Attacked with a 2×4

Attacked with a 2x4

Attacked with a 2x4

Who struck Jenny Pratt in the head, causing permanent brain damage?

Sixteen year-old Jenny Pratt of Carlsbad, California, had hopes of one day becoming a model. In 1987, she was pretty, popular, and a sophomore at her local high school. But what mattered most to Jenny was her boyfriend, Curtis Croft. Curtis drove a Porsche, had plenty of money, and was a good-looking surfer. As far as Jenny’s mother, Diane Strom, knew, he was just a year older than Jenny:

“He looked 17. Further on down the road I found out he had been in jail for drugs and that he was 24 years-old. Just bad news for a 16 year-old kid.”

Against her parents’ wishes, Jenny went out with Curtis on the night of April 25th, 1987. He borrowed a friend’s motorcycle and promised Jenny he would get her back before her midnight curfew. Jenny never made it home. That night, Jenny Pratt was struck in the back of the head with an unusual weapon: a heavy wooden board, six and a half feet long, swung by someone in a passing vehicle. Police speculate the assailants were local teenagers. Jenny’s parents hope that someone will finally have the courage to step forward with the truth.

On the night of the attack, Jenny’s parents received a call that their daughter had been airlifted to a nearby hospital.  Diane Strom:

“They said our daughter had been in an accident. I said, ‘Is she okay?’ They wouldn’t tell me anything, only that we’d have to come down.”

Scripps Medical Center in La Jolla, California, takes only the most severe cases. When Jenny’s parents arrived, they were given the worst possible news: their daughter was brain dead and probably had only hours to live. Dr. Jerry Stenhjem:

“The blow from the board that struck her was great enough to actually crush the skull and that caused immediate shut down of her brain.”

The victim: Jenny Pratt

The victim: Jenny Pratt

Diane Strom was horrified when she finally saw Jenny:

“They said I could see her and what I saw was horrible. Her hair was red from all the blood. She was bleeding out of her nose, her ears, her mouth. She had tubes all over her.  And it was like her whole body was just distorted.”

Miraculously, Jenny survived, but she lapsed into a deep coma. Sgt. Jim Byler of the Carlsbad Police Department was one of the officers involved in the investigation:

“Our first involvement in the case was to examine the evidence that was found at the crime scene, which consisted of the two-by-four that was used to hit Jenny and Curtis. So we examined that for physical evidence and didn’t find any fingerprints. There were some blood stains on it, which were determined to be Jenny’s. Curtis was interviewed that same day at the Carlsbad police station. His account of what happened basically was that he was giving Jennifer a ride home and they were driving down Rancho Santa Fe Road, getting ready to make a left turn.”

Curtis remembers that night vividly:

“We were just approaching the intersection, going pretty slow, and all of a sudden something struck me and I just go ‘Ow, what was that?’ It hurt really bad, and then the car zoomed by. I turned around to tell Jenny that someone threw something at me or something, I didn’t know what happened. She was out of it and so I just thought ‘Oh my God what’s happening?’”

Sgt. Jim Byler pieced the rest of the evening together based on Curtis’s descriptions:

“We believe it was a case where a truckload of juveniles had committed this crime. The white pick-up truck went by them at a high rate of speed. Curtis had the impression that there was a large group of juveniles in the back. That they were laughing as they went by and that the board came flying from the pick-up truck. Quite frankly, we expected it to be a crime that would’ve been solved just by the nature of juveniles having a tendency to talk. But to this date, we have yet to have anybody come up and supply us with any direct knowledge of what happened that night.”

The crime was recreated

The crime was recreated

Jenny’s parents hired private investigator Louie Crisafi, who interviewed students at Jenny’s high school. He surmised that Curtis was the target of the incident, not Jenny. Two years before the attack, Curtis had been convicted of dealing cocaine. By cooperating with the police, he had served less than half of his sentence. Sgt. Jim Byler:

“He developed a reputation as a snitch when he got himself in trouble. And young people, particularly young people involved in drugs, tend to look down on somebody who develops that reputation.”

Police investigated several people who might have had a grudge against Curtis. They learned that he had confronted one of his enemies on the night before the attack. Jenny’s parents believed that the boy he confronted might have attacked Curtis and Jenny because of the argument.

According to Curtis, the white pick-up truck was traveling too fast for him to see the attackers. He said it went by at about 55 miles an hour. Louie Crisafi didn’t believe Curtis. Using mannequins as stand-ins for Jenny and Curtis, Crisafi reconstructed the incident at two different speeds:

“We used the identical pick-up as far as the model year and the size and the same type of motorcycle and we used the same conditions. There is no way it could’ve happened the way he said.”

In the 55 mile-an-hour reconstruction, the board swung by the assailant fell about fifty feet from the scene of the crime. But after the accident, police found the board only a few feet from the spot where Jenny was attacked. The second reconstruction played out at only 10 miles an hour. The mannequins sustained injuries very similar to the ones Curtis and Jenny actually received, and this time, the board fell right next to the motorcycle.

Crisafi felt that Curtis did actually see the people in the pick-up truck. Crisafi pressed him for more information. Finally, Curtis named names. One of them was the same boy he had fought with on the night before the attack. Later, Curtis recanted, telling police he had given them the names because he felt pressured:

“The truck went by really fast and people try to say maybe I saw someone, but I really didn’t. And we’ve done lie detector tests on me. I’ve passed everything, I’ve told the truth. I’ve always been there to help. I’ve always caved to everything they’ve wanted me to do and cooperated with everything.”

Crisafi remains skeptical:

“We do believe that Curtis did, in fact, see those people. Curtis continuously told us that he has been threatened, that he has basically informed on people before and was very, very frightened that he would be killed. And he was already being threatened not to talk in this case. And we have reason to believe that what he’s saying to that effect is true.”

Amazingly, three months after the attack, Jenny Pratt came out of her coma. At first, she seemed incapable of thought or action, but after 12 weeks, she started physical therapy.  Seven months later, Jenny began to speak. A year later, she could walk. Jenny Pratt can’t understand who would be motivated to commit such a brutal attack:

“Why was somebody mad at me? What did I do to them to hurt them?”

Louie Crisafi:

“We need somebody in the community with half the courage of Jennifer Pratt. Somebody who just knows the one missing link, the one thing that’ll tie this whole case together, because I really think that all we’re missing is one small link. And someone out there has it.”