You’ve seen her photograph. You may have searched her name on the internet. You may remember her or her family. I never knew her. She was killed seven years before I was born. I do not know anyone in her family (besides the ones I’ve met when researching this story). I’ve only met a few people so far who actually remember her. Despite this, I feel connected to Cheryll. I sometimes talk to her. I ask her to put me where I need to be in order to find out more information about her story. I recall that quiet whisper inside of myself back in 1996 when I first heard about this case and I wonder…..is it Cheryll? Because, that quiet whisper is still there inside of me and it seems to be guiding me to where I need to be– at times I’m convinced it’s a divine intervention of sorts.
This is the only photo of Cheryll that I have ever seen. It is the one that was published in the newspapers in 1971. I am guessing it is her 4th or 5th grade school picture taken sometime in 1970-1971 . She is probably about nine-years-old in the photo and I have come to know it well. I carry a copy of it with me in my research notebook. I have it saved on my computer and in my phone. She seems happy and also seems to be full of promise. She looks pretty in her jumper and it looks like her hair may have been curled for the photo. I wonder if she was excited for school picture day like I was at her age. I wonder if she liked the photo when she saw it. I wonder if it was displayed in her home. I wonder if a copy of it was carried in anyone’s wallet, tattered and worn like so many of our old school pictures were in our parents’ wallets and billfolds.
Are there other photos of Cheryll out there? I hope so. I have tried to find them. I have searched for old class photos and school photos from that time, to no avail. If any of her former classmates are reading this and you have old school photos, is she in them? I’d love to see them. But for now, this is the photograph of Cheryll— a hopeful reminder of who we are fighting for and a sad reminder of a girl who, for eternity, is frozen in time.
Cheryll was a fifth grade student at Highland Heights Elementary School in 1971 when she vanished. I think about her classmates and her teacher. Can you imagine going to school while your classmate or your student is literally missing? What was it like sitting there with an empty desk nearby? Did the kids discuss it? I go through these sad scenes in my mind, playing out like a somber movie. Either answer is sad. It’s sad if the kids were upset and worrying about their friend. Or, it’s sad if they paid the situation little attention. I’ve heard a couple accounts that have said that some of the kids believed Cheryll had run away. If only that were the truth.
Cheryll Ann Spegal was born in Covington, Kentucky on October 19, 1961. She had two older brothers–Mickey and Mark, and a younger half-brother, Darren. She lived on Rose Avenue in Highland Heights with her dad, Billy Joe, and her stepmother, Shirley. Her and her older brothers’ biological mother left town and moved to Virginia after Cheryll was born. No one I’ve talked to is sure of the reason, but sadly it doesn’t seem that Cheryll and her brothers had much, if any interaction with their mother after she left them in Kentucky. Billy Joe’s father lived in Pendleton County, but Billy Joe himself grew up in Ohio, I presume with his mother. I’m not sure how he ended up in Kenton County, Kentucky where his kids were born and then why he moved his young family to Highland Heights in neighboring Campbell County, Kentucky, but that is where they were living when Cheryll disappeared into the fog one morning on her way to the bus stop at the top of her street.
Her childhood friend remembers Cheryll as a sweet and friendly girl who was happy when playing with the other kids on the street. She doted on her younger toddler brother and rarely was outside playing without him in tow. A relative of the family also told me that Cheryll was a happy little girl. I consider two possibilities regarding this description. My first instinct is to say, of course she was happy!! How often is a young girl described as anything but sweet, happy, and full of life? Generally kids that age are all of those things. And I desperately hope that she was. But another part of me asks however, how do we really know? Was she truly happy? Are memories sometimes skewed in what we want to remember about a person? Or another possibility, could her outward persona have been masking some type of inner unhappiness? I honestly have no idea what life was like for Cheryll besides a comment made in passing once by one of her friends who said, “Cheryll had a hard life.” Granted, her family may not have had a lot of money and her mom may have left the family, but was that it? Was there anything else with which she was struggling?
The Police Officer
Every year on October 19th I usually say to my husband, “Do you know what today is?” He always answers, “Yes, I do.” And I usually give him a little smile or hug as our day continues on. October 19th is his dad’s birthday. We’ve had this bittersweet conversation 13 times since Tom’s sudden passing in 2006. If he were still alive, he would be 70 this year. It sucks not having him here. I know he would have adored our kids and I can imagine him letting out a laugh over the silly things our kids say and do. Over the years, I occasionally get a wiff of cigarette smoke or of his cologne when no one is smoking or wearing cologne. I feel like it’s his way of letting us know he’s around. When I started learning all I could about Cheryll’s life, I discovered an eerie coincidence that once again, intertwined Cheryll’s life with Tom’s. Did you happen to notice it? October 19th is Cheryll’s birthday too. She was born on Tom’s 12th birthday.
And she was killed on his 22nd birthday. It was her tenth.