Teen’s Demise Torments Parents The Short Life Of A Troubled Teen Is Now Unfinished Business For Detectives Hunting A Serial Killer
Jennifer Ann Joseph gazed at her palm lines and saw trouble ahead.
The 16-year-old from Tacoma told her dad and younger brother that she was going to live a short life.
“She always said she was only going to make it to 21 or 22,” her father John Joseph recalled.
She didn’t make it to 17.
The teenager’s body was found last summer by two farmers, dumped in a field northeast of Spokane.
She was shot.
Her unsolved murder and 19 others are now the focus of a serial killer investigation that’s 6 months old, apparently with no prime suspects in sight.
At least five of the Spokane murders and a sixth one in Tacoma were committed by the same killer or killers, investigators say.
Jennifer’s murder isn’t officially tied to the serial killer, but it isn’t classified as unrelated, either.
Most of the victims were involved in prostitution, drugs or both.
Jennifer’s descent into that life lasted only three months.
In one summer, she went from being a pretty, troubled high school sophomore to a street prostitute making as much as $1,000 a night for her pimp in San Francisco, according to interviews with her friends and family.
And then she was dead.
Her parents, who are divorced, find all that hard to accept.
“When I read that police were saying she was a known prostitute and drug user, well, that just kind of floored me,” said her father, a 46-year-old retired Army sergeant who lives in Spanaway, near Tacoma.
“No father wants to pick up a paper and see his daughter is associated with that kind of stuff after dealing with the fact that she’s been murdered.”
Her mother, who’s Korean, blames herself every day.
Mi Hae Chong Joseph quit her nursing home job in Hawaii and now spends full time with her 15-year-old son, her only remaining child.
“I can’t focus to work - no more,” she said.
Divorce took its toll
Jennifer Joseph was born on Oct. 6, 1980, in Hampton, Va. Her father had been transferred there after duty in South Korea, where he met and married Mi Hae Chong in 1979.
The family moved to Army bases in Denmark, South Korea and Massachusetts.
When she was 12, they moved again - this time when her father was transferred to Fort Lewis, near Tacoma.
They bought their first house. It was a new $119,500 stucco-rancher in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood in Spanaway.
Jennifer finally had her own bedroom, and she lined it with stuffed animals. She couldn’t have real pets because of allergies.
Her parents separated in February 1993, eight months before Jennifer became a teenager.
“She was a smart kid in school, but was sometimes bored,” her father said. She enrolled in an alternative high school and went on her first date when she was 14.
Attempts at reconciliation failed, and her parents filed for divorce in October 1996, the same month Jennifer turned 16.
In November 1996, almost midway through her sophomore year, Jennifer left Tacoma and moved to Hawaii to live with her mother.
In Hawaii, her mother recalled, she excelled in school.
“She liked friends,” Mi Joseph said. “She does not see bad people. She trusts people. I see bad people.”
But Jennifer had trouble fitting in there. She was the target of racist remarks because she was a child of a Korean-Caucasian marriage.
She left Hawaii in April 1997 and returned to her dad’s home in Spanaway.
“She wanted to take the rest of the school year off, but definitely intended to go back in the fall,” John Joseph recalled.
Her relationship with father grew strained. Her friends say she was concerned about a new woman in his life and her five kids.
“I tried to set clamps on her, but Jennifer was independent-minded,” her father said. “Like a lot of kids, she evolved to the point where parents all of a sudden don’t know anything.
“She didn’t like to live with rules.”
‘Loved to party’
Jennifer left home last May and moved in with three other young women in Tacoma.
“She was raised as a military brat, like a lot of the rest of us,” said one of her former roommates. “She was used to meeting strangers and becoming friends with people real fast.”
Two of her former roommates agreed to talk about Jennifer on the condition they not be identified.
The four teenagers partied and learned there was fast, tax-free money in the escort business, where men pay for a date.
One roommate made $1,000 by dressing as a girl in pigtails and engaging in sexual foreplay with a college professor.
Before long, Jennifer and her roommates were being courted by men who called themselves “international pimps,” the two former roommates said.
The men bought them expensive clothes, athletic shoes, jewelry, perfume and liquor. They took them to fine restaurants and virtual-reality arcades in Seattle and Tacoma.
Before long, the gifts stopped and the young women were being given crank - methamphetamine.
“We snorted it and we’d stay up for days and party on it. Jennifer loved to party,” said one former roommate, now 19.
“Looking back now, I can see they gave us the drugs to pull us closer to them.”
What her parents didn’t know
Jennifer was particularly smitten by one of the men. He was in his late 20s and had worked as a cook at a Tacoma pancake house.
Jennifer took her new boyfriend home to meet her dad. John Joseph said most of his questions about the young man’s past and source of income went unanswered.
“Around him, she just seemed to be so bubbly,” her father said.
The new boyfriend drove a late-model Cadillac, complete with gold-trim, and bragged that he bought it with money from pimping, the two friends recalled.
On the streets, he called himself JP.
“That stands for ‘Just-Pimpin,”’ one of the friends said.
As their relationship intensified, JP took Jennifer and one of her roommates on a “vacation” to San Francisco last May and June.
At some point, he convinced the two teenagers that they could make quick money and help pay expenses through prostitution, the roommate said.
They dressed up and went looking for customers on Geary and O’Farrell streets in downtown San Francisco.
The money was good, but the work was dangerous.
One time, a customer pulled a gun on Jennifer and she jumped from his moving car, the friend said. Jennifer suffered severe head injuries and was hospitalized in San Francisco.
Her parents never found out about the incident.
Once out of the hospital, JP and Jennifer traveled to Salem, Ore., and Portland, where she was arrested for prostitution, the friends said.
Sometime in late July, the pair came to Spokane and rented a motel room. She was killed sometime in the next month.
John Joseph said he has been told almost nothing since a police chaplain came to his door at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 26 and told him his daughter’s body had been found.
John Joseph and a friend drove to Spokane on Sept. 5 to pick up her cremated remains. He also met with Spokane detectives, who asked for a blood sample, apparently for DNA testing and comparison.
Detectives gave him a studio photograph of his daughter, but wouldn’t say how they got it. The picture is now a cherished possession in John Joseph’s living room.
Even before Jennifer’s body was found, her friends said, JP was back in Tacoma, telling them he knew she was dead.
JP’s sister said he was interviewed and given a lie-detector test by Spokane detectives. He apparently isn’t a suspect in the murder.
He wouldn’t return telephone calls to his home in Tacoma.
One of Jennifer’s friends said she saw him just the other day. “He’s back out there now, trying to hustle another young thing to come his way.”
Detectives trying to find Spokane’s serial killer won’t discuss details of the case.
John Joseph still struggles with guilt, trying to understand how his 16-year-old daughter wound up murdered in Spokane.
“You suppress it, basically, the best you can,” he said. “You suppress it, but it creeps back into your mind.”
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