By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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A natural artist, Jeanette doodled flowers and cartoon characters on her notebook paper in middle school. Teachers noticed and suggested she paint a brightly colored food mural including pineapples, pizza, and French fries on the cafeteria wall in 1989. She worked on the project for three months with a group of students and won an award for her dedication. (The mural was recently painted over.)
Throughout high school, she was at the top of her English class and earned A's and B's. At one point, she began wearing makeup and skimpy clothes that accented her good looks, drawing notice wherever she went. Shopping at Pembroke Lakes Mall with her mother, Jeanette was stopped by an older woman. "You should think about modeling," the stranger recommended.
In 1991, Ray lost his job and the family felt a financial crunch. "We weren't poor," Gina says. "But we didn't have extravagant things." There was also trouble at Cooper City High, where Jeanette met a boy named Jason Rodriguez, a slick bodybuilder with a chiseled face who had perfected the bad-boy persona. He was a "wild juvenile delinquent," Gina says.
After high school, Jason went to jail. Jeanette stuck by him until he got out, despite Krissy's concern that "he hit and abused her." When Jeanette was upset — perhaps when they fought — she would blast Whitney Houston's soundtrack to the movie The Bodyguard.
Jeanette worked at Frank's Nursery and Crafts, selling plants and lawn furniture in Cooper City, and dabbled in modeling. Her parents couldn't afford the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, so she compromised by taking classes at Broward Community College. "Jeanette wanted to be a million things," says Krissy, who is two years older and got into more trouble. "She was finding herself."
During winter 1995, Jeanette began working at the Goldfinger strip club on North University Drive in Sunrise. About two years later, she moved to the flashier, more lucrative Thee Dollhouse in Sunny Isles Beach. The club drew a clientele of well-off older gentlemen, and girls danced to alternative-rock radio hits. There she made a name for herself as Jade.
"She just started living the crazy life and got in with the wrong people," says neighbor Eddie Sedawie. "It wasn't her. I think if you're as pretty as her — and you have a body like she did — it's easy to have someone talk you into it."
Adds best friend Tina: "I think her insecurities led her down the wrong path. She knew she was pretty, and she used it to her advantage."
When she began working at Thee Dollhouse, Jeanette lived with her parents. She and Gina agreed not to tell Ray about her occupation. The place was notorious for "shower shows" (involving "friction" as a customer bathes backstage with a dancer, a step up from a lap dance). Popular girls such as Jeanette would leave with as much as $2,000 a night. "I think she got a taste of the money," Gina says. "The cash was just incredible."
Though Jeanette moved with her sister to an apartment in Pembroke Pines, she would take her mom shopping on weekends. With the newfound cash, Jeanette bought Gina $100 shoes, plane tickets, and decorations for the house. She kept herself in shape by kickboxing and going to Gold's Gym in Pembroke Pines four times a week.
At work, Jeanette put up a tough image, says former club makeup artist Helen McDonald. Unlike dancers who built their social scene around the strip club, Jeanette kept to herself and never got arrested. "She was very strait-laced," says smooth-faced club manager Marty Blumquist, sporting a comb-over. "No hanky-panky, no drinking, no drugs. After her shift, she'd get in the car and go."
Before leaving her apartment Friday, March 19, she kissed Krissy on the cheek and told her there was pie in the fridge. It was the last time Krissy would see her baby sister alive.
Four hours later, about 2 a.m. Saturday, Ariel Hernandez leaned against a cluttered bar at Thee Dollhouse and ordered a Johnny Walker straight up with a Budweiser on the side. Clean-shaven and cocksure, he had the body of a linebacker and an outfit torn from the pages of GQ. On his right arm was a cast, and above it a bulldog tattoo read, "United States Marine Corps."
Businessmen puffed cigarettes at round, café-style tables as they watched Jade's sculpted body twist to the throb of early-Nineties rock on a licorice-black stage at the club's center. A gray fog of smoke curled over the tan, toned five-foot-three beauty. An aging businessman tucked a bill into her G-string. She tossed back her thick light-brown hair and returned to a silver pole, caressing it like a lover as a disco ball showered the place in dappled light.
Hernandez told a regular named Chris Cunniff that he planned to sleep with Jade. The men begin to argue drunkenly.
"Suck my dick," Hernandez said.
"Whip it out," Cunniff shot back.
Hernandez unzipped his dress pants and exposed himself. A cocktail waitress noticed and complained, demanding his removal. After a commotion, he was allowed to stay, and as Jade got off the stage, he gave her money and put his arm around her. He told Cunniff: "This is my girl. I'm taking her home with me tonight."