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.

September 2005By Comments

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 for money.

January 22, 2001 Dear Journal, I spent the night with [Lawrence], but we didn’t do anything because…I didn’t want to. I woke up around 9…then Lawrence took me home. My sister said that I was turning out to be like my mom. I go somewhere and don’t tell no one. She is in prison. I’m not going to turn out like her.

Jerry struggled to persuade Kathy to come back. “The kids need you,” he’d say. But Kathy was in and out of jail on prostitution and drug charges. The family’s Sunday outings consisted of visits to see her. Jerry had quit his job at the local oil company, but he made his way by picking up odd jobs like fixing fences and clearing rocks out of fields. For food, he often shot deer and gathered vegetables from his mother’s garden so he’d have enough cash left over to pay the electricity bills. He was trying to create some stability. But by the time Jennifer was a teenager, the phrase “You’re going to end up just like your mother” was already following her around. Aunts and uncles often made the comparison. Physically, it was certainly true. Like Kathy, Jennifer was a pretty girl who threw herself into her laughs; she was big-boned and broad across the chest. Her behavior began to mimic Kathy’s as well.

February 5, 2001 Dear Journal, I had a blast last night. I tried weed for the first time. I got high. It felt okay. I couldn’t stand, then I couldn’t hold my eyelids up.…I’m disappointed in myself, but as long as I feel good, I don’t care. My dad isn’t even talking to me for staying out. . . . He said something. “I’m about to not care if you come back anymore.”

Jennifer began to take pride in the comparison to her mother. The way she saw it, Kathy was tough and a survivor. People spoke of the time she’d barely dodged a bullet—literally—and the time she’d almost died in a bar fight. Jennifer hoped people would talk about her that way someday. And so she started to explore what she called the two paths. On days when she’d be at her Aunt Anita’s house, making sweets with Ritz crackers and marshmallows and peanut butter, she was as delightful as any niece. But whenever someone would test her delinquent side, she couldn’t help herself. Once, when her sister Stephanie’s friends dared Jennifer to burn herself with a cigarette lighter, she pressed the hot metal tip onto her arm and left it there until her skin melted like a piece of caramel.

February 18, 2001 Dear Journal, Hey, what’s up! So much has happened.…Went to Bluffdale to make a promise to stay sexually pure till you’re married. I already broke it. I’m not proud about it…

March 15, 2001 Dear Journal, My wish came true. I walked outside and got to the drag and Jesse and me went parking…He is so sweet and talkative. He can sing, play the piano…He is only 18, but he would be too smart and sexy for me. He is an honor student from Strawn and now goes to Texas Tech, I think.…He is so cautious about sex.…I’m going on about him like he is my dream man. We talk about everything except drugs and drinking. I think I know that he doesn’t do anything like that. He said that he would rather have a boy first, then a girl. He said that girls are hard to raise. And he is right.

Ever since Jennifer was ten years old, her well-heeled aunt and uncle in Granbury, Melanie and Robert Brownrigg, had taken an interest in her and Stephanie, presenting the girls with Christmas gifts and bicycles. But as soon as the Brownriggs found out that Jennifer had been having sex with boys and taking drugs, they stepped up their involvement. They paid for the girls’ braces and shuttled them back and forth to their appointments in Arlington. Jennifer tried to be good. She clung to Melanie, even tried calling her “Mom.” She passed her classes and quit smoking and drinking. She tried to attend school regularly. When the girls got good grades, they were rewarded with vacation trips and cruises to the Caribbean.

Shortly before her sixteenth birthday, however, Jennifer got busted for breaking into a convenience store to steal cigarettes. Two months later she was caught cashing a fraudulent check. The drug use continued, and by the next summer, the offenses had become more serious. Robert recalls watching his niece assist a magician on a cruise ship around that time: “I remember thinking, ‘That’s a beautiful woman up there. She looks so grown-up!’ And two days later she’s out stealing a car!”

January 4, 2003 12:55 a.m. Journal, I am going to see momma today. I have to wake up in 4 1⁄2 hours.…I have been awake for 36 hours. I feel ditzy!…I’m going to write Audrey. Then paint my nails RED.

January 5, 2003 1:17 a.m. Journal…I am such a bad person and do the stupidest things. Well, I am going to try and get some sleep…Bye. Please pray for me tonight!

In October 2003 Jerry and his girls were evicted from their apartment for being late with the rent. Thinking that a fresh start might keep Jennifer and Stephanie out of trouble, the Brownriggs invited them to come live with them. Melanie and Robert were building their dream home, and the blueprints for the mammoth house included plans for high-ceilinged bedrooms for the two girls. They even bought a Honda Civic for Jennifer to drive. But just a few months into the arrangement, Melanie discovered drug paraphernalia under Jennifer’s bed. That night she was shown the door.

Jennifer moved back in with her dad, who was then living in a motel in Mineral Wells. Six months later they moved into a late-sixties-era two-story apartment complex near the edge of town. She quit school. She got a job with a fast-food restaurant but quit that too, after a month. She was eighteen years old and bored out of her mind. She wrote her last entry in her diary at three o’clock in the morning on March 24, 2004.

Dear Journal, Hey, long time no hear. You have been too busy for me or what? Well…I have f—ed up again, like always. I had everything going good, really good for me, and I started on that shit again. This is where I always f—up.…I am going to make everything sweet and simple for you. I…moved in with Mel and Rob.…I got a car, cell, everything my heart desired. I had a boyfriend named Billy. Life was great. Well, now I’m in Mineral Wells with my dad and Audrey in the Spanish Trace Apartments. Billy broke up with me, and now I am not in school and haven’t been since Feb. 12th. I am going to Fort Worth in the morning and maybe Audrey will be back without her dyke girlfriend. I’ll write you later, Buh-bye, Jennifer Jones.

THE NEXT DAY, Jennifer was standing at her dad’s apartment door, on the back side of the run-down complex, where the asphalt had buckled and cracked. She was dressed in her pajamas, smoking a cigarette and looking at the field behind the parking lot when Audrey drove up with her girlfriend, Bobbi Jo Smith, in the front seat.

Jennifer had heard about this girl. Bobbi Jo was a notorious charmer, a party girl into every kind of trouble. Maybe because she was the only girl in a family full of brothers, many people mistook her for a young man, though she was a mother, having dropped out of school in the tenth grade to give birth to a son. But she wasn’t much the nurturing type. She’d recently moved out of the house where her grandparents had raised her and left her two-year-old son with relatives. She lived by her wits. On the day Jennifer met her, Bobbi Jo was living with a 49-year-old man named Bob Dow.

Audrey walked into the apartment while Bobbi Jo stayed in the car, her tattooed arm hanging out the window as she eyed Jennifer.

“You ever kiss a girl?” Bobbi Jo asked.

“No,” Jennifer said.

“You want to?”

Jennifer smiled. “No.”

“I could change your mind,” Bobbi Jo said with a laugh as Audrey walked outside and hopped back in the car.

She was persistent. The next day Bobbi Jo told Audrey she needed to go to the grocery store, but instead she called Jennifer and asked if she’d meet her at the library.

Jennifer was intrigued. She knew she had always liked boys; she’d run through one after another since she was fourteen. But none of them had ever stuck around very long. That day, under a tree in the park beside the library, Bobbi Jo kissed her. And all of a sudden Jennifer didn’t care that Bobbi Jo was a lesbian or even that kissing her meant she was one too. In that instant, she’d decided she was in love. “Come on with me,” Bobbi Jo told her, and like a pied piper, she led Jennifer to Bob’s house.

A tall, clean-shaven guy with hazel eyes and short, graying hair, Bob had inherited the house after his younger brother died in the fall of 2003 and left him caretaker to his mother. He didn’t consider this responsibility too much of an inconvenience, though his mother was almost completely incapacitated. Bob received her Social Security checks in exchange for bathing her and feeding her the occasional hamburger from McDonald’s. When he had guests, he simply locked the door to her room while she slept.

He and Bobbi Jo had an informal agreement. Bob supplied Bobbi Jo with drugs, a roof over her head, a foam mattress in the living room, and a part-time job at his apartment-repair service. In return, Bobbi Jo went out and solicited young women, telling them she knew a great place to party. New girls were the key to Bob’s happiness. “You’re my chick magnet,” he liked to say.

That afternoon, Bobbi Jo and Jennifer arrived on Bob’s doorstep. The house still showed his mother’s touch, and the decor hadn’t changed in years. The windows were mostly obscured by curtains from the fifties, and old green paint on the walls deadened the light in the room. Bobbi Jo and Jennifer inhaled the pot-scented air as they walked past the stacks of boxes containing Bob’s brother’s collections of Hot Wheels cars, Beanie Babies, paper plates, and Franklin Mint collectibles.

“Wow, she’s pretty!” Bob said as Jennifer walked in. “She could be a movie star!” He wasn’t necessarily referring to Hollywood. In his spare time, Bob made amateur pornographic videos with the girls Bobbi Jo brought home to him, some of whom the authorities now believe were as young as fifteen.

That night, Bob pulled Bobbi Jo aside. “Ask her if she’ll sleep with me,” he told her. When the question was relayed, Jennifer was disgusted. “No way!” she told Bobbi Jo. “He’s too gross.”

And for a while, Bob was content to bide his time.

FROM THE DAY OF THEIR FIRST KISS, Jennifer and Bobbi Jo were inseparable, leaving Audrey furious for a time. Jennifer immediately moved her clothes out of her father’s apartment and into Bob’s living room. Being with Bobbi Jo made her feel as if she had finally found solid footing, a partner to spend her life with. Bobbi Jo, meanwhile, was mesmerized by the attention from this girl who would do almost anything she asked. If Bobbi Jo needed to run some errand, Jennifer went with her. If Bobbi Jo needed to help Bob with his repair service, Jennifer lent a hand. And if Bobbi Jo wanted to do some drugs, Jennifer was ready to partake. 

Drugs became their whole existence. They’d get drunk and high for 48 hours straight. One week of partying led to two weeks, then three weeks. There was Xanax, methamphetamines, marijuana, shots of vodka. They got little sleep and hardly ever ate. And they were never apart. They’d be up all night, coming down after days of partying and constantly telling each other how in love they were. Before long, they were also strung out and paranoid.

Like the night of Bobbi Jo’s nineteenth birthday. They started the partying early in the afternoon at Bobbi Jo’s grandmother’s house with another friend, Darcie (not her real name), smoking meth and taking pills. As Jennifer watched cartoons and Bobbi Jo took a shower, Jennifer began to feel that she could read Darcie’s mind. “I want you to leave Bobbi Jo alone and never come back,” Jennifer heard.

Bobbi Jo thought she heard the voice as well and stormed out of the bathroom. “What the hell are you talking about?” she demanded.

Darcie denied saying anything, but Bobbi Jo wasn’t having any of it. “I heard the whole thing!” In a rage now, she hunted around the house for a notebook Darcie had been writing poems in, sure that she’d discover some hint of magic spells. When she found it, she saw that the pages had all been ripped out. Panicked, Bobbi Jo scoured the house and found that the missing pages had been torn into tiny pieces and stuffed in the kitchen drawers and under the cushions of the couch. Now she was sure that Darcie had put a hex on them. “You’re not coming between me and my girlfriend,” she screamed. “Get out of here!” Darcie took off.

Bobbi Jo ran out and fetched her two-year-old son from a babysitter. She brought him back to the house, where the two of them jumped into bed with Jennifer. Bobbi Jo held Jennifer down. “Don’t move,” she said. “Darcie’s under the bed.” They tried to relax and watch Ren and Stimpy on TV, but they couldn’t concentrate. They sat still on the bed for hours imagining that the doors in the house were opening and closing. They even thought they heard Bobbi Jo’s son’s voice instructing them in baby talk.

“We’ve got to burn the whole place down,” Bobbi Jo said.

“You can’t do that,” Jennifer said.

So they compromised. They gathered everything Darcie had touched—makeup, perfume, pot—and torched it.

BOB KNEW SOMETHING was going to happen to him. He couldn’t explain it, but after he saw how close the two girls were becoming, the feeling was strong enough that he stood on the porch one morning with his first ex-wife and told her calmly and deliberately that he wanted his funeral to be a party, just like the kind he’d have if he were alive. He didn’t want anyone to be sorry he was gone.

For weeks, Bob had partied with the girls and the stream of young women they’d brought by the house. He’d slept with most of them, even Jennifer’s own mother, who was visiting in town and ready to party. Jennifer had refused his constant advances and Bobbi Jo had made it clear that he wasn’t to go near her, but he couldn’t help himself. On the afternoon of May 4, just a few days after they’d had their bonfire, the two girls were hauled down to jail for swiping a $64 watch from J.C. Penney. Bob bailed them out. After he drove them to Bobbi Jo’s mother’s house, he waited with Jennifer in the truck when Bobbi Jo went inside. He was quiet for a minute, staring out the window. “Jennifer,” he finally said, “you know you’re costing me a lot of money.”

“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’m not going to steal again. We’ll get jobs and pay you back.”

“No, you don’t have to do that,” he said, continuing to look away. “I want you to sleep with me instead.”

Jennifer grabbed her purse and jumped out of the truck, then stomped into the house. A few seconds later, Bobbi Jo ran outside screaming. “This is the one girl you can’t have!” she yelled as Bob peeled out.

The next day, she and Jennifer were driving down the road going about 70 miles an hour in Bobbi Jo’s grandma’s truck. Their meth binge had been relentless. They hadn’t slept or eaten now in three days. All of a sudden, the whole world seemed determined to tear them apart. Bobbi Jo had stolen one of Bob’s guns and loaded it with bullets, and now Jennifer listened as Bobbi Jo talked about the need to get rid of him. “I’m never going to be my own person with him around,” Bobbi Jo said. “He’s trying to split us up.”

That idea was too much for Jennifer to handle. Bobbi Jo was the only certain thing she had left. Without her, she’d be right back at her father’s place, with no life. They parked the truck in the driveway, and while they walked up the path to the house, Bobbi Jo gave her the loaded .22. Jennifer tucked the gun in the back of her pants, covering it with her black T-shirt.

When they entered Bob’s living room, Jennifer saw Bob lying on the mattress on the floor. She could tell from the look on Bob’s face that he knew trouble was coming, but he didn’t seem ready to fight.

“I’m sorry for what I said before,” he said.

“It’s okay,” Jennifer said. “I’m ready to pay you back.”

“No, you don’t have to do it,” Bob said, pouting.

“No, I insist.”

Jennifer took him into the bedroom, and as they undressed, she placed the gun between the nightstand and a pillow that was lying next to the bed on the floor. Bobbi Jo waited in the living room, listening to the radio, and turned up the volume on an Eagles song.

Jennifer’s heart was racing, but she acted methodically. After Bob was relaxed, she reached down to the floor and picked up the gun. Then she hid it under the floral-printed covers as she tossed her leg over Bob’s waist. “I want to pretend you’re somebody else,” she told him. Bob paused for a few seconds, then, with a shrug, he pulled a black-and-white-striped pillow over his face.

ANYONE WHO SAW BOB DOW’S STOLEN truck speeding west on I-20 probably imagined that the five women inside were on the great American road trip. They certainly acted the part. They had all the windows rolled down, the stereo blasting country songs. And they were running quickly through a case of beer. “We’re just like Thelma and Louise,” Bobbi Jo said, driving somewhere west of Odessa.

Audrey, Krystal, Kathy, Bobbi Jo, and Jennifer decided early on that they didn’t need any maps. They had destiny. Maybe they’d end up in Mexico! Or Canada! Or, if Jennifer got her way, Washington State! Wherever they went, it would be slowly: Every hundred miles or so they had to pull over to cool the truck’s fickle radiator. Curious state troopers would slow down to survey the truck full of women parked in the emergency lane, but the girls just smiled and waved them ahead, signaling that they had the situation under control. They hobbled along this way for two days, eventually merging with I-10 out in West Texas, then leaving the state behind and crossing into New Mexico. All the while, they took detours whenever the spirit moved them. On one afternoon, after a hot day of driving, someone in the group spotted a decorative pond in front of a large subdivision. They pulled over, stripped down to their skivvies, and took a dip.

Just being in the truck meant that Jennifer’s mother was violating her parole and ensuring herself several months of hard time. But perhaps Kathy had rediscovered her nurturing side. Understanding the trouble her daughter was in, she started to take action to protect her. When the group ran out of money on day two, Kathy told Bobbi Jo to give her a Luger she’d taken from Bob. Then she pawned it at a shop in New Mexico, propelling the group into Arizona with another $70. When Krystal wanted out, she made sure to leave her behind at a phone booth in Chandler, where she could call her anxious mother. That day, on May 7, they hit Buckeye, Arizona, and they pulled over at a Days Inn where Kathy had arranged for Jerry to wire them some more cash. She even hatched a plan to trip up the prosecutors if they ever got caught. “You girls should get married,” she announced to Bobbi Jo and Jennifer. “That way you won’t have to testify against each other.”

The group set up a little ceremony next to the motel, under a giant cottonwood tree. They didn’t have much in the way of formal wear. Bobbi Jo wore jeans and a T-shirt. Jennifer wore the same and held some wildflowers in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Kathy, meanwhile, read 1 Corinthians 13 from the motel’s Gideon Bible and helped the girls exchange ad hoc vows as Audrey stood witness behind the couple. Bobbi Jo gave Jennifer a ring with a blue stone in it to seal the deal. Afterward, she led her bride through the parking lot back to the motel, where Jennifer told her, “I’ll always be with you, no matter what.”

That night, the couple was sitting in the motel pool waiting for Audrey and Kathy to return from a nearby truck stop, where they’d gone to pick up some food. It had been more than an hour since they’d left, and Bobbi Jo started to get nervous. Maybe one of their companions was planning to rat them out. She was especially anxious about Kathy. “Let’s go check on them,” Jennifer said, trying to convince her that her own mother would never turn them in. But as they drove the couple blocks to the truck stop, Jennifer spotted her mother and Audrey talking to some men in the parking lot and grew certain that the men were police officers. A few moments later, Bobbi Jo and Jennifer were back on the highway, alone. And the next night they were asleep in the truck, just inside California.

WHEN THE POLICE FINALLY CAUGHT up to them in the predawn hours, Bobbi Jo and Jennifer didn’t run or put up a fight. They weren’t surrounded by squad cars and brought down in a gunfight, as they had sometimes fantasized. Tips from family members led the police to Blythe, where officers placed the girls under arrest without incident and hauled them down to the Riverside, California, jail. There, they sat in a small cell together. “I’m going to spend the rest of my life in prison,” said Bobbi Jo, crouched on the floor with her back against the wall.

But Jennifer had another idea. No one really knew what had happened in Bob’s bedroom. She thought about Bobbi Jo’s son, who would be left without a mother. “I’m going to take the blame for you,” she said. “No matter what.”

“Would you really?” Bobbi Jo asked.

“Yes.”

“You know I’m going to be with you forever if you do that.”

That was all Jennifer needed to hear.

They spent the next year sitting in separate cells on opposite ends of the small jail in Palo Pinto, near Mineral Wells. Though they weren’t allowed to visit with each other, they soon found ways to communicate. During the day they yelled through the bars, holding conversations from one end of the wing to the other. At night, they discovered that they could correspond through the air ducts that linked their two cells. While the other inmates tried to sleep, the two would cozy up to the ducts and continue to hone their strategy. Bobbi Jo updated Jennifer on her son. Jennifer reassured her she’d take full responsibility.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Jennifer said at one point. “Bob was fixin’ to get busted. We’re not going to get caught. They’re going to thank us. I love you.”

And Bobbi Jo said, “I love you too. We’re going to get through this.”

“I’m your backbone and you’re mine,” Jennifer said.

To the Palo Pinto County jury that assembled for Jennifer’s sentencing hearing in April, it must have been hard to imagine that the sweet-looking girl before them would be pleading guilty to such a heinous crime. Jennifer wore a black dress decorated with red rosebuds, and she’d employed toilet paper from her cell to spin tight curls into her long brown hair. She teased the bailiff, a longtime family friend, rubbing his bald head and joking with him, and she hugged her dad, gently pulling a piece of fuzz from his ear as he tried to tell her everything was going to be all right. Had the jury seen Bobbi Jo Smith, maybe they would have had the same reaction as the authorities in California. According to Jennifer, they’d said, “We know you didn’t do it. That tattooed girl did it. Don’t you dare take the rap for her.”

By the time she took the stand, she had already changed her story once. In her first account, Jennifer had told the authorities that Bob was forcing himself on her when Bobbi Jo walked in and wrestled him to the bed, giving Jennifer just enough time to shoot Bob. In her second statement, given four days later, she’d said that Bobbi Jo had left in Bob’s truck to make a grocery run and returned to find that Jennifer had shot him. On the witness stand, she told yet another version. She was in the bedroom with Bob, she said, her voice shaking a little as the prosecutor drew the story out of her. She’d shot him twice but didn’t kill him. Then Bobbi Jo had walked in and told Jennifer that she needed to finish him off.

“Bobbi Jo didn’t have the guts to do it or what?” the prosecutor asked.

“No, sir. She did not.”

“She didn’t?”

Jennifer shook her head no.

“But you did?” he asked.

“Yes, I did,” she said.

“She was all talk, wasn’t she?”

“Yes, sir,” Jennifer replied. “She was.”

After just a few hours, the jury came back with a sentence of 48 years in prison.

A few days later, Jennifer was awake at night waiting for her transfer to the state penitentiary in Gatesville. Bobbi Jo, who was still awaiting trial, yelled to Jennifer through the air ducts one last time. “I’m getting out,” she said. “You can’t be there for me no more. You’re going to be locked up. I’ve found somebody new.”

THIS MAY, JENNIFER JONES sat at a table behind the security glass in the visitors’ room of the Gatesville Prison, one month into her 48-year sentence. She was dressed in white prisoner’s garb, and she had gained about thirty pounds since she’d been caught. There was no trace of the smile she’d shown at her sentencing.

She perked up when she described how she had gotten a lot of time to visit with her mother. Kathy’s role in the road trip had earned her another few months in Gatesville as well. There, the two of them spent hours together, catching up, sharing stories, and talking about old times. Kathy had even apologized for not having been a better role model. But she had also denied that she had turned the girls in.

Jennifer said she wasn’t sure what to believe anymore. Her own story had changed again. She had fired only two shots at Bob, she told me; Bobbi Jo unloaded the final two. She swore she wasn’t trying to get out of something but that Bobbi Jo had manipulated her. “She’s in my head all the time,” she told me. “She has this book of spells, and she’d burn candles all the time and make people fall in love with her. She knew how to make people do things for her.” But now she’d show Bobbi Jo: She said she was planning to testify against her and would set the record straight when Bobbi Jo finally went to trial. “For all I know, I might have shot the wall first. I dropped the gun on the floor and Bob was shaking and Bobbi Jo picked up the gun and unloaded it.”

She told me she remembered what she’d written in her journal five years ago, about how she had been looking for a sign, trying to figure out which path to take. Only now, Jennifer was beginning to think her path had chosen her. “I always heard that Clyde Barrow was a relative, so I guess it’s in my genes,” she said. “To tell the truth, I thought they’d understand and let me go.”

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