Girls Gone Wild

When Bobbi Jo Smith and Jennifer Jones left Mineral Wells, they were young and in love. They had a full tank of gas, a case of beer,and the open road ahead. There was only one problem: They’d left their roommate—a 49-year-old amateur pornographer— lying in bed with three bullets in his head.

AFTER THREE DAYS OF TRAVELING, Jennifer Jones was exhausted as she drove across the state line from Arizona into California. The baby-faced eighteen-year-old’s legs and arms were sunburned from the beams that shone down hard through the windshield, warming the cloth seats and intensifying the musty smell of cigarette smoke and marijuana. She was driving a 1989 blue-and-tan GMC pickup with a busted radiator that she and her new girlfriend, Bobbi Jo Smith, had stolen back in Texas.

“We can’t run forever,” Jennifer told Bobbi Jo; she’d seen too many episodes of America’s Most Wanted  to think otherwise. Still, she felt glamorous being on the run, and she was a tiny bit disappointed that there wasn’t a blockade of state troopers ready to gun them down as they drove past the “Welcome to California” sign. The two had been combing the headlines of newspapers at gas stations all along Interstate 10, but not once had they seen any mention of Bob Dow, their former housemate, whom they had left back in Mineral Wells in his bed, his face covered with a pillow and pierced with three bullets.

If they were captured alive, they’d have a heck of a story to tell. Even if they were having a hard time remembering which version of the tale was true: Had Bobbi Jo pulled the trigger? Had Jennifer killed him? Or was it that Jennifer shot him in the arm and then Bobbi Jo finished him off? Their stories had begun to morph even before they’d left town. (The account that appears in this article is drawn from interviews with Jennifer Jones, her family and friends, police records, witness statements, and trial transcripts. Bobbi Jo Smith, whose trial is pending, was not interviewed on the advice of her attorney.)

On May 5, 2004, Bobbi Jo Smith, a nineteen-year-old with short-cropped bleach-blond hair and a petite boy’s frame, had sauntered into Jennifer’s father’s apartment. “We killed Bob,” she announced as Jennifer trailed in behind her.

At the apartment that day were Jennifer’s half sister Audrey; Audrey’s girlfriend, Krystal; and Jennifer’s mom, Kathy Jones, who had recently been paroled from prison on a robbery charge. “Is it true?” one of them asked, giggling nervously.

Jennifer’s mother thought the two kids were just joking around. Then she saw her trembling daughter nodding yes.

“Bob was raping Jennifer,” Bobbi Jo explained. “So she shot him.”

“If that’s true,” said Kathy, “you need to call the cops and tell them what happened.” Everyone glanced at one another, waiting for someone to call Bobbi Jo’s bluff, but she wasn’t kidding. And she had no intention of going to the police. “Come on,” she said. “We need to get out of here fast.” And before anyone could stop to think about it, all five of them jumped into Bob Dow’s truck. Bobbi Jo took the wheel as they sped out of town, telling the others, “I did this. I’ll drive.”

A couple days later and halfway across Arizona, the group started to splinter, and Jennifer and Bobbi Jo decided to head out on their own. Alone now, the two continued on into California. Jennifer watched Bobbi Jo nod off in the passenger’s seat as the sun set. She imagined their life together on the run. Maybe she could get a job as a waitress up in Washington State, a heaven she had seen on the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.

That night they pulled up behind an abandoned pool hall in the tiny town of Blythe, about ten minutes past the state line. They set a blanket and pillow down on the ground so they could look up at the stars while they listened to the truck’s radio. When George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart” came on, Bobbi Jo and Jennifer wrapped their arms around each other and slow-danced.

As soon as the temperature dropped, they climbed back in the truck and drifted off to sleep. They were living the outlaw dream: Thelma and Louise, Bonnie and Clyde. Jennifer had always believed that she was a distant relative of Clyde Barrow’s, and she knew the tragic ending to that story. But that didn’t matter. She was content for the first time in her life. Right up to the moment she heard a police radio outside the truck door.

JENNIFER JONES HAD BEEN LOOKING for logic and patterns in her surroundings in a diary she’d started at age fifteen, three years before she was accused of shooting Bob Dow in the head with a .22.

12-28-00 Dear Journal, These dreams are coming to me for a reason, showing me some kind of sign. Which path to take, I guess.

She’d had a lousy upbringing, even by the standards of Mineral Wells, a meth-scourged town whose population had declined and whose economy had crashed when Fort Wolters was closed, in 1975. The rough life was certainly familiar to Jennifer’s mother, whose childhood was marked by abuse. As a teenager, Kathy had rebelled against authority by sneaking out of the house and stirring up trouble. When she was fifteen, she’d stolen a horse and sold it for a couple hundred dollars. She’d tried to steal her grandma’s car when the old woman was taking a bath. Kathy told her mother that if she wasn’t going to live the right way, she was going to live the wrong way.

Kathy was 22 years old when she married Jennifer’s father, Jerry Jones, in 1985. By then she had already given birth to two girls, Audrey and Emily. A year later she was pregnant with Jennifer. A year and a half after that, she and Jerry had another girl, Stephanie. Four girls in six years. Kathy began partying, getting into drugs. She turned to theft and prostitution to keep up with her crack cocaine habit. When Jennifer was three years old, Kathy moved out of the house. Jennifer would hear stories about how her mom was cleaning other people’s homes and working as a prostitute

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