Mac McAdams of Moline, Ill., still wipes a tear away as he hears his daughter describe the death of his 15-year-old granddaughter, Jenny Crompton. No matter that the murder happened in 1986.
“It’s still hard to think about what she’d be like after all these years, and how much of life she missed,” he said quietly to the reporter who happened to be seated next to him.
Just a few weeks after the 25th anniversary of Jenny’s stabbing murder at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, her mother, Vicki Crompton-Tetter, is still telling the story. She’s been on Oprah, in Redbook magazine, and is the author of Saving Beauty from the Beast: How to Save Your Daughter from an Unhealthy Relationship, a book she coauthored in 2003 with Ellen Zelda Kessner, another parent of a murdered child.
“The story is old, the hairdos are old, but human nature is the same. People still come up to me after I talk and say, ‘Thank you. I needed to hear that,’” she told 165 people, almost all women, at Rachel Coalition’s Oct. 18 Women to Women Luncheon.
The event was held at Cedar Hill Country Club in Livingston and sponsored by the Rachel Coalition and the National Council of Jewish Women: Essex County Section.
The Women to Women Luncheon is funded with support from the Rachel Coalition Florin Education Series Endowment Fund, established by Thelma and Richard Florin. Additional support for this year’s luncheon was provided by Verizon Wireless Hopeline.
Crompton-Tetter was joined by Jennifer L. Hartstein, a Manhattan therapist who specializes in treating high-risk children and adolescents.
Crompton-Tetter, who still lives in Iowa, where the 1986 incident took place, recounted her daughter’s middle school crush on Mark Smith, a football player on the high school team. When Jenny entered high school, they started to date. Crompton-Tetter remembered thinking the whole relationship was “so innocent.” In fact, Smith was disturbingly possessive.
“Her teenage friends knew what was happening,” said Crompton-Tetter. “His opinion was: ‘I own you and your life belongs to me, and I’ll tell you how to run your life.’” He’d tell Jenny when she could visit her father, when she could be with friends. “I heard he used to walk her to class with his hand on the back of her neck. That still creeps me out,” her mother told an extremely quiet audience.
During the fall of Jenny’s sophomore year, after she had already broken up with Smith and he had graduated, he broke into the Crompton home and waited for Jenny to come home. When she arrived, he stabbed her 66 times with a butcher knife.
Smith is serving a life sentence for the murder.
“With today’s teens and all this technology, it’s worse,” Crompton-Tetter warned. She was referring to the ability of a boyfriend (or girlfriend) to keep constant tabs on a partner or ex-partner via social media and cell phone texting.
Although until 2007, no state had any mandated education on teen dating violence, some states, including New Jersey, now require it. Still, one in three adolescent girls is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. And of all the teens involved in abusive relationships, fewer than one in three confide in their parents.
When Crompton-Tetter finished her story, Hartstein offered tips on how to provide intervention. She urged parents to talk with kids about healthy relationships and how to end a romance.
“Most physical violence comes after a breakup, and kids don’t know how to break up,” said Hartstein. “They are getting their information from places like Jersey Shore.”
“Teach kids to be honest about why they are breaking up — ‘This isn’t working’ or ‘I want to spend more time with my friends.’” She also pointed that direct face-to-face breakups are best. As for teens who are afraid of their partners, “Do what is safest,” Hartstein said.
Hartstein recommends that parents monitor the social media kids are using, and pick up on clues when teenagers want to talk to a parent. She said children need to have limits on texting, especially in responding to a partner or ex who calls at all hours. Nearly 30 percent of teens receive 10 to 30 texts per hour from a partner trying to find out where they are and what they are doing, according to the National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Initiative of the American Bar Association.
Most of all, said Hartstein, “Let kids know they can make mistakes and you won’t judge them.”