A specail report

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

ABOUT THE STORY

This series is based on court documents, public records, interviews with law enforcement officials, prostitutes and others related to the civic and criminal life of Ken Hardcastle. Times staff writer Anne Hull met with Hardcastle in the fall of 1993, but he declined to be interviewed for this story, as did his wife.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anne Hull grew up in St. Petersburg. She joined the Times as feature writer in 1985. Her series Metal to Bone won the 1994 Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. She was named a 1994 Nieman Fellow to study at Harvard University.

The series was edited by Chris Lavin, Sunday Floridian and Discovery editor.

 

A Secret Life

A runaway girl becomes a prostitute at the age of 13. One day, a man in a Cadillac picks her up on Tampa's Nebraska Avenue. She doesn't realize he is a prominent civic figure.

Their odyssey begins.

The underworld of drugs and prostitution existed before Ken Hardcastle and Jodi Bennett wandered into it, and it exists today, in the reflection of the office towers of downtown Tampa.

It was here, on these these streets, that a life of privilege descended into a bleak commerce.

In interviewing and reporting that has taken months, Times reporter Anne Hull has assembled a compelling, albeit graphic, story about real life among the addicted. The story portrays the close link between cocaine and prostitution, between pleasure and destruction.

Part One: A Secret Life

The lives of a Tampa civic figure and a young prostitute merge.

On a June morning in 1993, Kendrick Crossman Hardcastle III pulled away from his Tampa waterfront home on Bayshore Boulevard. The two lion statues at the edge of his property roared silently. Goodbye.

His beige Cadillac passed under the leafy tunnel of trees on Bayshore and emerged in sunlight, where the immaculate sidewalk ribboned toward downtown. The drive to work was less than five miles.

But just beyond the hedges of Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club, Hardcastle made a detour.

He turned into a ragged pocket of buildings and parked near a faded pink duplex with smudged white trim. It looked like a piece of candy dropped in the dirt. Hardcastle strode across the grassless yard.

A neighbor stood near the window, watching. Eyes fell on Hardcastle each time he visited the run-down apartment.

On this morning, an undercover police officer also held Hardcastle in his gaze. "Got him,'' the cop said, getting out of his unmarked car.

Officer Doug Pasley had grown up hearing his father's stories about south Tampa. As a boy, he stood with other kids on Gasparilla Day and watched the pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe toss out gold coins. Hardcastle was one of those pirates.

Hardcastle lived where damp cocktail napkins with yacht club insignias were wrapped under bourbon glasses. He was an elder at his church, a lifelong Republican, a civic figure.

Pasley went for his badge.

"Mr. Hardcastle?''

Within a few minutes, the evidence was placed in a small bag and Hardcastle was handcuffed. It was 8:45 a.m. He trembled slightly. He made a request before being taken to jail. Could he stop by his office to sign some papers?

A few minutes later, the two men walked into Hardcastle Industries. A small reception area opened into a large office. Pasley looked up at the wall. It was covered with plaques and mementos from a golden life. A photograph showed Hardcastle as a boy in Egypt, standing next to the pyramids. There was a framed picture of a magnificent sailboat docked in a foreign harbor with a seal that said it was built exclusively for Kendrick Hardcastle.

Still handcuffed, Hardcastle sank into a chair. He must have realized that bringing a police officer here was a terrible mistake. Pasley walked over to an executive credenza and slid it open.

What tumbled out were souvenirs from a hidden life: a butane torch, sex toys, letters from prostitutes, pornographic videos and self-help cassette tapes about addiction.

Pasley went to Hardcastle's desk and pulled out the top drawer. He counted 20 to 30 tiny bags containing cocaine residue. All were empty. He found four crack pipes, and a few loose pieces of crack cocaine. He set them on top of the desk.

Pasley looked down at the 59-year-old man.

Hardcastle was entirely focused on the small rocks. He'd been arrested before he had the chance to smoke.

It was none of his business, but Pasley couldn't help but ask:

"How'd you get this low, Mr. Hardcastle?''

The public spotlight fell briefly on Ken Hardcastle after his arrest. It made astonishing gossip: a prominent man who had devoted decades of his life to civic deeds, arrested at a crack house.

At first, the case appeared to be a story of personal tragedy: the good man who fell from grace.

The truth was more complicated, and more difficult for some to imagine.

For years, Hardcastle had juggled two lives. Just as he moved in the polite circles of south Tampa, he also operated in a bruised underworld of drugs and teenage prostitutes.

Hardcastle didn't need to travel far to cross borders. This underworld flourishes in the reflection of the office towers of downtown Tampa.

It was here, along the sidewalks as raw and gray as pumice, that Hardcastle met the others. They would never make the headlines, though their stories were just as remarkable. Jodi was a 14-year-old who slept under the colored letters of blinking motel signs. Jayna worked on Nebraska Avenue before being returned to her junior high school.

Hardcastle would even cross paths with a mother, who wandered into the chaos in a desperate attempt to save her daughter.

Hardcastle's odyssey is one of mystery and tangled stories, of surveillance photos and disbelief, of victimless crimes and victims.

After his arrest, Hardcastle wrote a letter to a reporter, hinting at a life he had kept separate from those who knew him as the beguiling Southern gentleman:

In addiction, I have felt the overpowering lure of the "feel-good'' and the inexorable couple which renders you oblivious to its devastating consequences. Not some well-meaning social worker's babble, not some perfumed psychologist couch chatter, not some detached PhD's thesis, but the first-hand in your face mind-blinding drive to get to a dope hole, cop, burn a stone, feel the euphoria hit your lungs and body and kick back and beam - THIS IS ADDICTION.

But Hardcastle's addiction stretched beyond drugs.

Pleasure is a hard industry, and it can be hardest on the givers.

As early as 1985, Hardcastle was a familiar figure on Tampa streets where prostitutes worked. "That's money right there going by,'' the girls would remark. They knew his Cadillac and they knew his preference for teenage girls. The word was that he was safe and that he paid well and had high-quality drugs. They didn't know much else about him. What else did you have to know?

One afternoon in 1985, a girl with the pale blue eyes of a Siamese cat stood in front of a mirror in a motel room, brushing her hair. Jodi Bennett smelled of cigarette smoke and Charlie perfume. Her mouth was like a pink flower that drooped at the edges. She looked at herself in the mirror. At 13, she was one of the youngest prostitutes on the street.

In a good world, Jodi would have been riding a school bus to junior high in Indiana. But home was a place of physical abuse. Her stepfather had a temper, and he used his fists often. When she was in the third grade, her grandparents in Florida took custody of her.

There, Jodi says, she was molested by her teenage uncle. She was 12 when she began to run.

She found Kennedy Boulevard, a grimy stretch of commerce and decay. To Jodi, it was alive and exciting. She didn't notice the empty storefronts or the haze of automobile exhaust. Her eyes trained on girls leaning into car windows and the lounge doors that swung open, spilling music into the street before snapping shut. Jodi wanted in.

One of the welcoming committee members of Kennedy Boulevard was a prostitute who took Jodi into the bathroom of the Amoco station on Howard Avenue. First, Jodi watched. When it was her turn, she balled up her fist and stretched out the fresh white canvas of her arm and let the needle slide in.

Jodi thought she had found a friend. But the generosity was calculated. After a few weeks, the older prostitute let Jodi know that a man in a Bronco was willing to pay $100 to be with her. "It's your choice,'' she told Jodi.

When it was over, Jodi vomited. Then she got high.

The day Jodi looked at herself in the motel room mirror, it didn't occur to her that she'd been on the streets for nearly a year. The weeks melted away out here, and the drugs took away any sharpness of time. She touched on a little blue eye shadow, grabbed her purse and headed for the curb to start work.

Jodi and a friend were walking along Nebraska Avenue in the noon sun. They were trying to hitch a ride when a luxury car stopped. They caught up to it and Jodi pulled open the door. "A Cadillac,'' she told her friend, as if they'd hit the jackpot.

The car was neat and clean, not like the other junkers they were always climbing into. The customer was different, too.

He asked the girls if they liked to party.

"What kinda partyin' you talkin' 'bout?'' they wanted to know.

"You all get high?'' he asked.

"Yeah, we get high,'' Jodi said.

They drove to the Ramada Inn on Busch Boulevard. In the room, the man unzipped a small case and pulled out a jar of cocaine. They each snorted a few lines. He took turns giving body massages with scented oil. He performed oral sex on them.

This coke is great, Jodi thought, as she lay there.

That afternoon was the beginning of a long and complicated relationship between Jodi Bennett and Ken Hardcastle.

Of all the lost souls on the street, he chose her.

She began living at the Lamplighter Motel, on the far end of N Florida Avenue, next to a used car lot. Hardcastle paid her expenses.

"The reason he kept me there is because the manager knew what was going on,'' Jodi said. "You can't really keep a 14-year-old girl at the Quality Inn and go pay her rent every day. The maids are gonna say somethin', somebody's gonna say somethin'. So he kept me there. He didn't want me going out on the streets. He wanted to take care of me. And I was thankful for that. He was my friend.''

Although the Lamplighter was dark and rundown, Jodi adopted a habit she would keep for many years. She laid out her cosmetics on the dresser and arranged her stuffed animals on the bed. She made it like a home.

The Lamplighter was 16 miles and a world away from south Tampa, far from the eyes of people who knew Hardcastle. He visited Jodi nearly every day. He took her to Lerner's at University Square Mall and bought her shorts outfits. At Shoney's, he would drink coffee and watch her eat. He didn't divulge much about his life, although Jodi was curious. He said he was in engineering and left it at that.

Two or three times a week, he took her to the Ramada Inn on Busch Boulevard, where he would perform oral sex on her. He didn't want to be touched. It struck Jodi as strange because most men she'd been with were exactly the opposite. She felt safe with Hardcastle.

Cocaine was a part of their bond. Jodi also had seen syringes in his bag.

"Ken, please can I shoot it?'' she would ask.

She heard he let other girls shoot cocaine, but he didn't let Jodi use needles.

Jodi was picked up a few times by law enforcement officers and taken to a shelter for runaway or troubled children. She and Hardcastle kept in touch during her periods of incarceration. He sent her cartons of cigarettes, clothes and mail.

Dear Jodi:

I really appreciate the two letters you wrote me. I just received the second letter today. I am so happy that you have a confirmed release date. I really look forward to seeing you and spend time with you. I enjoy being with you so terribly much.

Please don't mention me to anyone. You know it almost got me in serious trouble before. Please keep writing. I love to get your letters. Enclosed are some stamps and money.

I really look forward to seeing you and being with you.

Love K

Jodi looked up Hardcastle's address in the phone book. Bayshore Boulevard. She knew that was nice because she once was placed at a runaway shelter near Bayshore. She also figured he was somebody important because of the message on his answering machine at his office.

This is Hardcastle Industries, I'm not in at the present time . . .

Jodi always contacted Hardcastle at work. Only one time did she break the unspoken rule. She called him at home.

"Ken, this is Jodi,'' she said.

"All right, I'll be there Thursday,'' he said, in a formal tone. "I'll get back to you later.'' He hung up.

Within two hours, Hardcastle appeared at Jodi's motel.

"Don't you ever call my house again,'' he told her.

Ken and Mia Hardcastle lived on the southern tip of Bayshore Boulevard, overlooking Hillsborough Bay. The house was modest, not like the colonial reproductions the new money types were building for $500,000 along the golf course in Palma Ceia. This was the real thing.

The land was spectacular. White herons plucked their way across the shoreline. At night, families of possums climbed through the nearby groves. The Tampa Yacht and Country Club was just around the bend, with its riding stables and groomed tennis courts.

Hardcastle's home was used for parties, fund-raisers and church Easter egg hunts. It was also a subterfuge for the chaos building inside Hardcastle.

He possessed an unwavering charisma. When he spoke, he sounded like a Confederate general. His delivery was raspy and melodious. He was just as likely to mix Greek mythology with folksy expressions. He pronounced his alma mater "Van-de-belt.''

Peter Armacost, the president of Eckerd College, where Hardcastle served on the board of trustees, saw in Hardcastle an unusual combination: a successful business man with a scholarly mind.

"He understood the importance of a liberal education, of thinking critically and making value judgments,'' Armacost would later say. "He had the values and concerns we thought were important.''

Hardcastle's mind worked in mathematical ways, darting from theorem to theorem. He had dark eyes that were small and satiny, like a doll's. His thin brown hair was clipped short and neatly combed back, with no foolish attempts at covering his baldness. He was 5-foot-10, trim and tan. Mixed doubles tennis kept him in shape.

Although Hardcastle was ensconced in old Tampa, he wasn't an original. He was raised in Nashville. His family belonged to the exclusive Belle Meade Country Club. His father attended Vanderbilt and Cornell and was a top executive with the Tennessee Metal Co. At suppertime, the elder Hardcastle would announce a topic for discussion, and intellectual sparring would commence.

Wealth made possible many exotic adventures. As a young man, Hardcastle accompanied his father on big-game hunts abroad. He was sent away to the prestigious McCallie School, an all-boys military school in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the Bible and Faulkner were required reading. (Ted Turner was a few years behind Hardcastle.) He participated in football, drama and a Christian youth group.

Like his father, Hardcastle entered Vanderbilt and studied engineering. He met a beautiful and brilliant student, Mia Canariis, the only daughter of a prosperous family from Tampa. In 1955, Mia was something of a marvel on the campus of Vanderbilt; she was a woman enrolled in engineering school.

They graduated and married in 1956. They later moved into a home on Davis Islands in Tampa, beginning their steady ascension in society. Hardcastle went to work for Mia's father, Svend Canariis, an industrial pump distributor who sold mostly to the phosphate industry. The Hardcastles had two sons.

The rituals were unspoken among the old families of south Tampa. They sent their children to good colleges in the South and bought their Oldsmobiles from Jimmy Ferman. Their homes were decorated with chintz and kept tidy by a loyal cleaning lady who came on the bus most mornings.

In the early '60s, the John Birch Society had a strong following among ultra-conservatives in Tampa, and the Hardcastles were enthusiastic supporters.

According to a report recently made public, Hardcastle was asked to testify on behalf of the Johns Committee, a legislative group formed to investigate anti-American activities in the state during the late '50s and early '60s. A former professor of Hardcastle's from Vanderbilt was being considered for a teaching position at the University of South Florida, and the Johns Committee suspected him of being a Russian sympathizer.

"We called before the committee a man named Ken Hardcastle, who is an electrical engineer in Tampa and a very well respected man, very articulate and intelligent, and he happened to be a former student of this Dr. Fleming at Vanderbilt University for two years.''

Hardcastle told the committee that the professor taught anti-American sentiments in his political science classes at Vanderbilt. USF did not hire the professor.

Hardcastle was appointed to the founding board of Hillsborough Community College. He made luncheon speeches at the Hillsborough County Women's Republican Club. His photo appeared on the opinion pages of the Tampa Tribune.

"He was one of the leading young citizens of the community,'' said Colleen Bevis, who served with Hardcastle on the board of Hillsborough Community College. "He was on his way up, but Mia helped him jump.''

Hardcastle flashed his intelligence like a sword, a trait that intimidated some and irritated others. Mia Hardcastle possessed a grace that smoothed over her husband's arrogance. She was lithe and blond, with piercing blue eyes and a gentle manner. She was honored as an Outstanding Young Woman in America. In 1974, she served as president of the local Junior League. Charity work was nearly a full-time job. She started a successful topiary company. Her keen mind did not go unnoticed; in 1977, she would became the first woman to serve on the board of directors of GTE Florida Inc.

The Hardcastles were a part of a generation of Southern elites who considered flashiness a vulgarity. They lived quietly, following a set of customs that gave structure to their lives and to the lives of their friends. They belonged to the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, where black men addressed white boys in blazers as "Sir.''

The home they bought on Bayshore Boulevard was something of a landmark.

"I remember going to a party at their house,'' said Nancy Ford, who occasionally socialized with the Hardcastles. "The setting was exquisite, with the oak trees and a big piece of land. I was standing on the patio, and there was this great big fat moon. I turned to Mia and said, "Did you plan that?' She said, "Oh, yes, I ordered it.' And I bet she did.

"And that was them: this sort of golden couple.''

Nearly every Sunday, they attended the 11 a.m. service at Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, where Hardcastle was an elder. When the Rev. Kenneth Shick gave his Sunday morning sermons and looked out across his congregation, he would see Hardcastle's face set in deep concentration.

"He had an intense quest for Christian understanding,'' Shick observed. "It was an intellectual fascination.''

In 1981, Hardcastle was elected to succeed Jack Eckerd as chairman of the board of trustees at Eckerd College.

By the early '80s, Hardcastle presided over several companies, most of which provided dredge and pump equipment for industry. He traveled frequently and often flew his own airplane. He handled jobs from Pittsburgh to Suriname, and even dabbled with diamond mining in Venezuela.

By 1985, Hardcastle had reached an enviable plateau. At 52, his fortunes were made. His two sons were grown. It was a time to enjoy the solid reputation that he'd worked decades for.

But Hardcastle began to cultivate a secret life.

While on an out-of-town business trip, he experimented with powder cocaine. It became apparent to a woman who worked for Hardcastle at one of his companies in South Florida, Pompano Pump and Valve, that Hardcastle was using cocaine recreationally.

"As were a lot of other high-stress business people,'' said Kathy Keyte. "He was a wonderful person.''

In public, he appeared the Reagan Republican and church elder. But in private, he began to indulge in lost afternoons of drugs and prostitutes. With his briefcase, he looked like any businessman going into a motel room.

But someone was paying close attention to him.

In the fall of 1986, the Tampa Police Department received a telephone call.

On a night in September 1986, Hardcastle was in Room 410 at the Ramada Inn on Busch Boulevard. He was awakened by a knock at the door. Jodi Bennett was asleep in the other twin bed. She didn't stir.

Wearing his tan pajamas, Hardcastle walked to the door. It was nearly 1 a.m. No one knew he was at the motel. He was supposed to be out of town on business. Instead, he had picked up Jodi earlier in the day at the Lamplighter and they had gone to the Ramada. They snorted cocaine for several hours, and Hardcastle performed oral sex on Jodi. Later, they fell asleep in separate beds.

Hardcastle opened the door. He faced two blue uniforms and heard the words "Tampa Police.'' He was stunned and silent as the handcuffs went on. In the bathroom, the police found a film cannister in Hardcastle's shaving kit that contained an unknown substance.

As Hardcastle was being led to the elevator, he denied knowing that Jodi was a runaway.

He was charged with committing a lewd and lascivious act on a child under 16, contributing to the delinquency of a child and delivery of a controlled substance to a child under 18.

Jodi was taken to the pediatric ward at Tampa General Hospital, where she was so agitated during her examination that restraints were used. After her exam, she was driven to a juvenile detention facility.

That morning, Mia Hardcastle posted an $8,000 bond for her husband's release from jail.

But there was the troubling matter of Hardcastle's car.

Jodi had told the police that Hardcastle kept cocaine in his trunk. Hardcastle's refusal to let the police search the car had made detectives suspicious. A search warrant was obtained.

Hardcastle's Cadillac, registered to Hardcastle Industries, was being held at the county impound lot. A detective found it. He opened the trunk.

Sunlight poured into the dark compartment.

The detective carefully placed each item in an evidence bag and made a list:

  • brown tote bag
  • massage oil
  • two vibrators
  • rope
  • K-Y jelly
  • contraceptive
  • rolling papers
  • approx. 2.4 grams of marijuana
  • misc. paraphernalia
  • bottle of Omni Jel
  • white cloth bag
  • dish with cocaine
  • black tray
  • baggie with rice
  • Ziplock baggie
  • Limbitol tablet
  • 17 unknown green tablets
  • 2 unknown green tablets
  • vial with approx. 1.1 grams cocaine
  • blue container with approx. 1.1 grams cocaine
  • three stuffed animals

For the second time in several days, Hardcastle would be arrested.

When the detective went to Hardcastle's office, Hardcastle slipped through the back door and ran across a grassy field. He was caught and handcuffed. He was held in jail a few hours before being released.

How could police have known Hardcastle was with Jodi?

They were tipped off.

They received a phone call from a private investigator, who said a runaway child was in the company of an adult male in Room 410 at the Ramada. The private investigator said he had been hired by Jodi's grandparents to look for her.

But he had other motives.

A few days after Hardcastle's arrest, the private investigator's partner contacted Hardcastle's attorney. He offered a deal. In return for payments of $25,000 to $100,000, he could ensure that certain witnesses would not testify against Hardcastle.

The police arrested the private investigator and his associate, charging them both with extortion. Jodi's role remained unclear in the setup. She gave conflicting statements to the police about her grandparents' involvement. They were questioned but never charged.

The extortion attempt was a bizarre twist to an already bizarre incident.

But the fact remained that Hardcastle was in a motel room with a 14-year-old prostitute.

Tampa Police Detective Bob Sheehan worked in the sex crimes division and focused on juvenile prostitute and pedophile cases. Sheehan knew there was a network of child prostitutes in Tampa. They hovered mostly on the east portion of Kennedy Boulevard and a small strip along Nebraska Avenue. He was amazed at how invisible they were to most people, including himself.

"It's like they were part of a landscape and I hadn't ever noticed them,'' Sheehan said.

He interviewed several prostitutes along Kennedy, and many knew Hardcastle.

They said it was common knowledge that Hardcastle liked to perform oral sex on teenage girls and that he often gave them drugs. One girl introduced Hardcastle to her mother as "Uncle Ken.'' Another prostitute said Hardcastle picked up her and a friend from a skating rink on Armenia Avenue.

Sheehan checked a few of the low-rent motels the prostitutes used and asked the front desk clerks if they had any registration cards signed with Hardcastle's name. None did.

Coincidentally, another police agency had once investigated Hardcastle for suspicion of committing lewd and lascivious acts.

Surveillance photos were taken of Hardcastle as he and a girl came out of a motel on Kennedy Boulevard.

Detective Sheehan drove out to interview Jodi, who was being held in a psychiatric facility two weeks after the Ramada Inn arrest. She was withdrawn and angry because she was still locked up. Sheehan began to question Jodi about the night at the Ramada, as well as her relationship with Hardcastle.

She told Sheehan that she had been sexually active with Hardcastle since she was 13 and that he liked to have a red lamp on during relations. Jodi also said that Hardcastle once helped break her out of a mental facility by posing as her uncle and giving her a screwdriver to jimmy the window open.

At the end of the interview, Sheehan said to her:

"Even though you may be a prostitute yourself from time to time, and even though you may try and act like a grown-up, it's still against the law for a grown man to have sex with a 14-year-old girl. You understand?''

She didn't answer.

The publicity from the arrest deeply stung the Hardcastles. Some in south Tampa doubted the credibility of the newspaper stories. The man described was not the man they thought they knew.

One of the first people Hardcastle called after the arrest was Peter Armacost, the president of Eckerd College. Hardcastle apologized for embarrassing the school and offered to step down from the board of trustees.

"Are you guilty?'' Armacost asked. "If you're innocent, there's no reason to withdraw. We can stand a little flak.''

Hardcastle said he did nothing wrong.

From what Armacost could tell, the incident seemed like an extortion attempt.

Aside from the humiliation, Hardcastle faced an array of damaging felony charges, including sex and drug offenses.

For his legal representation, Hardcastle went outside the elite network of lawyers he knew and with whom he socialized. He chose Vivian Maye, a young lawyer from West Tampa, someone removed from the world of yacht clubs and Ye Mystic Krewe.

Right away, Maye smelled a weak case.

"How can you believe them (the state's witnesses) if they've been trying to extort money from this man? I wouldn't want to go forward on this case. "Ladies and gentleman of the jury, this girl's telling the truth. Please ignore the fact that her family was asking for $100,000 to drop all the charges.' ''

Maye thought the drugs found in Hardcastle's car trunk were planted by someone involved with the extortion scheme.

Maye said Hardcastle had a habit of befriending strays on Kennedy Boulevard. He was strictly a benefactor. He helped them when he could, providing food or money or a place to stay. Jodi Bennett was just one of the many he assisted.

"It wasn't a sexual relationship,'' Maye said.

In December, the lion statues that flanked the Hardcastles' long driveway off Bayshore Boulevard were usually decorated with gold or red ribbons. A crisp breeze blew off the bay and across the magnificent sweep of property, rustling through the tall trees. The smell of burning firewood laced the air.

That Christmas, Hardcastle received a once-in-a-lifetime gift.

The state dropped its case against him, even though it acknowledged there had been probable cause for the arrests. No specific reasons were given.

Detectives connected to the case figured that the testimony of a 14-year-old drug-addicted prostitute was too shaky to hinge a case on.

In south Tampa, the hushed phrase "What a shame'' was uttered over and over for what came to be known as "Ken's troubles,'' as if some powerful magnet had lured Hardcastle from propriety and goodness.

Three years passed.

It was now 1989, and Jodi was 17, living on the streets.

Her youth was ebbing, not so much by the years as by her lifestyle. She was lucky, considering. Other girls she knew when she first started working were gone. Michelle, Snow, Yvonne, all dead.

Jodi had been raped. She had been robbed. She had been beaten and thrown out of moving cars. But she was alive.

She'd straightened her life out for a brief period because she was pregnant. She took a job at a McDonald's and stayed free of drugs. But a few months after the baby was born, she slipped back to her old life, living in shabby motels and leaving her son at a Tampa day care center while she turned tricks. Relatives eventually took custody of the boy.

She felt the oddest mixture of numbness and self-hatred once the baby was gone.

Like a growing number of prostitutes on the streets of Tampa, Jodi had begun smoking crack cocaine, a much more potent and addictive method than snorting or injecting.

Law enforcement officers in Tampa observed crack's profound effect on the prostitution industry. "New girls'' flooded to the streets to support their addiction. The price of sex dropped because of the increased competition. And the desire to get high took priority over using condoms, which increased the threat of AIDS.

Besides the data, there was the more abstract toll of crack.

"It turned everyone into monsters,'' Jodi would later say.

A boyfriend of Jodi's had introduced her to crack. Sitting on the thin bedspread in the motel room, she pulled in a mouthful of smoke. Her head echoed with pleasure, her ears buzzed and she sailed past the planets on her way up.

Coming down was another story.

In late 1989, Jodi was walking on Nebraska one afternoon when she noticed a Cadillac go by. It had to be him, Jodi thought.

A couple of weeks later, she saw him again. This time, he stopped.

"You sure?'' she asked, getting in Hardcastle's car.

They hadn't seen each other for three years. Jodi knew Hardcastle probably suspected her of being in on the set-up at the Ramada Inn.

They rode in silence for several minutes. Finally, he looked over at Jodi. "Why did you do it?'' he asked.

She denied being a part of the scheme.

"I ran away so I wouldn't have to testify against you,'' Jodi said.

And so they began again.

Hardcastle looked almost the same. Such a geek with those tan shirts and tan shoes, Jodi thought. But there was one major difference.

Jodi took Hardcastle back to a friend's apartment at Riverview Terrace, a public housing project on N Florida Avenue. Instead of offering her powder cocaine, Hardcastle pulled out a vial of white rocks, a glass pipe and a torch. Jodi couldn't believe Hardcastle was smoking crack. It was a dirty drug, but Hardcastle did it first-class.

Jodi was accustomed to smoking out of old beer cans with holes poked through. She looked at the pipe. She had never seen one so elaborate. It had designs etched on the glass.

"This is the real way to smoke this stuff,'' she said.

Her mouth watered and her heart raced as she heard the spark of the lighter.

They had crossed over into a whole new world.

In another part of Tampa, in a working-class neighborhood, distant from the elegance of Bayshore and the sexual commerce of Kennedy Boulevard, a woman named Victoria Vore lived in a modest home in south Seminole Heights.

At 49, her knees were brittle from years of waitressing. Her dining room table was stacked with bills. On her days off, she dug in her garden and dreamed of ways to open a concession stand to make extra money. There was a formidable quality about this quiet woman. Frayed yet tough. Her hands were twisted by arthritis, but she still manicured her own nails.

Her 19-year-old daughter had a radiant smile and dusky eyes. Melissa looked like an Italian model on the back of a scooter in a blue jeans commercial. No one would have guessed her to be a cocaine addict.

Melissa was arrested for the first time in 1989. She and a girlfriend were driving through a neighborhood near Robles Park, just west of Interstate 275, when a police officer pulled them over on a traffic stop.

In the car, the officer noticed a broken glass jar with aluminum foil wrapped around the top, sprinkled with cocaine residue. Melissa's purse contained a small plastic bag with a trace of cocaine.

Over the next few months, Vore felt her daughter slipping away, in body and spirit.

She put up her house as collateral to bail Melissa out of jail. She borrowed money to check her into a residential drug-treatment program. She went to the library and searched for books about addiction. She struggled to understand why her daughter was drawn toward the tangle of pleasure and destruction.

When Melissa graduated from drug treatment, she embraced her mother. "Mom, you've got your daughter back,'' Melissa said. "We're gonna make it.''

But Melissa didn't stay clean for long. Soon, she was pawning everything within reach: her old Beatles albums, jewelry, an electric saw she found in the garage, even her mother's scissors kit.

In 1989, Melissa was arrested five times on drug possession charges. She diminished to a child's size 14. Her plum lips were charred from the hot crack pipe. Stains colored her teeth, and her fingernails were paper-thin.

It was sometime in this fog of arrests and treatment centers and heartache that Victoria Vore came home from work one afternoon and found a stranger in her living room.

It was unlikely that Vore ever would cross paths with this man, unless she were serving him a glass of iced tea. He was freshly barbered and drove a Cadillac. She eyed him with some suspicion.

"Mom,'' said Melissa, making the introduction, "this is Ken.''

Continue to: Part 2

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