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The Job Corps killing: Passage of time can't erase Christa Gail Pike's savage crime

Twenty-five years ago Pike tortured and killed an acquaintance on the UT Ag campus near Tyson Park.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pure evil.

Twenty-five years after she mutilated, murdered and then celebrated the killing of a 19-year-old acquaintance, the phrase still comes to mind when investigators think about Christa Gail Pike.

She looked so sweet; she was oh, so cruel.

Pike, now 43, is the only woman on Tennessee's death row. At the time of her Knox County conviction, she was one of the youngest women ever sentenced to death in the United States.

The facts of the crime are hard to forget a quarter of a century later.

In January 1995, the 18-year-old North Carolina resident murdered Colleen Slemmer, a Floridian who'd come to Knoxville to take part in a job training program for young people.

Jan. 12, 1995: The murder of Colleen Slemmer

Dangling the promise of getting a video and smoking some pot, Pike lured Slemmer from the Job Corps Center on Dale Avenue to a remote part of the University of Tennessee Agricultural campus near Tyson Park.

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Pike and her 17-year-old boyfriend Tadaryl Shipp suddenly turned on Slemmer, cursing her and taunting her. Pike slashed Slemmer on her back, chest and neck with a box cutter.

Credit: May Martinez
Christa Pike murdered Colleen Slemmer on Jan. 12, 1995.

She and Shipp, Satan worshipers both, carved pentagrams into Colleen.

When Slemmer tried to run away, Pike and her accomplice chased the girl down and resumed the attack. Pike slammed a piece of asphalt repeatedly into Colleen's head, fatally fracturing it.

As the victim lay dying, Pike reached down and plucked a bit of bone from the left side of her skull as a souvenir.

Many of the police officers and lawyers involved in the case have retired. Some have died.

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Two people, however, today recall very well what Pike did all those years ago. They vow to never forget.

"I've got to fight for Colleen," Slemmer's mother May Martinez told 10News in an interview from her Florida home. "I'm her voice."

Randy York was the lead Knoxville Police Department investigator in what became known as the Job Corps case. He interviewed Pike after the murder and testified at her trial.

Now retired, York remains in touch with Slemmer's mother. And he always will.

"I never met the victim in life," he said, fighting back tears. "But once you investigate a case, they become yours."

Martinez said she wants to make sure everyone understands her daughter didn't deserve what happened to her that night.

No date has been set for Pike's execution. The state is currently carrying out execution dates for inmates convicted in the 1980s.

'DO YOU KNOW WHO'S DOING THIS TO YOU?'

Shipp, of Memphis, and Pike fancied themselves as Satan worshipers. He kept what police said was a small shrine in his room at the Job Corps Center.

She referred to herself as "Lil Devil." Together, the two would stare up at the clouds and imagine they could turn them into shapes, according to court evidence.

Their fascination with Satanism certainly played a part in Colleen's killing. Shipp would later tell police that Slemmer was a sacrifice to the devil.

Martinez said her daughter had only been at the center, which often worked with troubled youths, about three months. She'd hoped to get computer training there.

Credit: TDOC
Christa Pike

Slemmer enjoyed helping and looking out for disabled children, Martinez said. It was something she'd enjoyed since she was 8. She was an "awesome, giving person," the mother said.

When Pike clashed with Slemmer at Job Corps, she decided to act. Along with Shipp and Job Corps friend Shadolla Peterson, of Cleveland, Tenn., they plotted to lure Slemmer out the night of Jan. 12, 1995.

The four headed from the Job Corps center north of Fort Sanders to the Cumberland Avenue Strip and then down to Tyson Park. They walked in the dark along a popular greenway and veered up a paved pathway.

That's where Pike suddenly turned on Slemmer.

"She didn't have a clue the danger she was in," York recalled.

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Pike began shouting at Colleen, accusing her of trying to take her boyfriend. The attackers had brought the box cutter and a small cleaver. Pike stabbed and cut at Colleen, whose jeans and pink sweater soon became muddy as she fell to the ground.

Pike would later say she lost control and then reached a point during the attack from which she could never pull back.

The conspirators forced Colleen to take off her pink sweater so that she was only in her bra. Then, she was stripped of her bra. Pike slashed at the crotch of her jeans.

By Pike's own recollection, Slemmer begged to be let go, promising she'd tell no one about what had happened if she could just walk back to Florida.

"And I said, 'Shut up. I don't want to hear you talking to me,'" Pike recalled later. "You know, it's harder to hurt somebody when they're talking to you."

Slemmer tried to run away in the dark but was dragged back to the scene. She tried to fight back but was no match for her attackers.

Credit: KPD
Christa Pike, Tadaryl Shipp and Shadolla Peterson, depicted at the time of their arrest in 1995.

Pike took the hairband from her hair and jammed it in the woman's mouth to silence her.

Pike and Shipp carved pentagrams into Slemmer -- one in her chest and one in her forehead.

"A couple of them said that was the trapdoor to release the soul to Satan," York recalled.

To Pike's great frustration, by her own telling later, the victim wouldn't die. The attack lasted an estimated 30 minutes to an hour.

Finally, as Slemmer lay on the ground, bleeding and groaning, Pike took a large chunk of asphalt and began striking Colleen's head.

Then, in the victim's final moments, Pike would later tell York, she leaned over and asked Slemmer, "Colleen, do you know who's doing this to you?"

The victim was dead.

Pike reached down and took a small piece of the skull and put it in her jacket pocket. The trio then walked to a nearby Cumberland Avenue gas station to wash up. They ditched the box cutter and a couple of Colleen's IDs.

Credit: May Martinez
Colleen Slemmer, who came to Knoxville to take part in the Job Corps program.

When they got back to Job Corps, a smiling Pike bragged to a student about what they'd just done. She danced in a circle as she recounted the crime.

At breakfast the next morning, she boasted she had the piece of bone in her leather jacket. She showed it to another friend that morning in class.

Colleen's battered body, nude from the waist up, was found the next morning, Jan. 13, tossed by her killers on the ground like a heap of trash.

After police roped off the area and posted officers to keep away the curious, Pike showed up at the park.

She asked University of Tennessee Police Officer Harold Underwood what was going on. Did the cops have any suspects?

Underwood would later testify she appeared amused, giggly even.

LETTER FROM JAIL

Considering Pike's glee, it wasn't long before Knoxville police identified Pike, Shipp and Peterson in the killing.

She was tried in March 1996 in Knox County Criminal Court. 

A jury spent little time on the question of her guilt. There wasn't much doubt of that.

They also spent little time deciding whether she deserved death, despite the defense's efforts to show she'd endured a harsh childhood with little supervision. Pike cried sometimes at trial, asking Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz after the conviction if she could hug her mother.

But it became clear she had little remorse after the jurors recommended she be executed. She went back to her holding cell in the Knox County jail and wrote a letter to Shipp.

March 30, 1996: Christa Pike sentenced to death

She asked a jail employee to pass it to her boyfriend. The employee, however, gave it to her supervisor, and the supervisor forwarded it to the Knox County District Attorney General's Office.

Deputy DA Bill Crabtree, now retired, read it aloud at a later court date for Pike.

"Hey Love. I just want you to know how much I love you! I have 10 months left to live! Imagine that! I'd spend every moment with you if I could! Baby! I want you to tell them you liked in your statement and go along with mine! Do you have a copy of mine? If not, I'll get you one. K? I love you Big Bunches, Baby and no matter what they do to me, they can't change what's in my heart.

"Please write me! I miss you so much! Ya see what I get for tryin' to be nice to the hoe? I went ahead and bashed her brains out so she'd die quickly instead of letting her bleed to death and suffer more, and they f----- fry me! Ain't dat some s---? Please write me and tell me what you're feeling! ...Also, tell your lawyer if he wants me to testify for you ... I will! Love you for the rest of my life! Lil Devil."

Shipp was convicted the following year of murder. Because he was a juvenile at the time of the crime, he couldn't face the threat of the death penalty.

Credit: WBIR
Christa Pike's note -- bragging about the killing -- written to Tadaryl Shipp after she was sentenced to death in 1996.

Now age 42, he's serving a life sentence at a prison in Tiptonville, Tenn., with a chance one day for release.

Peterson reached a plea agreement with Knox County prosecutors, who said they lacked evidence to prove she was a murderer. Peterson admitted to being an accessory after Slemmer's murder.

She got credit for about 460 days spent in jail, and was ordered to serve the balance of a six-year sentence on probation. Peterson is now age 43.

Credit: TDOC
Tadaryl Shipp, depicted in a recent TDOC mugshot. He's serving a life sentence in a Tennessee prison.

'TO MY LAST BREATH'

Pike, who turns 44 in March, is being held at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.

She has not been a model prisoner.

Pike has relished her status on death row. She's also tried to kill someone else.

Pike and friend Natasha Cornett, who is serving a life sentence in the killing of a Knox County family, had clashed with Patricia Jones, an inmate previously convicted of killing an elderly woman in her East Knoxville house.

Jones had a reputation for being a bully to the other women.

Early Aug. 24, 2001, a fire broke out in a wing of the prison, prompting employees to move Jones into an exercise cage with Pike and Cornett. Jones and Cornett clashed.

Pike jumped in to defend her friend. She took a boot lace and began choking Jones.

She later told investigators she flipped Jones, who weighed more than 200 pounds at the time, onto her stomach, sat on her and kept on choking her. Officers finally intervened, and Jones lived.

"I don't wanna say that I intended to kill her but I would say that I didn't care if she died," Pike would later tell an investigator. "I wouldn't lose any sleep over it if she did."

She sounded a lot more determined when she talked to her mom Carissa Hansen on the phone afterward, an investigation showed.

Credit: TDOC
Patricia Ann Jones survived a murder attempt by Christa Gail Pike in 2001.

"And I wrapped that shoe string around of her and tried to choke the damn life out of her," records show she said in the recorded conversation. "She was passed out on the ground, Mama, twitching, foaming at the mouth. Her eyeballs were bugged out so far her eyelids were flipped up."

She continued: "See, now, I know the difference between premeditated murder and what happened with Colleen. Cause, see, I premeditated the hell out of this. Sure did. If I'd of had 30 more seconds, I'd, we'd have a little chalk line out there in our rec pen, and that bitch would be gone somewhere."

Pike was convicted of attempted murder, with a 25-year sentence added to her death term. Jones is now housed at West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning.

She's also been the subject of an escape investigation. Pike tried in 2012 to charm a man into helping her get out of the Tennessee Prison for Woman.

It failed.

"It's just always something with her," York said.

Credit: WBIR
Randy York calls Christa Pike's crime "unique." He was lead investigator into the killing of Colleen Slemmer in 1995.

Martinez said amid all the attention about Pike, she fears everyone has forgotten about her daughter. The mother has waged a yearslong effort to recover all of Slemmer's remains.

For a time, Colleen's skull was kept as part of the evidence. Martinez now has that, but she still lacks that one bone fragment that Pike kept as a souvenir.

"Execute her, or give her life and give me the rest of Colleen back so I can live," she said.

Pike's been able to live a lot longer than her victim, Martinez said.

Credit: May Martinez
May Martinez's daughter Colleen Slemmer was murdered in 1995 by Christa Gail Pike and Tadaryl Shipp.

"I will continue to fight no matter what. I will fight to my last breath to get everything back and get what Colleen deserves," she said.

Editor's note: John North covered the trials of Christa Gail Pike and Tadaryl Shipp in 1996 and 1997.