ST. LOUIS – They worked for a dangerous sexual predator and suspected killer in the middle of his crime spree. But as teen girls, they didn't know the danger they faced.
In 1997, Earl Cox was leading an online child porn ring while escaping scrutiny for a child kidnapping and murder that police believe he committed.
Jessica Mills was 17. Cox picked her out of a crowd to work for him.
“A lot of emotions come through; like, ‘How did I not know that’s such a dangerous man?’ ‘How is he in Ferguson just streets away from me?’” Mills said.
Cox lived on South Dade. He was a convicted child predator at the time. Police now believe he was the one who kidnapped, raped, and murdered 9-year-old Angie Housman, just four years before hiring Mills.
“My skin is crawling just thinking about it,” Mills said.
She first met Cox at an old Hardee’s on South Florissant. Mills had just gotten a summer job there when she said Cox told her he could pay her three times more.
“He asked me one day did I want to make more money? Well, I was trying to get a car at that time so I was like, ‘Sure, what do you do?’ (He said) ‘It’s siding.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ve never done that.’ He said, ‘That’s easy, I’ll teach ya.’”
The job seemed unusual, hang siding at apartments on Lindbergh and New Halls Ferry. But the money was so good Mills even recruited her friend, Kathleen Duncan, to work for him too.
“It gives me chills and it makes me feel bad that we didn`t notice the extent of his creepiness,” Duncan said.
She was also 17; a junior at McCluer High School. She remembers one other girl they worked with, who was only 14.
“It was a little bit unusual but I think we kinda looked at it like, ‘Oh, we can work just like the men can and we can make a lot of cash doing that,’” Duncan said.
Even the name of his siding business was creepy. They remember it was called Arousal Exteriors.
Duncan said Cox was always asking if they'd come to his house after work. She’d always decline. Mills' experience was even stranger.
“One day he said that we need to wash the siding. I said, ‘Ok, no problem.’ Well, it was hot and I’m wearing shorts and he grabs a rag and starts wiping my legs down with it and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not right.’”
Mills said Cox offered to get her into modeling.
“(He told me I) could wear a swimming suit if I wanted. I’m not wearing a swimsuit but to the pool and most definitely not to a job,” she said.
Mills said while this was happening, Cox was filming female workers on ladders.
“He said he was just filming the progress of the apartment complex,” she said. “He offered that we could come over to his house and watch the video.”
It was so unnerving she called police to say something was off. Mills said two officers interviewed her and “…said they did know about him. They’d had complaints. He is a known pedophile. So shortly after – there’s no reason for me to work for somebody like that, so I just quit.”
It was hard to forget the vibes she felt 22 years ago, especially something she overheard heard Cox’s brother tell him privately. She remembered his brother saying, “You’re getting in too far and it’s going to happen again. You better be careful.”
“That is the exact conversation I remembered after seeing his mug shot. Was he talking about Angie Housman?” Mills said.
Meanwhile, detectives continue looking for new leads and connections to Earl Cox, even after his indictment for Housman's murder. He's due back in court in September.