THE BUZZ: Quirky and Brilliant

By on July 12, 2016

Derby doll remembered as a community mourns, loves and learns.

Jennifer Nalley, a dynamic godmother of roller derby’s resurgence, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in her Driggs, Idaho home last week. She was 12 weeks pregnant.

Jennifer Nalley, a dynamic godmother of roller derby’s resurgence, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in her Driggs, Idaho home last week. She was 12 weeks pregnant.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – By all accounts, Jennifer Nalley was the smartest person in the room. Any room. The 39-year-old was a graduate scholar of the NASA Aerospace program. She could solve complicated math problems in her head and explain the high energy physics of elbowing an opponent on the flat track. She was also an adorable ditz. She needed adult supervision to ensure she didn’t “set her self on fire,” according to one Facebook friend’s post.

The most difficult word to write or read in the above paragraph is “was.”

The enigmatic Nalley, 39, had her life tragically cut down in a hail of bullets outside her home near Driggs, Idaho, last week. Police are still piecing together the details leading up to the discovery of Nalley’s body, lying facedown on her porch, riddled with at least eight gunshot wounds.

An angry ex-boyfriend and father of her unborn child, Erik Ohlson, 39, is the suspect. By his own admission he killed the paradoxical pixie in a rage. The two had a rocky relationship, marked by a history of verbal and emotional abuse. Ohlson admitted to authorities that he went to Nalley’s house, drunk and armed with a Glock on the night of July 4. Minutes later he was walking away with an empty handgun trying to summon the resolve to reload and use it on himself. He couldn’t. He threw the gun down and sped off.

Ohlson was picked up a short time later, his silver pickup rammed into a power pole on Highway 33 and West 2500. He blew a .24. He spent the night in the drunk tank until Teton County Sheriff’s deputies made the gruesome discovery of Nalley’s body the next morning. Ohlson now faces two counts of first-degree murder in addition to DUI and open container charges.

Ohlson had bounced around a lot before arriving in Jackson in 2013. He spent time in Florida and Maine before that. It is unlikely now he will ever leave Idaho. Authorities are considering the death penalty. A life sentence in the “Perpetual” state is the backup plan.

The square root of departed

It isn’t possible to sum up even 39 minutes of Nalley’s time on earth. How can you categorize the complicated derby queen who was equally bemused and brilliant, refined and raw, fiercely loyal as she was kooky. And no matter what, she was always and unabashedly, “Pixie.”

Close friend Manda Clair called Nalley, “an astoundingly delightful woman of unexpected, unlikely extremes: both gorgeous and goofy, brilliant and ditzy, foul-mouthed and eloquent. [She was] a math genius and punk-rocker, with the sweetest heart imaginable, who could fight like a badger and skate like the wind while telling you some arcane fact about the orbital trajectory of Neptune.”

Nalley was considered one of the godmothers of the resurgent movement of roller derby—the high-speed skating sport rooted in equal parts venom and vaudeville. Her reputation as a ferocious blocker—a skater whose job was to protect her jammer by any means necessary—spread from her home track in Austin, Texas all the way to Jackson Hole where she showed up to a Juggernaut practice. The Juggs were honored, if not awed, by the legend.

 Jennifer Nalley (Pixie Tourette) and Elyse Archer (Sharkpit) enroute to Juggs bout.

Jennifer Nalley (Pixie Tourette) and Elyse Archer (Sharkpit) enroute to Juggs bout.

“She sent a message to the Juggernaut Facebook page telling me THE Pixie Tourette from the Texas Rollergirls had moved to the area and wanted to skate with us,” remembers Elyse Archer (Sharkpit). “I didn’t know what to expect. This cool, veteran skater was going to be my carpool buddy and my friend. I could have never predicted how much we would have in common, or how close we would become in just a few short months.”

Archer met Nalley for beers that winter. The Texas troubadour showed up in hot pink everything—pants, boots, coat, fuzzy hat. “She stuck out like a sore thumb and couldn’t care less,” Archer said. The two became fast road warriors when the Juggs travelled to away games. “I loved driving to bouts with her, the farther the better—stopping for frozen yogurt and bizarre boutiques for new tights along the way. She always over-packed and her belongings would spread out all over the hotel room.”

Nalley’s “maniacal laugh” still echoes in Archer’s memory. On their last trip to Salt Lake, Archer recalled a then-pregnant Nalley opting to cheer her mates on from the sidelines to protect her unborn baby. “I fell asleep to the sounds of her watching Harry Potter. I wondered, ‘How can someone be so nerdy but so cool at the same time?’”

Archer texted Nalley the day after she was killed, her tattooed body bloodied and lifeless, never answered. “We had plans to float the Teton River,” Archer said. “‘You OK?’ was the last message I sent to her, not knowing she would never receive it.”

Condolences poured in on the Facebook pages of Nalley and the Juggernauts. Close friends, former teammates and opponents alike shared memories and tears.

“Please know that the Powder River Rousta Bout It Betties are sending all our love to you and her family!” wrote Jenn Miller. “We were blessed to have been able to know her and we are hurting for you all.”

Nalley’s father, Jack, joined Facebook just so he could personally thank the hundreds of online mourners. “Jennifer’s mom, Nancy, and I, are lost. I can’t find the words to describe where we are but your kind words, and knowing that others in this world realized what a special person she was, brings us more comfort than you can image,” the father wrote.

Getting help, support

Nalley’s relationship with Ohlson was described by friends as tumultuous. Yes, couples fight; they argue. But why or when might a rocky relationship turn deadly? Is there any way to know when he’s coming for you with a gun?

“If your partner is beginning to isolate you from your friends or family, restricting your access to money, attempting to exercise control or power over you—these things should all be warning signs,” says Marc D’Amore, executive director of the Family Safety Network in Driggs. “It doesn’t have to rise to the level of verbal or physical abuse.”

Shannon Nichols heads the Community Safety Network in Jackson. She too advises those in a less-than-ideal relationship to be wary of controlling behavior.

“One of the things I always suggest is you should never be afraid of your partner,” Nichols said. “It’s not only about physical violence but about control over another. Using extreme jealousy, limiting access to friends, family, or coworkers is a form of isolation. Emotional abuse is a major red flag. You never have physical abuse without emotional abuse.”

There are two main reasons a spouse or partner does not reach out for help: they fail to recognize the gravity of their predicament or they fear contacting someone for help will escalate the situation.

D’Amore said, “There is often a loss of objectivity when you are dealing with emotions, love. Power, control and manipulation also skew one’s ability to be objective. It’s hard to come to terms with the idea that a relationship could lead to your death.”

Experts like D’Amore and Nichols emphasize it’s never too soon or too late to pick up the phone—whether it’s a close friend, family member, or a professional counselor at their 24-hour call centers.

“One of the real benefits of the Community Safety Network is you can have a confidential conversation with no pressure. Whether you want to stay in your relationship or leave,” Nichols said. “We listen to your specific needs. Maybe it’s figuring out some support system. Maybe it’s putting together financial resources. Maybe it’s just a listening ear for a relationship that is struggling. There are no expectations.”

D’Amore stresses that a call for help will not result in a fleet of squad cars showing up at your door. Agencies on both sides of the hill have trained staff and volunteers prepared to simply listen and help callers sort through tough issues. If danger is imminent, they can also act quickly to get victims safely extracted and provide for their wellbeing with housing, transportation, financial resources, and ongoing counseling assistance.

“We never make the decision to report. We are 100 percent confidential. Only in the case of child abuse are we required by law to contact law enforcement,” D’Amore explained. “Mostly we give people the information and tools to make healthy decisions for themselves. If they just want to talk, we can do that. It’s very easy for a person in these situation to lose objectivity and make sound judgments.”

Often it’s a third party that gets involved first. A mom, a friend, a co-worker is concerned and calls a hotline on someone’s behalf. It’s not always the trained professional who is best suited to offer help. Involvement from others is often what victims of domestic violence need most.

“We get a fair number of third party contacts from people feeling they are in a very helpless situation. We try to help them be supportive while being non-judgmental,” D’Amore said. “Victims often feel they are the reason they are being abused. They deserve it. If they know that their families and friends are aware of what’s going on and there for them in a nonjudgmental way, that encouraging attitude goes further than any assistance that any professional can provide.” PJH

Teton County, Wyoming – Community Safety Network (307) 733-SAFE.

Teton County, Idaho –  Family Safety Network (208) 354-SAFE .

Both help lines are 24 hours, free, and confidential.


About Jake Nichols

Jake is a work in progress.

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