Explicit content: rape and sexual abuse details related to the crime itself
Casper, Wyoming – Natrona County
- A little history on the city of Casper, WY. It was founded in 1888, and named for Lt. Caspar Collins, who was killed by Native American Indians in 1865, while trying to rescue an abandoned wagon train. If you notice in my show notes, the spelling of the last name of the Lieutenant & the city are different. This is actually due to a clerical error when the town was incorporated in 1890.
- Casper is near where the California, Oregon, and Overland trails met. The Chicago and Northwestern railway also went thru the town, which made it more attractive to settle down in. By the 21st century, their economy was driven by: oil, natural gas, cattle, sheep, manufacturing of oil field equipment, and mining.
- The population of Casper in the 1970’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was 39,361.
- Some of the more touristy areas of Casper are Casper Mtn, Fort Laramie, Hell’s Half Acre – a horseshoe shaped hilly gorge, Independence Rock, traveling the Oregon Trail, museums, or kayaking the Fremont Canyon (which we will be talking more about this area later).
- In 1973, in the entire state of Wyoming, there were 24 murders and 55 forcible rapes.
The case we will be highlighting today, will include 1 of these murders, and 1 female victim of forcible rape. So if sexual assault, or rape are sensitive topics for you, or you find cases of this type to be triggering in any way, this is not the case for you. And, I suggest listening to another one of our cases covering a different area of true crime.
- Casper, Wyoming – Monday, September 24th, 1973 – It’s about 9pm, and Amy Burridge, who is 11, has been outside playing with friends, when her half-sister, Rebecca Thomson, better known as Becky, asks her to come with her to the local convenience store to pick up a few things for her mother. Becky was 18, and had her license, so she drove them both.
- Now, Autumn at 9pm, the sun has likely just set, so it’s probably dusk-like outside. It’s also a school night, so when Amy asker her friend Danny if he could go with her and get some candy, it wasn’t a surprise when his mother told him “no”, and that he needed to come in from the outside. (Describe Amy and her friends).
- So, Becky & Amy drive to the local Thriftway store to pick up the groceries. While inside the store, a couple of local guys by the name of Jerry Jenkins & Ronald Kennedy had pulled up to the store, and saw Amy & Becky go inside.
- Neither of these guys were good guys. Ronald Kennedy didn’t work. He lived with his much younger wife at his mother-in-law’s house in north Casper, and would regularly leave his house for the day to avoid having to do any work or chores. He also liked to spend a considerable amount of time playing pool & drinking, and getting into trouble with the law.
- Jerry Jenkins wasn’t any better of a man. He was married as well to a woman named, Darci, and Darci had just had the couple’s second baby, about a month prior. The baby was currently in the hospital as she had contracted encephalitis (inflammation in the brain), and nearly died. For the record, Darci was only 18, had their 1st daughter just the year prior, and just had baby number 2. Jerry was similar to Ronald, as he was a lazy drunkard himself. Now Jerry did have a job, at a local gas station, but he would regularly miss days at work & always found reasons why he would jump from job to job, like a lily padder, except not with relationships, just jobs. And, Monday, September 24th was no different. (Tell about soap operas)
- Jerry Jenkins had missed work again, unbeknownst to his wife, and was supposed to go pick up his newborn daughter from the hospital, around midday and bring her home. He & his wife shared 1 working vehicle, as Jerry was supposed to fix the tire on their other one, but just never got around to doing it. Instead of going to work & picking up his new, baby daughter, Jerry had other plans. It was payday for him, but he could go get his check, since he didn’t bother to go to work. Instead, he drove over the Ron Kennedy’s house, to ask for a favor.
- Jerry would have Ron go to the gas station to get his check for him, and make up some b.s. excuse as for why he wasn’t there himself. And, instead of using that check to go buy formula for his newborn, Jerry decided he & Ron would do what they like to do best…drink. After cashing Jerry’s check, they went from store to store buying cases of beer, drinking them, and then would go buy some more. One of the store’s they decided to hit to pick up some more Schlitz’s beer that day…you guessed it, was the Thriftway convenience store, the same one Becky & Amy had just arrived at. This encounter would drastically change the lives for all four of them, forever.
- Unbeknownst to her, Becky had caught the eye of Ron Kennedy. And, at that moment, Ron who was the more dominant of the two, told Jerry he had a plan, and for him to go along with it.
- Becky and Amy came out of the store only to find one of their tires was flat. Coincidentally, Ronald Kennedy was right there to be her knight in shining armor, of course we all know this was not to be the case. Ronald swoopes in and offers to help take the tire to get repaired nearby, or he can drive them home. Becky probably thought what a nice man, offering to help. Couldn’t be further from the truth.
- Becky called her mother, Toni Case, and let her know 2 nice men were going to help them with the flat and that they would be home soon. Her mom, already in her pajamas, had some reservations about it, but remember this is the early 70’s, not 2022, so she put aside her reservations and just told them to “be careful and hurry”.
- 30 mins passed, 45 minutes passed. Nothing. Becky & Amy were only a mile down the road. Even if they got the tire repaired, they should have been home by now. So, Toni gets changed out of her pj’s, into her regular clothes and drives to the store. The car is still there, the store is now closed, and Becky & Amy are nowhere to be found. Panic sets in, and Toni begins driving around the neighborhood looking for any sign of them. She thought maybe the offer of a ride fell through and the girls had to walk back home, carrying all the groceries. Maybe they would take a shortcut then. So she searched back roads and cut throughs they could have taken, still nothing. Toni searched for nearly 2 hours, before deciding to call police. The dispatcher told her she would have the evening officers patrol the area looking for them, but the detective would not be in until the morning.
- Toni called a friend to stay with her, as her husband, Jack was currently working a drilling job in Mexico. She tried to sleep, but couldn’t as she was waiting, hoping that her daughters would come thru the door at any time. Only this would not be the case, and she would only ever see one of her daughters alive ever again.
- So what happened when Becky got off the phone with her mom, Toni? I’m going to tell you. Becky went over to where Ronald Kennedy was, as he was supposedly going to help jack the car up to get the tire off. Insead, he got close to Becky and used his buddy, Jerry’s knife to push it against her side, telling Becky he would kill her if she and Amy didn’t get into the car with them.
- The parking lot at this time was not empty, and there were 2 witnesses that saw the men with Becky & Amy, but neither saw the knife or heard the threat. (The 2 witnesses were men who were waiting for their wives to come out of the grocery store.)
- I don’t think this registered with Becky, as she didn’t try to scream for help, or escape. I think she was truly scared these guys would kill her and her sister. So, she complied, and her & Amy got into the back of Jerry’s car, with him at the wheel, and Ronald in the passenger seat.
- They drove around for hours, Ronald, who told the girls his name was “Kenny”, terrorized them the whole time. He told them to stay down on the back seat, didn’t allow them to touch or hold hands, and if they didn’t follow his orders, he would reach over the seat and beat them. Which he did, regularly over the course of the few hours they were in the car. Jerry, the lessor of the two aggressors, was taking his instructions from Ronald. And, after the few hours, Ronald had a plan.
- After driving around aimlessly, Ronald instructed Jerry to drive towards the Fremont Canyon Bridge. The bridge is approximately 144 ft long, and connects the 2 sides of the Fremont Canyon, with the North Platte River 112 feet below. So, if you are someone that doesn’t like crossing bridges, or heights, the Fremont Canyon Bridge is probably not for you.
- Ronald, or rather “Kenny” told the girls they were going to see a “man” who would decide their fate. As they crossed the bridge to the other side, the car came to a stop. Becky saw what looked like a roof of a house in the headlights of the car. This was their stop.
- Ronald said the girls couldn’t go to see the man at the same time and said the younger one, meaning Amy would go first. Becky pleaded with him to allow her to go first, or for them to go together, so she could talk to the man, persuade him to let them go. But Ronald had no patience, and simply got out of the car, pushed the back seat on the passenger side forward, and grabbed Amy.
- Amy went with the man, but not before telling her sister she loved her. Ronald walked away with Amy into the night, while Becky stayed with Jerry in the car. When Ronald returned to the car, he returned alone. Amy was nowhere to be found. In all actuality, Ronald had taken Amy to the bridge, and thrown her off of it, into the shallow part of the river, 112 feet below.
- When he returned to the car, he took Becky out of it, ignored her questions about where her sister was, and then proceeded to do what he’d wanted to do from the moment he saw Becky at the store. He raped her up against the car. And when he was done, he told Jerry to take his turn. Jerry put Becky in the back seat and did the same.
- When they were done, they let her have her sweater and jeans back, but not her bra and panties. Likely these were trophies for them. Both Ronald and Jerry walked Becky towards the bridge, as they discussed what they were going to do with her. Ronald said they couldn’t let her go because she would report them, so they decided to dispose of her, as Ronald had done to Amy sometime earlier. They lifted Becky up and threw her off the bridge.
- But didn’t die. She weighed more than Amy, and because of this they couldn’t throw her as far out into the water below. Instead, Becky hit a protruding rock along the canyon wall, which propelled her out further into the water where is was deeper.
- And, although she had shattered bones in her left hip & pelvis, she hadn’t died and she wasn’t giving up. But she had to make them think she did. So, despite the fact she couldn’t use her legs, she used her arms to drag herself out of the water, found a carveout in the rocks of the canyon, formed by 2 boulders, pulled her hair over her face, as camouflage and waited.
- Becky was pale, had dried blood on her face, her left eye was swollen closed, there was a purple-ish swelling to the side of her head, an open bloody wound to left hip, her body had contact wounds all over it from the rocks she slid against, either from the fall, or her climb back up. It was not a pretty sight. Carl covered Becky’s exposed lower body, with his Pendleton jacket, tying it around her waist.
- Becky told them what had happened the hours prior, including the rape, and what she thought happned to her sister, Amy. Carl looked over the bridge to see if he could see Amy, but to no avail, she was nowhere to be found.
- Stopping at a small, bait & tackle store, called Sloane’s, Carl went in & called the police, using the phone inside the store, and they waited for them to arrive. Both the police and ambulance responded. Sheriff Bill Estes & Deputy Sheriff David Dovala arrived on scene and took down Becky’s account of what had happened. Becky was then transported to the hospital, where they contacted Toni and let her know they had found Becky & what hospital they were taking her to.
- Later that afternoon, while Toni was at the hospital with Becky, she got the devastating news about Amy. They had found her body in the water below. She had died almost instantly, as her cervical spine was forced thru the base of her skull, causing severe damage to her brain. She had multiple rib fractures, a collapsed left lung, and hemorrhaging around the soft tissue of the heart.
- From this point on, Becky had one focus, and one focus only. Making sure the 2 men responsible for everything that happened the night before paid for their crimes. Becky was determined, smart, she helped Deputy Dovala in every way possible in the investigation. I think it was this drive, her love for Amy, and her vengeance against her rapists and Amy’s murderers, that drove her to survive and fight.
- Based on her description of what the two men looked like, because remember they gave her a fake name, the 2 eyewitness statements of the husbands at the Thriftway Store, and their reputations of prior run-ins with the law, it wasn’t hard to identify Becky’s rapists as Ronald Kennedy and Jerry Jenkins.
- Both of them were taken into custody, and Deputy Dovala described both men as being shocked when they learned Becky was still alive. Both were charged with 1st degree murder, attempted murder, rape, assault and battery. And the state was seeking the death penalty. This actually became an argument the defense made behind the scenes. The argument was that in order to qualify for the death penalty the murder had to be in conjunction with, or done to attempt to hide a qualifying, aggravated felony. The rape of Becky was in fact, a felony that when accompanied by a murder which made one eligible for the death penalty. However, since it was Amy, and not Becky who died, the defense attempted to argue that against the fact that the death penalty was an option.
- Instead of trying both Jerry and Ronald separately, the State decided to try them together. Each of them was assigned an attorney. The trial was moved to Cheyenne, WY so the men could receive a “fair” trial.
- Jenkins attorney, a local Casper attorney who had no murder trial experience, and was forced by the court to take the case, decided his clients best defense of the charges against him was to sit back and see if the prosecution would “mess up”. He presented no witnesses, and although his cross was effective against the Prosecution’s witnesses, it was never going to be good enough. There was just too much evidence against them.
- Police had discovered Becky’s panties near the bridge, and a rape kit was used to collect vaginal secretions, including sperm that was found inside Becky.
- Additionally, hair samples removed from the back seat section of the Jenkins’ vehicle were consistent with the hair of Becky and Amy; blood samples from the Jenkins’ vehicle and on rocks in the canyon were consistent with the blood of both Becky and Amy; and a Casper optometrist identified a contact lens found on the floor of the backseat of Jenkins’ car as one of the lenses he had fitted Becky for.
- Kennedy decided to plead “Not Guilty by Reason of Mental Defect”
- For Kennedy Trial info refer to Justia Law article.
- After 5 hours of deliberation, the jury found both men guilty and then sentenced them to death. In the state of WY at the time, this would have meant the gas chamber for the both of them. It would be the first time in over nine years someone had been sentenced to death in Wyoming. But by some chance of luck, or just great timing for Jenkins and Kennedy, there was an abolishment of the death penalty by a Supreme Court vote of 5-4 in Furman vs. Georgia in 1972. But as we know, this was just on a federal level, whereas the states still continued to fight against the ruling.
- United States halted all executions in 1976, with Wyoming completely abolishing it themselves in 1977 which converted all death sentences to life in prison. Of course the two men continued to fight their convictions through the court.
- Kennedy tried to petition the courts to appeal his conviction for multiple reasons, including: ineffective counsel and failure to sever claim in Kennedy vs. Shillinger in March of 1991. While the court was hearing his case, Becky was struggling.
- In fact, Becky was struggling for years after the trial. She struggled with alcohol addiction, would get clean, and then fall off the metaphorical wagon again. Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Davolo helped her get a job as a city meter maid and with any help she needed along the way.
- Eventually Becky took a job selling advertising space for two local radio stations.
- Becky suffered with severe survivors guilt. Had she not asked her sister to go with her to the store that night she would have been alive. Becky saw herself as the focus of Jenkins and Kennedy by her rape, and her sister was “collateral damage”, so had she not taken them up on their offer for help, Amy would still be alive.
Becky did seek help from a psychiatrist. His treatment method included using a “truth gas” on his patients in order for them to get in touch with their feelings they had blocked out from their trauma. In this case it was her rape and her sister’s murder. And although the gas made her feel high & euphoric, she woke up 3 days later not remembering much. But Becky did have a memory, during her dream state, that she described as being sexually assaulted. She told friends, but they dismissed it as a hallucination. Afraid of being seen as crazy or worse, Becky never took any action against the psychiatrist. (Unbeknownst to Becky, years later, between 1990-92, this doctor would have 3 civil lawsuits filed against him, which he settled for six figure amounts. Then, in 1993, was charged with 15 sexual assault charges. In a plea bargain, he pled no contest to two 2nd degree rape charges, in return he got 5 yrs of probation, where he couldn’t treat any female patients, and a whopping $50 fine!)
- Despite her depression and issues with drugs and alcohol Becky would eventually marry. In fact, one of the investigators on the case, David Davolo, stayed close with Becky and would give her away at her wedding, when her own father wasn’t able to make it because of an oil rigging job. She would have a daughter in 1990. But all of that could not not bring her “back to life.”
- Her sister’s death and her survivor’s guilt was always there hidden beneath the surface. And, when she found out about Ronald Kennedy’s appeal, and the fact that if he succeeded in that appeal that he could possibly get out of prison, she just couldn’t handle it. She started drinking again.
- There was a movie by the name of “Ode to Billie Joe” that Becky became almost obsessed with. It was a 1976 movie that had been based off the song “Ode to Billie Joe” about the suicide of a young man. She would watch it again & again & again.
- On July 31st, 1992, Becky and her then boyfriend, spent the day drinking and driving with her 2 yr old daughter alongside them. Becky then started driving out towards Fremont Canyon Bridge. As she did, her boyfriend begged for her to slow down. She didn’t, she only drove faster. After protesting a few more times, and Becky continuing to increase her speed, he decided it was best not to say anything more. When Becky got to the same bridge she was 19 years earlier she got out of the car and walked to the exact spot she had been thrown from the years prior. She proceeded to share all of those details with her boyfriend, and began to cry. This, in turn upset her daughter, so her boyfriend suggested they return to the car. He took Becky’s daughter with him. Only when he got to the car, and was putting her daughter in, he heard a loud noise & a splash. Becky’s body was later found in the water below.
- Technically her death is not ruled a suicide, as the coroner was not able to determine intent. And, Becky’s boyfriend didn’t actually see her jump. (Discuss)
- Becky was cremated and her ashes were placed on top of Amy’s coffin, so the 2 sisters could remain together.
- Jerry Jenkins died from heart failure in 1998 while still in prison. Ronald Kennedy also remains in prison to this day, and will likely never be released. See the sentencing judge made sure the time he served for the rape had to be completed first, before now serving time for the murder. Consecutively vs. concurrently. He has finished serving his time for rape, but now is presently serving his life imprisonment for Amy’s murder.
Franscell, Ron – The Darkest Night: Two Sisters, a Brutal Murder, and the Loss of Innocence in a Small Town. New York, NY. St. Martin’s Press. 2008.
Accessed September, 2022. Woman Plunges to Her Death from Same Bridge Where She was Raped https://apnews.com/article/83dd0b33563143708f01909c876c4938
Accessed September, 2022. Fatal Plunge 19 Years After Real Death On Bridge — `She Just Said She Had To Go There’ https://archive.seattletimes.com/archive/?date=19920823&slug=1508846
Accessed September, 2022. A CRIME’S LASTING WOUNDS https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1992/08/13/a-crimes-lasting-wounds/f4cd227d-d5dc-422f-bf3c-99ccbcd5ad3b/
Accessed September, 2022. 1973 murder and rape have lasting effect on family, Casper https://rapidcityjournal.com/1973-murder-and-rape-have-lasting-effect-on-family-casper/article_a102350c-fd54-58a1-8ee9-12a0e335f56f.html
Accessed September, 2022. Fremont Canyon https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=95573
Accessed September, 2022. The 17 Best Things to Do in Casper, Wyoming https://greatplainstravel.com/things-to-do-casper/
Accessed September, 2022. Wyoming Crime Rates 1960 – 2019 https://www.disastercenter.com/crime/wycrime.htm
Accessed September, 2022. Casper, Wyoming, United States https://www.britannica.com/place/Casper
Accessed September, 2022. In 1973, Becky Thomson was brutally attacked on a bridge. 19 years later she died there. https://www.mamamia.com.au/true-crime-stories-becky-thomson/
Accessed September, 2022. Fremont Canyon Road Bridge https://bridgehunter.com/wy/natrona/DUZ/
Accessed September, 2022. Kennedy v. Shillinger, 759 F. Supp. 1554 (D. Wyo. 1991) https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/759/1554/1473066/