Day 1… October 19, 1971: The residents of Rose Avenue in Highland Heights were frantically searching for one of their own. Cheryll Spegal had been seen that morning when she set out for the bus stop, but seemingly vanished during her walk to where Rose Avenue met Highway US 27. By late afternoon, the search was underway to try and find her. Hundreds of police and fire personnel responded to the small street to help look for the girl or for any clues.
When the kids returned home from school that afternoon the news about Cheryll was spreading. It was then that a chilling story began to spill out of some of the neighborhood kids. That same morning, a teenage girl from Rose Avenue was approaching the dimly-lit bus stop at the end of the street. From behind a row of hedges that lined the street corner where she was waiting, she heard a rustling noise. With the darkness and the fog, it was hard to determine what it was, but she was so creeped out by it that she let out a scream and ran into the highway, crossed the street, and joined another group of kids waiting for the bus down the highway a bit. Other older kids recounted that as they were walking up the foggy street that morning, they heard her scream. But the fog was so dense they couldn’t ascertain where it had come from, who had made it, or what it meant. As they continued on toward the bus stop, they didn’t see or hear anything else and it wasn’t until later when they learned that someone was unaccounted for that they all realized with dread that perhaps the rustling of the hedges had something to do with Cheryll’s disappearance. Could someone have been lurking there, watching? Was someone there in the darkness just waiting to strike? Cheryll’s dad and brothers helped search. They looked in drainage ditches, frantically hoping they would find something. They knocked on neighbors’ doors hoping they’d find her. The agony had to be unbearable. It was Cheryll’s tenth birthday. Any celebration that had been planned was replaced by utter desperation and hopelessness. The clock was ticking. Where the hell was she?
Day 2… October 20, 1971: As the Rose Avenue kids returned to school, they no longer walked alone. Some stopped riding the bus, parents opting to drive them to school instead. The kids were scared to play outside, afraid of what or who might be lingering in the shadows. The police brought in search dogs to help track Cheryll, to no avail.
Day 3… October 21, 1971: The Cincinnati Enquirer first started reporting about a missing child. The police are quoted as saying that they suspected a child molester could be walking the streets or that Cheryll may have willingly run and hid in the woods behind her home that morning. Her dad disputed this saying that he didn’t consider it likely his daughter would walk into the steep, wooded hillside alone in the dark fog. Mr. Spegal also stated that Cheryll hadn’t missed school at all that year and he knew of no reason why she wouldn’t have gone to school that day.
The newspaper printed its first description of the missing girl: Cheryll has light brown hair and blue eyes. She is 4 feet 6 inches in height, weighs 95 pounds, is of slender build. She was wearing a long sleeve gold blouse, brown and black checked jumper, white knee socks and light and dark brown tie oxford shoes when she disappeared. She carried a brown plastic purse. Seeing this in print creates a picture of sweet Cheryll in my mind and also makes my heart ache for her.
Day 4… October 22, 1971: More speculation was printed in the newspaper about where Cheryll may have gone. In a single article, not one, not two, not three, but SIX various accounts were written to briefly and somewhat randomly explain what may have become of Cheryll. It was reported that some of Cheryll’s classmates recalled her saying the day before she disappeared that “I might not be in school on my birthday.” An old black pick-up truck was reported in the area in the days before the disappearance. The driver had littered beer cans in the street. A witness in a nearby town had seen a girl with a man in a car at a filling station. Another witness had seen a girl matching Cheryll’s description sitting with a young man at a bus stop at 2 a.m. on the day after her disappearance. A school bus driver thought he may have picked her up on a nearby street Wednesday morning and transported her to the local high school. And last, police still were pushing the runaway theory, saying that she may have hopped a bus to see her mom in Virginia.
Day 5… October 23, 1971: A news story from Cincinnati came across the river to Northern Kentucky. A man reported that he had seen an older girl and a girl resembling Cheryll hitchhiking. He saw them get picked up in Clifton on Wednesday night and that the younger girl was quiet and wearing a gold colored shirt–the same color Cheryll was reported to have been wearing. Because Cheryll’s maternal grandmother lived in that area and because she had lived with her grandma for a time a few years earlier, police speculated that she may have been trying to get to her grandma’s house in the Cincinnati area.
Days 6, 7, 8… October 24, October 25, and October 26, 1971: Police reported that they had checked out 25-30 leads and none had led to Cheryll. They still believed she may have run away, but would have had some adult assistance. An employee at Highland Heights Elementary School recalled Cheryll saying that she wouldn’t be at school on her birthday because she was going with her uncle to see her grandma.
Day 9… October 27, 1971: The Highland Heights Police Department asked the FBI for help in gathering fingerprints from the Spegal household and from Cheryll’s belongings. They weren’t sure the FBI could help though since there was no evidence of a crime. The police mailed flyers with Cheryll’s info to police departments in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and Florida. Police were also following a lead given by neighbors of the Spegals who said they saw a vehicle in the neighborhood with Virginia license plates about a week before Cheryll disappeared.
Day 10… October 28, 1971: Cheryll’s mother called the Campbell County police to report that her neighbor in Virginia had told her Cheryll had been found. She was curious as to whether this was true or not. It was not. Police were interested to know how that rumor got started.
Days 11 and 12… October 29 and October 30, 1971: Neighbors and friends of Cheryll’s had come together to start a missing person’s fund to help raise reward money for individuals who would come forward with information about Cheryll’s whereabouts. The fund reached $1200 and the police publicly stated they would add another $1000 to it.
In the days following Cheryll’s disappearance, families living on Rose Avenue recall vividly that the police were present on the street and in their homes, continuing to interview them, asking what they remembered. One childhood friend of Cheryll’s recounted that her mother eventually told the police it was time to leave her children alone–they had already explained everything they could remember and it was just traumatizing them over and over again. A newspaper reporter frequented the neighborhood, trying to find small bits of new information in order to give a daily update of what was occurring on the small street and what the latest news from the police was. Kids from the neighborhood and from Highland Heights Elementary School, remember being terrified as they heard adults talking in quiet whispers about the case, finding themselves worrying that this could happen again. It seems that people close to Cheryll really cared about where she was. But even so, the case was both baffling and convoluted, and even worse– already growing cold.
Day 13… October 31, 1971: It was Sunday and it was Halloween in Highland Heights, Kentucky. Kids set out in their costumes to trick-or-treat, closely monitored by their parents and by police who were patrolling the streets. Even with a sense of fear hanging over their heads, I imagine kids dressed up laughing, smiling, and walking in small groups together as they would exclaim, “Trick or Treat!” to neighbors opening their doors at nearby houses. All the while, Cheryll wasn’t there to be a part of the fun. No, she was not trick-or-treating. 13 days without Cheryll. 13 nights of falling asleep without knowing where Cheryll was. 13 days of worry, speculation, and fear. 312 hours of time where a 10-year-old was lost and unaccounted for. No one could know it that night as they sorted through their Halloween loot, but the next day, Cheryll would finally be found.