From Jackson’s Classic True Crime Library
Early one morning in May 1997, a young couple on their way to work in the mountains of Colorado spotted what looked like a man dragging a body up a secluded trail. The beautiful, densely wooded area off a dirt road seemed such an incongruous place for a violent crime that at first the couple had a hard time believing what they were seeing. But it was all too real; the man fled, leaving behind a bloody, dying woman.
The investigation into the death of young street walker Anita Jones would lead from that idyllic spot to the seamy underbelly of Denver and a world of prostitution, drug dealers and violent criminals. And it would expose the lives of two of that world’s inhabitants, the suspect, Robert Riggan, and Anita’s friend, Joanne Cordova, a former police officer-turned-crack addict and hooker.
In the past, Cordova had submitted to violent sex with Riggan in exchange for drugs; it was just part of her life on the mean streets. But when her friend Anita was murdered, Joanne had to make a choice. She could swallow her pride and go to her former colleagues on the police department and tell them what she suspected, which would also put her own life in danger as “a snitch.” Or she could look the other way, and let a suspected killer walk free and continue his violent attacks on women. But which would she choose?
ROUGH TRADE by New York Times bestselling author Steve Jackson is more than the recounting of a murder, an investigation, and the prosecution of a suspect. It’s also the story of two people from the seething criminal underworld of Denver, Colorado and how their paths crossed on the streets and in the courtroom. There was Riggan, who was raised in his own private hell that included rape, incest and extreme abuse to become a violent sexual predator. And there was Cordova, who had to summon the courage, and suffer the humiliation, in order to pull herself out of the abyss into which she’d fallen to testify against the man she believed killed her friend. And in doing so, find her own personal redemption.
“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” -John 8:7
“This taut and well-told crime tale does a fine job of getting into the heads of the principal players. JoJo Cordova is a perfect representation of a good person subjected to a dangerous drug addiction can go from being a working police officer to a working prostitute desperate for her next hit of crack. Jackson writes with clarity and precision, and never strays into schmaltzy emotion when describing the horrors of these “rough trade” lifestyles. He writes with compassion but by no means does he glorify or excuse the criminality here. He offers understanding. And in the world of true crime, what better goal can a book have?”–New York Times bestselling author Anthony Flacco
From The Book:
May 16, 1997
The sun had not yet climbed above the pine trees to warm the deep shadows along Old Hughesville Road when Amy Johnson and her fiancé, Jason Sosebe, left their home in the mountains northwest of Denver, Colorado. Hurrying, they climbed into Jason’s big black truck and were soon headed out the driveway.
They were both employed in Golden, the home of Coors beer and the Colorado School of Mines, some twenty miles to the east where the foothills of the Rocky Mountains end and the plains begin. On the way, they would pass through Black Hawk, once one of the richest gold-mining towns in the Old West, which had struck gold again in 1991 when voters approved casino-style gambling. The locals had changed the old saying from “Thar’s gold in them thar hills,” to “Thar’s gold in them thar pockets,” alluding to the tourist-gambler dollars that provided employment for the young couple. Twenty-eight-year-old Sosebe was the manager of a charter bus company that delivered customers from Denver to the casinos; Johnson, twenty-four, a casino company secretary.
Old Hughesville Road was a narrow, winding gravel lane off Highway 119, about a mile from Black Hawk. In the town’s original glory years, it was little more than a rutted wagon track that wound into the hills to service the numerous mines that dotted the area. In 1997, the area was lightly populated; Sosebe and Johnson would have driven past only a few homes and an old abandoned miner’s cabin before reaching the highway. In one direction, the highway ran north and then east, continuing about forty miles beyond to Boulder; the other direction, it went south and east in a sort of horseshoe shaped path through Black Hawk and down Clear Creek Canyon to Golden.
They had just swung around the corner above an old miner’s cabin when they saw a dark blue minivan. It was parked facing uphill in the little pull-off area in front of the cabin, which was a tin-roofed structure with an old wooden floor. The cabin stood at the beginning of a hiking trail to an area known as Missouri Falls, so it wasn’t unusual to see cars parked in the turnoff. Despite this, there was still something unusual about it that had made Sosebe and Johnson take particular notice of this van. Although a favorite of locals, this trail wasn’t marked with a sign and wasn’t well-known to people from beyond the area. But not only did it seem too early in the morning for hikers, but the van had Wyoming license plates.
Then, as they passed the car, Johnson caught a glimpse of something even odder, which made her do a double take. In the early morning light, she thought she saw a man. He appeared to be dragging a red sleeping bag up the Missouri Falls trail.
Something was very wrong. Johnson was sure that she’d seen a body on the sleeping bag. The body’s legs were bare, which made it even stranger because it was still cold outside. Her first thought was that maybe the person on the sleeping bag was handicapped and the man dragging it hadn’t been able to maneuver a wheelchair past the rocks that bordered the parking area to reach the trail. But that didn’t make sense, either. It would have been very painful to be dragged over those rocks, and the person on the sleeping bag wasn’t moving or trying to brace in any way.
“Jason, stop!” she yelled.
Thinking that his girlfriend was warning him about some unseen obstacle, or perhaps a deer about to bound out onto the road, Sosebe quickly applied the brakes. Then Johnson told him what she thought she’d seen. At first, he was skeptical. But she insisted, so he turned around at the first wide spot in the road, which was almost to the junction with the highway.
It had only been a minute or less since they passed the cabin, but as they drove back up the hill, the blue minivan went roaring by. To reach them in so short a time, the driver would have had to run to the van and whip a U-turn on the narrow road after he saw them go past. “There’s no way he could have put someone back in the van that fast,” Johnson said.
As the van passed them, followed by a cloud of dust, Johnson tried to get a good look at the driver but saw only a dark figure through the tinted windows. Sosebe concentrated on the license plate and got the first three numbers. He stopped and backed up so that he could see which way the van turned when it reached the highway. It ran the stop sign at the bottom of the hill and went north, toward Boulder.
Apprehensive of what they might find, the young couple continued back to the cabin, where Sosebe pulled into the turnoff. Even from there, they could see part of the red sleeping bag poking out from behind a pine tree partway up the trail. Johnson jumped out of the truck and hurried toward the sleeping bag, with Sosebe following more slowly. When she walked around the tree, Johnson stopped short and gasped.
A woman lay facedown on the bag, her head pointed toward a stream and her feet toward the trail. She looked almost bald because her head had swollen to the size of a basketball, causing the skin of her scalp to stretch until her hair looked patchy. She was a small woman and wore a white T-shirt and a pair of white socks but was otherwise nude. Bright red blood shone wetly on the bag around her head and between her legs. She was still alive. Her breath gurgled through the blood that covered her lips.
When he caught up to his girlfriend and saw the young woman, Sosebe tried to dial out for help on his cell phone but couldn’t get a signal. He ran back to his truck, yelling over his shoulder that he was going to a neighbor’s to call the police.
Johnson stayed behind, placing her own jacket over the young woman’s exposed lower half. “It’s going to be okay,” she said. “Help is on the way.” The woman’s only response was a low moan.
From The Author Of SMOOTH TALKER, NO STONE UNTURNED and BOGEYMAN:
Some true crime stories are like onions. I don’t really know what I’ve got until I’ve peeled back the layers. Such was the case with my true crime book ROUGH TRADE: A Shocking True Story of Prostitution, Murder and Redemption, which I wrote in 2000 following the murder trial of Robert Riggan in Jefferson County, Colorado …