Updated: Dec 8, 2019
Vicki Crompton-Tetter and Her Daughter Jennifer
My story takes place in the Midwest - in Iowa of all places - a part of the country we tend to think is safe and boring, a place where “bad stuff doesn't happen”. But bad stuff did happen here and it happened to my daughter and by extension, to me and my family.
In 1985 we were a newly blended family. We were so happy. I had two daughters from a previous marriage: Jenny who was 14 and Katie who was 9. I also had a brand new baby son: Steven, from my second marriage to Greg. We had purchased our first home together, a three bedroom condo in the best part of town we could afford, the part of town that put us in the “best school district” - the Pleasant Valley School District, so that our children could attend there. Jenny was happily experiencing life as a ninth grader at Pleasant Valley High School. As her mom, I was having fun watching her enjoy high school; I was thrilled that she made the honor roll, joined the dance team, joined clubs and had so many good friends. I was less thrilled when she announced that she had a boy friend; and I was furious when I discovered he was four years her senior. Initially, I forbid the relationship based on his age, but I softened because he seemed so immature and he seemed to follow my strict rules; plus - the biggest reason - Jenny was much taken with him. The relationship seemed to be a typical high school relationship: sharing lockers, eating lunch together, talking on the phone. They attended some school functions together and went to a couple of movies but I wouldn't allow Jenny to ride in his car so I drove them. I thought I had a good handle on the relationship and I thought my daughter was safe. I thought I was a good parent and I thought my daughter was telling me everything about her life.
I was wrong on all counts. In reality I knew nothing about the real nature of Jenny and Mark's relationship. It was shrouded in secrecy and lies. There was a dark side that involved emotional control. Jenny was being manipulated and in her innocence did not know how to break free. Her friends did not know how to help her. Sadly, the silence among the teenagers and their desire to protect Mark led to a tragic ending. There was no adult in Jenny's life who knew what was going on and therefore there was no adult who could help her. The few teachers who knew did not connect all the pieces together or were constrained by confidentiality laws from making reports. Mark was spiraling downward and his parents either did not care or did not notice.
In September 1986 Jenny returned to the tenth grade. Mark had graduated the previous spring. She made yet another of her numerous attempts to break off the relationship with him and told me that this time they parted ways. She was excited to be in school again, excited to be “free of a boyfriend”. Homecoming weekend was approaching and she was involved with the Spirit Club building a float for the homecoming parade. On Thursday night I watched her march in that parade and I cried with happiness to see what a beautiful young woman she had become. Later she and I would argue over my strict rules and my constant worries about her safety; the irony of that conversation was that she would be dead within 24 hours and I could not protect her.
On Friday afternoon, September 26, 1986, Jenny entered our empty home. Her plans were to meet her friends later at the homecoming football game. Mark had broken into our home and was waiting for her; something he had been doing for weeks without my knowledge. But this time he had a butcher knife in his hand. Versions of what happen vary: the police believe that Mark came at Jenny from behind and she never saw it coming; Mark says they argued and Jenny got the knife. The reality is that she suffered 66 stab wounds and many defense wounds so I know that Jenny fought off her attacker. I believe she must have known she would die. I cannot imagine the fear and pain she felt. She was only 15 years old! Her nightmare ended because Greg came home and probably scared Mark away; but that only started our nightmare. The nightmare of finding her dead and living without her all these years has been overwhelming for our family. I can't really put it into words. The pain and devastation that murder leaves behind can only be imagined by those who have not had to live it.
Mark attended the homecoming festivities that weekend before he was arrested on Sunday night. The police did an excellent job of investigating and interviewing all her friends. It didn't take them long to form a picture of a controlling and abusive relationship; even though it was almost unheard of among teenagers in 1986. We buried our daughter in her homecoming outfit; a few months later we saw Mark convicted of first degree murder and go to prison for life. Then we tried to put our life back together.
I wasn't sure I could survive my grief, even with a ten year old and a one year old child to care for. I wasn't sure my new marriage would make it. I was consumed with sadness and barely able to get out of bed in the morning. I had to work - we needed my paycheck. I was obsessed and angry with the testimony of Jenny's friends at the trial: one after another I heard them say they knew about Mark's controlling behavior, they thought it was normal, that everybody did it, and “it was no big deal”. I couldn't get it out of my head. Why wasn't anyone talking about this? Why hadn't I read about this in a woman's magazine? What was going on in our high schools?
I had never given a public speech in my life but my personal pain drove me to speak out. I started telling Jenny's story in local high schools and church groups. Word spread, as did the increase in the problem, and today I have given thousands of presentations across the country. I've written magazine articles, co-authored a book, and appeared on numerous national television programs. Jenny's story is saving lives and I have accomplished a very personal goal: Jenny Crompton will never be forgotten.
Twenty three years later. I would never have believed it in 1986, but we made it! My marriage is strong, my surviving children are thriving, and I have two (and _) beautiful grandchildren. When we think of Jenny now we smile, whereas we used to cry. I used to wonder why Jenny lived such a short time - what was it all about? I think the answer is that Jenny was meant to teach us something about speaking up and sharing our fears and trusting our parents. Her voice was silenced long ago but her lesson lives on.
View the CBS article: A Mother's Story.