It’s not easy reconciling the image of Jeff Hamilton, the kid who used to be in the Junction Avenue band with my son, and the man who was involved in the cold-blooded killing of Jenna Nannetti, 17, and attempted strangling of another teen.
Or, for that matter, Michael Simons - the ordinary boy from Portola and Junction Avenue schools who shared a cabin with my son and other boys during fifth grade camp.
Simons, the not-so-ordinary young man who, with the help of Hamilton and his then-girlfriend Katie Belflower, killed his young wife Jenna with a shotgun in 2002.
In 2005, Simons was convicted of first degree murder in the slaying of Jenna. He is serving a life plus 25-years without the possibility of parole sentence.
Also in 2005, Belflower pled no contest to murder and was sentenced to 25-years to life. Hamilton was convicted of second-degree murder, now serving a 15-year sentence.
On Thursday at 6 and 9 p.m., “Wicked Attraction” on Investigation Discovery is featuring the story of these unlikely killers and their victims.
The show was filmed right here in Livermore, which lends an authenticity to the otherwise pretty standard episode of a series that spotlights crimes across the country.
The reason this story caught the eye of producers is because of the personalities involved, and brings out the point that if Jeff, Michael and Katie had not found each other, individually they may have never entered into a deadly alliance.
After looking through court documents in addition to watching the episode, it seems clear that Jeff, Michael and Katie might never have been caught for the murder of Jenna if Jeff and Katie had not attempted to take out Katie's rival Aspen Lum.
Pregnant with Michael’s child, Katie was ticked that he was seeing a 16-year-old Livermore girl Aspen. So she and Jeff took Aspen, who thought they were just all going out for a good time at Top of the World near Del Valle, for what could have been her last look at life.
They were stopped by a park policeman, Tim Phillips, who foiled their plan. Later, while being interrogated, everything began to unravel for the trio.
Jenna, who only briefly knew Michael before they were married, wanted to reunite with Michael, who had left her for Katie after only four months of marriage. Michael knew she has a life insurance policy and in his muddled mind, thought he would be the beneficiary of it since they two were married. He was not. Jenna’s grandmother Linda, who took out the policy and was her guardian, was the beneficiary.
Michael is shown as a charismatic, good-looking kid who charmed his way through life. The memories of those I spoke to run more toward a sneaky kid who never quite fit in, and took pleasure in trying to make others look bad. They knew he had a rough life – an aunt here in town adopted him – and some had tried to befriend him, but that never quite worked out.
Jeff was seen by those who knew him as a benign kid who didn’t get into trouble, whose mom worked at the local Taco Bell. Jeff didn’t stand out, but then he didn’t seem like someone who could harm another human.
“Wicked Attractions” depicts Livermore as a sleepy suburban town stunned by the tragedy.
It was, indeed, stunning when the town was rocked by the news of what had unfolded.
The film crew trekked to Livermore to re-enact the details of case, including the burning of Jenna’s Mustang in the parking lot of Mountain House Bar on West Grantline.
Michael torched the car there because he knew Jenna went there often, and her father Jim was a regular. Perhaps he hoped, and was probably proved correct, that it would throw investigators away from him and toward a possible connection with the bar, known as a hangout for bikers.
Genie Gonzales, who is identified as a friend of the family and then employee of the bar, talks about the case. Also chiming in for Jenna is her friend Daniel Bonacich. Police and investigators also speak about the case.
Jenna’s troubled father Jim Nannetti died April 4, 2010. In a touching message on a memorial page, Jenna’s mother Bobbie Nigro wrote that when he passed, she lost perhaps the one person who could understand the pain of losing Jenna.
Katie, Jeff and Michael are all still serving time in prison. Katie and Michael's child was put up for adoption.
Family members of the victims still live in town, as do those related to the perpetrators. I don’t know if they cross paths, but it would be difficult not to do so in even in a town that has grown much in the past decade. As people say, Livermore may get bigger, but it’s still a small town in many ways.
And a town still wondering how tragedies like this can happen here.