Authorities could not say if the death of the Rebecca Thompson Brown (r.) was a suicide or an accident after she fell off the Fremont Canyon Bridge in Wyoming 19 years after she was raped and her half sister, Amy Burridge (c.), was killed.
On July 31, 1992, Rebecca Thomson Brown, 37, took a trip to the Fremont Canyon Bridge, a 60-foot span about 35 miles from Casper, Wyo. There, she fell more than 100 feet to her death in the churning waters of the North Platte River in Wyoming.
Authorities could not say with certainty whether it was suicide or accident. But those who knew Becky said it was the natural end to a nightmare that began nearly two decades earlier at the same spot.
“She was raped and murdered 19 years ago, but she just died Friday,” Natrona County Sheriff David Dovala told reporters after her fall.
Dovala was a detective assigned to the 1973 case of two sisters who were tossed off the bridge. Becky was one of them.
On Sept. 24, 1973, at around 9 p.m., Becky, then 18, and her half-sister, Amy Burridge, 11, drove to a convenience store to buy groceries.
About a half hour later, the girls’ mom got a phone call from Amy. She said one of their tires had gone flat and that two “nice men” were going to help and give them a lift home.
They never arrived.
The following morning, an elderly couple was driving toward the river to go fishing when they spotted a girl, bruised, bloody and naked from the waist down, slumped along the side of the road.
“I was raped and thrown off the bridge, and my little sister too,” Becky told them.
The two “nice men” Amy had mentioned in her call home turned out to be monsters. They had set a trap, slashing the tire on Becky’s car.
At knifepoint, the men forced the girls into their run-down Impala and then drove into the mountains. At the bridge, one demanded that Amy get out.
“I love you, Becky,” the little girl said, the last words she ever spoke to her sister.
A short time later, the men took turns raping Becky. When they were done, they dragged her over to the bridge, saying she was about to meet her sister. Both men were weaklings, so they struggled to lift her over the railing to toss her into the river, wrote Ron Franscell in his book on the case, “The Darkest Night.”
When she fought back, one tried to strangle her, while the other yelled, “Make sure she’ll be dead.” Finally, they managed to push her over.
Miraculously, Becky survived the 112-foot plunge.
On the way down, she slammed into a rocky ledge, which sent her hurtling into a deep part of the river. The water cushioned her fall.
Becky described one of the assailants as skinny and dark-haired with crazy eyes. The other was fleshy, pale and greasy. Both reeked of booze.
Becky, who survived the incident 19 years earlier, told investigators that she “was raped and thrown off a bridge, and my little sister too.”
Two locals — Ronald Kennedy, 27, and Jerry Jenkins, 29 — matched her description to a T.
Police knew them well, a couple of walking crime waves who had been in and out of correctional institutions since childhood.
In 1968, Jenkins teamed up with Ronald Kennedy’s older brother, Jim, and raped a 19-year-old girl. Both were arrested, but the woman was treated so harshly by the defense during Kennedy’s trial that she refused to cooperate a second time for Jenkins, Franscell wrote.
Jim Kennedy went to prison, but Jenkins got off and soon teamed up with his former partner’s brother, Ron.
Police quickly snatched Jenkins and Kennedy, and gathered evidence to show that the sisters had been in Jenkins’ car that night.
Jenkins confessed but made it seem as if he was just going along and Kennedy was calling all the shots. By the time they picked up the girls, he said, they had been guzzling beer for hours.
The defense tried to make a case for insanity, suggesting that miserable childhoods molded their cruelty and addiction to crime. But the duo’s mental problems did not meet the legal definition of insane.
In less than five hours of deliberation, the jury found them guilty of assault, rape and murder and worthy of the death penalty.
Their appointment with the gas chamber was set for a year after the crime. They appealed.
In January 1977, their death sentences were reversed, and they were given life behind bars. Kennedy thrived there, earning privileges such as keeping a pet, dating, and eventually having conjugal visits with his new wife. He penned a memoir.
Jenkins did not fare so well, dying in 1998 of heart failure.
As impossible as it may seem, Becky’s physical wounds, which included a shattered pelvis, healed. She tried to move on. It seemed as if she was succeeding, with work she liked, friends — including Sheriff Dovala — and a husband and baby.
But she also wrestled with many demons — addictions to drugs and alcohol and guilt over having survived the attack that killed her sister.
By 1992, she was plunging into despair — divorced, in debt and filled with fear that Kennedy and Jenkins might succeed in their bid to get a new trial and that they might go free.
On that summer night in 1992, with her boyfriend and her 2-year-old daughter, she took a drive to the site of her sister’s murder. As she stood on the bridge, the boyfriend stepped away briefly to put the child in the car. At that moment he heard a crash, and she was gone.
Becky’s death came just days before the announcement that Kennedy and Jenkins had been denied a new trial.