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At a desolate truck stop outside Indianapolis last spring, the body of Buffie Rae Brawley lay on the abandoned expanse of empty pavement.
Partly disrobed and spread-eagle on her back, the body of the onetime Toledoan bore the signs of her killer's cruel handiwork.
He'd tightened the ligatures around her wrists and ankles so they sliced into her flesh. He'd pressed the duct tape over her face so that she couldn't breathe. Then her killer had bashed her head until her skull split.
At a memorial service days later, friends of her mother gave hugs and comforting words. But they could not give Nadine Fechtner what she really wanted: answers.
Had Ms. Brawley, a 27-year-old hooker who was disposed of so callously, really been the pretty little girl who adored horses and doted over dolls?
"She was my angel," Ms. Fechtner said from her home in Portland, Ore. "These men have got to stop."
"These men," according to Ms. Fechtner, are brutally strict pimps who lure young girls like her daughter into the sex trade and then enforce rigid rules through routine beatings.
In the end, police believe, Ms. Brawley was killed by one of several long-haul truckers who are also serial killers.
"Once you're a $5 crack whore, somebody could kill you and nobody would know," said Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo professor who for years has researched the lives of prostitutes.
The U.S. Justice Department launched "Innocence Lost" in 2003 to target teen prostitution, prompted in part by a string of murders, said Gordon Zubrod, an assistant U.S. attorney in Harrisburg, Pa.
"We had a lot of girls being choked and left for dead and being thrown out of trucks," he said.
At highway stops, on street corners, and in back rooms, Mr. Zubrod and others said, prostitution is a trade punctuated by violence. Pimps demand strict obedience. Competing hookers jockey for turf. Customers can be cruel.
"Men who want to perpetrate violence against women, they choose these women," Ms. Williamson said.
Toledoan Derek Maes was Ms. Brawley's husband and previously was convicted of a prostitution-related charge. He was in another state when she was killed in Indiana, but police believe he still dished out his share of brutality.
In a federal indictment unsealed last month, Maes was named as one of 13 Toledoans indicted as "pimps," men who cooperated to "recruit, direct, manage, oversee, discipline, and live off the earnings of a prostitute."
Once upon a time, Ms. Brawley appeared to be among those women.
Having turned to prostitution along the interstate circuit at just 13 years old, she met Maes in Michigan. He became her pimp and, later, in a Las Vegas wedding ceremony, her husband.
On July 14, 1997, she tried to leave him. Confronting her in a West Toledo home as she packed, he punched her face and whipped her with a coat hanger and belt, police said.
On another occasion, Ms. Fechtner was on the phone with her daughter. They saw each other infrequently, but often traded phone calls.
Ms. Fechtner said her daughter always used cell phones and never disclosed where she was.
"We're talking and then he came in the door. He said, 'Who's on the phone?' She said, 'I'm talking to my mom.' He took the phone and tells me: 'She knows better' And then he let the phone go, and there's this screaming and hitting and crying, and I can't do anything."
Ms. Fechtner now is left to raise her daughter's daughter, Ebony, and she struggles with what she'll one day tell the child about her mother's life.
This much she knows: "This isn't Pretty Woman."
Contact Robin Erb at: email@example.com or 419-724-6133.