March 10th, 2010
By John Aguilar
Camera Staff Writer
Minutes before her first professional stripping gig, Jennifer Marcum felt sick.
Uncomfortable. Guilty. As if she were being unfaithful to the father of her son, then 1½.
“I probably will cry, to be honest,” she told a Fox News television crew covering her first day at Shotgun Willie’s 11 years ago. “It’s a very scary feeling for me. I’ve always had manager jobs and (been) looked at as a very respectable person.”
Using the name Francesca, Jennifer took the stage in front of a group of cash-toting men, trying to get lost in the music and flashing lights. She knew this job could provide her the financial security to pursue bigger dreams with her boyfriend.
“I could probably make more in a week than he can in two, and I’d like to live in a house, and so I have higher goals,” she told the TV crew. “I’d like to go to school. He’d like to go to school.”
Jennifer didn’t reach those goals. She and her boyfriend, Jeff Wiggins, broke up a few years later, and she still worked at the Glendale strip club when she died in 2003.
“When she was with him, he was the center of her world,” Marcum said.
Her mother, Mary Willis, said Jennifer wanted to move on from the adult-entertainment industry as soon as she could and spend more time with her son.
“She was wanting away from there real bad,” her mother said.
Both parents, who divorced when Jennifer was 6 months old, blame their own flawed marriage for giving their daughter a tough start in life.
The discord was so great that Jennifer and her sister ended up in foster homes for a couple of years, but neither of her parents would share details.
“My ex-wife and I had a very dysfunctional relationship, and the kids didn’t enjoy life because of it,” Bob Marcum said wistfully, from the living room of his home in Springfield, Ill.
“She had a screwed-up childhood, thanks to me and Bob,” said Willis, who now lives in a suburb of St. Louis.
Born in Aurora, while her father worked at Buckley Air Force Base, Jennifer moved to Springfield with her mother and older sister at age 4.
“I called her ‘munchkin,’” Willis said. “She was a mama’s girl. Her sister, Tammy, and her were very close.”
Jennifer’s interests ranged from Wiffle Ball and volleyball to reading and studying wildlife — especially lizards. As she got older, she also developed an appetite for mischief.
“She was a wildcat,” Willis said. “Sneaking out and being defiant. Testing the boundaries.”
When Jennifer crossed the line, her mother set out to teach her a lesson.
“She got caught stealing one time, and I went with her to the police station and I put the fear of God in her,” Willis said.
Jennifer ended up dropping out of high school, got her own place in Springfield and started working at Wendy’s and Pizza Hut. She married a former high school classmate and moved to Colorado Springs, but they divorced after a year.
She met Wiggins soon afterward, gave birth to their son at age 20, then got involved with Steve Ennis after that relationship soured.
Jennifer “wanted to spend her life” with Ennis, her father said, but he was soon arrested in New York City in an undercover sting operation for dealing Ecstasy.
“She called. She was crying and screaming,” Marcum said. “She couldn’t believe what just happened.”
Jennifer seemed lonely after that, her mother said.
“She called me up, and she wanted me to move to Colorado to be with her because she didn’t have anyone,” Willis said.
Jennifer visited her boyfriend in prison often and was always trying to figure out how to get him released, Marcum said.
Her photo hung in Ennis’ cell, which he shared with Scott Kimball.
Ennis would later tell police the photo went missing right around the time Kimball got out.