When Kristin was a Coronado High School student, she gave wild parties that lasted until three in the morning.
“Don’t’ give me jail—please,” Kristin Bauman begs under her breath. El Paso’s most infamous trust-fund kid, now 21 years old, is seated at the back of a paneled, windowless courtroom, awaiting her pretrial hearing on a charge of possessing a stolen vehicle. The crowd this morning is definitely not the country club set found on the city’s West Side, where Kristin has made such a name for herself: The police say that in the past few years she and her friends were responsible for one fourth of that area’s burglaries. Shackled together in the jury box are mostly young, mostly Mexican American male prisoners in orange jumpsuits, whose parents sit humbled and anxious on the courtroom’s unforgiving wooden benches. Attorneys, in better suits and with better things to do, bustle in and out bearing files and bad news.
Kristin is not in shackles. She sits attentively beside her father, Martin Bauman, a show of family support recommended by her lawyer. Neither is dressed in what would be considered proper courtroom attire. Kristin has chosen to drape her tiny frame with a flowing cotton skirt and a majorette-style jacket that bares her midriff when she shrugs her shoulders. Her eyelids are adorned with shadow and heavy liner; she wears large silver hoops on her ears and border-girl satin spike heels on her feet. White-haired Marty, slight and stooped from hip trouble, looks less like the multimillionaire billboard magnate of local lore than a retired golf pro—he wears sky-blue slacks the color of his eyes and a pastel madras shirt to match. Though his normal demeanor is not unlike that of an impish drill sergeant, he is understandably, particularly crusty today. “Mornin’, fellas!” he bellows to the prisoners in the jury box.
Kristin buries her head in her hands in mock mortification. “All these lawyers,” he continues loudly, his own not two rows away, “making their money off other people’s misery.” When Kristin coughs, a sign of both her poor health and her growing anxiety, Marty eyes her critically. Their relationship has been stormy in the past, but father and daughter are currently in a conciliatory phase, due to Kristin’s latest promise to stay off drugs and out of trouble. Even in the worst times—as her reputation as the scourge of the West Side grew, as her stays at drug-treatment centers increased, as her appearances at courtroom proceedings like this one escalated—Marty, though beleaguered, remained true. “I’m never going to give up. I’ll keep after her butt till she dies,” he says, a fact that Kristin has come to count on whenever she has found herself in the direst of straits. So far, he has spent more than $500,000 to get her clean. “That asthma’s gonna kill ya,” he says to his daughter. “Then I get all your money.”
Kristin is here today, in her words, to try “to cop a plea.” She says that her then-boyfriend, now serving time in the El Paso County jail for theft and assault, stole the car in question and just happened to “store” it at her house. “Every time I’ve been arrested, it’s never been my fault,” she says. “I’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The El Paso Police Department sees things differently. It has assembled an impressive file in her honor; officers know that she has been in and out of drug rehabilitation since she was a kid, that she plotted to rob her parents’ house when she was thirteen, that she sued her father to get her hands on her $1.2 million trust fund, and that she lives on $5,000 a month from that trust. In addition to Kristin’s legal difficulties of the moment, she has faced other criminal charges —writing hot checks, possessing marijuana, making obscene phone calls, filing a false police report, burglary. Parents who have seen their children fall into Kristin’s clutches shiver and compare her to Bonnie Parker; they say that she keeps a harem of younger boys in her power. Former friends, their loyalty spent, say that they are as happy to be off Kristin as they are to be off drugs. “I’m a born-again Christian,” says one twenty-year-old. “I pray every day I’m away from her.”
But for every person who finds her utterly appalling, there is another who finds her utterly seductive. By playing the role of the quintessential bad girl who does exactly as she pleases, she speaks to the rebel in all of us. And if she is every middle-class parent’s nightmare, the kid who had every advantage but went bad, then she is also every samaritan’s dream, the devil with goodness inside her, who only needs someone to help her discover it. Kristin certainly does not look like trouble. Small, round, and soft, she has eyes that are spaced impossibly far apart, eyes that dance with a light that has nothing to do with the drugs she says she no longer takes. Kristin looks, in fact, like a character she might like to play should she ever fulfill her ambition to become an actress: less like a post-teen temptress than like the perky elder sister on a sitcom, the one who always gets the biggest laughs at the expense of a bumbling dad or a strict, stuffy school principal. To be with Kristin is to be drawn irresistibly into her life, to want to save her, to punish her, to try to discover why someone so full of life is so intent on hurtling herself toward death. Now, after numerous arrests and court dismissals, Kristin has been told by her lawyer that the jig is up—she has to get a job and clean up her act. For the moment, she is scared. “Don’t give me jail. Please don’t give me jail,” she whispers again, as various defendants step up to the judge, listen to his words, and then shuffle away with plea-bargained sentences. “I’m the only girl in here,” Kristin stresses, scanning the courtroom. “Notice—I’m the only girl in here.”
Marty is not impressed. “I did everything you did when I was your age, except drugs,” he grumbles, bringing up his teenage forays to Juárez whorehouses. “Dad,” Kristin interrupts, exasperated, “how old are you?”
“Sixty-eight in December,” he says. “Then act it,” she demands, turning her attention back to the action at the bench. Marty ignores her. “They’ll put you up there in an orange uniform,” he says. “No,” she answers, shuddering. “The girls wear red.” Absently she adds, “I don’t look good in red—especially if it’s polyester.”
“This house,” Kristin says, pointing to an empty Taj Mahal -like structure adorned with gold trim, “drug bust.” It is a few weeks before her courtroom appearance, and Kristin is presenting a tour of her world. She is driving a borrowed Mustang convertible because her car, used by some friends during a burglary, is currently impounded by the police. We are passing through a part of the West Side called the Upper Valley, an old neighborhood on the banks of the Rio Grande northwest of downtown. The Taj Mahal notwithstanding, this is mostly a region of awesome beauty and grace: Near dusk, quarter horses graze placidly in backyard pastures, and the streets are quiet, shaded by the dappled rosy light that filters through regal cottonwoods.
But Kristin is interested in excess, not understatement. The part of the West Side where she grew up was not the reserved Upper Valley but the flashier suburbs carpeting the west side of the Franklin Mountains. Kristin belongs to a newer El Paso, a post-war, maquila-fueled society created by strivers who lacked the old-money inclination to accommodate culture and landscape. While many West Siders built enormous homes with green lawns more appropriate to North Dallas than the desert, so too did they attempt to invent a world only faintly related to its locale in a remote corner of Texas on the Mexican border. This crowd assumed that they could have the exoticism of the border without its dangers, the landscape of the West without its wildness. Their children, they believed, would have the same amenities that they would have
had in an upper-class suburb anywhere else—fine public high schools, theme restaurants, and the requisite shopping malls.
That some of these children might respond to this new world differently—that, faced with its blandness, they might be challenged by the region’s dangers and seduced by its wildness—was some-how beyond the imagination of most West Siders. Not given to history lessons, for instance, they would have ignored El Paso’s longtime propensity for mixing notoriety with propriety and coming up with prosperity, a tendency that has existed since the smuggling and shoot out days of 150 years ago and continues with the contemporary drug-stained tragedies of families like the Chagras. For a girl like Kristin, whose values have been shaped not by hardship or ambition but by money and movies, there might be no better place to grow up to be a modern-day outlaw than El Paso’s suburbs.
Today, in fact, Kristin looks the part. Even with the sun slipping from the sky, she has on oversize sunglasses, and though she suffers from bronchitis, asthma, and a chronic case of the sniffles due to her past drug use, she is smoking. She speeds toward the river, occasionally stripping the car’s gears. She pauses to point out a metal gate erected near a trail along the levee.
“This used to be such a kickass place,” she says with lusty regret, indicating a spot near the water where she and her friends used to drink and do drugs before the police closed it off. From there she slows to look for the house on Rosinante Street where, with three friends, she was arrested for a burglary last May. “It’s that one, I think,” she says, cruising by a sprawling home that backs up to the levee. Goosing the Mustang across the New Mexico border, she points out two desert roads, one of which leads to a spot called Surfers, the other to the Beach. Both locales are not much more than grassy sandhills, the chief benefits of which are that they afford perfect stargazing at night and that they are well out of the jurisdiction of the West Side prowl cars. Next, Kristin speeds by a cemetery where one of her best friends is buried, a young woman whose corpse was found floating in the Rio Grande. With peculiar admiration, Kristin explains that the murder was featured on “Unsolved Mysteries”.
That a friend’s death would be featured on a television program is somehow fitting, for Kristin leads a made-for-TV life. It is an ongoing series in which she is both star and victim, one in which every episode ends in a cliff-hanger—Will she survive hospitalization for asthma? Will her trial be postponed? Will her father cut her off?
With Kristin, the extraordinary is the mundane: “I’ve got three contracts on my life,” she says nonchalantly, speeding toward home. “That’s why I never live with a woman—only a man.” And then: “The police had me labeled as the cocaine queen of the West Side, but other people had better shit than I did. I just dropped my prices.” From her years in rehab she has learned to paint herself as a misunderstood rebel—she will tell you, for instance, “I’m not a bad girl, I just do bad things.” She likes to say that she has “a problem with authority,” a cliché she uses to shield herself from the reality that her escapades have cost her all contact with her family, save her father. (“See, he won’t talk to me,” Kristin says when one of her step-brothers skitters away from her on the street.)
To Kristin, it is normal to spend a morning discussing pending cases with her lawyer and an afternoon setting up surgery on her nasal passages, which have been stripped by cocaine. It is not unusual that one of her ex-boyfriends shot himself in the head while playing Russian roulette; it is not ironic that he was treated in a hospital named for her grandfather, the illustrious banker and good citizen Sam Young. The only thing that Kristin knows unequivocally is this: that the benefits of notoriety have been far more fruitful than the benefits of propriety, and it is on this tenuous principle that she has chosen to build her life.
How does a girl like Kristin get to be a girl like Kristin? The answer begins with Marty, who adopted Kristin when she was a baby. Even though there is no genetic link between the two, she is unmistakably her father’s daughter. Both smoke and chew gum at the same time, both tend to be bossy when they mean to be affectionate, both tend to value candor and willfulness over politeness and decorum. There would be no Kristin without Marty—not just be-cause of his fortune, but because of his nature. On one level, she is simply carrying on a family tradition.
Marty grew up in an old but poor El Paso family—one grandfather worked for the railroad, one grandmother was a domestic. He was raised in the proper starting place of many prominent El Pasoans: southeast of downtown, where his immigrant German relatives lived in small homes not far from the mansions along Magoffin Street. His father was a self-taught contractor who successfully wired his own connections at city hall. The elder Bauman bought an outdoor-sign business shortly after offering his condolences to the widow of the owner. The family prospered, gravitating northeast, to better neighborhoods near Fort Bliss.
The Baumans kept immaculate homes and immaculate books. Marty treasures one account book from the thirties that has a page devoted to his boyhood expenses. He can still recite from memory the cost of every building he has ever owned, as well as the selling price of every house.
Marty joined the family business, and as his wealth grew, so did his position in town. Everyone knew him: He had a reputation for ruthlessness in business —his billboards range from Midland-Odessa through New Mexico to Stafford, Arizona—a temper on the golf course, and a passion for the ladies. His progress would take him westward, across the mountain to a neighborhood called Kern Place, where, after his marriage of seventeen years ended in divorce, he married Betty Hoover, or as she is still described in El Paso, Sam Young’s daughter. In the late fifties there were two dominant banks in El Paso, and Young maintained his hold over the El Paso National for his lifetime. The marriage appeared to be a glamorous melding of souls—Betty had found the self-made man whose rise to prominence mirrored her father’s; he had found the woman who had the refinement he lacked.
Marty settled with his bride on the West Side, then not much more than one new country club development, isolated by the Franklin Mountains from the rest of the city like a treasured charge behind a dueña’s skirts. By the late sixties, he had everything a man could want except a family of his own. He had no children from his first marriage, and his new wife, who had five from her first marriage to another prominent El Pasoan, Robert Hoover, was not inclined to begin a new family. But Marty persisted. “He would not adopt Hoovers; he wanted Baumans” is Kristin’s take on the story. Marty met with two doctors in town and arranged for two private adoptions. The first was a dark Hispanic baby he named Erin, and the second, four months younger, he named Kristin. He likes to say now that when he first saw Kristin, he felt a wave of displeasure at the pale, moonfaced child sleeping in the hospital crib. But then the baby opened her eyes and, as she would do for years to come, fixed him with a luminous smile. “That’s my girl,” he thought. “That one is mine.” He had found the one person who could surpass hint in both stubborness and audacity. He had met his match.
“It’s payday!” Kristin says happily. It is just past the twenty-eighth of the month, and she is striding with her father toward a downtown bank to pick up her monthly allowance. As usual, they are bickering. Kristin complains that her only fur coat remains with her mother, with whom Kristin does not speak and who is now divorced from Marty. “It’s a good thing she has it, or you’d have hocked it,” Marty says.
Upstairs at the bank’s trust department, a beaming receptionist hands her an envelope containing her $5,000 check. Kristin opens it, smiles at the amount, and then, in a new arrangement, turns it over to her father, who is trying to impose some control over her cash flow. Next, Marty bounds unannounced into the office of a trust officer to say hello. Kristin follows in his wake, gaily pressing the tips of her fingers together like a child on Christmas morning. Marty tells the trust officer, as he tells everyone, that Kristin is off drugs. Abashed, the man nods approvingly. Then, as if he cannot trust his luck, Marty turns to Kristin: “If I give you your granddaddy’s five-and-three-quarter-carat diamond ring, will you stay straight?” he asks her. “Will you? Will you?” Kristin, knowing her lines, bounces up and down on her toes, as a girlish giggle erupts into a woman’s rich, throats, laugh. “Sure!” she says, nodding furiously. “Yeah! Sure!”
So it has been for most of Kristin’s short life: Marty bribes, Kristin promises; Marty hopes, Kristin disappoints: a rite neither has been willing to relenquish since Kristin was a child. Both Kristin and Marty remember her childhood as difficult. He recalls that she was greedy and selfish, that she would stop at nothing to get her way. She remembers—her recollections prodded by an infinite number of therapy sessions, no doubt—that she was lonely, that she felt more comfortable with the maids than with her own parents. “As a little girl, I was really weird,” Kristin says. There wasn’t much that Erin and Kristin were denied, including family trips to exotic locales like Hawaii, but the memories Kristin presents fit the troubled, rebellious persona that she has developed. Her mother, she says, wrote in her baby book that Kristin “shied away from hugs and kisses.” She resented the physical differences between herself and her blond, blue-eyed step-siblings, and at ten she ran away to find her birth parents. Elementary school teachers, she says, reported that she would bully kids to come to her side to fight other kids. At communion she took more wine than she was supposed to. Somehow, Kristin had absorbed a portentous lesson: Being bad brought her the attention she craved. But that behavior was just a prelude to the real trouble, which started when Kristin was thirteen. She began hanging out at a skating rink, where she hooked up with a bad crowd—”runaways and fugitives,” she says. Soon Kristin was stealing money from her parents—two hundred to three hundred dollars at a time —to put her friends up in local motels. Meanwhile, she began doing drugs—cocaine, pot, and pills. When in the fall of 1982 her friends wanted money for a trip to Oregon, Kristin had an idea: “To rip off my mom’s house,” she says. Though Kristin now says that she backed out of the scheme shortly after it was hatched, her friends went ahead, using a map that she had drawn for them. And so, one night the family returned from dining out to find their home ransacked. The value of the heist was $150,000. Soon after the break-in, Kristin’s father pressured her to identify the culprits. She thought he was offering her a deal: If she betrayed her friends, he would not press charges. For once, Kristin misjudged him. The result, according to Kristin, was, “They got two months; I got two years.”
While her friends tangled with the legal system, Kristin’s life in rehab began. She would spend the next six years in various drug-treatment centers, the most profound results of which were that she perfected the art of the con and her view of herself as a victim. She was exposed to little that would arouse her intellect. (Predictably, the one course she excelled in was drama—at one program she even started a drama department.) Nor did she learn how to have a semblance of a normal social life; though she had myriad sexual encounters, Kristin found it difficult to start or maintain a relationship when most of the boys knew everything about her from group-therapy sessions. In short, Kristin did not find rehab to be a world significantly better than the one she had left. Once out of a program, she stayed clean only as long as it took her to find someone to sell her drugs. The Baumans’ marriage couldn’t take the strain. They divorced in 1985. After a brief, tense period of living in La Jolla, California, with their mother, Erin and Kristin moved back to El Paso and Marty. He moved them into his mother’s house on the East Side, but Kristin rebelled. By then she had learned to recognize her father as her only ally, but only on her terms. Kristin would not be disciplined, and Marty could not bear to see her unhappy. Within days he bought a house on the West Side, and then the three of them went back to La Jolla for Kristin’s sixteenth birthday. She had wanted to celebrate there. “It was a big party with an open bar,” she recalls, still excited by the memory of a rented limousine and steak for everyone. Sometime that night, someone gave Kristin crystal Methedrine for the first time. The next day Marty and the girls returned to El Paso, where Kristin started Coronado High School. “I wasn’t popular, and I wasn’t happy,” Kristin says. “At Coronado you’re a nobody if you don’t have the right things—a cool car for instance. I didn’t have one because I’d just come out of rehab. At Coronado it’s a big deal to be accepted. “You gotta drink, parry, and lose your virginity.” Kristin then proceeded to make her mark on Coronado just as her father had once made a splash in El Paso. She disrupted home-economics class in her fur coat, and while Marty played cards at the country club, she had parties at home until three in the morning. “Then I became more popular,” Kristin says. Part of Coronado’s initiation rites included the bar scene in Juárez, where clubs cater to underage kids. One particular night, Kristin put away twelve tequila slammers, mixing them with pills. When she passed out, her friends dumped her at home. Her father found her in the maid’s room, vomiting. More rehab followed: Marty took Kristin by private plane to a program in New Jersey called KIDS Center of America, one of the strictest drug-treatment programs in the country—the kind based on reverse peer pressure, where new kids are not left alone even to sleep or go to the bathroom. She was seventeen. Later, Marty contributed enough money to bring the program—and Kristin—to El Paso.
Kristin had been off drugs for the entire year and a half she had been at KIDS, but she despised the regimen. Though she was closely monitored at home and at school, Kristin engineered an escape in 1988. She began living with friends or in West Side motels. By this time many people — cops and counselors, family and friends—had spent a great deal of time and effort trying to understand and reform Kristin. They only succeeded in coming up with theories. Adoption experts cited a common syndrome in which an adopted child will test the adoptive parents, attempting to recreate the original abandonment again and again. Most people talked about her family life, noting overindulgence; some West Siders recall, for instance, that the Baumans traveled often, a nice way of saying that they were not at home with their children much. Money too often took the place of love, many people, including Kristin, like to say. Marty has his own theory, diagnosing Kristin as having low self-esteem compounded by her dyslexia, which was discovered late. “Kristin’s problem,” he told me, “is that she doesn’t like herself.” But the real problem may be that Kristin does like herself—or at least that she prefers the life she has chosen to the life others would choose for her. “I know what kind of life I was supposed to lead,” she says with a rare trace of wistfulness. “Go to school. Go to college. Be well dressed. Be pleasant to be with, date guys from wealthy families, make a name for myself in school at clubs. But here I am,” she continues, a grin suddenly electrifying her face, “Miss Dropout USA!”
Kristin’s new roommate, Jason Henderson, is cooking spaghetti for Kristin’s dogs, a setter mix named Bubba and a rottweiler named YZ. Jason seems both more compliant and more sheepish than last week’s roommate, who better suited Kristin’s rough and ready reputation: He was a red-eyed young man just out of prison. (Loyalty runs deep with Kristin—he was one of the kids convicted of burglarizing her parents’ home.) She still refers to him as “my brother,” even though she recently filed car theft charges against him. Today is laundry day, and the over-loaded machine pitches and moans in the small kitchen, thanks to Kristin’s habit of wearing two months’ worth of clothes before doing a wash. Kristin is crumpled on the couch, her hair tousled, her asthma inhaler at the ready. She is smoking and watching Places in the Heart, which she has seen “a hundred times,” on cable. When it ends, she switches to another channel and watches the ending again. The small condo in an apartment ghetto between the river and the mountains is something of a teen paradise. There are no rules, the TV is on all day and night, the ashtrays are full. It’s also a place that perfectly betrays Kristin’s conflicted nature. One corner of the living room is something of a shrine to her childhood; here she has established her stuffed animals on draped podiums alongside family pictures she took from her father’s house. (Marty wouldn’t accept her for who she was, she explained, so she decided to leave him with nothing.) High on a wall hangs a tribute to Kristin’s one connection to adulthood—a shot from a modeling portfolio. She sits in a chair, her makeup heavily applied, on her face a shrewd, knowing expression; she looks like a nineties version of a moll. There is a knock on the door, and Kristin and Jason look uneasy. Jason lumbers over and looks through a peep-hole. “Who is it?” Kristin asks edgily. “I don’t know,” Jason says. Kristin rouses herself from the couch and goes to a stool positioned by the door. Setting it under the peephole, she climbs up, peeks through, and grins. It is a realtor who has come to show the condo, which is for sale. Two neatly dressed women wander through the place, stopping to sniff suspiciously in the kitchen. “That Ragu,” the realtor offers tentatively, “it gets moldy if you don’t put it in the refrigerator.”
Kristin glares at Jason. “You moron!” she says. “You didn’t put it in the fridge!” Most people who know Kristin would say that Jason got off easy. A healthy paranoia clings to those who have been close to her, largely because the consequences of hanging around her can be—coincidentally or not—dire. Of course, she has not been immune to these consequences either: She has become a prisoner of her own freedom. What Kristin calls the bad times began after she ran away from home in 1988. She became involved in an investigation of KIDS of El Paso on charges that included child abuse. Testifying on behalf of the program: Marty Bauman. Testifying against it: Kristin. KIDS of El Paso was cleared but closed anyway. (“These are some of the clippings from when I was in Austin fighting to close the KIDS of El Paso program down,” Kristin noted in her scrapbook.)
The KIDS hearing was followed by the event that catapulted Kristin’s fame beyond the West Side to the city at large. She had found the way to hurt her father most: Just as he had devoted his life to making money, she would devote hers to squandering it. She sued him to get the $1.2 million trust that he had established for her years before but had been trying to keep from her once her cocaine problem escalated. The result of the case can be seen in the next section of Kristin’s scrapbook, from October through December 1988. She labeled it, “The clippings from the paper of when I was fighting my dad in court!!!”
Marty testified that Kristin was “belligerent, defiant, and hard to control,” that “Kristin’s mother couldn’t stand her because she was incorrigible,” that he was trying to save her life by incarcerating her in drug-treatment programs. TEEN TELLS OF HATEFUL HOME LIFE; 19-YEAR-OLD SAYS SHE FELT NEGLECTED, were the headlines the day after Kristin took the stand. “I hate what he’s done to my life. I hate the way he’s treated me,” she said tearfully. She said she was off drugs and denied setting up the burglary of her parents’ home. She recounted an incident when her father “threw things at her and left her to clean up the mess.” She also confessed to telling her father, “I will live for drugs and money. I am going to use drugs for the rest of my life whether you like it or not.”
That is exactly what Kristin set out to do. The case was settled; Kristin got $100,000 immediately and an allowance of $5,000 a month, which could be raised or lowered depending on whether she was good (took a high school equivalency exam, for example) or bad (flunked required drug tests). For the first time, Kristin was as free as she wanted to be.
The $100,000 went pretty fast, ”on drugs, cars, jewelry.” If Kristin was popular before, she now became even more so—with other disaffected West Side kids. Her gang would settle in at her apartment, watch TV, play spades, dance, and of course, do drugs. “There was one time we took the phones off the hook and put garbage bags on the windows and locked ourselves in the house for two weeks,” Kristin says. “The one thing we’d always do is clean house,” she adds, although some acquaintances remember her apartments were always littered with trash and dog feces. Food was scarce. Kristin would order meals delivered from the El Paso Country Club and charge them to Marty’s account. Drug abuse and burglary tend to go hand in hand, and eventually Kristin’s friends began stashing stolen goods at her house. In exchange, she could pick out something she liked. “It was cool,” she says. “I knew not to pick the stuff with serial numbers.” She opted for a strand of pearls, a fur coat, a leather jacket, and jewelry. As one crime led to another and as her coke habit grew, Kristin began working for some Mexican drug dealers. The job was fairly simple: They gave her a portable phone, which she would take to an innocuous lo-cation, such as a mall. Once there, she would get a call telling her to drive a certain drug-loaded car to a certain place. In exchange, Kristin would receive $1,000 or its equivalent in coke.
Drug enforcement agents, along with El Paso police officers, became regulars outside her apartment. Kristin sometimes ordered pizzas for them. Then, in June 1989, her best friend, Julie Calderon, was discovered strangled, beaten, and raped, her body floating in the Rio Grande. One of Kristin’s former roommates was charged with the murder. Kristin, briefly sober, checked back into rehab—but not for long. “They basically told me to leave,” she says with a shrug. She bounced checks, got into fights, and was arrested for possession of marijuana and for making threatening phone calls (which she says were made by a friend staying at her house who wanted to scare his girlfriend). She moved from place to place, but the drug dealers always knew how to find her; when she fell behind in credit payments that they had graciously extended her months before, they killed her favorite dog. Her father was forever shadowing her, calling her friends, demanding to know whether she was on or off drugs. Finally, in May 1990, Kristin was picked up (BILLBOARD HEIRESS ARRESTED, the headline read) with the sons of three other wealthy West Siders after the robbery of the house near the river. One of the thieves was driving her car in a getaway attempt. Though charges against her were dropped, soon after the incident, Kristin says, she took the pledge. Last August she stopped taking drugs. Though the police and many of her old friends are skeptical of her claim, her father can only hope.
Why doesn’t Kristin simply leave El Paso, take her money, and move to a new place to start fresh? Some days she says she cannot leave because of her court cases. Some days she says she will leave, because El Paso is no place for a serious actress. But only one response has the ring of truth. “I don’t know why I stay,” she says. “But all my friends are here, and I’m a real insecure person. But,” she adds, a small grin playing across her face before she shakes it off with her standard shrug, “all my friends change after six months.”
“Juarez is like our home,” Kristin explains, crossing the border into Mexico on a starry night at about eight-thirty. “It’s where you can really let go.” It’s early for the night crowd, but the middle-aged Anglo tourists have been replaced by two distinct groups: American teenagers in varying degrees of chemical alteration and the Mexicans who cater to them, offering everything from roses and shoeshines to alcohol and drugs. Leaving the car in the care of a Mexican policeman, Kristin and a friend, a pretty, spool-permed seventeen-year-old blonde named Bridgett Colley, hustle through the snarled traffic, energized by blaring car horns, blinding headlights, and the smell of diesel. The girls weave their way through shadowy neon-lit side streets, past crowds of long-legged, big-haired young women. “You’re going to see a lot of sluts tonight,” Kristin says like a tour guide dizzy with the charms of her native land. Even though she has been coming to the Juárez bars for more than eight years, she approaches each visit expectantly, high on the memories of barroom brawls and drug deals gone awry. (If there’s a fight, just get out of the way,” Kristin warns.) She and Bridgett had taken a respectable hour and a half to create their costumes. Bridgett, for instance, changed from a tie-dyed T-shirt and cutoffs to a black silk shirt and torn jeans. After applying plenty of eyeliner and white lipstick, Kristin considered but did not wear the $800 leather coat with the zebra on the back; instead, she selected jeans and a heavy black sweater with real leopard-skin epaulets. Due to both her notoriety and longevity, Kristin is no stranger in Juárez, The two girls push past the crowds waiting to get into a bar called Spanky’s and commandeer two barstools. The bartender quickly offers a White Russian for Bridgett and an Amaretto Sour for Kristin. Spanky’s is the Mexican version of an American beach bar—there are beach towels on the ceiling and posters of hot cars and nude women on the walls. A neon sign on one wall says “School Sucks,” another, above the men’s room, says “Studs.” It’s a vidkids milieu designed for the perpetually overstimulated: Prince writhes on a huge video screen, Billy Idol blares from the sound system. The girls down their drinks and head for a club called Superior around the corner, again gaining entry immediately while others wait their turn in line. A waiter clears a table near the door for Kristin, and she settles into her seat with an imperious expression. A few kids pay court, petting the lapels of her sweater. She stands out, a young woman in a teenybopper paradise. While other 21-year-olds may have one eye on the clubs and the other on the future, Kristin’s weekend forays seem almost nostalgic, as if they are her attempt to experience the adolescence she never really had or to avoid a future that would require some serious rewriting of her internal game plan. At times, she is like a post-teen Rip Van Winkle—she still knows who’s who at Coronado High, for instance. “You can tell they’re all sophomores,” Kristin says, surveying the scene. The sneer that is settling on Kristin’s face eases into a smile when two friends arrive—roommate Jason and a pale-eyed teen named Paul Gray, who promptly announces that he has only $20 to last him until Monday. “I need three dollars,” he says to Kristin. Kristin turns to Bridgett. “Give him three dollars,” she orders. Bridgett reaches into Kristin’s wallet and hands over the money. Paul returns with a bucket of Coronas, which soon turn into empties. There is little conversation. Bridgette shows off her phony I.D. and then gets up to dance alone.
Restless, they exit and head for Cosmos, a cavernous club with black walls and smoke machines. It is bleakly festive, with multicolored balloons tied to the chairs. Kristin settles in with another Amaretto Sour, but her cough is getting worse. She lights another cigarette and watches Bridgett dance by herself. “I hardly ever dance,” she says. At ten it’s still early, and the only other people on the dance floor are a boy sporting a neo-Edwardian haircut and his partner, a tall, pretty blonde wearing black tights under her cutoffs. “That girl gets on my nerves,” Kristin says, watching her. The solicitous Mexican waiters whisk away old drinks and replace them with fresh ones. Gradually, the place fills with the same assortment of teenagers found in the other bars. Kristin remains at the table, growing more subdued, her cough more pronounced. She brightens only once, when a handsome young man in expensive loafers taps her on the shoulder. Turning angrily, she then jumps up to cling to him as if he could take her to a fairy-tale land. “He used to be in KIDS with me,” she says, beaming, and adds that she knows more kids who have been in rehab than those who haven’t. Paul and Jason arrive, and the group razzes Jason about the peach fuzz on his chin. “You know, it’s like they’re my kids,” Kristin says. “Sometimes it’s like I’m their chaperon.” By eleven Kristin’s forehead is hot with fever, but she is still pushing herself to have a good time. She joins in loudly when all the other kids sing along to a graphically obscene Tone Lōc song. Later, alone at the table again, she watches her friends dance and picks up the lyrics of another song. “I’m so afraid,” go the words by Anything Box, “of living in oblivion.” She sings idly; the words mean nothing at all.
Just as Marty steps out of the courtroom to use the rest room, Kristin’s name is called. Her usual confidence is wavering. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” she says. Standing before the judge, she is dwarfed not only by his bench but also by her own attorney. She hugs herself, listening to the judge’s questions: Hasn’t she been before this court before? Haven’t they discussed this case before? After a few more minutes, Kristin’s attorney turns to the prosecutor and begins to haggle. For just a second, Kristin fixes the prosecutor with a murderous look. Then, listening, she breaks into a broad smile. Kristin boogies back to her seat and announces the news: The case will be dismissed if her attorney can get a statement from her boyfriend attesting to her innocence. “Did you see how when they called my name everyone turned to look?” Kristin asks. Heading out into the hallway, she searches for her father. He shuffles toward her, towing an older woman who blinks rapidly behind thick lenses and recoils slightly when introduced. Reading judgment in her uneasiness, Marty tells her proudly that Kristin is off drugs. “I’m glad,” she says. “You’re looking great. Keep it up—will you?” she adds, a genuinely plaintive note in her voice. Marty is pleased with the verdict, but the fixer in him makes him revert to type. “If you have any tax problems with the county,” he instructs Kristin, “this is the woman to see.” Kristin too remains in character. Out on the street, a Don’t Walk sign becomes the first impediment to her newly won freedom. “Can we walk, please?” she begs her father impatiently. “We won’t get a ticket!”