IA: (part 3) Need for money launches prostitution business


Betty Thompson thought Robert Sallis was staying only for the weekend, but when she got home from work on a Monday in early August 2004, he told her he wanted to move in. He thought they could be happy together, she remembers him saying. She said OK.

She felt sure by then he’d changed from the pimp she’d known as a teenager. He was being sweet to her, respected her house, got along with her five kids. But soon Betty realized she’d gotten into something she couldn’t handle.

Sallis’ sons started bringing friends, Gangster Disciple and other gang members, to her two-bedroom apartment in the Johnson County village of Cosgrove. At first, Betty said, Robert didn’t do drugs in her apartment, but that changed. Betty was fed up. She got into an argument with Robert and tried to leave.

As she went for the door, Robert stuck out his arm, knocked her to the ground and told her he was in charge now.

By November 2004, Betty noted, Robert called the shots.

He continued to be his social self with everyone else, but seemed to Betty he was always mad at her. He started hitting her. Sometimes, after they’d had a bad day, she’d wake up, fighting for breath, to find a sheet tied around her neck.

Robert’s sons and their friends were bringing around girls they called bustdowns — girls they thought were promiscuous and might be talked into turning tricks.

Bustdown girls

By November, Betty had lost her job at an Iowa City telemarketing office. She and Robert needed money. Betty said it was Robert’s idea to start their own prostitution business.

But Betty recruited Felicia Thompson, then a 19-year-old homeless girl who had been hanging around the boys.

Betty told Felicia, a tiny, mixed-race woman who is not related to her, she could move into the Cosgrove apartment house where Betty and Robert lived. The day the girl moved in, Robert stood by while Betty asked her if she’d consider prostitution, the girl later would testify.

Felicia said sure, she knew what it was about because her father had run girls, too. Felicia would testify to going on as many as 100 calls from the Cosgrove house, and to giving Robert and Betty all her money in exchange for a place to stay.

Using Felicia’s name and Social Security number, Robert and Betty got an Iowa tax identification number for a lingerie modeling business. They needed the number and a cash payment to buy a classified ad in The Gazette. It first appeared, with Betty’s cell phone number, on Nov. 14, 2004, under the heading “spas, escorts”:


In January 2005, Robert’s son Demont Bowie recruited B.J. Hoaglin, then 22, a white girl with curly red-blonde hair who had been getting in trouble since her mom left when Hoaglin was 12. They lived in the basement apartment with Isaac Reed and Melody Peer, who said she had been in the apartment listening to music one day when Betty and Isaac told her she was going on a call. Isaac convinced Peer, then 22, they needed the money.

Betty drove Peer to a hotel and told her to be sure the man took his clothes off first — that way she could be sure he wasn’t a cop. Peer made $130 on the call; $90 went to Betty.

Betty later gave back the $90, Peer said. Betty said the girl worked for the service only a few days — until she flipped out about having to turn over her money and threatened to call police.

In February, Betty recruited a 17-year-old girl to work for the business. The girl later told investigators that when Robert Sallis told her Betty “needed her,” she thought he meant to baby-sit, but she soon found out he was talking about prostitution.

Betty told the girl she was a “go-getter” who could make her own money, “like she was just trying to get my head around how it was OK to go on calls,” the girl said.

But things went a wrong when Isaac’s brother, Treadrick Reed, who rented the main floor apartment in the Cosgrove house, brought Ashley Alford to Robert and Betty’s apartment. Robert asked Alford if she wanted to make some easy money selling her body.

Then 19, Alford was a 5-foot-2 thin white girl with brown hair and a history of stealing and running away from home. She told Robert no. “I said I am not like that,” she later would testify in court.

She walked out but Betty followed her, telling her Robert wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her, that his sons would protect her. Alford said no, but Betty was persistent, calling until Alford changed her phone number. Finally, Alford moved.

But before she did, she made a call to Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Kevin Kinney.

Coming Wednesday: Business gets violent.

Please see original story, photographs, and comments at link above.

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