Sucker-Punched

Jefferson County nailed them in an adult-business raid. Like it or not, they're poster boys in a fight to fix Missouri's sex laws.

Award Video wasn't the kind of place people patronized with pride.

Open for more than a dozen years, the High Ridge porn emporium catered to the raw side of human sexuality, drawing customers who tended to park in back and occasional picketers who insisted the place was a breeding ground for rapists and child molesters.

The front was a run-of-the-mill sex shop, featuring videos, magazines, blow-up dolls, lotions, leather and various rubber gadgets. More adventuresome patrons went straight to the back.

For a $5 minimum, customers in the back could cruise between private video-viewing booths equipped with locking doors -- the more money you paid, the longer you could stay. Others watched pornographic videos on a big-screen television in a nearby room open to anyone who bought an $8 ticket, good for eight hours. A similar room in the basement was reserved for couples.

Management billed the rooms as theaters, but there was a lot more than watching going on.

The theaters and the booths were places to have sex, either with people you knew or strangers you'd probably never see again. The sparse décor -- and semen stains -- reflected the purpose. Each booth held a paper-towel dispenser, a plastic chair and a trash can. The theaters were equipped with little more than benches and wastebaskets.

Open 24/7, Award Video was a moneymaker, so much so that management was building a larger theater for singles. "I wish I had just a tenth of what they brought in, especially off the theaters," says Bill, a former clerk who asks that his real name not be published.

On March 13, there was plenty of action.

About twenty people were in the store just before 10 p.m. that Wednesday night. The basement theater was empty, but at least eight people had gathered in the ground-floor room, which measured about ten by twenty feet. There was plenty of sex, both live and on tape. Four men stood in a semicircle around a woman, who performed oral sex and masturbated them. She was blond and looked to be in her late twenties. Attractive. And very friendly. Call her Lori.

"We were just playing around and having fun," she says, speaking on the condition that her name not be published.

One of the men gathered around Lori that night was her husband. Tall and rugged, Glenn -- also a pseudonym --looks a bit like Sam Elliott. Married a little more than a year ago, the couple appears very much in love, often holding hands while discussing a night they'd rather forget. He has her name tattooed on his chest. "We're open-minded," Glenn explains, leaving the rest to the imagination. "We like to meet people."

Glenn and Lori had driven more than an hour from a small town two counties away to reach Award Video, which they'd discovered through an advertisement in a swingers' magazine. There was nothing like it where they lived. This was their fourth visit. Fueled by a half-pint of vodka split two ways, they were more than ready to roll.

The men in the theater didn't confine their attentions to Lori. As time passed, the men began masturbating each other. Acts of man-on-man fellatio broke out. Then two men walked in. Almost immediately, Glenn sensed that something was wrong.

"They looked aggressive and hostile," Glenn recalls. "I thought they might be queer-bashers." He was worried enough to leave the party. "As soon as they came in, [Glenn] got weirded out and said, 'Let's go,'" Lori says. And so the couple went to a bathroom.

The newcomers surveyed the theater, taking mental notes that would later appear in police reports, court documents and news broadcasts. They were undercover officers with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, here to shut this place down. While Glenn and Lori washed up, the officers moved to a booth, where they called a waiting raid team that normally served drug-search warrants. This would be a by-the-book operation.

The element of surprise came easy, given that Award Video had no windows. The only warning came when Bill, who'd stopped by on his day off, glanced at a surveillance monitor behind the front counter and spotted someone outside running toward the door. He looked like just another horny guy.

"I was talking to the clerk on duty," Bill recalls. "I went, 'I guess this guy's really in a hurry to get in here' -- those were my exact words. So [the other clerk] started laughing: 'Yeah, they're always in a hurry.'"

No one could just walk into Award Video. Rather, customers were required to present identification and buy $1 membership cards before a clerk buzzed them into the store from an alcove. Because the other clerk was busy, Bill went to the alcove window to make the appropriate checks. "I opened the window, and the next thing I know there's a gun and a badge and a gray-haired man with very piercing blue eyes and a very pissed-off look on his face saying, 'Open the door or I'm going to kick it down,'" Bill says.

At least nine cops swarmed through the building, guns drawn, ordering everyone to hit the floor. The memory draws a wry smile from Bill. "We tried to keep that place clean, but with as much traffic that came in, the last place you want your face is on the floor of an adult-video store," he says. "They immediately cuffed us and told us to lay on our stomachs."

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