Down the rabbit hole 

Richard Carpita was looking for money. He already had the girls.

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The trailer was rented by Richard Carpita, a then 29-year-old Michigan native who had moved to Missoula four years earlier to work petitioning for the decriminalization of marijuana. That night, he took Smart aside and told her that if she ever needed any help, needed any money, she should let him know. She didn't immediately understand what he meant. Smart's friend told her.

Lonely? New in town?

In April 2010, Smart got into a Honda sedan in the Good Food Store parking lot and pretended to know the man behind the wheel. Smart called herself Angela. She remembers it was sunny and warmer than usual, and as the man drove, they talked casually, as if they were meeting for some other reason. "If you're shy," she says, "it just makes the whole situation more awkward than it needs to be."

The man had a grey beard. He wore a Hawaiian-style shirt with fishing-lure print. Smart thinks he was in his mid-60s. He met her after responding to an ad in Craigslist-Missoula's "Casual Encounters, women-seeking-men" section. The gist of the ad was benign: "New in town? Let's have some fun." The man texted the phone number in the ad. It's not clear whom he thought he was corresponding with, but it was not Helen Smart. They decided on a time and a place, and negotiated a rate: $200 per hour.

click to enlarge Richard Carpita, Montana State Prison, July 2011. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

The man drove with Smart to the Aspen Motel in East Missoula and paid for a room. Smart says they had sex for about an hour. She says he was aggressive but she didn't feel unsafe. She had to draw the line only once, she adds, when the man tried to tie a bandana around her eyes. She remembers it was good in unexpected ways—"It was the very best sex I've ever had," she says.

That was Smart's first job.

Afterward, the man gave her $200. Then she crossed the street to Ole's Country Store where she met Richard Carpita. It was Carpita who had placed the ad on Craigslist and set up the date. He would later say he decided to charge $200 per hour because "that's what all the other escort services in town were charging." He took half the cash.

Smart went home to a family friend's Westside Missoula house, where she and her mom were living. She took a shower. "I didn't feel dirty," she explains. "I felt really weird. I just thought, 'Thank God it's done.' It was an empty feeling."

That night, she hung out with friends. Summer was nearing, days growing longer, and the following month some of them would graduate from Willard. Smart said nothing about what she had done that day, about how her life was now different. But she thought about it, about how it was not as bad as it might have been, about the money she had earned, and, she says, "I knew I'd do it again."

A week later, Carpita sent her a text message.

Business takes off

Richard Carpita has two tattoos on his right forearm. One is a silhouette of the devil in moonlight, the logo of his favorite hip-hop group, which is from Detroit. The other is a darkly inked shape: abutting parallelograms that seem an abstraction of Maori tattoo art. Carpita says he got that one because he was drunk and he wanted to get a tattoo.

In November 2009, Carpita was released from Missoula County Jail, where he'd served four months on convictions related to a DUI, repeated failures to appear in court, and violating the conditions of his probation (Carpita owns a laundry list of priors related to drugs, alcohol, and one weapons charge dating back to his adolescence in Battle Creek, Michigan).

After a brief stint living with a friend's family, Carpita began renting a trailer on East Missoula's Montana Avenue. Before long, then 20-year-old Anthony Brazington moved in. According to Carpita, it was Brazington who knew a girl who wanted to have a threesome with the new roommates. The girl was a sometimes-Hellgate High School student with an impulse to pull out tufts of her dark hair. At times she wore a wig to hide patches of exposed scalp. She was 16.

  • Photo courtesy of Missoula County Sherrif’s Department
  • Anthony Brazington

One day in early March, while commiserating about their mutual lack of cash, Carpita mentioned to Brazington that they could place an ad on Craigslist for their new teenage friend. Brazington was skeptical, not about the ethics so much as the feasibility, but Carpita assured him it could work.

Carpita had used Craigslist before, when working as a heavy machinery operator before he moved to Montana in 2006. North Carolina, Rhode Island, Washington, California, Minnesota—Carpita's employer sent his crew around the country to maintain sections of railroad. He would land in a city and post an ad saying he was new in town and wondering if any women wanted to show him around. He says he met "lots of women" that way, adding, "I mean, you got to have skills, you can't just be some chump." He says no money was exchanged.

Carpita had just begun taking classes at the University of Montana, studying psychology. He says he came home from school one day to find Brazington had posted an ad for the girl. "He just showed me his phone and I could see there were, like, 50 messages from his Craigslist ad. So we asked [the 16-year-old] if she wanted to go on a date, and she was like, 'Hell yeah.' She knew exactly what we meant."

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