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Like the documentary's glamor whores, Crystal Chumley, 23, was pretty, but that's where the similarities ended. Chumley says her biological mother killed Crystal's baby brother by shooting him full of dope when Crystal was just a toddler. Crystal was later adopted by an Alabama couple and her adoptive grandfather began raping her when she was 6. He'd give her alcohol to keep her numb while they had sex, and she figures she's been an alcoholic since before she was 10. The grandfather's abuse stopped when she was 13, but shortly afterwards her adoptive father took an interest in her and began raping her. Crystal arrived in Charlotte at 17 as a runaway, got addicted to crack and was plucked from the streets by Tracy Howard, who figured it would be "easy to get her."
Chumley, who worked as a prostitute for all three Howard brothers and for the escort service, explained to the jury how David Howard, whom she said she still loved, had held a fire poker in flames until it heated up red hot and then scalded her leg with it. It was because she'd been about to light her crack pipe over the flames and he wanted her to know how hot the fire was so she wouldn't hurt herself. It was because he loved her and didn't want her to smoke crack anymore, she explained, smiling at the memory of a time when David would still say he loved her.
The jury's horror was nearly palpable -- at the beginning of the trial. Things like this go on in America? In Charlotte? Nothing short of a tour of duty in Vietnam could have prepared them for what they heard, and maybe not even that. By the end of the trial, after hearing of girls who'd had miscarriages into toilets and of women who were whipped with belts and strangled in bathtubs, the jury members all wore the shell-shocked demeanors of war survivors.
Street-hardened investigators with the CMPD and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms still get so choked up about some of the girls that they have to turn their heads away when they talk about them. The task of putting women like this back together -- or at least teaching them to function when they decide to come off Charlotte's streets -- often falls to Genny Kleiser, director of operations at the McLeod Addictive Disease Center on Remount Road, which runs the county's only prostitution recovery program.
"We're dealing with complete social retardation," said Kleiser. Not mental retardation, Kleiser emphasizes. Many of the women are of average intelligence. They just come from a social, cultural and sexual background that is alien to the rest of society -- as alien as the rest of the society is to them.
When the average person meets someone new, they shake hands. These women have sex.
"They have no functional ability in society, so much so that when the new ones come in the lobby we have to go up there and monitor them to keep their shirts down and their legs closed and stop flashing people," said Kleiser.
Of the 250 prostitutes who have come through the McLeod program since it started seven years ago, some of those who worked for the Howards were the worst Kleiser has ever seen.
But then, the Howards got a hold of their girls young, and worked them over good.
"The pimps in the joint had said, 'There ain't nothing more important than what makes a new bitch tick and why. You gotta scrape her brain. Find out if the first joker who laid her was her father or who. Make her tell you her life story."
-- From Pimp: The Story of My Life by Iceberg Slim
"He wanted to know about when I lost my virginity," Carrie said of Tracy Howard during the days after she met him. "He kept asking me questions. He wanted to know everything."
Howard did a double take when he saw Carrie at the bus stop on North Tryon Street near Old Concord Road on a May morning in 2002. He turned the car around, pulled up and flirted with her and gave her his number. She called him a few hours later, and that night, for the first time in a while, Carrie had somewhere nice to stay with no pressure on her to leave, no feeling of imposition.
She spent the evening watching movies with Tracy's mother Ila and another girl named Tabitha at Ila's home on Grenelefe Village Road in Cornelius. The place was neat and clean, the furniture nice, the lawn well-kept. The neighborhood was suburban and seemed normal, nothing like the chaos Carrie came from.