Police were working hard throughout those 13 days when Cheryll was missing, and while theories and speculation abounded, nothing substantial manifested. The police and newspapers were well-intentioned in their sharing of information, but I believe that by printing so many theories, people didn’t know what to think. Before we move ahead in the story, let’s discuss a few things. I’ll warn you, there is a lot to unpack here. And once you start considering all of the possibilities, you’ll find yourself going down the proverbial rabbit hole. Don’t get disillusioned. The answer is in here somewhere…..
In regard to the numerous theories laid out in the newspapers, some were eventually able to be explained away. For instance, the reported sightings of Cheryll at bus stops and in a car with a man at a filling station were proven to be girls other than Cheryll. The black truck seen parking at the top of the street in the days prior to her disappearance was a man waiting for his wife to pick him up after he got off of work. He had a reason to be waiting in his truck there. Cheryll saying she was going to her grandma’s? She never showed there. So whether she had been meeting someone to take her to her grandmother’s, or, thought she was going to go there with an “uncle”, or hitched a ride with someone, she was never delivered there.
Cheryll’s mother in Virginia genuinely seemed concerned about her missing daughter and police eventually decided that Cheryll had not left to go to Virginia. Besides, a ten-year-old girl probably couldn’t have figured out how to run away to Virginia on her own. The car seen on Rose Avenue with Virginia plates? Without specific information, it seems that this car couldn’t be definitively connected to Cheryll’s disappearance. I don’t know if her mother came to Kentucky during this time–my gut feeling is that she didn’t–especially since the newspapers relayed the story of her mom calling the police to see if she had been found. If her mom was in Kentucky, she would have known that information. At the time, there were no reports of Cheryll emerging in Virginia to begin a new life with her mother.
Some aspects of Cheryll’s case still cannot be explained. Classmates of Cheryll’s then and still now report that Cheryll did say that she was not going to be at school on her birthday. In order for her to know this, she either had to have been told that she was going to be doing something else during the day of her birthday OR she had to have planned something unbeknownst to her family. If she was going to meet up with someone to take her somewhere on her birthday and she hadn’t told her family, would she risk telling the kids and adults at school? If she had been told she was going to do something fun on her birthday, could it have been by a family member? Possibly. But then why would she have been dressed and heading out for school that morning if the family was going to take her to do something fun? The story from her dad was that he saw her leave presumably for the bus stop so it doesn’t seem like HE had something planned for her. Was nothing planned, and she just said that she was going to do something fun so people wouldn’t know that she, in all likelihood, was not going to be doing anything special for her birthday?
And circling back to someone laying in wait in the bushes the morning of Cheryll’s disappearance….this goes to the possible random abduction scenario. But what are the chances that it was Cheryll of all the kids on the street who was randomly abducted, on her birthday, after she told people she would not be in school on that very day? Honestly. What are the chances of all of that happening?
A point of interest: it is reported that on school mornings Cheryll was usually very early. She would head to her friends’ houses and wait for them to get ready so she had someone to walk to the bus stop with. A childhood friend remembers Cheryll being at her house early that morning and saying she’d come back. So was she early and went somewhere else in the meantime? Did she go back home? Her family contradicted this and said she was actually running late that day. If she was really running late that morning, why? What had delayed her? And if her brothers left her at home knowing she was later than normal, why didn’t they double check that she had made it to the bus? (Maybe 11 and 13 year old boys wouldn’t think of this, I don’t know). Did they actually lay eyes on her that morning to know that she was late? Are we to believe her father that he really did see her leave out the back door that morning? Did he see her after her friends saw her?
If she planned to meet up with someone that morning who was going to take her to “see her grandma” might this be why she was running late? Was she stalling to wait for a particular time to meet up with her ride? Could this be an actual uncle (we’re still researching who that could have been) or was it a man that she or her family referred as “uncle”? Had an adult befriended Cheryll, earned her trust, convinced her to meet him that morning so that he could take her to her grandma’s for her birthday when something more evil was actually being planned for her? But if she was going to meet up with someone, how did no one see her, this person, or a vehicle waiting for her that morning? Or did someone see these things and just not realize the significance?
And last, what about the man on the porch? He lived in a house in a stretch of homes that lined the highway across the street from the top of Rose Avenue. He was frequently seen sitting on his porch and is said to have parked his truck at the top of Rose Avenue, oftentimes spotted by residents of the street sitting in his truck in the mornings. Was he there that morning watching? Did he interact with Cheryll? What did the police eventually discover that made them zero in on him as a person of interest?
“I’m confident that this is the road,” I told Bridget as we began slowly driving down New Hope Spur, a winding country lane branching off of the actual New Hope Road. Bridget sat in the passenger seat holding my phone staring at a photo from the newspaper in 1971, trying to match the landscape in the photo from the actual road we were now traversing. “Just keep looking for this little bridge and we’ll know we’re there,” she said still looking at the photo.
“I’m a little nervous,” I told her, though I’m not sure nervousness is what I was actually experiencing. It felt more like a surge of electricity was pulsating through my body. I knew that I would immediately recognize the location once we approached it–I had stared at the photo many times. As we continued down the narrow, forested road, a small one-lane looking bridge came into view ahead of us. We both let out a slight gasp as Bridget said, “Oh my God, there it is.” It was almost like we were a couple of time-travelers who had been transported to the very location that was the last place on Earth Cheryll had possibly been alive. The electrical surge was even greater as I parked my SUV in a slight dirt patch found directly on the other side of the bridge and prepared to step out. We had found the culvert matching the newspaper photo and we knew it.
It was a beautiful fall morning on the day of our visit–Nov. 6, 2018– 47 years and 5 days after Cheryll had been found at this spot. Though we didn’t know it at the time, it was 47 years to the day of her funeral service. The sun was streaming down in beams through the colored trees. The smell of fall was in the air. Water could be heard trickling through the creek. In the quiet of the morning we could hear our footsteps on the loose gravel as well as the dried leaves gently hitting the earth as they gingerly fell from the trees. I thought I’d find the location to be creepy, but it was beautiful, and serene, and I found a strange comfort and uneasiness thinking about how though it was 47 years later, this was probably exactly what Cheryll was seeing as she took her last breaths. I don’t remember Bridget and I doing a lot of talking, but I do remember quietly talking to Cheryll–was it out loud or in my head? I can’t remember. Sighing– Oh Cheryll. Who brought you here, Cheryll? I felt a strange closeness to her as we began comparing what we were seeing with the photos from the papers all those years ago. We talked in soft tones. Without discussing it, we knew we were at a memorial of sorts, and were standing at what felt like a graveside for someone we truly cared about. We had found it. Bridget and I were now at the location where Cheryll’s body had been found. And as we assured Cheryll out loud, “We’re going to figure this out, Cheryll. We are trying,” I am quite positive we weren’t alone– perhaps the autumn breeze was a quiet whisper from a girl gone in the fog.