Nikko Jenkins is on the verge of marriage, via Nebraska’s death row.
The Omaha serial killer, who has long stained his head with informal tributes to Satan and a serpent god, recently added a new makeshift tattoo: Dawn.
The Dawn in question — Lubbock, Texas, resident Dawn Arguello — wishes he wouldn’t have done it. But she isn’t denying that she has feelings for the man who murdered Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, Juan Uribe-Pena, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger within three weeks of his release from a Nebraska prison in 2013.
Initially, Arguello declined to comment and told a reporter to never call again. Before she hung up, a reporter asked her about the engagement: “Is it true?” Without directly answering, she vouched for Jenkins, calling the serial killer an “enigma” and talking about his intelligence, wit, humor and how he was, in her eyes, mistreated in prison.
Then, in a series of phone calls as bizarre as the Jenkins’ case, Arguello unwittingly confirmed her and Jenkins’ engagement.
Jenkins’ devotion to the 46-year-old woman is written across his face in the new tattoo that appears in his latest Corrections photo. Her devotion to him is written in her voice — in her nondenial denials and in a strange call that Arguello had her boss make to a reporter who was inquiring as to why she was planning to marry a serial killer.
Nebraska Corrections spokeswoman Laura Strimple declined to comment on Jenkins specifically, citing inmate privacy laws.
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“Marriage is a constitutional right,” Strimple said. “As long as all legal requirements and NDCS policies are met, inmates will be permitted to marry, unless the warden finds that the marriage or marriage ceremony presents a threat to the safety, security and good order of the institution.”
A federal judge ruled in May that two convicted Nebraska murderers could marry. However, that case is different — state officials argue that a marriage between two inmates could threaten the security and good order of the institution.
Death row inmates have weekly visitation hours in which they are permitted to hold hands or share a quick embrace or kiss. (Conjugal visits are not allowed.) Arguello indicated she has visited Jenkins, who is 33.
This is the point in the story, as in any bizarre Jenkins story, where you, the reader, have the option to do several things: stick with this strange tale, click on something else or go to your favorite social media site to proclaim that this story should never have been written.
“Every news outlet in Nebraska is calling Dawn,” said Tina Church, an Indiana woman who runs a nonprofit agency that advocates for death row inmates and their families.
The World-Herald apparently is the only one that Arguello didn’t hang up on, Church said. That phone call with Arguello was followed by a phone call from Church, a private investigator who says she has mentored Arguello on how to advocate for inmates. The phone conversation between Church and the reporter was then interrupted by an inadvertent conference call in which the reporter could hear Arguello asking Church what she was telling the reporter about the “marriage thing.”
Among the gems from the series of phone calls: Arguello and Church claimed that the rumor of death row romance was started by a New York City journalist who was rebuffed by Jenkins. As Church put it: a Brooklyn woman from Buzzfeed had fallen in love with Jenkins, wrote him several letters and asked if she could send him a letter smeared with blood.
That turned off Jenkins, who has spent portions of his prison sentence slicing his penis and sending pornographic drawings to female reporters. He broke off contact with the purported Buzzfeed journalist. Jilted, she then made up the Jenkins-Arguello marriage plans to get back at him.
That was Arguello and Church’s version.
A reporter told Arguello that all of that doesn’t explain why Jenkins inked Arguello’s name onto his face.
“I was very (ticked) off that he did that,” Arguello said. “He doesn’t need to be self-mutilating like that.”
Asked if he did it because he plans to marry her, Arguello said: “I’m not commenting on that. He’s never going to say anything; I’m never going to say anything.
“If you believe the media, he’s the most hated man in Nebraska besides Charles Starkweather.”
Helped by members of his family, Jenkins executed four Omahans in a brutal 10-day stretch in August 2013. In the first killings, his sister, Erica Jenkins, and a cousin, Christine Bordeaux, lured Cajiga-Ruiz and Uribe-Pena on the pretense of performing sex acts in an Omaha park. Nikko emerged from the shadows and shot both men in the head with a shotgun. A few days later, he killed Bradford after he, Erica Jenkins and Bradford went to a northeast Omaha neighborhood on the pretense of committing a robbery. A couple of days after that, he ripped Andrea Kruger, a mother of three, from her SUV and killed her in the intersection of 168th and Fort Streets.
The killings set off a debate about whether the Corrections Department should have better treated Jenkins, noting that he had spent more than half of his original 12-year prison sentence in solitary confinement.
Jenkins had contended that he was schizophrenic, claiming he heard voices from a serpent god telling him to kill. Mental health professionals were split on whether he was truly severely mentally ill or was faking it.
Citing all of that, Arguello repeatedly told a reporter that the real story is how Jenkins was treated.
“He’s not what the media has made him out to be,” she said. “He’s an enigma. He has feelings. He’s very sensitive. He’s very intelligent and, yes, he’s very manipulating.”
Arguello refused to talk about how she and Jenkins met. Church — a quick-talking 65-year-old woman who calls herself the devilish version of “Dead Man Walking” death row advocate Sister Helen Prejean — said Arguello has volunteered for about two years for Church’s nonprofit inmate advocacy group.
Church said Arguello would correspond with death row inmates as part of her volunteer work for the organization.
“Dawn isn’t a death row groupie,” Church said. Asked what a death row groupie is, Church let out a husky laugh: “Oh, honey.”
She then described a couple of women she has worked with who started out as pen pals with death row inmates and ended up married to them.
Arguello has a brief criminal history of her own. Court records indicate that she was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2005, felony child abuse in 2005 and felony credit card abuse in 1998. She served probation terms for the felonies. Her Facebook page is topped with a landscape photo of the Texas prison that has housed death row for the past 20 years. It also indicates she follows such groups as Prison Pen Pals, Inmate Lives Matter, Sirens Pen Pal and Nebraska Conservatives Concerned with the Death Penalty.
Church first told the reporter that Arguello had no romantic interest in Jenkins. She said Arguello has corresponded with him as Jenkins seeks help with his post-conviction appeals.
Then another phone rang in the background. “That’s Dawn,” Church said. She set her phone down and answered the other call on speakerphone.
A reporter heard Arguello tell her boss: “Thank God you didn’t say anything about the marriage thing.”
Then Arguello made an apparent reference to Jenkins.
“He told me, ‘I don’t want anyone in our business when you’re at the courthouse getting our paperwork,’ ” Arguello told Church.
Asked about those comments, Church contended that Arguello was referring to another woman’s marriage proposal to Jenkins. She eventually relented a bit.
“Would I be lying if I said Dawn didn’t have feelings for (Nikko)? Yes,” Church said. “I think she cares very much about him.”