Redemption Above All

Colfax Avenue West, Denver - NARA - 544793
Looking west on Denver’s Colfax Avenue in 1972

Book review: Rough Trade: A Shocking True Story of Prostitution, Murder and Redemption, by Steve Jackson (Amazon / Book Depository)

Originally published in 2001, bestselling true crime author Steve Jackson writes in an introduction to a new release of Rough Trade that it was important to him to change the book’s subtitle in this new edition. Originally the subtitle ended after “Murder”but he insisted that “Redemption” be included. I completely understand and agree it was an important adjustment – this retelling of a brutal murder case and the conditions and backgrounds of all those involved has one standout figure, and it’s neither the murderer nor the victim. It’s Joanne Cordova, a brave woman who’s been both a respected Denver police officer and  a crack-addicted prostitute. She’s a central figure throughout the story, and her struggles make for fascinating, sympathetic reading. As readers grappling with difficult subject matter, her personality helps to ground these events in reality, grim as it may be. She’s also the one deserving of that redemption label, as she shows herself flaws and all, and continues even now to try and walk the right path.

Cordova had interactions with Robert Riggan, Jr., a disturbed man who brutally murdered a young woman named Anita Jones, ditching her alive but just barely at a cabin on the outskirts of town. Luckily he was witnessed in the act by a passing couple, though things were too far gone for her to survive. Thanks to their actions he was fairly quickly apprehended, and Cordova eventually became a pivotal witness for the prosecution, able to shed light on the economy of Colfax Avenue, a popular stroll for prostitution where she and Jones both met Riggan. And despite her drug addiction at the time of the murder, she retains her police officer’s skill of noticing important details and is able to supply key information about Riggan when the time comes. There’s something very Hollywood-esque about the whole thing, it makes for quite a compelling story.

As Jackson explains early in the book, little information is available about Jones, the unfortunate victim of an especially heinous murder. He digs up what he can, but the story really belongs to Cordova, who seems to have experienced the highest highs and lowest lows in her life, achieving her greatest goals only to lose them to mistakes and addiction.

Riggan’s family history is horrifying, no way around it. It’s not an easy read – very dark and disturbing, stomach-turning. A lot of the book has the potential to make you queasy, in descriptions of Riggan’s attacks on the women selling their services on Colfax Avenue and in the descriptions of Jones’ injuries, in addition to Riggan’s family history and what he does to his own family. Be warned. Rape and incest are huge issues.

That’s actually something I was very curious about and went relatively unexplored (bear with me here) – Jackson points out the obvious, that incestuous rape is practically a family tradition (heave) but there’s no further explanation for it, whether it’s a product of socioeconomic conditions, or any statistical relation with the commission serious crimes. I need some context to try and process something like that. I know hideous, gruesome things sometimes just are, but there was too much there to toss it into the story, then overlook it.

Rough Trade is a well-rounded work of true crime reportage, successfully tying social issues and the complicated underworld of crack cocaine addiction and prostitution into the case at hand. And yet, I didn’t love it – maybe with the subject matter, that was just never going to be possible. I appreciated the fast pace and the excellent storytelling and writing, and it’s clear that Jackson passionately and thoroughly researched the events. I think it’s not his fault at all, but there it is. It’s absolutely worth a read for true crime addicts.

Jackson’s new intro and epilogue to this edition, released in September 2016, fifteen years after the book’s original publication, were very insightful and helped place Jackson’s choice of and interest in the story in a more meaningful context.


Rough Trade:
A Shocking True Story of Prostitution, Murder and Redemption
by Steve Jackson
published September 6, 2016 by WildBlue Press, first published 2001 by Pinnacle

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher for review.

Amazon / Book Depository

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