Death Game to School

updated 11/11/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/11/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

THE JOYS OF YOUTHFUL ROMANCE HAD never seemed sweeter for Tracy Jarvis and her boyfriend, Steve Farley. It was Friday, Sept. 27, the day of the homecoming football game for the Roswell (N.Mex.) Coyotes, and she and Steve, 17, were making plans to do something later that night. "That morning we'd gone to our first class," Tracy, 17, recalls. "Then he walked me to my newspaper class and told me he loved me and walked away. That was the last time I saw him." A half hour later a school counselor brought Steve's books to Tracy and told her stunning news: that Steve had just been led away in handcuffs by a police detective. Far worse was to come. Within 16 hours, Steve's body was found in a deserted building along a lonely stretch of highway. He had been strangled and repeatedly stabbed.

Murder is no rarity in Roswell, a ranching and petroleum town of 46,000 in eastern New Mexico; there have been 12 homicides already this year. But the killing of Steve Farley seemed especially shocking. A churchgoing teenager and model student, he had never been in any trouble. After his parents divorced and moved away, he pleaded with his mother, who went to live 200 miles away in a bedroom community near Albuquerque, to let him return to Roswell and finish his senior year. Recently he had gotten his first car, a red 1980 Mustang. But the real love of his life was Tracy, whom he'd been dating for more than a year. As tokens of his devotion, he had given her more than 20 stuffed animals. In the end. police believe, it was his relationship with Tracy that enmeshed him in a bizarre plot involving thwarted love.

At first, all investigators had to go on was a physical description of the man who had shown up at the Roswell High School office, according to an affidavit by investigating officer Clifton Frosch. The man announced himself as Det. John Fuller and asked to see Steve Farley in connection with a criminal case. Described in a police report as tall and extremely heavyset, the man was never asked to produce a badge or any other identification. In keeping with school rules, however, he agreed to call Debbie Coleman, the mother of Steve's best friend, Danny, with whom Steve was living in Roswell, and told her to meet him at the police station. Then he handcuffed Steve and put him into a light-blue station wagon. The hoax was discovered when Debbie arrived at the police station and was told there was no Detective Fuller.

Hurrying back to the school, police quickly came up with a composite drawing of the suspect, which they showed to Tracy. She told them the man vaguely resembled Jerry Kersey, the half brother of her neighbor Michael Clark. According to the police account, Tracy said Clark, 22, was "a person she has had trouble with in the past." Contacting Clark's father, investigators learned another intriguing detail: that Michael was supposed to be out of town, driving a light-blue 1981 Pontiac station wagon.

Apparently learning that police were looking for him, Clark phoned the station house a few hours later and was asked to stop by for questioning. There he waived his Miranda rights—and proceeded to tell investigators an eerie story. That morning, he said, according to the police report, his half brother Kersey, 27, had dropped him off at a cemetery south of town. About an hour later Kersey returned with Steve Farley in the backseat. The three then headed southeast about 60 miles to a desolate area near Artesia, N.Mex., where they pulled up to an abandoned nightclub known as the Cedar Lake Lodge. Once there, according to a summary of Clark's statement, Kersey walked Farley around the rear of the building and came back alone 30 minutes later. In the statement Clark "said that Jerry told him that Steven would be fine." Early the next morning Clark led investigators back lo Cedar Lake Lodge, where they found Farley dead.

Arrested at his mother's home in Hobbs, N.Mex., Kersey at first denied any knowledge of the crime. But after being confronted with his half brother's testimony, he quickly changed his mind. In his affidavit, Kersey said that on Friday morning he and Clark had bought a can of ether, then gone to a pawnshop, where they had picked up a badge and a pair of handcuffs. In his account to the police, Kersey insisted that Clark had "talked him into helping him grab a guy" who had supposedly "beat up and raped a girl named Jennifer." Once he and Clark had Farley in the car, he had knocked him out with the ether, he said. But when they got to the abandoned nightclub, Kersey continued, it was Clark who took the victim into the building. Hearing a yell, Kersey had allegedly gone inside and seen Clark stabbing Farley with an ice pick. He told police he had shouted at Clark to slop but also admitted fetching the wire that Clark allegedly used afterward to strangle Farley.

Now in jail awaiting a preliminary hearing on capital murder charges, which could carry the death penalty, both Kersey and Clark have denied killing Steve Farley. The son of Jerry Clark by an earlier marriage, Kersey worked as a short-order cook and lived with his mother in Hobbs, about 120 miles from Roswell. His hall brother, Mike, had attended New Mexico Slate University before dropping out in 1988 and was known around Roswell as a likable guy who enjoyed partying and eating—so much so that he carried more than 250 lbs. on his 5'10" frame. Growing up as an only child, say neighbors, Clark was used to having almost anything he wanted. "His dad always gave him money," says Robert Martinez, a longtime friend. "He was spoiled, more or less, you could say."

Police evidently believe that Tracy Janis was one thing that Clark couldn't have—and that she became the motive for Farley's murder. District Attorney Tom Rutledge refuses to go into detail, but concedes "there's an indication of an infatuation by Mike Clark with the girlfriend." Tracy says she met Clark for the first time earlier this year at a neighborhood football game. Though six years older than she, Clark developed a crush on her. Tracy-says she was friendly with him but that was all. Yet according to a friend, Clark was so angered by Tracy's romance with Farley that he talked darkly of eliminating him. This past spring, says Jody Jackson, 20, a busboy and former neighbor of the Clarks', he and Clark were driving around when the subject of Farley came up. "He said he wanted me to help him gel rid of Steve," reports Jackson, who says he told police of the conversation—a claim authorities will not confirm or deny. "I just looked at him and laughed. Later, says Jackson. Clark told him he'd only been kidding. But it was clear, insists Jackson, that Clark was hung up on Tracy. "He told me that she was madly in love with him, that she was thinking about gelling married to him," says Jackson.

Appalled that her son was, in effect, abducted right in front of school officials, Farley's mother, Marilyn Kendrick, 40, wants some good to come of her tragedy. In return for releasing the school district from liability, she has requested that school officials start a $300,000 scholarship fund in Steve's name and that they establish safeguards to make sure that nothing of the kind ever transpires again. Whatever happens, it will be small consolation for Steve's grieving mother. "He slopped by all the little old ladies who lived on the street to make sure they had a ride home after church," says Marilyn. "Steve was an unbelievably good kid."


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