Kickflips, Murder, And Underage Girls

Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski, on trial for the murder of Jessica Bergsten

Growing up in the 1990s and early 2000’s we had skateboarders such as Bob Burnquist, Rodney Mullen, Elissa Steamer, Bucky Lasek, and of course the king of kings Tony Hawk. We also had my little brother who was the champ of skateboarding around our caul-de-sac (Hi Eric!). The 1980s had some guy named Mark “Gator” Rogowski. He was good, really good, but his bumpy transition into street skating, his love of getting arrested, and well, murder was his downfall. Oh, he also liked to date underage girls. Just thought I would throw that in there. Sure, he was good but his talent wasn’t enough to save him.

Mark Rogowski was born in Brooklyn, New York on August 10, 1966. He started skateboarding at the young age of 7. Even though most of his friends were into surfboarding Rogowski started to frequent the local skate parks. In 1978 when he was 12 years old Rogowski was picked up by a local skate team. Two years later in 1980, he started his professional skating career, he was only 14 years old. In 1982 he won his first major contest, the Canadian Amateur Skateboarding Championships, which is held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Try saying that five times fast, shit.

This dude seems off to a promising start, let’s see how he manages to f*** it up. In 1984 he won his first national championship. He signed an endorsement deal with Gullwing Trucks where he was making “between $4,000 and $8,000” a month for clothing and skateboarding equipment endorsements. By 1987 Rogowski was earning $2.00 per skate deck from Vision, which was selling an average of 7,000 on the monthly basis, earning him roughly $14,000 in royalties ($ 30,000 in 2021). Vision was also selling t-shirts, fanny packs (you remember those hideous things?), and stickers with his nickname ‘Gator’ on them.

Mark Rogowski was part of a group of elite skaters in the 1980s including Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Christian Hosoi (I think he went to jail for drug trafficking), and Steve Caballero. Quick side note: Hawk has a Twitter account where he shares stories of going out in public and having people tell him he looks like “that guy” without realizing it is him. It is hilarious, if you get a chance check it out. Anywho, ‘Gator’ was charismatic, with a flamboyant and outgoing personality that made him stand out. This helped him gain fame and fortune during skateboarding’s return to popularity.

Ok, guys, it’s about to go down. Down the shitter that is. In 1987 Rogowski was introduced to 15-year-old Brandi McClain and her close friend Jessica Bergsten while skating at a show in Scottsdale, Arizona. Brandi and Mark soon began dating, mind you by this time he was a 21-year-old man. They appeared together in numerous promotional videos and advertisements for the Vision brand. I guess they didn’t give two shits that this grown-ass man was dating a teenager. Dude, if you wanted her that bad you could have just waited three years and hit her up when she turned 18. When they couldn’t physically be together, they would keep in touch via phone. She often followed Rogowski around when he was touring. When he had free time on the weekends, he would fly McClain out to California so they could spend time together. Where were her parents? Seriously, where the f*** were this child’s parents!?

When I was 15, I busy trying not to fail math class all while keeping my social life alive. Not that I really had one. My parents gave me a 10:00 curfew and I was learning to master the art of applying foundation (that was about two shades too orange for my skin tone) to my face. We didn’t have beauty blenders back then my friends, oh no, you had these weird sponge applicators or your fingers. You better make that shit work! And blending the foundation into your neck, forget about it. You walked around with that terrible demarcation line, but that was a part of being a teenager. Not running around and dating a 21-year-old man! I dated some questionable guys in the past but they were all teenagers like myself. If I brought home a grown-ass man and introduced him to my father as my boo thang, I would have been banned from dating until I was 40 years old.

As the 1990’s rolled around Mark Rogowski’s popularity began to decline as vert skating was replaced by the new up-and-coming street skating. Vision had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and ‘Gator’ no longer had a brand to endorse. However, he did not let this deter him! He decided to reinvent himself and changed his name to ‘Gator’ Mark Anthony. He explained that he dropped Rogowski because it was a constant reminder of the father he never knew. The whole new name thing didn’t work out too well for him and the bad luck kept on rolling in. Mark Rogowski/Anthony suffered a severe accident while attending a skate party in West Germany (which is now just, ya know, regular Germany). He drunkenly fell (or maybe pushed) from a second-story hotel window, landing face-first on a wrought iron fence. He returned to his home in Carlsbad, California to recover.

After he fully recovered Rogowski, who was no longer ‘Gator’ Mark Anthony, befriended ex-surfer turned born-again Christian Auggie Constantino. The Auggmeister (I just made up that nickname) became Rogowski’s spiritual advisor and converted him to a strict Evangelical form of Christianity. ‘Gator’s’ newfound faith would heavily influence his (new) attitude and skateboard designs. By now Rogowski and McClain had been dating for 4 long years and he suggested that they get married, proclaiming they “can’t have sex anymore unless we get married.” McClain was having none of it and soon broke it off with Rogowski. So, let me get this straight, now that she is of legal age, she doesn’t want to be with him? Weird flex, but ok. She had also probably had it with their tumultuous (how do you like that SAT word?) relationship. Being locked in a closet during a fight and having to deal with unprovoked jealousy probably puts a damper on things. Rogowski fell into a period of severe alcoholism after McClain’s departure.

Mark Rogowski with his 15 year old girlfriend Brandi McClain

Soon after their split Brandi met a new man and the two started a relationship. Word somehow got back to Rogowski and he was furious. In a jealous rage, he broke into her San Diego home to steal back all the gifts he had given her over the years. On a petty level scale from 1-100, Rogowski is at a solid 1,000. He began to make threatening phone calls to both McClain and her new love interest. Brandi contacted the local authorities and a report was filed but the situation was not monitored continuously.

On March 20, 1991, Rogowski spoke with Jessica Bergsten (remember, she was Brandi McClain’s close friend he met in 1987) for the first time in years. Bergsten had asked Rogowski to show her around San Diego. Oh, Jessica you poor thing. On March 21st they spent the whole day together. Shortly after their get-together Jessica Bergsten was reported missing. Her disappearance would not be a mystery for long.

On the night of March 21st Rogowski and Bergsten went back to his condo after sightseeing to watch movies, smoke weed, and drink some wine. Sometime during that evening Rogowski crept up behind Bergsten and hit her in the head with a club (some kind of auto anti-theft device you would lock to your steering wheel). He struck her several times rendering her semi-unconscious. Once she couldn’t fight back, he handcuffed her, carried her to his bedroom, shackled her to his bed, and raped her. After he attacked Bergman, he placed her in a surfboard bag because he was concerned his neighbors would hear the noise. He placed his hand over Bergsten’s nose and mouth until she stopped breathing. He put the surfboard bag in his trunk and drove to Shell Canyon desert where he disposed of her body in a shallow grave.

On April 10, 1991, a couple of campers discovered Jessica Bergsten’s body, but it was so decomposed it could not be identified. Racked with guilt Rogowski eventually confessed his crime to Auggie Constantino, telling him; “Remember that girl from the poster? She was the one I killed.” Constantino encouraged Rogowski to confess to the local authorities and he did, thereby waiving his legal rights. On April 11, 1991, after a lengthy confession, Mark Rogowski led Law Enforcement Officials to Jessica Bergsten’s body. While searching his home police found evidence of blood-soaked through the carpet padding and pooled onto the floorboards underneath in two small spots. These were found adjacent to where Bergsten’s head had allegedly been resting on the night of the attack.

In his confession, Rogowski claimed he killed Bergsten in a misplaced act of revenge toward his ex-girlfriend, Brandi McClain, calling Bergsten the “mold Brandi was made out of.” Mark Rogowski was charged with committing a murder during rape including “special circumstances”. Under California law, this allows for the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole to be put on the table during sentencing. Rogowski’s lawyer, John Jimenez, challenged the validity and content of the confession. Jimenez appealed the rape charge, insisting the decomposed body showed no signs of forcible rape, but the appeal was eventually denied. Under the advice of his attorney, Rogowski pled guilty to first-degree murder and rape, allowing him to avoid the death penalty or life without parole.

At the plea hearing in January 1992, ‘Gator’ submitted a 4-page written statement. In his statement, he accepted responsibility for his acts. He also accepted responsibility for sexual activities outside of marriage, for his promiscuity, and for not following the word of the Bible. Nobody asked you to do all that bro, talk about being extra AF. Sentencing was set for March 6, 1992. At the hearing, 5 uniformed bailiffs with metal detectors stood guard. They were placed there after the courts heard a rumor that Stephen Bergsten (the father of the victim) would attempt to harm Rogowski. I don’t blame him, shit, he should have strangled the son of the bitch with your bare hands. I believe any normal parent would want to kill the person who murdered their child. Bergsten was already in trouble with the law for his involvement with a nationwide drug ring and therefore had nothing to lose by harming Rogowski.

With the bailiffs standing between Rogowski and Bergsten, Rogowski offered an apology while Bergsten shouted that he “was a coward” who would “die a thousand deaths”. Because an apology would make everything all better, right? Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski received a 31-year to life prison sentence: six years for forcible rape and 25 years to life for the first-degree murder charges to be served consecutively. On February 11, 2011 (a day after my 22nd birthday, how lovely) Rogowski filed for parole, which he was denied. On February 6, 2015, another parole hearing was scheduled, but Rogowski waived his right to a hearing for one year. On March 9, 2016, he was again denied parole for another seven years.

As of June 2019, Rogowski remains incarcerated at Donovan State Prison. On December 10, 2019, multiple media reports claimed Rogowski’s parole board recommended parole. On April 27, 2020, the parole grant was reversed. Rogowski will not be eligible for parole again until March 2023.

Mark Rogowski was once revered as the man second in command to Tony Hawk. Now he is just known as a total shithead who took the life of a 22-year-old woman for no rhyme or reason. I’d like to see him try to do a 360-inward double heelflip in the prison yard. I will leave you with this little fun fact: Rogowski worked as a stunt double on the 1989 film Gleaming the Cube, which starred Christian Slater, and appeared, along with McClain, in Tom Petty’s music video for Free Fallin’.

Sources:

“The Senselessness of Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski” – Crime in Sports Podcast

“The Rise And Fall Of Gator Rogowski” – Medium

“Stoked: the Rise and Fall of Gator” – Shredders Lodge

“Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski” – NNDB

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