By Jeff Lehr
NEOSHO, Mo. —
A 14-year-old runaway testified Tuesday that Louis Venning and Kourtnie Eldridge treated her relatively well in the few days she had known them before getting nabbed in a prostitution sting in Joplin.
She had become involved previously in prostitution with some people in Springfield nicknamed “Black” and “Wheezy,” and they had not been particularly good to her, the teen testified in Newton County Circuit Court.
So when Venning text-messaged her at the number she listed on Backpage.com, promised that he would take care of her and sent her a picture of some cash — a lot of cash — she told “Black” and “Wheezy” that she was going on a call and just left them for Venning and his girlfriend.
That was just a few days before their arrests Nov. 20 at the Holiday Inn in Joplin, she said.
She and Eldridge had turned one trick together in Joplin and were paid $500, she said. The next call turned out to be police waiting for her at the hotel.
The girl was the lone witness called to testify at the preliminary hearing of Venning, 32, and Eldridge, 22, both of Billings, Mont. At the conclusion of her testimony, Associate Judge Gregory Stremel found probable cause for the defendants to stand trial on felony counts of promoting prostitution.
Joplin police set up the sting at the hotel and detained the girl at the request of Springfield police, who were looking for her as a runaway. They arrested Venning and Eldridge after the girl let slip that her pimp and his girlfriend were waiting for her in the parking lot outside.
The girl told the court that Venning arranged the tricks for both her and Eldridge, who also had an emotional relationship with him.
She said she had told them upfront that she was just 14. When Venning’s attorney asked her if she told Venning that she was 19, she denied it.
The girl said that for the trick she turned with Eldridge, they were paid $250 each, and it all went to Venning. He did buy her clothes, underwear and some jewelry because she needed some new outfits for the pictures accompanying her ad on Backpage.com, she said.
And condoms. He had paid for those as well, the girl said.
She said Venning and Eldridge never hit her or restrained her in any manner, although she had some trepidation about telling Eldridge things. She figured she would just tell Venning and he might get mad at her, she said. He had a couple of strict policies regarding clients and what they were allowed to do, she said. But the three of them were getting along, she said, and she was even thinking of going with them to Georgia.