Little Miss Murder 

A Livermore love triangle. A jealous teen sociopath. A cold-blooded plot. And one of the most chilling crime tales the East Bay has ever seen.

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Katie and Mike dragged Jenna's body to some bushes, according to Jeff: "They made a joke about how heavy she was when they were trying to lift her." After they dumped the body, Katie noted, Mike reached into Jenna's pants pocket to retrieve the car keys.

The job wasn't finished yet.

Katie and Mike took off in Jenna's Mustang and Jeff drove his Neon to the Mountain House cafe, east of Livermore. They'd picked this spot to torch Jenna's car because it was a bar where she had gone drinking with her father before, Jeff said. On the way home, the trio ditched the gun and bat in a field near the bar and chucked the shotgun shells into a sewer drain in Katie's neighborhood, she told detectives. Their ghastly project complete, Jeff said he dropped the couple back at Katie's house, where her mother and baby brother slept inside, and then drove back to his parents' house, where he lived, and went to sleep.

Jenna's burning car was discovered at two o'clock the following morning, just hours after her death. For the next two weeks, she was considered missing, officially at least: The Alameda County sheriff's detectives and Livermore cops investigating her disappearance suspected foul play, but had little to go on. The authorities put out a "Missing Juvenile" poster with Jenna's photo and description, along with some details about her disappearance. In the black-and-white photograph, she looks beautiful, but wears a haunting, almost defeated expression.

A week or so later, fearing the gun might be found, Katie and Mike borrowed Jeff's car, retrieved the shotgun from the field, and hunted for a better hiding place, according to their statements to detectives. They found their perfect spot in a canal near the Oakland/Alameda border. Weighed down by a small bag of rocks, the murder weapon quickly disappeared in the murky water.

As the search progressed, the missing girl's family agonized. They called each other constantly and waited and waited for news, which, as more days passed, they all feared would be terrible. "Every day it went on, it got scarier. Then we'd say, 'What if she died?' " recalls Jenna's older half-sister Christina Huckins. "I'd imagine someone raped her and beat her and made her beg for her life. Then I'd hope that if she died, it was quick and someone she didn't know. At other times, I hoped she just ran away. In the back of the mind, though, I feared the worst."

On October 19, the wait ended. A fisherman discovered Jenna's badly decomposed body in the slough and alerted authorities. The San Joaquin County Coroner's Office had to use a fingerprint from her DMV file to identify her. Two blasts to the chest were cited as the cause of death. The projectiles, according to the autopsy report, tore through her body and caused "multiple perforations of the left lung, heart, mediastinum, and descending aorta." According to Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau, who is prosecuting the case in San Joaquin County, the victim's body was so decomposed and ravaged by animals that it was hard to determine whether she'd been shot more than twice.

Jenna's funeral was held in late October at a Livermore mortuary. Some two hundred people packed the service, including lots of her goth friends from around town. Friends, family, and former teachers remembered her as a high-spirited, feisty girl who went out of her way to help others. "I was feeling nothing," recalls Jenna's grandmother Linda Nannetti, who along with her husband, George, raised Jenna from the age of eighteen months. "I was frozen because the pain was just too much. I was in a state. I couldn't talk about it." As a tribute, family members put together a video remembrance of Jenna set to "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns 'N Roses.

Among the mourners sat Katie, Jeff, and Mike.

The trio had come up with an alibi for the fateful night that was hard to disprove. All three told cops they'd been hanging out at a park near Katie's house and then returned to their respective houses. Katie later told detectives that soon after the cops had left her house, Mike called Jeff to tell him exactly what the alibi was before detectives arrived to interrogate him. With little physical evidence other than Jenna's remains and badly burned car, detectives had to gumshoe the case and run up their odometers hunting for clues in Livermore, San Joaquin County, and all points in between.

Jenna's family didn't suspect Mike Simons had anything to do with her murder. "I didn't think he was involved, because he had nothing to gain," Linda Nannetti says.

But Mike did have something to gain -- or so he thought. Although he denied to investigators that he knew anything about Jenna's life insurance policy, both he and his mistress believed a windfall awaited them once Jenna was out of the way.

Jenna indeed had a $100,000 policy, a present from her grandparents. It was the kind of policy that you pay into, and can draw money from once a sufficient balance accumulates. They had purchased it to pay for her college tuition if she chose to pursue education after high school. But the grandparents, not Simons, were named as the beneficiaries.

Because Mike was still married to Jenna, he assumed the money would come to him, Jeff told detectives. Katie said Mike told her the payout was $629,000. The scheme, according to both Jeff and Katie, was first to kill Jenna. Mike would then collect the insurance money and buy a house. Jeff's motivation to participate, he confessed to detectives, was that Katie and Mike had promised to let him move in with them and escape his parents' home.

And that, apparently, was enough for Jeff Hamilton to kill for.

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