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:
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:
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:
Diane Strom was horrified when she finally saw Jenny:
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:
Curtis remembers that night vividly:
Sgt. Jim Byler pieced the rest of the evening together based on Curtis’s descriptions:
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:
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:
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:
Crisafi remains skeptical:
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: