Death In Alley Ended Dancer's Dream Of Stardom.

August 07, 1991|By David Simon and William F. Zorzi Jr. | David Simon and William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Correspondents

BREINIGSVILLE,PA — There was no eulogy at the funeral service, just the requisite prayers and some reflections on redemption through Christ. Instead, the life of a local girl was left unadorned. Too much was already known.

"There will be no whitewash," the minister declared, by way of explanation.

Kim Renee Derr died in a West Baltimore Street alley, her body broken by a four-story fall from the top of a run-down rooming house. The detectives figured suicide, and the medical examiner agreed. A boyfriend was with her when she went off the roof; he told them about how she had been smoking cocaine and drinking Bacardi all morning, rambling on about how she wasn't pretty enough and how she had nothing to live for.

In the 408 Club on Baltimore's Block, where Kim Derr danced, there was some grief but little surprise. They knew that the cocainewas out of hand, that Kim was running through more and more money every night. More than that, they knew that there is a cost to this kind of living, and that Kim Derr was simply the latest installment:

Block dancer turns up dead in Anne Arundel, stabbed by some irate customer. Block dancer overdoses on heroin up at the North Avenue Motel. Block dancer manages to hang herself in a district cell block.

Yet every month brings new faces to East Baltimore Street. Most of the dancers manage to endure the life for years, giving themselves up in small pieces. A few destroy themselves in a heartbeat.

Kim Derr was 24 when she died, the daughter of a Pennsylvania truck driver, a child of a middle-class housing development carved from farmland outside Allentown. She liked music, loved dancing and clothes, and struggled in schools where she was not particularly popular. She took piano and ballet. She wore pink to the prom. Her favorite book was "Wuthering Heights," which she read repeatedly.

But in Baltimore, at the 408 club, Kim Derr was Baby Doll. She chose the name herself. And she was Baby Doll in the skin magazines that published photographs of her -- hard photographs that she showed with pride to her family.

"We didn't approve of what she was doing," says her older sister, Deborah Angstadt. "But that was Kim. She wanted to do this, and there was no arguing with her. She knew what she wanted to do."

She told them she would be headlining soon at some clubs. Now appearing: Baby Doll, As Featured in Club Magazine. Two thousand a week. And her Boston agent was talking to someone from Penthouse about another photo spread, or so she said. She might even make it to MTV if her boyfriend's band ever got going, maybe even to an album cover.

Says her father, Donald Derr: "If she'd gotten a few breaks, she could've gone to the top."

*

When Kim was 14, she pedaled her bicycle down the driveway, out of the neighborhood and across town to Dorney Park, Allentown's well-known amusement park, returning later that day with an employee's pass, which she proudly displayed to her parents.

"She didn't tell us about it or anything," recalls Mr. Derr, who drives for the Roadway company. "She just hopped on her bike and pedaled down there and asked for a job. She was always like that."

They admired her independence, her spunk, even when it landed her in trouble, which it frequently did. From her earliest years, Kim had a problem with authority and time and again, she would have to call home in one scrape or another, asking her brother or sister to put Dad on the phone.

"He could talk to her," says her mother, Joan Derr. "Even when she was down in Baltimore, she would call him up for advice or just to talk. And at all hours of the night, too. She would talk and talk."

Years later, Kim Derr would tell people on The Block that her childhood was lonely and painful, that she was picked on at school and teased about her appearance until she fought back.

Friends from Pennsylvania remember as a troubled kid who wanted desperately to be liked, or better still, to become the center of attention.

In her junior year at Emmaus High School, she was suspended for fighting with another girl, who scratched her eye after the two traded insults. Told by school authorities she could return to class if she was willing to apologize, Kim never went back.

She was just out of high school, hitching rides near her home, she would later tell friends, when another dancer picked her up and told her about the money to be made stripping at local clubs.

Most of the dancers say that the stage work is painful, particularly in the beginning. Out on a runway, with a couple dozen drunks leering up, even the toughest women feel emotionally exposed. But from the outset, nothing seemed to bother Kim Derr.

"She was tough," says Denise Stanton, a 23-year-old dancer from Easton, Pa., who worked with Kim at clubs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. "She didn't let anything get to her. She was always in control."

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