texasmonthly.com: How did the idea to do this story come about?
Katy Vine: A few newspaper articles about the arrests piqued my interest. In addition, a few years ago I wrote a story about U.S. Highway 281, and when I passed the gorgeous, old Baker Hotel in downtown Mineral Wells, I figured the place must have had a boom time and an incredible past. I became fascinated by Mineral Wells’ history. In a way, this event was an excuse to spend some time up there. The city’s past didn’t make it into the story, but I heard plenty of stories about the old days from locals to satisfy my curiosity.
texasmonthly.com: Why is it important to tell this story?
KV: Well, it’s not important with a capital “I”; there’s no rash of teenage murderers out there. But it’s sociologically appealing to try to understand what factors lead up to an event like this. Whenever I read a story like this in the paper, I wonder, ‘How can that happen?’ I mean, what little things add up to the moment when a teenage girl in a small town decides she needs to kill a person? That’s what I was trying to understand with this story.
texasmonthly.com: How was this story reported?
KV: I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone before the trials began, but I watched Jennifer Jones’s trial, and then began interviewing the key subjects. I was able to interview Jennifer in the Palo Pinto County jail right after the trial was finished, and then in the Gatesville unit a few weeks later. Bobbi Jo Smith’s lawyer didn’t allow her to talk, which was frustrating since I had a lot of questions for her. But I did have her police statement along with many other witness statements, and those documents, combined with other police documents, trial records, and interviews, helped round out the details.
texasmonthly.com: How did you decide a more literary style of journalism was appropriate for this piece?
KV: I’d always loved Gary Cartwright’s story “Leroy’s Revenge” and wanted to write a magazine piece that used that short-story technique. Jennifer gave me permission to quote her diary, which gave me the opportunity to employ more detailed, chronological storytelling.
texasmonthly.com: The story is rich in intangible details like smells, the girls’ feelings, and things they said when no one else was listening. How did you verify this kind of information?
KV: I had a very long list of questions for Jennifer about the smallest details: what she was wearing, what he was wearing, how somebody said this or that. After Jennifer answered the first round of questions in the Palo Pinto jail, I went back and wrote the story, leaving blanks for information I still needed. Then I visited her again in the Gatesville Prison, filling in the remaining particulars.
texasmonthly.com: Were you present at the trial?
KV: I went to Jennifer’s trial, but Bobbi Jo’s trial was repeatedly postponed until it wasn’t possible to go to the trial by deadline.
texasmonthly.com: As you learned more, what was your impression of the girls? Could you sympathize with their actions?
KV: I was curious about so many aspects of their lives that any question of evil seemed like a shortcut to a much more complicated answer. It wasn’t my job to judge their actions; they had a jury for that. It was my job to listen and to try to understand the situation that led to this degree of violence.
texasmonthly.com: Tell me about your experience talking to Jennifer Jones in prison. Was she eager to have her story told?
KV: Not at first. She was young and scared by the whole situation, so I think sitting down with a reporter was the last thing she wanted. But we talked a little, and she eventually agreed to go on the record.
texasmonthly.com: Was the murder of Bob Dow inevitable? What could have prevented his death?
KV: It was not inevitable at all. Extract any part of Bob Dow’s recent history, and the whole scenario changes. If Jennifer hadn’t gone with Bobbi Jo the first day, Bob might be alive today. If Bob hadn’t wanted Bobbi Jo around, Bob might be alive today. If Bob had kicked Jennifer out right away, Bob might be alive today. But I wonder if Jennifer would say it was destined to happen. Some murders seem irrational to everyone but the person who commits the crime.