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Real Name: Jennifer "Jenny" Pratt
Case: Attempted Murder
Location: Carlsbad, California
Date: April 25, 1987

C croft

Case

Details: Sixteen-year-old Jenny Pratt had hopes of becoming a model. She was bubbly, pretty, nice, and popular, and in her sophomore year at San Dieguito High School in Carlsbad, California. But what mattered most to her was her boyfriend of one year, Curtis Croft. She was deeply in love with him. He drove a Porsche, had plenty of money, and was a good-looking California surfer. But his glamorous façade had a darker side.
Jenny's mother, Diane Strom, said she did not know what was really going on until almost six months into the couple's relationship, when Jenny told her that she had a seventeen-year-old boyfriend. Diane thought Curtis was nice; she said he did a really good job "snowing" her. She thought he looked seventeen. Later, she learned that he had been in jail for drugs. She also learned that he was actually twenty-four. She felt he was bad news for a sixteen-year-old girl.
After learning the truth, Jenny's parents forbade her from seeing Curtis. She got around this by telling them that she was going to hang out with friends; instead, she would go to his apartment in La Costa. Her life seemed to revolve around him. At one point, she said to a friend of hers, "I don't need any friends. I have Curtis." She also gave the money from her part-time job to him, which he used for food and gas. He claims they had a good relationship, and neither were involved in drugs.
Against her parents' wishes, Jenny went out with Curtis on the night of April 25, 1987. He borrowed a friend's motorcycle and promised Jenny he would get her home before her midnight curfew. She would never arrive home that night. Instead, she was brutally attacked. At 11:55pm, while she and Curtis were stopped at a nearby intersection in Carlsbad, someone from a passing vehicle struck her in the back of the head with an unusual weapon: a heavy six-and-a-half feet long wooden board. The police believed that her assailants may have been local teenagers. But so far, no one in the community has spoken out to identify them. No one will know who attacked her until someone has the courage to step forward with the truth.
At 1am on the night of the attack, Jenny's stepfather, Gary Strom, and Diane received a telephone call: Jenny had been airlifted to a nearby hospital, Scripps Medical Center in La Jolla. Gary and Diane were told that she had been in an accident. Diane asked if she was okay, however, the caller was not able to tell her anything. They told her that she would have to come down to the hospital. She did not even know where it was. Neither her nor Gary knew why Jenny was sent to Scripps, since there was another hospital much closer.
Scripps is a renowned trauma center which takes only the most severe cases. When Gary and Diane arrived there, they began asking the staff questions, but no one was able to give them any answers. Finally, a nurse told them that the doctor would like to talk to them. The doctor took them into a nearby waiting room and told them the worst possible news: Jenny was brain-dead, and they did not expect her to live more than a few hours.
Dr. Jerry Stenehjem, Scripps' medical director, says that Jenny received a serious injury at the scene of the attack. The blow from the board was great enough to actually crush her skull, which caused an immediate shutdown of her brain. After Diane was given the news, she was allowed to see Jenny. She was horrified at her condition. Her hair was red from all of the blood. She was bleeding out of her nose, ears, and mouth. She had tubes all over her. Diane says it looked like her whole body was distorted.
Miraculously, Jenny survived, but she lapsed into a deep coma. Sergeant Jim Byler of the Carlsbad Police Department said the first thing they did was examine the evidence that was found at the crime scene, which consisted of the board that was used to strike her and Curtis. They examined the board for physical evidence such as fingerprints. However, nothing was found. There were some blood stains on it, which were photographed and were determined to be hers.
Curtis was interviewed that same day at the Carlsbad Police Station. His account of what happened, basically, was that he was giving Jenny a ride home. They were driving down Rancho Santa Fe Road, getting ready to make a left turn. They slowed down as they approached the intersection with Olivenhain Road, and then stopped in the left turn lane. All of a sudden, he felt something strike him. He felt pain in the back of his head. At that same time, a white pickup truck drove quickly past them. He turned around to Jenny to say that he thought someone threw something at him. He noticed that she was slumped over and "out of it". He realized that she was seriously hurt.
Based on Curtis' statement, the police believe a truckload of teenagers committed this crime. The truck went by them at a high rate of speed. Curtis believed that there was a large group of teenagers in the back of it. They appeared to be laughing as they went by. The board came "flying" from the truck.
Sgt. Byler believed that this case would be solved quickly because teenagers have a tendency to talk when they commit a crime. He felt that the police were going to identify the suspects in a short amount of time. But, to this date, no one has come to the police with direct knowledge of what happened that night. Most of the information they have received has been rumors and "fourth and fifth hand" accounts. They are surprised that no one has come forward.
Dissatisfied with the efforts of the police, Gary and Diane hired private investigator Louie Crisafi to look into this case. He interviewed students at Jenny's school. Sydney Stanger, one of Jenny's friends, told him that the attack was aimed for Curtis, not Jenny. She said that nobody knows who actually did it. She has a feeling that she knows who did it, but no one is willing to come forward and say who is responsible. Sgt. Byler said that there were people who did not like Curtis, based on his background. He was not a "popular" person.
In August 1985, Curtis had been convicted for dealing cocaine. After cooperating with investigators, he served less than half of his sentence and was released in February 1986. According to Sgt. Byler, he developed a reputation as a snitch when he got himself in trouble. Sgt. Byler says that young people, particularly ones involved in drugs, tend to look down on someone who develops that reputation.
Police investigated a number of people who might have wanted to hurt Curtis. They learned that he had confronted one of his enemies, a teenage former friend, on the night before the attack. He accused the man of stealing personal possessions from his apartment and then threatened to go to the police about it. Crisafi, Gary, and Diane believe that the man might have attacked her and Curtis because of Curtis' threats against him. Prior to the attack, she had told Gary and Diane that several people were after Curtis for "something".
The police investigation stopped cold when Curtis claimed he could not identify the perpetrators. He said the truck was traveling at fifty-five miles per hour, too fast for him to get a look at them. Crisafi did not believe him. He attempted to reconstruct the attack at two different speeds. They used an identical truck as far as model year and size, and the same type of motorcycle. They used mannequins to represent Jenny and Curtis. And they used the same conditions as that night.
The first reconstruction was done at fifty miles per hour. At that speed, it seems almost certain that both Curtis and Jenny would have been killed. Moreover, in this reconstruction, the board fell about fifty feet from the scene of the crime, when in reality, police had found it only a few feet from the spot where Jenny had been attacked. The second reconstruction, played out at only ten miles per hour, inflicted injuries very similar to the ones they actually received. And this time, the board fell right next to the motorcycle.
Crisafi said he had reason to believe that Curtis was not telling the whole truth. In August 1987, he went to Curtis' apartment and visited with him. He felt that Curtis had seen the people in the truck and confronted him about it. Finally, he did name names: three people who he had seen in the truck, including the one that had thrown the board. One of them was the same man he had fought with on the night before the attack.
Crisafi contacted the police. But when Sgt. Byler interviewed Curtis later that same day, he recanted, saying he never got a glimpse of the perpetrators' faces. He said that he gave those names because Crisafi had "scared" and "pressured" him and threatened him with jail if he did not talk. Sgt. Byler said the tactics Crisafi used while interviewing Curtis were "unacceptable" and that the information Crisafi obtained was "worthless".
Curtis maintains that the truck went by too fast for him to recognize anyone. He said the names he gave were people he thought were involved. He said that lie detector tests have been done on him, and he has passed them. He said that he has told the truth, has always been there to help, and has always cooperated.
Crisafi and his team still believe that Curtis did, in fact, see the perpetrators. Curtis reportedly told Crisafi that he had been repeatedly threatened, had informed on people before, and was afraid that he would be killed. He told Crisafi that he had already been threatened and told not to talk about the attack. Crisafi believes that the threats against Curtis are true, and that is why he has not identified the perpetrators.
Gary said that whenever they find someone that is willing to come forward and say something about this case, somebody else gets to them first. Then, the witness either disappears or says that they do not know anything. Diane believes that people have been paid off and/or threatened. She says that anytime somebody tries to come forward, the next day, they do not want to do it. She said that people's minds do not change that fast. She believes someone else gets to them first.
Three months after the attack, Jenny came out of her coma. The injuries to her brain caused her body to contort into a fetal ball. At first, she seemed incapable of thought or action. But after twelve weeks, she started physical therapy. She was then transferred to Paradise Valley Hospital in National City; Gary and Diane made the 100-mile round-trip each day to be by her bedside. Seven months after the attack, she began to speak. A year later, she walked.
In March 1988, nearly a year after the attack, Jenny finally came home. Since then, Gary and Diane have taken her to daily rehabilitation classes. Her speech, initially slurred, has practically returned to normal. Her long-term memories are also slowly returning. Doctors have said that she could regain 85% of her former mental and physical capacity within the next decade. Although her progress has been miraculous, her brain damage is severe. And tragically, it is probably irreversible.
Dr. Stenehjem does not think that the events surrounding the attack were stored in Jenny's memory. He does not think there is any way they could be recalled. He thinks there is a strong likelihood that she could be told things that she would then repeat. But to remember those actual events is virtually impossible.
Dr. Stenehjem and other doctors believe that the person Jenny was prior to the attack is likely "gone forever". They believe her mind is currently similar to that of a second grader. Although her long-term memory seems to be improving, she still has issues with her short-term memory. Dr. Stenehjem said that as she learns more about her disabilities, she becomes more upset about her situation.
Jenny wonders why someone would try to kill her. She wonders why someone was mad at her and what she may have done to them to hurt them. Crisafi says that they need someone in the community with "half the courage of Jenny" to come forward, someone that has the "one missing link" that will tie this case together. He thinks that all they are missing is one small link, and someone has it.
Sgt. Byler said that they are primarily interested in finding out who threw the board that struck Jenny. He says that if there is a group of other people that were in the truck, they can come forward without fear of prosecution. The police are surprised that none of those involved have come forward. It is suspected that they are protecting each other.
Diane said that she sees a lot of hard work that has been done to help Jenny recover. She says this work has been needless because some "fool" did this to her. She notes that Jenny will have to live with her brain injury for the rest of her life. She sometimes wonders if Jenny really is living. She says she will always love Jenny, but she still misses the "old Jenny". Jenny said she would really appreciate it if someone came forward to tell her who attacked her. It would make her feel like someone really loves and cares about her.
Gary and Diane have been devastated financially by her medical care and rehabilitation. In fact, their insurance aid is scheduled to run out, which would mean she would be unable to attend her rehabilitation classes. Gary also has been unable to find work, after he left his previous job to help her with her rehabilitation. Her parents are currently focusing their efforts on helping her overcome her disabilities. They still want justice for her, but they also want to protect others from the type of criminal behavior that led to this tragedy.
Suspects: The perpetrators are described as several male teenagers in a white pickup truck. They have never been positively identified.
Several of Jenny's classmates and neighbors believe that the perpetrators were members of her school's "party crowd". Crisafi also believes this; he suspects that the perpetrators are drug users who went to her school. He, Gary, and Diane believe they know the identities of the perpetrators, but do not have enough proof to name them. Police claim they have circumstantial evidence that points to certain suspects, but no solid evidence.
It is suspected that the attack was related to Curtis' drug activities. He had an altercation with one individual the day before the attack. He, however, said he does not believe the attack was drug related. He says if it was drug related, it would have been more "professional".
There is some speculation that the attack was actually a "misguided" school prank, instead of an intentional one.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the December 14, 1988 episode. An update, with new interviews of Jenny, Gary, and Diane, was featured in the "Third Anniversary Special" dated February 11, 1990.
  • Some sources spell Gary's name as "Garry".
  • It was also featured on The Trail Went Cold podcast.

Results: Unsolved. After the broadcast, many viewers contacted Gary and Diane, sending their love and support and offering to help them in any way possible. When twenty-six-year-old Tiffany Harris, the actress who played Jenny in the broadcast, learned that the family's insurance was running out, she organized a walkathon in Los Angeles to raise the money to cover the costs of Jenny's rehabilitation for another year. On February 18, 1989, it was held, with more than 200 people in attendance. They raised over $64,000.
Since the broadcast, Jenny's life has begun to steadily improve. Her short-term memory has gotten better, and she was finally able to return to school in 1989. During the "Third Anniversary Special", she, Gary, and Diane were interviewed by host Robert Stack. She said that she had improved in lots of different ways since the attack. She said she hoped to get her high school diploma, go to college, and help other people with brain injuries.
Gary said that he thinks this case will be solved because there are a lot of people in the community that know who was responsible. Diane disagreed, believing that too much time had passed. She said that no new information has come out about the attack. She cannot believe that so many people know who did it, but no one has come forward.
Gary and Diane also said that one of her biggest fears was that she would be attacked again, since the people responsible were still at large. Diane thinks that if this case is solved, it would take a lot off of Jenny's shoulders. It would not scare her as much.
Unfortunately, according to some sources, the statute of limitations has since run out in this case. Several people close to it, including Gary and Diane, have claimed to know the identities of the perpetrators. One source claims that the driver of the truck is still alive, however, the person who threw the board committed suicide in 1994. According to another source, the attack was done on the orders of a man whom Curtis had "ratted" to the police. These suspects have never been publicly identified. Officially, this case remains unsolved.
As of a few years ago, it was reported that Jenny is alive and doing well.
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