Nice Girls With Guns

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Every inch of Kingwood -- the bedroom community that used to be 25 miles north of Houston before Houston reached up and swallowed it whole -- has been as carefully planned as if it were a city on the moon. Its 15,000 wooded acres have been carved into cunning little culs-de-sac. Its 21 "villages" are organized by price range. Along the main boulevard, the strip malls are shielded from view by discreet strips of trees. Old-fashioned street lamps dot "Main Street" in "Town Center," so named even though Kingwood is not now and has never been a town. A paved greenbelt, maps of which are available only to Kingwood residents, threads its shady way between backyards, connecting every park and school. There are churches and soccer fields, two Starbucks and one Steinmart. There is CiCi's, Domino's, Little Caesar's, Papa John's and Pizza Hut. The wide selection of pizza chains is Reason 45 of "59 Reasons Why It's Time to Move Up to Kingwood," a pamphlet distributed by the Kingwood Home Finding Center. The Starbucks are Reasons 13 and 14. The old-fashioned street lamps are Reason 43.

Kids say growing up in Kingwood is like growing up in a bubble, an emerald-green suburban bubble to whose perimeter sticks a residue of brownish urban scum: convenience stores, auto repair shops and the two bars that serve Kingwood's 58,000 residents, whose average income is $78,000 a year. To the north is Kingwood's country cousin, Porter, where no shoes, no shirt doesn't mean no service. To the south, along the back fences of the Kingwood Country Club, runs the long, nearly barren stretch of Hamblen Road, where kids go to have their keggers down by the river. In the story of Kingwood teenagers Katie Dunn, Krystal Maddox, Michelle Morneau and Lisa Warzeka, this perimeter -- where the bubble ends and an oil-stained world blessed with neither landscaping nor a master plan begins -- is where the action takes place.

On July 1, at about ten minutes to ten, Ruby Murphy was going into the Forest Cove Stop-n-Drive on Hamblen Road for her customary nighttime soda when she heard teenage voices bickering in the parking lot. It sounded, she says, like one trying to boss the others. Ruby and Cindy Woodard, the store clerk, were accustomed to each other, and when Ruby entered the store, Cindy turned off the outside lights, took the day's receipts out from under the cash drawer and started to count. That's when two people burst into the store and started yelling. One of them (according to the girls' confessions, police say, it was Lisa), pointed a pistol in Cindy's face, handed her a bag and made a harshly worded demand for money. The other (police say it was Katie) held the door open. According to Ruby and Cindy, she too had a gun.

As Cindy fumbled with the cash register, Katie spotted Ruby at the back of the store and warned her not to move.

Ruby felt like she was watching Crime Stoppers on television. Because the intruders were hooded, masked and gloved -- "You couldn't see one spot of skin" -- she knew they weren't planning to shoot anyone. So instead of not moving, she calmly picked up her fountain Pepsi. She could tell that the masked figure at the door, at least, was female. "They gave me the idea that they were new to this," she says.

Meanwhile Cindy, rattled by the gun aimed squarely, if a little tremulously, at her face, suffered a sudden case of butterfingers. "You have two seconds or I'll shoot, bitch!" the robber said, in a voice whose Hollywood-holdup toughness seemed to Ruby's ears rather strained.

"I couldn't do anything right to please the one in front of me," Cindy says. "The more I did, the more she threatened to shoot me. The more she threatened to shoot me, the more I messed up." After missing a couple of times, Cindy finally got the money in the bag. Then she began handing over cartons of cigarettes, but she picked the wrong kind. "Marlboros, bitch!" the triggerwoman screamed. "Marlboros!"

As the two girls, who had both just turned 17, ran out of the store, they dropped a carton of Marlboros at the door. Another carton skittered to the parking-lot asphalt as they hopped into their car, where police believe the other two girls were waiting, and sped off into the night with about $800, the largest take of the five robberies.

What struck Houston Police Detective Billy Stephens as most unique about the five holdups was not that the alleged perpetrators were female. Women rob stores all the time. It was not even so much the middle- to upper-middle-class backgrounds of the girls, the fact that they are thought to have used a 1999 gold metal-flake Pontiac Firebird as their getaway car, or that one was a varsity athlete and one a drill team member at preppy Kingwood High.

It was, instead, that the robberies were so well planned and executed. Had the girls resisted the urge to brag about what they had done, had they stopped themselves from giving away cigarettes at parties in a show of gangster-style largesse, they might have gotten away with it. But in Kingwood, getting away with things gets a little old.

After the initial shock of the girls' arrests, lots of people, including a school district official and the editor of the Kingwood Observer, called the crime spree "an anomaly." It is possible that they're right, that the glare of publicity Kingwood suffers when one of their good kids goes bad is unfair in light of how many stay good. "Kingwood is -- I hesitate to use the word 'perfect,' " says Cynthia Calvert, managing editor of the Observer, who is herself a Kingwood High parent. "But it really is a place where moms and dads and their kids go out on the soccer field on Saturdays. There has not been a homicide since I have been here. Not one. We really don't have a crime problem."

To say that four girls with nice clothes and guns are an anomaly is to suggest that they invented crime in a vacuum. It is to suggest that what they did, however outlandish and foolhardy, has no connection to the big picture in Kingwood. But in fact, these girls came from crime, the juvenile version of white-collar crime -- a teenage wasteland of hard drugs and beer and virginities lost on a combination thereof, born of boredom and populated by buzz-cut boys with the hard faces of college-town club bouncers, and September girls for whom December is already making its bid.

Kingwood High is a place so white, the brunettes look slightly out of place. It is the type of place where if you make the first cut for the softball team, the coach might give you a locker and instructions to change who your friends are and how you dress before the second cut. When people began to refer to the Fillies, the drill team, as the Whore Corps, members had to sign a code of conduct agreeing, among other things, that they would not kiss their boyfriends in the halls. At football games, the Kingwood Mustangs dash out of a giant inflated football helmet, and the Fillies sit in neat rows on the bleachers and cross their legs on cue, and territorial hoofprints mark the cheerleaders' skirts over the left buttock, and the parents wear polo shirts that say, "Varsity Dad" or "Kingwood Fillies," and one gets the sense that it is all as much a matter of status as spirit.

Katie, Lisa, Michelle and Krystal may not have been the kind of stunning beauties that met with instant popularity, like Lisa's exotic Barbie of a younger sister, Jessica. But except for Krystal, the girls were "very Abercrombie & Fitch," says a classmate. Parents who knew them use words such as "ladylike" and "well-mannered." Kids who knew them say they were "really sweet," "so sweet" or "very sweet," even though no one could tell the kinds of stories about them that one might tell at a wake or a wedding.

"None of them stood out," Kingwood graduate Cary Dukes says of the four girls. "None of them were outgoing to the point where everyone knew who they were. They weren't anything special."

Of the four, Michelle Morneau maintained the lowest profile. In May she graduated from Kingwood High, where she had been capable of going an entire semester without saying a word in class. Yet people who saw her at parties say she was a trash-mouthed girl who didn't necessarily care about preserving a good reputation when it came to boys. Morneau's parents, an Exxon lawyer and a special-ed teacher, got divorced two years ago, and Michelle lives with her mom. Her dad, who also lives in Kingwood with his new wife, got the condo in Hawaii.

According to W.C. Pudifin, an undercover investigator who was brought in by Detective Stephens, Morneau never wielded a gun. During the robberies, she stayed in the car. She was the first of the girls to get bailed out of jail (Katie and Lisa are still in custody), and she and her ankle bracelet now attend Kingwood College, where friends have been known to joke with her about her newfound celebrity.

The least wealthy of the four was Katie Dunn, who lived with her mom and older brother in an apartment across the street from Kingwood High. Her mom is a nurse. Her brother, the man of the house since their dad stayed in Iowa after the divorce, tried to be a father to Katie, or at least look after her at parties. At Kingwood High, extracurriculars can cost as much as tuition at a public college, but Katie's mom scraped together the more than $1,200 it took for her daughter to be a Filly.

It was Katie's distinctively raspy voice that a Kingwood High assistant principal identified on the convenience store surveillance tape. She is boisterous, loud, rough around the edges. At school, where she would have been a senior this year if she weren't in jail, she knew exactly which teachers' and administrators' favor to curry in order to skip class with impunity. A lot of schoolmates found her off-putting, particularly her habit of "hanging on" guys, but to her closest pals she was an attentive friend, the type who would make a big deal out of someone's birthday or microwave a pizza for her friends after school. One friend says his mom saw the preternaturally upbeat Katie as marriage material. She never talked about not having as much money as other girls. When her boyfriend broke up with her this summer, she shrugged it off. Nothing seemed to get her down.

One of Katie's best friends was Lisa Warzeka, whose family was also on the lower end of the Kingwood financial scale. Zeke was the athlete, considered hot stuff on the volleyball court and the lacrosse field. Her ex-Air Force father worked at the airport, and her homemaker mother, who was from Thailand, came to Lisa's games. Kingwood is a place where people still use the word "Oriental" instead of "Asian," and Mrs. Warzeka's English was difficult to understand. Having a mom who was different, friends say, was hard for Lisa. "I think she never found where she fit in," says one pal.

Where Katie was boisterous, with long, thin hair and a Midwestern complexion, Lisa was quiet and dark, with a pretty moon face and snub nose that made her look more petite than she actually was. She was nice to the younger girls on her sports teams but not easy to get to know. She and Katie liked to party, but that wasn't unusual, and most kids could manage to drink at keggers on weekends without straining their performance at school. When news of Lisa's arrest made the front page of the Houston Chronicle, the volleyball coach gave the team a talk about the dangers of making friends with the wrong people.

Lots of folks subscribe to the theory that these girls simply fell in with "the wrong crowd." If that's the case, which of them was "wrong"? Was Krystal, the youngest of the bunch, the corrupter? There's little evidence to suggest that anyone outside the group was influencing the girls, and it would have been unusual if there had been. For all their varying opinions about drugs, kids in Kingwood are unanimous about one thing: Peer pressure is not a factor. If you don't want a drag off the joint, the Kingwood party joke goes, so much the better. More for me.

It might be a good idea, still, to stay away from the wrong people. But in Kingwood, it's difficult to know who the wrong people are. Star football players smoke dope. Cross-country runners sell cocaine on the side. Even Katie, the professional teacher's pet, had been known to pop beans (rohypnol) at school.

The key to being bad is to look like you're not. "If you have the Kingwood physique," says one former Kingwood High student who didn't, "you're sort of invincible."

"This is Kingwood," is the way Kingwood graduate Cary Dukes explains it. "Everyone's got two game faces."

Of the four girls, the only one who people thought looked the least bit capable of robbing stores was Krystal Maddox. A 16-year-old who just finished her sophomore year, she was the youngest, yet Stephens says it was Maddox who played "a very major role in all of these robberies."

Maddox is a living after-school special, a young woman who twisted the conventions and griefs of overprivileged girlhood into a bad-girl caricature. Her father, Kenneth Maddox, was rich, what Kingwood guys call a "baller." The family had a lake house with a pool table, two pinball machines and springer spaniels named Penny and Sage. Ken Maddox loved to hunt, and his arsenal of Weatherby rifles and Berettas was large enough to outfit a small militia of teenage girls, though police won't say where they think the girls got the guns they used in the robberies. (They did find a pellet rifle, which they're not sure was used, in Krystal's mom's garage. They also found a green hooded sweatshirt that fit one witness's description.) On Krystal's 16th birthday in April, her daddy gave her the Firebird she would later use, allegedly, as a getaway car.

Krystal's mom, Shelly, was Maddox's third wife. She had a full-length mink, a Rolex, a diamond-and-sapphire jewelry set and a divorce that required the judge to sign a far-reaching restraining order that applied to both parties. Shelly and her 26-year-old husband now train hunting dogs.

In middle school Krystal was a perfect little Kingwood achiever. She was on student council, in cheerleading and ran track. She and her mother were in the National Charity League, a suburban version of the Junior League. But once Krystal hit high school, she changed radically, possibly because she was rebuffed by the crowd of rich, popular girls she tried to befriend. "She just wanted to be like, 'I don't need you anymore,' " says one classmate.

"She always kind of thought she was a thug or a little gangbanger," says Chris Berriesford, who dated Krystal in ninth grade. "She had a thick layer around her of being bad, but I knew that inside she was really sensitiveŠ.I've seen her cry plenty of times."

In tenth grade, Krystal's parents apparently tried to straighten her out by sending her to a Christian school, but it wasn't more than a few weeks before she was back at Kingwood High and spoiling for trouble. She earned herself the nickname Krystal Meth, not because she did speed but because she was so keyed up. She dyed her hair a dark, metallic red and showed everyone her new tongue piercing (kids say she was the first in school to get one). She touched up her thick mask of makeup with fanatic regularity. She picked fights. She boasted about throwing up after meals and reportedly took $100 bills from her mom's bedroom. She hated Kingwood snobs, girls who thought they were better than she was, but she liked Kingwood boys and had crushes just like anyone else. She wore tight shirts and baggy jeans, and she particularly liked one lacy outfit that someone told her made her look like Britney Spears.

Until the arrests, most people in Kingwood did not think of Katie, Michelle, Lisa and Krystal as a foursome. It's not clear how they came to be sitting together at a table at the Kingwood Sonic, shortly after the end of school, planning an armed robbery. Lisa, it seems, was short on cash and suggested that the girls rob a store. Krystal reportedly thought this was a great idea. As Detective Stephens tells the story, it went down like a meeting of the prom decorations committee. One girl said, "I've got a gun!" Another said, "I've got a mask!"

On May 30, three days after the last day of classes, they were headed for their first target, a Stop-n-Drive on Loop 494, outside Kingwood's western edge in Montgomery County.

Two days later Krystal reported to summer school because, she said, she wanted to graduate a year early. During June she skipped class a lot and got her tongue pierced again. The other girls were, according to police, on an up-all-night, sleep-all-day summer schedule. But according to what has come to light so far, they did not rob any stores then.

But just before July 1, Pudifin says, there was a three-way phone call. Two of the girls said they were going to hit again. The third one said to count her in.

It's tempting, at least until one talks to their alleged victims, to think of Katie, Lisa, Michelle and Krystal's crime spree as a big screw-you to good suburban girls everywhere, an adventure with a certain B-movie glamour and switchblade-sister appeal. But, of course, there's a simpler and more sordid explanation: cocaine. All four were reportedly heavy coke users, a fact of which many of their close friends were well aware, but of which their parents and teachers were apparently not.

Asked how Kingwood High deals with substance abuse, Kathy Collier, the spokeswoman for the Humble Independent School District, rattles off too many education and counseling and prevention and awareness programs to write down. "I wouldn't want you or anybody else to think we're naive about it," she says.

Told that kids had a great deal to say about drug use in Kingwood, she says, "I know. Kids. Half of them think that everyone's doing it, and the other half think no one's doing it." She was partly right. Half the kids in Kingwood do think everyone's doing drugs. The other half think almost everyone's doing drugs.

"Rusty" is a winsome, delicately boned 24-year-old who seems, if not totally grown-up, at least to have made major, relatively recent strides in that direction. He has agreed to discuss the Kingwood drug trade over lunch at Chili's. Until recently, when he got out of the game, Rusty was a big-time dealer from Humble who says he made a six-figure income supplying "half of Kingwood" with pot, acid, ecstasy and coke. His goal when he got started as a teenager, he remembers fondly, was to get everyone in Kingwood "fucked up."

Kingwood is a dealer's dream. "Every kid there does drugs," Rusty says, "because there's nothing else to do." You can bleed rich kids for more than the going rate, and you're not likely to get screwed over. In the days before Houston annexed Kingwood and HPD came in, kids didn't even worry about the cops: "They know Mommy and Daddy are taking care of it."

In his heyday, Rusty says, he could unload a quarter-kilo of coke a week in Kingwood. In retail prices, that's about $17,000 worth. About half his customers were in what one might normally think of as the cocaine demographic, 35 and over. ("There are so many places in Kingwood where the parents are just as bad as the kids," he says.) But most of the other half were high schoolers.

The demand for cocaine started to heat up among Kingwood youth about three years ago, which by some accounts is when Krystal began to get hooked. "Everyone knew it was going on, but it wasn't okay to do it in front of everyone," Rusty recalls. Eventually what was going on behind closed doors moved out in the open, and there were parties where everyone sat around doing lines on the coffee table. Chris Berriesford, who says he broke up with Krystal in part because of her taste for drugs, remembers seeing her cut a line on the hood of her car. "That girl just had no boundaries," he says.

"Everything is a trend in Kingwood," Rusty says. "Cocaine is a trend in Kingwood. It's kind of a trendy thing in Kingwood not to believe in God."

Today, according to Rusty, "drugs are up and they're down." By drugs, he means cocaine, and by up and down, he means that the flagrant openness and the single-track minds of those who were hooked began to scare off many kids, and cocaine became uncool. Meanwhile, those who were hooked escalated their demand. "Kingwood is a really stressful, stressful place to grow up," Rusty says. "Parents have an image to uphold, and kids are just a part of that imageŠ.The kids can't just be themselves."

While those who knew the girls say Krystal flaunted her cocaine use, for Katie, the Filly, and Lisa, the athlete, the drug was a struggle. "[Katie] told me she spent a lot," says one friend, who believes Katie started doing coke during her junior year. "Something bad would happen, and she'd be like, 'I gotta quit, I gotta quit.'ŠWe stopped talking for a while because of it."

Lisa had "dramatically changed" over the past year as well, says the friend, a fellow athlete who used to practice with her on the court until Lisa seemed to lose interest in athletics. "She didn't want what she used to want."

Police confirm that the girls used some of their spoils to buy cocaine (Stephens says Katie also used the extra cash to get her belly button pierced). The July 1 robbery, which netted their biggest take, apparently whetted the girls' appetite for a wild spree the following weekend.

On July 4, according to police, Krystal and a male suspect wearing one white and one black glove held up the Porter Food Store in Montgomery County. The owner put $200 in a fast-food paper bag they handed him. The store is located just before a curve in Ford Road, which leads into Kingwood by a back way, and the robbers escaped handily. The male suspect has yet to be arrested, possibly because only Krystal was allegedly with him, and only Krystal has not given a police statement.

By six the next morning, after what one can easily imagine was a wired night, the girls were desperate enough to rob in broad daylight. Back on Hamblen Road, according to police charges, Krystal and Katie held up Ryan's Bakery.

"The girls did tell me they were sober at the time of the robberies," says Stephens. He uses a perfectly straight tone while managing to convey utter disbelief: "That's pretty brave, to do something like this sober."

By this time the girls were starting to get in hot water at home. Krystal was supposed to start the second session of summer school on July 5, the morning of the bakery holdup, but she was absent. Eventually poor attendance forced her to drop out.

When Katie had left home that weekend, she did so despite the fact that she was grounded, and she stayed away for three days. That's why she was grounded yet again when the other three girls hit Jack's Grocery, next door to the bakery, the following weekend. In all the robberies, their M.O. was basically the same: One held the door, the other the gun, and there was a lot of yelling and cursing. ("Don't get your panty hose in a wad," the plainspoken bakery clerk Carolyn Dunn told them when they tried to rush her.)

But at Jack's, says Chiên Barker, a Vietnamese woman with a good deal more poise than your typical convenience-store clerk, the girls weren't as harsh. Jack's, owned by Chiên and her husband, Rick, occupies a soft spot in the hearts of many Kingwood youth, who remember it fondly as the only place that used to sell cigarettes to minors. More than one kid hanging out at Starbucks offered the opinion that holding up Jack's was some sort of treason, far worse an offense than simple armed robbery. Katie, Lisa and Krystal were regular customers there, and Chiên says she would sometimes inquire after Lisa's mother, since the two women had been friends for about a decade.

But on the day Chiên found herself with a gun pointed at her face, she had no idea that the petite masked figure wielding it was, allegedly, her friend's daughter. All Chiên could think about was her young, motherless grandson, and what he would do without her to raise him. It was the first time in nearly 20 years of business that Jack's had been robbed, and Chiên, who lived through the war in Vietnam, doesn't want to tell the story. When finally she does so, her voice stays calm while her eyes fill with tears.

"I feel sorry for their mothers," she says simply.

It is a Monday night in Kingwood, about 9 p.m. Everything is pretty much dead. Behind the Fuddruckers, a smattering of teens are gathered in the parking lot. A cheerleader in uniform leans into a guy seated on the hood of his car. All the shops are dark, except Espresso Yourself, a coffee shop where people under 21 are not permitted in the evening because beer is served. On the sidewalk in front, what passes for culture in Kingwood is taking place: The Mad Matt Show. A twentysomething guy in a T-shirt and shorts plays the guitar for an audience that looks largely made up of his parents' friends. A girl with dyed black hair sits morosely near the back. "I'm funky / I'm not a junkie / I don't know where to get it," Mad Matt sings between cigarettes. Then, to an appreciative murmur, he strikes the opening chords of "Margaritaville."

Back in the '80s the Clergy Association of Kingwood and the Friendswood Development Corporation, which is the Exxon subsidiary that developed Kingwood, commissioned a study on the needs of their young adult constituents. In light of the tragic, alcohol-related death of a Kingwood teen en route to a party, the Clergy Association particularly wanted to know about the need for substance-abuse services. The name of the community in question was not to be mentioned in the study, and the study was not to be published.

When the report was issued, according to lead researcher Paul Raffoul, it was essentially ignored. Yet the main finding was simple: There was absolutely nothing for teenagers to do in Kingwood. There still isn't.

As a result, Kingwood is the site of a sort of guerrilla war between kids and cops. Vandalism is so frequent as to seem like a hobby -- there were more than 400 incidents reported last year. Kids complain that all the cops do is look for parties to bust. Asked about juvenile crime, Houston police Sergeant G.A. MacAnulty, who works at the Kingwood station, says, "That's all we deal with out here is juveniles."

Crime in Kingwood doesn't make headlines very often, but when it does, it always seems to involve teenagers. This summer a 13-year-old set fire to an elementary school, doing $3 million worth of damage. A week later a 14-year-old set fire to a middle school, which will cost $40,000 to repair. Four teenagers -- two boys and two girls -- sent a house up in flames. In 1996 six football players and two other teens were charged with beating up one of their peers at an outdoor concert in Town Center. In 1995 nine teenagers were arrested for entering a house and beating the kids inside with baseball bats.

In one of the most sensational Kingwood crimes, 15-year-old Andrew Merritt shot and killed his mother, telling authorities that Satan had spoken to him through the heavy-metal music of Megadeth. The following year, 1994, there was another case that seemed made for Hard Copy: Eight teens aged 14 to 16 videotaped themselves exploding mailboxes, trapping joggers in pits and setting fire to air conditioners. Their misdeeds were plotted, like football plays, on a chalkboard. One of those kids was Katie's boyfriend this summer.

Throughout all these crimes runs a chilling failure to grasp the notion of consequences. Partying in Kingwood, cheerleader Christina Ousman explains, is a way to say "you have your parents around your little finger." The more you get away with, the higher your status.

When the four girls were arrested, Detective Stephens says, all but Katie showed no remorse. "It just didn't seem to upset them," says Stephens. "They gave their story and that's it. Point-blank."

Ultimately Lisa was the only one who displayed an inkling that she could have ruined her life. (Armed robbery is a first-degree felony that carries five to 99 years.) "It was, 'Okay, when can we get this wrapped up, because I have school starting in a few days,' " Pudifin told People magazine.

A girl who was a friend of Andy Merritt's, the guy who killed his mother, says the strangest thing about growing up in Kingwood is that no matter what you did, nothing seemed to come of it. During nights of aimless vagrancy, she and her friends threw Molotov cocktails and set walls on fire. Other kids threw golf balls at policemen to make them give chase. One night the girl and her friends took a track hurdle and hurled it through the window of a school. The next day the broken glass was still there, right where they left it.

When her friends returned to school at the end of a week's vacation, the glass was fixed. No one said a word about it. You could throw rocks at the bubble, but they'd just bounce back.

Detective Billy Stephens was on the case of the Hamblen Road robberies when a tipster called the Harris County Sheriff's Department and said that Katie and Michelle were involved. Though the girls had no prior record, the tip seemed plausible, if only because a common thread in the robberies was that witnesses believed they had been committed by either females or very young men. Detective Stephens called in undercover investigators Pudifin and D.W. Smith, who placed the two girls under surveillance.

But waiting around for the girls to pull guns on more unsuspecting store clerks was a less-than-ideal situation, not least because the girls themselves stood a good chance of getting hurt. Besides, the girls didn't do anything illegal while the police were watching except drive too fast, for which they received a speeding ticket.

Because of the robbers' masks and hoods, Stephens knew he wasn't going to get a facial ID. So he went after a vocal one: He asked a Kingwood High School assistant principal, someone who knew all the kids, to view the surveillance tapes from the robberies in Montgomery County (there were no tapes in any of the Harris County jobs). The principal's identification of Katie's voice was enough for the cops to get a warrant.

By then the girls were sliding downhill fast. On the surface, their antics seemed rough, but within the bounds of normal teenage angst. But that was only on the surface.

Lisa reportedly used her mom's credit card to buy tickets for the Woodstock concert in late July, planning to steal her mom's Jeep Cherokee to drive there. But when her mom found out, friends say, she confiscated the tickets. At some point Lisa took the car and didn't come home "for a long time."

On August 2 Lisa was arrested on a misdemeanor charge for assaulting her sister. A friend says Lisa suspected she wasn't getting her phone messages, and she made up her mind to test Jessica by having someone call while Lisa was out.

When Lisa asked Jessica if she'd gotten any calls, Jessica said no. She asked again, and Jessica, "with a sort of a smirk," as Lisa told it to her friend, said no again. That's when Lisa, according to statements Lisa's mom and sister gave the police, slapped Jessica hard enough to make her right cheek swell. The two were on the ground wrestling when Lisa, according to the offense report, ripped off Jessica's shirt and bra, leaving claw marks on her back. Lisa cut the phone cord and retreated to her room.

The fight started again when Lisa saw that Jessica had changed into one of Lisa's shirts. When Jessica refused to take it off, Lisa came after her again, but Jessica reportedly defended herself with the remote control. Lisa, the report says, ran into her room, got her lacrosse stick and chased Jessica out of the house. Jessica and her mom drove to the police station to get an officer, and Lisa was taken to jail.

Estranged from her parents, Lisa called her friend Brandon Mahand, whose father, Kenneth, is an attorney. (Not wanting to disturb anyone too late at night, Lisa apparently waited until the morning to phone.) With the elder Mahand's help, a group of friends bailed Lisa out and took her to the house of a fellow volleyball teammate.

At the same time, Krystal's friends were getting calls from her stepdad. Krystal had disappeared, without her car, and no one knew where she was. Krystal's father, according to police testimony, confiscated the Firebird and was planning to sell it.

It was about that time that the police received another tip. The girls, the informant told them, were planning to rob again.

The police decided it was time to take action. On August 5, a month to the day after her last alleged offense, Katie was arrested outside Eckerd Drugs. Her sister, who was with her at the time, asked Katie what in the world was going on. "I can't tell you," Katie said, according to one account. "I can't tell you."

With the cops she was more forthcoming. Her confession gave the police all they needed to arrest her three accomplices.

The next day HPD picked up Michelle and Lisa. Lauren Smith, the friend who was with Michelle when she was arrested, reportedly told people that the cops found a bag of cocaine on Michelle. (Asked about this, Stephens replies, "No comment. Don't make this hard on me.")

At the house where Lisa was staying, her friend's younger sister came upstairs and said, "The cops are here, and they want Lisa." Before she was taken away, Lisa told her friend's mom that she was innocent.

As for Krystal, the police arrested her and took her, at her request, to her dad's house, where they put her in the library while they told Kenneth Maddox what was going on. They even, according to Officer Smith's testimony at a hearing, showed him a videotape of one of the robberies. "That's not my daughter," Smith recalled Maddox saying. Smith demonstrated the hand Maddox pressed to his temple. "What has she gotten herself into?"

When Kenneth confronted Krystal, Smith testified, she was bawling. "Daddy," Krystal said, according to Smith, "I was just the getaway driver."

During the hearing, which ended with District Judge Kent Ellis certifying Krystal to stand trial as an adult on three counts of armed robbery, Krystal sat at a table in her blue juvenile detention uniform, her face scrubbed clean of makeup and her mousy hair pulled back from her hangdog brown eyes.

When victims testified, she furrowed her brow. The only time she smiled was in conference with her high-dollar attorney, Robert Scardino. Most of the time she clutched the hands of her mother, sometimes even stroking them comfortingly. When the judge announced his decision, which effectively meant that she would face prison time, she broke into tears without sobbing, hugged and kissed her parents and left the room. The guard escorting her called her "girly girl."

The only good thing about Krystal's sudden adulthood was that her bail would finally be set. Like Michelle, she could go home. Katie and Lisa remain in jail, apparently for financial reasons. When national reporters (who, in the wake of the Littleton, Colorado, high school massacre, are acting as if they've discovered the new face of American crime) have requested interviews, Lisa's father has asked if they can pay, saying he'd like to start a tuition fund for his daughters.

There are those who think the girls have learned their lesson. "I honestly and truly believe," says one friend, "that if they got out now they would never again be a problem with the law. These girls were not the kind of girls who were involved in stuff like this."

That begs the question: Should consideration be given to the kind of girls they are? or to the fact that where they're from, it's hard to learn what consequences are in the real world? Says Pudifin, without particular malice, "I just hope they get the same as if they were four black males the same age." That would be one way to burst a bubble.

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