton
Jenny. An ordinary kid, from an ordinary family. Yet an extraordinary event changed our lives completely, and forever.
Mark. He appeared on our doorstep on evening in October 1985. With a charming smile he asked, “Is Jenny home””. My first reaction was confusion. Who is this boy? Jenny had not mentioned that anyone, particularly a boy, was coming over. Then she came bounding down the steps, smiling, thrilled to see him. When I saw how excited Jenny was, I didn’t have to heart to say no, to say that I really thought she was too young to have boys calling at the house.
That first evening I guided them into the living room, where we all sat awkwardly, looking at each other. Jenny was far too shy to make casual conversation, and she was obviously far too taken with him. So my husband, Greg, and I kept the conversation going.
So Mark Smith came into our lives. Although Mark was very polite and answered all my questions about home and school, he was skillful at keeping the real Mark hidden. Later I would review the conversation and realize that I knew nothing about him. I would also learn that he lied about the four year difference in their ages.
Her interest in Mark was a bit of a mystery to me. Beyond his obvious good looks, I didn’t see what the attraction could possibly be. In contrast to Jenny’s love of learning, he was a poor student, uninterested in building for his future. My feeling was that he was just drifting through life. As I observed the differences between them, I knew it was just a matter of time before Jenny would tire of him.
Despite their age difference and lack of common interests, however, Jenny and Mark’s relationship appeared to thrive. Apparently they were the talk of the school, the “perfect couple”, so much “in love.”
He called her daily, sometimes several times a day. They shared a locker at school and walked each other to class. They ate lunch together. He came over to our house about three nights a week. For a child of fourteen, it was pretty overwhelming. My rules were strict, but Jenny did not seem to mind. Perhaps she knew she couldn’t have handled more freedom.
My instincts were right – after six months Jenny wanted to break up, but not because their interests were so different. What I didn’t know was that Mark was very controlling and Jenny was tired of that; she wanted her freedom back. In fact, when she told me was breaking up she actually said “I just want to be free, Mom”.
Mark ignored Jenny’s attempts to break up. He still shared the locker, still walked her to class, still called. When she insisted that he stop, he became more insistent, more possessive. The phone calls increased, the unannounced visits to the house more frequent. He would not move out of her locker. Because he made it so difficult, Jenny simply gave up and agreed to go back. When I questioned her, she said that she really cared for him and wasn’t sure she wanted to end it. This routine continued for several months into the summer, until Jenny made the final break.
As Jenny increased her attempts to pull away, Mark intensified his actions to keep her locked in. He seemed to always know her plans. At first she would unwittingly tell him where she was going. Then, as she attempted to keep this information from him, he would turn to her girlfriends and find out about her activities from them. Her trips to the mall were marred by Mark’s sudden appearance. Her weekly dance lessons were punctuated by his arrival, cunningly timed just a few minutes before I arrived to pick her up.
By August 1986 Jenny had returned to school, to the 10th grade. Mark had graduated so he was not in school but he didn’t go away: he entered the school grounds and broke into her locker, going through her things and reading the notes her friends had written. She began to suspect he was entering our home when were gone; she told her friends that things in her room were not as she had left them. He left her threatening notes that hinted she “would not make it to homecoming” and desperate lines that said “I wish you would die”. She told her friends about these things and even laughed the day of the homecoming parade, saying “Well, I’m still in one piece.” She never told me.
Friday, September 26, 1986, I woke Jenny to get her into the shower before I left for work. I hugged her and kissed her before leaving, as I always did. We spoke briefly about the homecoming game that evening and she asked if I could give her friends a ride to the game. Then I rushed out the door. My day was uneventful. I was bored and had many things to do at home. I thought about asking my boss if I could leave work early, but I resisted the urge. I left work at my usual time and drove home thinking about the busy night ahead.
When I drove onto my street, the first thing I saw were groups of neighbors standing in their yards, looking toward my house. Then I saw the ambulance, the police cars, and the fire truck. I saw police officers running out of my house. I started shaking so violently that I could barely park my car. I ran out, shouting, “what is happening here?” I was stopped from entering my home and told that my daughter had been stabbed, but that “the paramedics are working on her.” I watched as they carried her out on a stretcher and took her away in an ambulance. I hung onto a white and shaken Greg as he described walking into the house and finding Jenny “lying in a pool of blood”. I sat in the hospital emergency room and heard them tell me that my daughter was deceased. Dead? Not Jenny. I just talked to her this morning. She is only fifteen. How can she be dead?
The days became a blur. Mark was arrested. At his trial I learned the truth of my daughter’s last months. I learned of the pressure he had put on her and his threats. I learned of the deception he forced her to participate in. I heard fourteen-year-old children describe their attempts to handle a situation adults could not handle. I saw the fear and guilt of her friends as they grappled with the thought they could have saved her if only they had told someone what was going on. I learned that Mark had emotionally and verbally abused Jenny. I heard the kids say that it happens all the time at school, partners abusing and hitting each other, so they didn’t think anything of it. I listened to a recreation of the last moments of her life: how she got off the school bus and entered our home alone to find Mark waiting for her, and how he stabbed her over sixty times with a butcher knife, leaving her on the floor to be found by Greg. I heard the account of Mark’s evening: how he had attended the homecoming football game with a date and how he laughed and ate and appeared very unconcerned that Jenny was dead. I heard the jury verdict: guilty of first degree murder and a life sentence without parole.
Something rose up in me. What is going on with our teens? I read of the Jennifer Levin murder in New York City. I scoured the library, looking for books on the subject. Why hadn’t other mothers spoken out, tried to warn me or warn Jenny of the danger? My involvement began slowly. I read what I could find on the subject and talked to a lot of teens. I started giving presentations to small groups of teens – at churches and in individual classrooms. I am still giving presentations, now to audiences as large as 2500, and to audiences all over the country. But Jenny’s story remains relevant because the problem still exists. With today’s technology teens are able to track their partner every hour of the day. Controlling relationships are in the majority and most teens accept them as normal.
Twenty five years. Jenny has been gone for so long. She would be 40 years old. But her voice was not silenced by Mark; her story has been heard by thousands of teens and possibly hundreds of lives have been saved as a result. She’s smiling in heaven.