A near-deadly desert attack, headed for trial next spring, throws light on the incredibly brutal underworld of racist skinheads
PHOENIX, Ariz.—They left Amanda Crow to die under an ironwood tree. Paralyzed, the 19-year-old lay on her back in a remote wash, studying its thorny branches and teardrop leaves. Blood from her slashed throat and stab wounds pooled around her body in a scarlet aura. A night passed, then a day, then another night. Twice, she watched the Day-Glo bloom of a desert sunrise while flies and ants feasted on her blood.
Delirious, Crow imagined at times that she was home in bed, with a heavy blanket wrapped tight around her, forcing her to lay still. It was mid-morning, almost 40 hours after she'd been beaten, knifed and abandoned, when she heard the crunch of tires. "Help!" she gasped, in the strongest voice she could muster. To the man who found her, it sounded like the cooing of a dove.
Crow was airlifted to a hospital, where doctors put her on a respirator after tweezing the insects from her throat and perforated torso. Her left lung was collapsed. Her spinal cord was pierced at neck-level.
The ensuing police investigation culminated in the arrest of four neo-Nazi skinheads on charges of attempted murder and kidnapping, and two of them face trial next spring. But already, voluminous police reports, crime scene photos, interrogation transcripts and court documents related to the attack on Crow, along with interviews with investigators, ex-skinheads, and those close to Crow and her accused attackers shed light on the secretive, criminal subculture of racist skinheads in America's fourth-largest metropolis. The inhabitants of this chaotic and violent underworld boast of virtues like "Aryan pride" and "racial unity." But in reality, they are just as dangerous to their own kind as they are to non-whites and Jews, the declared targets of their hate and rage.
Crow was a victim of skinhead violence. But she was also a skinhead, a fact which did nothing to dissuade her "racial brothers and sisters" from literally stabbing her in the back.
Pride and Prejudice
Three years before her throat was cut, Crow was a rebellious teenager growing up in a lower-middle-class West Phoenix neighborhood where whites were the minority. The student body at her high school was 76% Hispanic. Students were allowed to wave the Mexican flag, but school officials reprimanded her when she pinned a Confederate battle flag to her backpack. She felt persecuted.
Amanda Crow discovered the skinhead movement in a pool hall where she found a flyer for an "Aryan barbecue." Three years later, police say, four of her former comrades nearly killed her.
At the same time, the skinhead scene in Phoenix was making a very public comeback, as a local group of skins who would eventually call themselves the North American Skinheads (the crew went through a series of name changes) was surging in numbers, violence and public attention.
In October 2002, soon after Crow began her junior year of high school, four racist skinheads stomped a young white man to death outside a pool hall. As news of the murder coursed through the Phoenix media, the brash and brutal leaders of this new crop of Phoenix skins, rather than shying away from scrutiny, courted publicity by granting television and newspaper interviews as they continued to organize skinhead events and actively recruit young people into the movement.
Crow became a skinhead in early March 2003, after she wandered into a Phoenix pool hall and wandered out holding a flyer advertising an upcoming "Aryan Barbecue" in a mostly minority neighborhood.
With long dark hair, and at a shapely 5 feet 10 inches, Crow looked quite a bit older than 16. One of the Aryan barbecue's principal organizers, former Phoenix skinhead leader Sean Gaines, describes Crow back then as sweet, needy and hopelessly unaware of what she was getting herself into.
"She brought this girl who was part Jewish to the barbecue. That shows how naïve and how young they were," Gaines told the Intelligence Report from his Phoenix jail cell, where he's awaiting trial for capital murder in a separate case. "I tried to tell her to stay out of trouble."
But Crow didn't see trouble, only acceptance. She'd found a world where the sort of thinking that got her in trouble at school was openly celebrated. At the barbecue — which organizers say drew 80 skinheads — swastika flags were draped from the park's ramada, white-power music raged from an overtaxed boom box, and young men in wifebeaters, red suspenders, and steel-toed boots strutted among the picnic tables oozing testosterone.
Among the "boots" at the park that spring Sunday was Jason Shakofsky, 23, a brooding, 6-foot-tall, 250-pound amateur tattoo artist who repossessed cars for a living.
Shakofsky, whose older brother David was a Florida Aryan Nations recruiter killed in a 1994 car accident, had come onto the Phoenix scene a few months earlier.
Usually, new recruits were tested for loyalty before gaining acceptance. Not Shakofsky. There was no need. Shakofsky's violent temper was evident early on, recalls Gaines. His home was draped in Nazi flags and cluttered with weapons, including two handguns, a shotgun, a rifle and a fully automatic assault rifle. Clips and shells were everywhere, and a crossbow and arrows hung from the wall.
Crow and Shakofsky embarked on a whirlwind skinhead romance. She moved out of her parents' house into his a week after they met and began hanging out with skinheads full time, often wearing one of Shakofsky's Skrewdriver T-shirts. She didn't know the significance of the shirt depicting the seminal skinhead band. All she knew was that it was white power, it was Shakofsky's, and now so was she.
On Shakofsky's orders, a fellow skinhead shaved Crow's head into a "Chelsea," with tendrils framing her face. She dyed her remaining hair blonde by dunking her head in a bowl of bleach. Two weeks after her debut on the scene, Crow had completely morphed into a full-blown "skinbyrd."
When skinhead leader Joshua Fiedler invited a newspaper photographer to his home to take photos of his crew that same month, Crow and Shakofsky were there, posing defiantly in front of a Nazi flag with his arm draped around her belly.
Shakofsky was carrying a gun, and Crow was carrying his child that night, although she didn't yet know she was pregnant.
'Hate and Discontent'
Crow had a difficult pregnancy, and the couple fought constantly. The birth of their daughter, Hayley, in December 2003 did little to improve their relationship. "Man, I wish I could get away from that bitch," Shakofsky told fellow skinheads.
They finally split up six months later. Crow took the baby and moved back in with her parents. Shakofsky began dating Jessica Bruner, a divorcée with two children. Bruner was by her own account raised in the neo-Nazi movement and enjoyed spreading "hate and discontent," according to her online profile.
Although Bruner and Crow clashed horribly at first, they became tenuous friends, a relationship Bruner cultivated in order to wrest control of Hayley away from Crow. Bruner and Shakofsky told Crow they had gotten married and that a court had awarded them full custody of the child. Crow foolishly believed these lies because she trusted Bruner.
Her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and father of her child remained as stormy as ever. Numerous instant messages recovered by police show Crow begging for time with her daughter and Shakofsky accusing her of being a bad mother and a child abuser. "All you were supposed to be was a fuck, Amanda, that is it," Shakofsky wrote in one exchange. "Shit got out of hand. … Never my intention to have you in my life forever." Crow retaliated by reminding Shakofsky that she knew about crimes he'd committed that had gone unpunished. "They don't get along, they argue," Bruner later told detectives. "There's a lot of bad blood there."
Crow told several friends that Shakofsky repeatedly threatened to find her and slit her throat if she ever took Hayley and disappeared, which is exactly what she was planning to do in early 2006. She confided in Bruner that she was going to get herself and her daughter away from Shakofsky by moving to Texas and starting a new life.
Bruner allegedly told Shakofsky of Crow's plans, juicing up her account with a tall tale about Crow hiring a member of the Aryan Brotherhood to kill him. Tired of Crow's bickering, enraged by her plans to run away and her veiled threats to talk to law enforcement about his criminal acts, Shakofsky allegedly told Bruner to "handle the situation" on a certain night when he made sure he was at work repossessing cars to establish an alibi.
Into the Darkness
Although some of the details of that night are disputed, evidence compiled by police, including Crow's own account, suggests this is what occurred next. Bruner enlisted two other skinheads, Kelly Harkins and Edward Ware, to help her "handle" Crow.
Ware, 27, was the son of Baptist ministers who conducted Bible studies in their home. Although one-quarter Japanese, Ware had been a skinhead for 11 years. He had "White" tattooed on one forearm and "Pride" on the other. He had known Crow for several years. She used to babysit for his five children, who at the time of the assault had been turned over to relatives because Ware had gone off the deep end.
Standing 6 foot 3 inches and weighing in at 260 pounds, the self-described skinhead "enforcer" had been drinking heavily over the past four months and quit taking the medications prescribed to him to curb his anxiety and bipolar tendencies — including daily doses of 2000 milligrams of Depakote, a mood stabilizer, and 600 milligrams of the anti-psychotic Seroquel.
Harkins was a hard-line skinhead whose husband, also a skinhead, was a Marine dispatched to Iraq. She had been married several times before and had three children she abandoned to relatives. Harkins lived in Tucson where she worked as a caregiver in a rest home, and she had a large outline of a swastika on her back that Bruner, also a tattoo artist, worked on filling in over the weekend Crow was assaulted.
Bruner drove 90 miles south of Phoenix to Tucson to bring Harkins up for the occasion that Friday night. "Amanda's a snitch," Bruner allegedly told her. "Jason wants us to take care of it."
The next afternoon, Harkins says she watched Bruner crush up a pill and slip it into a bottle of Smirnoff Ice with the intention of drugging Crow before the attack.
Bruner invited Crow, who was due at work later that night, to attend a bonfire in the desert west of Phoenix. Crow agreed. Bruner drove her extended-cab Ford pickup, and Harkins sat in the middle of the front seat with Ware riding shotgun. Crow sat in the back with her daughter, Bruner's 5-year-old son and 6-month-old baby girl.
When they hit the freeway Bruner broke out the Smirnoff Ice and offered one to Crow. "Chug it," Bruner is said to have told her. But Crow sensed something was up. Her bottle had a different colored cap than the others, and it tasted funny. Crow dumped it out on the floorboards and watched the city lights fade as the truck headed into the desert under a waxing moon.
Bruner asked Crow if she was ready to earn her red laces, symbolic in the skinhead culture of spilling blood for the cause.
Crow was. After nearly three years in the movement it was about time she advanced in rank. Bruner, in her reds herself, had the authority and stature to bring her up.
Ware was a rat, Bruner explained, and Crow would have to beat him down.
Crow looked at Ware in the front seat and when he didn't react her suspicions turned to dread. Bruner pulled off the pavement onto a crude dirt road south through the desert until they reached a pullout near a small wash. There were no cars. No fellow skinheads. No bonfire. They told Amanda to get out, left the children in the truck and walked her into the darkening desert.
Blood, Boots and Betrayal
"We're here to kick your ass and you know why," Ware told Crow as the trio moved in on her, encircling her and yelling angrily. "You fucking narc! You fucking whore! You fat fuck! You smell like a nigger!" Bruner allegedly punched her in the face and spat on her. "Are you a narc?" Harkins shouted as she pummeled Crow. "I'm not a narc!" Crow protested, trying to defend herself. "Jessica is just trying to get my daughter!"
The beating swung into full force. They hit her with closed fists, kicked her with steel-toed boots and pelted her with large rocks, calling her a rat all the while.
Crow was knocked to the ground. Ware stomped on her head with his boots, then grabbed her by the hair and lifted her to a kneeling position. The rocks bouncing off her head had splattered his clothes with her blood.
Ware placed his hand on top of Crow's head and punched her in the jaw.
"Why do you think they brought me out here?" he asked Crow menacingly. Ware later told detectives that it was at that moment she must have realized what was about to happen. He could see it in her eyes.
Ware tried to break her neck. When after several tries it wouldn't break, Ware got frustrated and called for a knife — a Smith and Wesson SWAT folding knife with a four-inch blade that Harkins had tucked in her purse. Ware admits he stabbed her once in the chest and walked away. Crow says he stabbed her repeatedly and slashed her throat.
The attack took less than 10 minutes.
"Let's get out of here, I'm freezing," Bruner allegedly said. Ware looked at the blood on his hands. "I'm getting sloppy," he commented.
When they came back to the truck, blood-spattered and disheveled, they told the kids that Crow was a monster and needed to be killed.
On the drive back to Bruner's home, they all agreed that this was a night that officially never happened.
The three stayed over at Bruner's home, where Bruner allegedly gathered their bloody clothes and Crow's purse and cell phone in a plastic garbage bag and boiled the knife. The next morning, Harkins and Bruner allegedly took the truck to a car wash and scrubbed the inside with ammonia and bleach to destroy blood evidence.
When he awoke Monday afternoon, Shakofsky ordered those involved to scatter. Harkins left to visit fellow skinheads Joshua Krueger and Jacob Stevens. Their home in Wittman, Ariz., had a swastika poster and SS flags in the bedrooms, a Skrewdriver banner in the living room, and pistols and swastika knives lying about. Ware and Bruner soon followed, allegedly bringing with them the garbage bag full of evidence and tossing it in a burn barrel in the back yard. The group partied in front of the fire.
The next day, when they learned Crow had been found and was alive, Ware says he and Bruner threw their boots in a Dumpster, but not before Bruner removed her bloody laces and gave them to Ware as a token of her appreciation.
Bruner called Harkins. "Amanda survived," she is said to have warned her friend. "You better get out of town." Harkins bought a long red wig and asked a friend to lie for her should anyone come around asking questions about where she was Sunday night.
But Bruner could barely contain herself, and walked across her driveway to talk with next-door neighbor, Chris Powers.
"Did you hear about Jason's girlfriend? She was found in the desert?" Bruner asked Powers, according to his later account to police.
"What, a car accident?" Powers replied.
"No, she was stabbed and sliced up."
Shakofsky came over and followed Bruner into Powers' kitchen where she had gone to get some ice. "Don't say anything!" Powers heard him yell. Later that week, Shakofsky brought the couple's computer over and asked Powers to store it at his house.
"I had nothing to do with it," Bruner told Powers' wife. "If I had, I would have made sure she was dead."
Today, Amanda Crow, who lives with her daughter at her parent's home, has complete and irreversible paralysis on the right side of her body. She gets around in an electric wheelchair, attends extensive physical therapy sessions and needs constant care. Her injuries were so severe that for two weeks she could only communicate with detectives by answering yes or no questions.
On Jan. 24, doctors removed her breathing tube and she described her ordeal to police, naming her attackers from her hospital bed, although she was terrified they would come back and finish the job. (Citing the upcoming trial, Crow declined to comment for this story.)
Police conducted a coordinated early morning sweep three weeks later, on Valentine's Day, taking Bruner, Ware and Harkins into custody. Their loyalty to the skinhead cause evaporated rapidly in the heat of attempted murder charges. Although Harkins and Ware each minimized their own involvement, they were quick to finger the others.
Today, Amanda Crow has complete and irreversible paralysis on the right side of her body.
Just a minute into her interview, Harkins became every bit the narc she accused Crow of being on the night they'd almost killed her.
"I know who did it," she told the detective. "Jessica planned the whole thing."
Harkins tried to ingratiate herself. She dropped the names of two police officers she knew in Tucson and mentioned that cops get a discount at her uncle's shoe repair business. She worried aloud about losing her job and getting evicted from her apartment.
"Everyone, you know, thinks I'm a bad person. I was just raised Aryan. And I'm not — I'm not a violent person," she told police.
Shakofsky, for his part, denied any prior knowledge of the assault, which he claimed was all Bruner, Ware and Harkins' doing, a story that sharply contradicted his fiancée's claim that she was home feeding and bathing the children that night. "Supposedly, [Crow] was taken out there and there's a guy named Eddie: he's the one that did it," he said.
"And how do we know this?" the detective asked him.
"Because my wife — my girlfriend — she was there, too."
Shakofsky claimed that Bruner told him about what they had done to Crow a week after she was found. He exhibited little surprise that the mother of his child had been brutally attacked. Crow "talked shit about everything and everybody, man," Shakofsky offered.
"What happens to people like that?" the detective asked him. "Probably what happened, man," Shakofsky responded.
Bruner was seething when she was arrested. "I know what this is about. This is about that fucking bitch, Amanda Crow," she said shortly after she was 'cuffed.
Bruner told police Crow was falsely accusing her and Shakofsky in order regain custody of her daughter.
"I knew this was coming. We knew it. We knew it was. Why? Because if she can pin what happened to her in any way, shape or form on either both of us or either one of us, she can get Hayley back."
During one interrogation, Bruner defended her white supremacist views. She talked of her childhood growing up in the Ku Klux Klan in Greenville, Ala. One black family tried to move into her town "and it lasted maybe three weeks. It wasn't allowed."
She condemned "Jerry Springer Nazis," a term she used for "those little punk kids running around here with their boots and laces and braces and, you know, beating people up and what not." She explained the evolution of the skinhead movement to the detective, its roots in working-class England, the significance of the laces.
"I understand exactly why I'm here, but — we'll get this resolved really quick 'cause I had nothing to do with anything that happened to her," she stated. "For all the bullshit I've gone through, I wish I was there."
As the questions got tougher, Bruner announced she was done and asked for a lawyer.
Then Bruner voiced one last question: "So when this is all over, can I sue her for destroying my life? That stupid bitch."
Ware was initially reluctant to snitch on his accomplices, citing fear of retaliation and the safety of his children. "There are some things I would love to tell you, but I can't. I can't," he told police.
Ware cautiously circled around the events of that night. He explained the "14 words" to cops, but misquoted them. His version — "We have to secure the existence of our race and a future for our white children" — had 16 words.
Then Ware told them how the bloody clothing was burned, the knife boiled, the truck detailed. He revealed that the attack on Crow had originally been planned for Friday night — Bruner even had a babysitter lined up — but Crow wasn't feeling well that night and stayed home.
He told them his former friend tried to fight back in the beginning, and then he finally admitted to stabbing her in the chest — but not to slitting her throat.
"I got her lung," he told police. "I hit her once in the chest and I bitched out."
As the interview drew to a close, the detective asked him if he'd like to write a note to Crow. Ware said he would. He wrote his apology longhand on a piece of paper moments before he was booked.
"Dear Amanda," he began. "I can't begin to imagine the pain that I've caused you. I also know that a simple apology wouldn't begin to make up for what I've done. I do want you to know that I'm truly sorry for bringing this pain upon you and your family. I don't expect you to forgive me and I don't blame you if you don't.
"I'm also truly sorry for almost taking you away from your daughter. No child deserves that and neither do you. I hope that you have a speedy recovery and a happy life ahead of you. I also want you to know that you will receive justice for what was done to you. Again I am truly sorry from the bottom of my heart for hurting you. Sincerely, Eddie."
Ware later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He and Harkins are expected to testify against Bruner and Shakofsky.
The trial for the attempted murder of Amanda Crow is scheduled to begin in April 2008.