Cruising With the Whore Cop

Officer Terry Peters knows just about every hooker in town. And they love him--because he keeps them alive.

The cop is finishing his second tater tot when a call comes over the radio. Officer Spearmint has just caught a girl and her pimp. They're across the street at the Pilot truck stop.

Terry Peters looks out into the darkness. "The animals are out," he says. Then he turns to me and grins. "You wanna go meet some hookers?"

Peters finishes his Coke, smashes the paper cup and shifts the squad car into reverse. They always give him the worst car in the lot, and tonight is no different. We already fixed a flat.

"Roxy" works a truck stop on Interstate 20.
All photos by Mark Graham
"Roxy" works a truck stop on Interstate 20.
Office Terry Peters listens to Twinkie's story at the Pilot truck stop. Peters--DPD's "whore cop"--talks to truck-stop prostitutes such as this one almost every night.
Courtsey of Grapevine Police
Office Terry Peters listens to Twinkie's story at the Pilot truck stop. Peters--DPD's "whore cop"--talks to truck-stop prostitutes such as this one almost every night.
Casey Jo Pipestem, a Seminole Indian, was found dead in Grapevine in 2004. It appeared that her body had been thrown out of a semi.
Courtsey of Grapevine Police
Casey Jo Pipestem, a Seminole Indian, was found dead in Grapevine in 2004. It appeared that her body had been thrown out of a semi.
John Robert Williams has pleaded guilty to killing two truck-stop hookers and has confessed to a role in Pipestem's murder.
John Robert Williams has pleaded guilty to killing two truck-stop hookers and has confessed to a role in Pipestem's murder.
Peters checks his "hook book" to see if Glitter's name is in it. He uses the hook book to keep tabs on the girls.
Peters checks his "hook book" to see if Glitter's name is in it. He uses the hook book to keep tabs on the girls.
A truck-stop prostitute shows off her tattoo after being stopped by Dallas police.
A truck-stop prostitute shows off her tattoo after being stopped by Dallas police.

We cross Lancaster Road and drive down a dark lane where a long row of 18-wheelers are parked, engines rumbling loudly. Peters guides the cruiser over a curb into an empty field next to the truck stop off Interstate 20. We speed across the bumpy terrain, headlights bouncing up and down over the weeds, and pull up next to Spearmint, a broad-shouldered young cop who punctuates every other sentence with a stream of spit. The hooker and the pimp are standing in front of his car, caught in the glare of its headlights.

The whore is named Cookie Monster. She's 4-foot-11, 200 pounds, with a pretty face, that--come to think of it--reminds Officer Spearmint of his sister-in-law. He pulls out his cell phone to take a picture. "My brother won't believe this," he says, chuckling. Cookie Monster doesn't mind.

"You can tell by the number of teeth they have how long they've been out here," Peters says as we get out of the car. Cookie Monster smiles to reveal a full set. Her skin is dirty, with brown bruises here and there and scabs on her legs. She wears a tight but fading skirt and a pair of dirty white Keds. Big, sagging breasts. Peterson points at them with the butt of his flashlight. "That's what gets you in trouble," he says. She smiles as if he's embarrassed her. "Don't worry," he says. "We're not buying." He hands her a cigarette.

"How you doin,' Country?" he asks the pimp. Country's good. Country's high. Country's got a bit of drool coming out of his mouth. A filthy crack pipe lies in the dirt beside him. Spearmint took it from him. Man, Country would sure like that back.

"So how long you been doin' this?" Peters asks the girl for my benefit, not his. He knows the Cookie Monster story well enough to write it himself.

"Since I was 16. My baby daddy got me into it."

"What are those tattoos on your arms?" Spearmint asks.

"One is for my baby daddy. The other is for my three kids."

They're in CPS now, and no, she doesn't get to see them, and yes, she's tried to change that, but no lawyer will take her case, and how do you think it feels to never see them? But Spearmint doesn't let up, keeps asking her about her kids, when's the last time she saw them and how old are they and on and on until she can't take it anymore. Then the hard shell cracks, and she covers her face and starts crying. Once she regains her composure, I ask her the question I came here for.

"How many girls do you know that have been killed?"

She rolls her eyes. "Shoot, I lost count."

Country nods and mumbles something in agreement. Cookie Monster herself has been beat up, raped, thrown out of speeding cars, left for dead. It's a wonder she's still got all her teeth. She's 28 now.

"Strawberry got killed last year, got shot to death at the Southern Comfort Motel," she begins. Peters remembers that one. Then there's Stormy, Sweet Pea and Paper Chase. Stormy, that was a weird one. Her pimp, 24-7, stole a van. The police were chasing him and he ran into a pole. Stormy got her head torn right off. There's other girls that just disappeared.

What about Cookie Monster--does she ever think about getting killed? She takes another drag, looks back at the long line of truckers waiting for Peters and Spearmint to get the hell out of here. The animals, as Peters calls them. She rubs her arm, where the names of her three children are written in green ink. Country looks down at her, waiting. No, she finally says, stomping out her cigarette, she doesn't think about it.


They call Peters the whore cop. But even in his uniform, his skinny frame dwarfed by his bulletproof vest, he doesn't look like a cop. He is 55, with the ashen, sunken cheeks of a lifelong smoker, a pockmarked chin and what he describes as a big nose. His glasses seem to take up half his face. If it weren't for his uniform, he could pass for a math teacher. Perhaps philosophy would suit him better. He's full of one-liners. One of his favorites: "There's one thing you can be certain of. Men and women will copulate."

Peters is an expert on copulation, especially the illegal kind. He knows pretty much every hooker in town. And they know him. They call him on his cell phone. They call out to him when he drives by. For some reason, they think his name is Peterson. "Peterson!" they yell, smiling, gap-toothed, cheeks covered in garish pink rouge. "PETE-UH-SON!" He's got a leather-bound book in his shirt pocket, under the bulletproof vest, full of their names. Baby Doll. Strawberry. Angel. He knows them all. The dead and the still alive. And they love him back. Because he keeps them alive.

Peters has seen some sick stuff. Girls in dumpsters, hands and legs bound, duct tape over the mouth and nose. Death by suffocation. Girls thrown off overpasses. Girls shot, stabbed, strangled, raped. They all worked truck stops such as this one.

Out here, a lot of ugly things happen. If you're a trucker, you're aware of it--the crack dealing, the robbing, the prostitution and, sometimes, the murders. Maybe you keep your nose clean, like most truckers do, and only hear stories. And maybe you indulge. Maybe you're one of the 300 or so truckers in Peters' book of pimps, dealers and users--maybe he's arrested you. If you're not a trucker, the things that happen out here would surprise, even shock you. This is another world, as Peters likes to say.

Take the truckers parked here on Peterbilt Avenue, which runs north-south behind the field. Chances are they're up to no good. Maybe they're smoking crack or doing a girl or both. Sometimes, they'll sit here for days, getting high, having sex. Eventually they'll run out of money. So they sell their gas, usually to another trucker. They might sell 100 gallons at a buck a gallon, which will buy enough crack to keep the trucker and the girl high for a couple more days. If it comes to it, they'll sell their wheels and then their cargo, until finally the truck is sitting on the side of a road somewhere, stripped down and empty, reported stolen. This happens more than you would ever guess. A couple months ago, Peters recovered a half-million-dollar load of M&Ms. The other day, it was watermelons.

The dope dealers out here, they prey on truckers. But it works both ways. A driver might beat a girl instead of paying her. The girl and her pimp might turn around and rob the driver. Sooner or later somebody bigger and meaner will come along and pistol-whip the both of them, just for sport. That's how it works. Everybody preys on each other.

Take the case of Bucket, a classic example. A "little dirt-bag dope dealer" is how Peters remembers him. He more or less lived out here, sometimes under an overpass, sometimes in the woods near the truck stop. He was part dealer, part pimp, part crook. He'd use girls to get in trucks. Once the girl was inside and the trucker had his pants down, the girl would kick open the door and in comes Bucket. Together, he and the girl would beat up the trucker, if they had to, then rob the son of a bitch.

Well, Bucket had it coming. He beat up girls, robbed them; he even robbed other dealers. He used to rob a dealer named Youngster, who in turn did the same to Bucket. It was almost a game between the two. So Youngster started hiding his dope up his ass. Well, one night Bucket decided he wanted more than Youngster's money; he wanted his dope. So he reached up Youngster's ass and took it. There wasn't a much more demeaning thing he could do to Youngster, him being a young black male and all, so Youngster shot Bucket, and that was one less dope dealer Peters had to worry about.

Not that Peters doesn't worry about the dope dealers. It's his job to worry about everybody. But his main concern is the girls. They get beat up by the drivers, the dealers, the pimps, even by each other. They get raped and cut up and left for dead, and the security guards don't even call the cops to report it.

"I'm not out here to save them or nothin' like that. I don't care. They made a choice. I'll throw them in jail like anybody else. But they do not deserve to be beaten to death. They do not deserve to be slaughtered."

He runs through the names of dead hookers who once worked this stop. Rachel Garcia, aka Strawberry, killed two years ago at the Southern Comfort Motel. A pimp known as Little Leonard shot her a bunch of times in the face then pulled all the gold out of her mouth.

Janet Tina Hendrix, aka Stormy. She's the girl that got her head chopped off riding in a stolen car. "Hell of a way to give head," Peters cracks.

That book in the back, that three-ring binder that's thick with pictures of hookers, pimps, users and dealers? The hook book? She's in there. You should see all the mug shots Peters took over the years. In the first one she looks like the girl next door: chestnut-colored hair, a little button nose, bright red lipstick. Not bad-looking for a hooker. Not bad-looking period. Then drugs begin taking their toll. The last picture Peters took doesn't even look like the same person. Her face is bloated, her hair dyed blond, black roots showing. Her eyes are ringed with dark circles. Her stare is vacant, like nobody's home. She looks half-dead.

The list continues. Tracy Figures, aka Paper Chase, found in a dumpster in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, duct tape over her mouth and nose. Josie Lee Scott, aka Sweet Pea, found in a dumpster in Colorado Springs. Maybe the trucker's story--that they got high together and her death was an accident--is true.

"You know what the worst part of her death was? Nobody gave a shit," he says, looking into the black night. "No family, no friends, no nothing. That's the thing, these girls out here, nobody cares. It's like they're disposable."


Most every night, Peters comes out here. It's more or less his beat. He'll talk to the crackheads and the wheel polishers and the girls. He might ask about a stolen rig, he might write some tickets, he might haul someone to jail. Not much surprises him anymore.

He was born in Chicago, raised in Phoenix, and that's where he wanted to go when he decided to become a cop after 20 years in the Army. Instead, he got a call from Dallas. That was 16 years ago. He's still low man on the totem pole at DPD, but he doesn't mind. His job is interesting, to say the least.

We continue on Peterbilt, slowly cruising past a row of trucks parked illegally. For the most part, the rigs are exceptionally clean. Their hoods, their chrome grills and their spit-shined wheels all gleam under the streetlights. A few truckers are sitting in their cabs, filling out their logbooks. Others are outside, checking their load. Some of the rigs appear empty, the velvet curtains between the cab and the sleeper pulled shut.

"None of these trucks should be parked here," Peters says. He points to a row of smashed "No Parking" signs lying in the field. "Who do you think ran those over?" He points to a trucker sitting in the cab of his truck, acting busy.

Peters reaches back and turns up the CB radio he keeps in the backseat. He's on the same channel most of the truckers use. This is how he gathers intelligence. It's a mess of static and beeps and clicks and 10-4s and fuck yous and what you say nigger and one driver talking over another in a string of code words only truckers understand. Peters is hoping to hear a driver making a date. Instead, the first thing he hears is this: "Hide all the women--the po-lice are riding through."

Countersurveillance is what this is, and Peters considers it a huge pain in the rear. He reaches back and takes the CB receiver in his hand, holds it close to his mouth. "Yeah, I'm the po-lice," he says in his best trucker voice, a convincing Southern drawl. "I'm truck stop po-lice. See me over here in this white bobtail parked on the corner, I be truuuck stop po-lice."

Peters loves messing with truckers. He knows their lingo, and he thinks it's pretty funny, carrying on like this, hassling them about their logbooks or whatever. Often, he poses as a trucker on the radio, and it usually takes at least a few minutes for the trucker on the other end to realize he's been had. Peters once had everyone convinced that a big black officer was his illegitimate son. That one still cracks him up.

"I bet you ain't got your last seven days done," he's saying on the radio in his best Boss Hog voice.

"You want to see my logbook?" a trucker asks incredulously.

"Yeah, I want to see it, but who's going to write it for you? You're too dumb to write it. Maybe you can get a hooker to write it for you," he says with a grin. Then he turns the radio off.

"I'm not saying all truckers are bad. Most of them are just blue-collar guys, working hard. But these ones just sitting here? It's real simple. Professional drivers drive. They know the distances, they know the routes, they plan it all out. They don't hide out where crack whores are."

We pull onto another street, where not a single truck is parked. In the darkness, I make out the figure of a man at the edge of the field, sitting on a concrete block. We slow to a crawl for a better look. It's Hillbilly, Peters says. He washes wheels. He might charge between $3 and $5 a wheel, which takes him between half an hour and an hour per wheel.

"Peterson?" Hillbilly calls out, unsure. Peters waves. Hillbilly relaxes and ambles over to the cruiser. He's tall and lanky, dressed in a a grease-stained T-shirt and jeans. He's letting his graying Afro grow out, sort of Rasta-style, with one small braid down below his right ear. He has smiling, glassy eyes and an oddly serene look on his face. He may be high.

Peters introduces us, and Hillbilly shakes my hand. He's the guardian angel of the truck stop, he says. He used to be in the Navy, he tells me proudly, which is why he and "Peterson" respect each other, both of them being vets. Now most of the money he makes, washing wheels and whatnot, he spends on his mother, who is in a nursing home.

"What goes on out here?" I ask.

"Shoot, what don't go on?"

Being guardian angel of the place, Hillbilly has seen a lot. He's had to break windows to get girls out of dangerous situations. He points to a "No Parking" sign lying in the dirt. Once, he says, he had to pick one of those up and smash a driver's window to get his attention. Only then did he let the girl out.

A call comes over the radio. Spearmint's got a driver. "Gotta go," Peters says. As we pull away, Hillbilly is still talking, telling me that Peters is one of the good ones, a man to be trusted. "You take care of yourself, you hear?" Hillbilly calls out.

We find Spearmint down on the other end of Peterbilt, in the middle of a long row of trucks. He spits when he sees us. He's got the girl next to his car. The trucker is still in his rig.

"Now you asked me earlier what kind of guy would buy these girls?" Peters asks. "You're about to find out."

Spearmint tells the trucker to step out of the cab.

"See what I mean?" Peters asks. "He must weigh 400 pounds."

The man, I will soon learn, goes by Mojo, and he's on his way to Ohio. Originally from New York, he's been a trucker for 14 years. If he's like most of the truckers Peters arrests, he's got a wife at home. As he steps down from the chrome steps of his rig, he hitches up his sweatpants, up over his hairy crack. Besides loneliness, he suffers from a severe stuttering problem. Every other question, he gets stuck on a word. "She was wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-walking by, I called her over, she jumped in, we hid in the back."

Hearing this, the hooker in question, who Peters doesn't recognize, smiles as if this is a lie.

"How often do you get a hooker?" I ask.

"Whenever I get a chance."

"How much do you spend?"

"It de-de-de-de-de-de-depends on how hot they are. High dollar? I might spend 100 bucks. A cheap one's like $20."

The girl tells a different story. They were just talking. Men pay her for that. She's a great conversationalist.

Peters looks up at me. "Can you believe the shit I hear every day?"


Spend any time with Peters and there's one murder he's sure to bring up. Of all the truck stop hookers ever killed, none generated the attention Casey Jo Pipestem did.

She was found January 31, 2004, in a ditch in Grapevine. The crime scene photos are the sort that stick in your mind. The first one was taken from the highway bridge, 32 feet and 7 inches above her body, through the gray branches of a tree covered in frost. In the black of the night, the flash illuminated the naked body, the twisted legs, the dark silky hair fanned out around her head.

The way investigators figured it, she was thrown from the bridge, probably by a trucker who killed her. Eventually, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal police in Seminole, Oklahoma, Grapevine police located her family. They looked at the photos, saw the tattoos and told the police they had seen enough. Yes, that's her, they said, but please, take those pictures away.

They wanted to remember her differently. They wanted to remember the girl who taught Sunday School at the Methodist church, who danced in the traditional ceremonies. They used to call her "Bonez" because she was so skinny. They didn't want to remember her facedown on a creek bed, one foot in the black water.

When did things start going wrong? Maybe when her grandmother died. Maybe when her stepfather was killed in a knife fight. Maybe when she met Kelvin Scott at a party. That was probably it, more than anything else.

First he was her boyfriend, then her pimp. She started using cocaine with him. She started working truck stops. She started calling herself "thugarific" and writing bleak, foreboding lines of poetry. On one occasion, she told her uncle, a trucker picked her up and held her against her will for three days, sexually assaulting her along the way from Oklahoma to Los Angeles. She found her way home, and her family tried to help her, but it was too late.

Barry McLead was one of the last people to see her alive. He ran a truck stop ministry near Oklahoma City. A few days after her body was found, he discovered two notes stuffed in the door of his horse trailer, which he'd converted into a chapel. One read: "Hey Minister, you need to get busy for Jesus and clear the whores out of here." It was signed, "Warning."

From the beginning, investigators thought Pipestem's death could be the work of a serial killer. Other truck stop prostitutes had been found in other states, killed the same way--strangled, beaten, discarded. None of their murders had garnered much attention. Pipestem's death was different. Maybe because it happened so close to a big city, maybe because the media loves stories of serial killers--for whatever reason, the press latched on to the story.

Throughout that spring and summer, the killing continued. Buffie Rae Brawley, a 27-year-old out of Toledo, was found March 24 in the parking lot of a former truck stop about 35 miles out of Indianapolis. Her mouth and nose had been taped shut. "It appears the guy pulled up in a semi--you can tell by the tracks--and tossed her out," the local sheriff told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "She was dead before she hit the ground." She was wearing a shirt and bra when they found her, the sheriff said, and had injuries from bindings around her wrists and ankles. "This guy in my opinion tortured her," he said. "He beat her over the head. There were four distinct trauma injuries to the head that caused 3-inch gaps. This guy didn't care if she was found or not. He ran over her right foot with one of his rear tires. This may have been out of contempt."

In August, two more hookers were found dead; one in Mississippi, the other in Oklahoma. Cops throughout the South began working on the case, meeting once that summer in Oklahoma City and once in Grapevine to discuss the unsolved murders of 15 truck stop prostitutes. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations, which ran lead in the investigation, estimated that at least 10 of the killings were linked.

The big break came in the summer of 2005 when America's Most Wanted aired a program on Pipestem's murder. Shortly after, Grapevine police got a tip that the murderer was already in jail in Mississippi. The caller on the other end was a relative of the man in question, 29-year-old John Robert Williams.

Grapevine police detectives traveled to Mississippi to interview Williams. For two days they questioned him. "He was pleasant to talk to," Grapevine Corporal Larry Hallmark remembers. "If you met him at the truck stop, you'd think, 'Oh, there's just a likable old truck driver.' But after you sit and start talking about some of these murders and talk about some of the specific things that occurred and you see the lack of emotion, then you realize that you're dealing with someone that's different than you and I.

"I'm absolutely convinced that he is the one that killed Casey. Even the first day he admitted some knowledge in the murder and gave us some information that only the killer would have known."

Hallmark thinks Williams has killed at least eight truck stop prostitutes. Williams has already agreed to plea bargains in the deaths of two of them. To avoid interfering with any open investigations, Grapevine police have held off on arresting him for Pipestem's murder, but it's only a matter of time.

If there is any good to come out of Pipestem's murder it is this: It created a network for cops pursuing truck stop killers. There are now regional meetings, such as the one held in Grapevine, every couple of months, and at least weekly, Hallmark talks to cops such as Peters, who are on the front lines, so to speak. Without a doubt, Hallmark says, there are other killers out there.

"I'm not saying that most truck drivers are serial killers or that if you're a truck driver there's a good likelihood that you're a serial killer. But if you're a serial killer, truck driving would be a good profession."


Terry Peters likes to say that he doesn't care about the girls. But ride with him for a while, and you'll see different. Girls will call him. Girls that are sober, girls that have cleaned up their lives. One is a drug counselor now; another works at the mall behind a cosmetics counter. Which cosmetics counter and which mall, Peters won't say. Well, he'll say, but you better not print it. The last thing these girls need is some newspaper reporter putting them on the front page as former crack whores. They're trying to move on, and they're fragile.

When they call, his voice softens. It's like he's talking to his grown children. "Oh, she's fine," he'll say, when they ask about his wife, to whom he's been married for 33 years. She has health problems and this worries the girls, because they care about Peters. When he hangs up he'll start worrying himself--how this one's been struggling, how this one's been sober for three years now, how this one's having dreams about smoking dope.

"But I don't ever smoke it in my dreams," says one of the former prostitutes, who calls me at Peters' request. "Either the lighter won't light, or there'll be a breeze, or the dope will fall off the pipe and when I pick it up it's a peanut or something." She can laugh at it all now.

She went by Baby Doll back when she worked the truck stops. She got started in Corpus Christi, and one night she fell asleep in a driver's truck, and that's how she ended up in Dallas. The money was so good she never left. For seven years she worked the truck stops near I-20 and Lancaster Road, which is where she met Peters.

Hers was a $300 a day habit, but she made more than $1,000 a day, easy. Most of it came from dealing, not prostitution. After she'd smoked her crack, she spent what was left on a hotel room and food. Tried to take care of herself, unlike some of the other girls, who didn't even bathe.

She got hurt like everybody else. Once, a guy who claimed to be a cop picked her up in a little red pickup. He had a badge on and a radio and everything. He raped her. Another time, another guy claiming to be a cop took her to a hotel room and made her strip. Told her if she did what he asked he wouldn't take her in, so she did what he asked. Maybe he was a cop, but she doesn't think so.

Worst thing that ever happened to her? Maybe the time two truckers robbed her and cut her up. She rubbed blood all over their cab so the police could catch them. Then she ran over to the Flying J truck stop and found a security guard. "He wouldn't even call the police for me, just because I was a prostitute. That's how we were looked upon."

In that kind of situation, it's easy to get frustrated, which is why the girls will rob the drivers or collude with pimps to rob them. Sometimes, truckers get killed too. She knows a girl that got put in jail for 10 years, another for 35 years on an armed robbery charge.

She was put in jail many times, often by Peters. Finally, she looked around at all the women getting old and dying in prison and decided she didn't want that for herself. "Then I started reading the Bible, and I realized, this is not me and the way I want to live my life."

When she got out of prison, she got a job at Golden Corral. One night, Peters came in with his wife. He didn't even recognize Baby Doll at first. For as many times as he arrested her, he should have.

Now she's a drug counselor and trying to get into Bible college. She goes to church in Balch Springs, and you could say that's her life.

She talks to Peters every month or so. He just calls to see how she's doing, which makes her laugh, because she's doing fine.


It's a hot Wednesday afternoon in August. This evening, when it gets dark, Peters and I are going back out to the truck stop. It will be my last visit. We meet at the Southeast Patrol Substation, a squat brick building off Jim Miller Road, hidden from view by some raggedy trees that look like they need water.

Peters buzzes me in and leads me into a messy conference room. There's some kind of diagram on the dry-erase board--stick figures and boxy cars and crisscrossing streets--the remains of a briefing on a robbery, or a murder, I can't tell. Peters pulls up a chair in front of a computer.

This is where he spends a good portion of his time. With every new hooker he meets, he has to enter all her information into the database. It's a tedious job--one hooker might take four hours, checking out all her aliases and stuff--but it's important. Say there's a robbery at one of the truck stops and all someone has is a nickname, such as Sweet Pea. With a database of more than 1,100 prostitutes, chances are Peters can identify her if she came from one of the truck stops he works.

When he finishes, we hit the highway. Tonight, Peters promises, we won't get a flat. On the way, he talks about different things that have happened since my last visit--stolen cargo recovered, different girls that have shown up, that kind of thing.

A big 18-wheeler rumbles by. I think of something the spokesman at the American Trucking Association told me: "Trucking keeps America running." And it's true. Eighty-seven percent of the stuff you and I buy is at one point hauled by truckers. Maybe some truckers are ex-cons and maybe some smoke crack, but they account for a very small percentage of the trucking industry. Think of it this way: Every day, 5,000 trucks pass through the five truck stops Peters works. Over the last three years, he's arrested maybe 300 truckers. A tiny fraction.

Still, the way Peters sees it, some of these stops could do a bit more in terms of safety. Like the Pilot, the stop that gives him the most trouble. They could start by patrolling their lot. (I will later learn that they do patrol it. A spokesman for Pilot says they have two security guards on the lot at all times. As far as what goes on in the field next to the truck stop or on the surrounding side streets, the spokesman said that is the responsibity of the police or whoever owns the property.)

We exit the highway and drive down Lancaster, past the fast-food restaurants, toward the field where I first met Cookie Monster. It's kind of dead. There are few trucks and not a girl in sight. Through the crackle of the radio, through all the talk about niggers and crack whores and screwing, we hear a small, quavering voice trying to make a date. "That's Twinkie," Peters says. "She's new." More than any other girl out here, she's in danger, Peters says. "She doesn't have her street smarts yet."

We see a man walking along the field. He's wearing a dirty backpack and a dirty Cowboys hat and has a white towel thrown over his shoulder. "Nationwide," Peters says with a grin.

Peters pulls up next to him. "Nationwide, how you doing?" Nationwide squints, suspicious, keeping his distance. Once he sees it's Peters behind the wheel, he smiles and approaches the car. He leans down to Peters' level, his hands on his knees. He's got two bottom teeth, that's it. His face is tanned and weather-beaten. He looks like a dirty elf.

"What are you hearing?" Peters asks.

"Gas prices are up."

"Violence increases," Peters says, as if he's finished the riddle.

Nationwide nods.

"How's business?" Peters asks, pointing with his chin at Nationwide's dirty white towel. Nationwide's a wheel polisher. "They're paying less," Nationwide says. "They want pussy. I say man, you're looking for pussy out here? You'd be better off with Henrietta and her five sisters." He grins and lifts his hand, makes the motion of jerking off. Peters chuckles. "Yeah, you're probably right."

Nationwide uses the towel to wipe the sweat from his brow. "They just spend their money on crack and whores."

Peters reaches into the back seat, where he keeps his semi-automatic rifle and his CB radio, and grabs a pack of cigarettes. He throws them to Nationwide, who catches them with both hands. "Thanks," Nationwide says.

When darkness falls, we drive around, looking for Twinkie. We see a fat hooker in a see-through black dress, hiding in the shadows behind one of the trucks. "Betty Boop," Peters says. "She comes from big money up in Plano." She scowls as we drive by and Peters laughs. "Peterson!" she calls out when she recognizes him. "Come back!" We're at a gas station, finishing up with a hooker who can barely keep her sagging boobs in her tank top when Peters' cell phone rings. It's Spearmint. He tells Peters to come to the field.

We cross the street and drive past a long row of trucks and pull into the field. The girl is squatted down in front of a chain-link fence, shielding her eyes from Spearmint's headlights. She's skinny, with knobby knees, dressed in a denim skirt and a lingerie-like top trimmed in black lace. She has fine features. Thin lips, thin eyebrows, big eyes. It's Twinkie, the girl we heard earlier on the radio. Peters calls her over to his car and gets her story.

She was a dancer in Austin. She met a guy, thought she could trust him. He dropped her off out here. Three weeks ago she met another trucker. They went to Chicago together. Thought she could trust him too. Found out he was married, so she hitchhiked to Shreveport.

I ask Peters if I can talk to her alone. He nods. We step back, next to the chain-link fence. There is trash all around us. An empty whiskey bottle, a black shoe, a smashed Burger King cup. This girl is different from the other hookers: There isn't a bruise on her. No visible scars. Talking to her is different too. She fidgets as she answers my questions, biting her nails. She'll look me in the eye only in passing, darting glances. She can't even bring herself to admit what she does out here. Tears are in her eyes.

"You know, I heard them talking on the radio, they were talking about killing us for 20 cents."

"Who?"

"The drivers. Talking about killing us and cutting our throats." She shakes her head and looks out toward the highway. "They were talking about us like we're just meat." She says it as if she's surprised. She's 32, but she looks like she could be in college.

"I've seen the good side of them too. But last night, I was with this guy and the look I saw in his eyes, I was scared. I had to think the worst for my own protection. I hear them talking on their radios, 'I'm going to slit that bitch's throat and stab her in her heart.'"

For the first time, she looks me dead in the eye and shakes her head slowly, as if to say, isn't that the worst thing you've ever heard?

"I used to do this sometimes when I was a dancer," she says. "But I never thought I'd stoop this low."

Peters calls her over to his car. He gives her two numbers. One is for a homeless shelter, another is for a rehab center. He urges her to call both. She takes his card, and as we drive off, she disappears into the night.

"Could you detect a smell?" Peters asks. "She's starting to use the perfume instead of washing. Because she can't find a tub, and she's got nowhere to go, and she didn't score enough money last night or the night before for a hotel room."

We drive behind the truck stop and turn left on Cedardale Road, which leads to a slum neighborhood. At the end of the road, Peters shines his spotlight on an abandoned house. The white paint is chipping, the windows have been busted out. Inside, broken furniture's scattered about, a stained mattress is leaned against one dirty wall. "This is where Twinkie hopes to stay tonight, but she's not sure if she can. It's up to the pimp who runs it. She's still going through the breaking-in process, so to speak. You know, the guys have to quote-unquote use her."

We sit there for a minute or two looking at the empty house. The CB radio in the back is crackling with trucker talk. A call is coming over the police radio. Peters ignores it all, staring hard at the house. Maybe Twinkie will call those numbers he gave her. Maybe she'll be calling him in a couple years, asking him how his wife is. But probably not.

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1 comments
AHumanBeing
AHumanBeing like.author.displayName 1 Like

I read through to the end, but I almost stopped reading after page one. What on earth could justify this Spearmint guy talking to Cookie Monster that way?  This woman faces the VERY REAL threat of being brutally murdered, and this thug taunts her about it until she breaks down?  If that is not the cruelest kind of psychological abuse then I don't know what is!  It's sickening to think that there are cops out there who think this is an acceptable way to treat people.

 

The whole tone of the article -- calling these women "whores", joking about one woman's violent death being like "giving head" -- is just so disrespectful.  YES, prostitutes are people and therefore deserve basic respect.  Judge people by their choices by all means, but you before you do, think about what options these people actually had to choose between.  What would you do if your boyfriend got you addicted to crack?  NOBODY chooses to be a truck-stop prostitute if they can possibly help it.

 
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