On Saturday, November 6, 1971, a funeral service was held for Cheryll at a funeral home in nearby Covington, Kentucky. Her obituary is remarkably simple and brief. The only two adjectives used in the whole thing are “beloved” and “dear”. This death notice in no way seems to capture any of the grief her relatives and friends were experiencing. Maybe it was better this way. What could the obituary possibly have said to adequately relay the magnitude of the loss and utter despair caused by the girl’s murder?
I have spoken with no one who attended Cheryll’s funeral, including her childhood friends. The family may have wanted a private service. The anger and anguish may not have been something they wanted to share with the outside world. And also, they didn’t know who had done this to their loved one. If the stage was set to be welcoming to the community, who might they have let in? Were the parents of Cheryll’s friends sheltering their children from the harsh reality of the world? Taking them to the funeral home might have been too traumatic, I’m sure they thought. We must also remember the time period. As it has been described to me, people tended to grieve in private more than they do today. Loss was difficult to discuss and oftentimes just not talked about. People worked hard to remain stoic and to keep their composure. I wonder what that funeral service was like. I imagine it too was simple. Was there a lot of crying? Were any words about Cheryll or prayers spoken? Were there just a few people in attendance–close family only? Did the minister provide comfort? Was the family feeling grief and anger or were they in shock? I just can’t wrap my head around what that experience would feel like.
Bridget, Cheryll, and The Police Officer
I love eating at Cracker Barrel and the few times a year Bridget and I both have a morning free to eat together, she always agrees to dine with me there. Bridget eats a light breakfast and orders coffee that she fills with a ridiculous amount of creamer while I gorge myself on French Toast. We catch up on life, laugh at each other for what we are consuming, and then always talk about Cheryll’s case. It was after this breakfast one day, that we prepared to visit another special place—the cemetery where Cheryll is buried. You know you have a good friend when they agree to go to your favorite breakfast restaurant and THEN agree to go to the cemetery with you.
Much like the day of our visit to New Hope Road, this day was also a beautiful, fall day. We drove to the cemetery with eager anticipation and when we arrived, I parked my car and we set out to walk the small paved paths to find the section of the cemetery in which Cheryll was buried. Neither of us has a good sense of direction so after getting turned around and walking for what felt like a mile (though it probably wasn’t even close to it), we finally spotted a metal sign on a stick protruding from the grass displaying the correct section number. We were getting close and that little flicker of electricity was back, gently surging through us both as we began to embark on the search of this particular section. We realized that there were small square concrete markers in the grass that showed what number the plots were. Discovering that many of these markers were covered by earth, Bridget and I started pulling the dirt and grass away with our bare hands, feeling the rush of anticipation beginning to swell inside of us.
The two of us were working side by side saying the numbers out loud as they were appearing from under the grass and dirt. Finally, I gave a big tug on a tuft of grass and the number we were searching for revealed itself. “161!” I exclaimed. I’ll never forget it–Bridget said, “Shut up. This is her.” And there we stood, staring at a flat piece of grassy land. We’d done our research—we knew what we would be finding—but the sad reality came rushing over us as we saw with our own eyes a plot of earth and nothing more. “Ohhhh, my, God,” Bridget said as we stood, still disbelieving. “Wow, this IS it,” I whispered, sort of speechless with an uncomfortable lump in my throat. We had been preparing ourselves for this and we’d done it—we’d found Cheryll’s final resting place. She is buried in a peaceful plot of land in a quiet back section of the cemetery. That day, clear sounds of nearby chirping birds and distant humming expressway noise created a soothing ambience. I desperately wish I could describe to you in detail what Cheryll’s headstone looks like. But I can’t. In another utterly sad page of her story, we found that Cheryll’s grave does not have a headstone. The young girl buried beneath the earth has laid there, nameless, in an unmarked grave, for over 47 years. Our heads were spinning, all kinds of thoughts and questions being exchanged between the two of us. There was so much emotion there that day—exhilaration, satisfaction, despair, and an unexpected warm endearment for Cheryll. Being there caused me to feel close to her and I hadn’t anticipated that really. Interestingly, the breeze was back. In fact, it was more than a breeze–the wind was really whipping about while we stood at her gravesite. Was it Cheryll excitedly calling out to us? I’m here! I’m here! You’ve found me. I’m here!
Bridget quietly said, “Look over there,” and she pointed to a tree nearby. As my eyes lifted from the grass-covered ground in front of me, I followed her finger, and then saw a bright red cardinal fly from one tree limb to another, being playfully chased by another cardinal. Bridget and I smiled knowingly, with our eyebrows raised at the curious appearance of those birds. If a cardinal should appear…a visitor from Heaven is near. I then had a quick thought of my father-in-law, accompanied by an intuition nudging me to turn around. So I did. I spied a hillside across the lane from where we were standing, and realized when I saw a sprawling tree with beautiful yellow autumn leaves atop the hill, that it was the same tree I had seen the spring before with new leaves and blooms adorning it. My father-in-law’s burial plot was right there, very near that tree. He was so close.
Yes, in another eerie coincidence, we discovered that Tom and Cheryll are not only buried in the same cemetery, but in plots within a moment’s walking distance. When standing on the crest of the hill near Tom’s grave, the one with the sprawling yellow tree, Cheryll’s burial plot comes in to full view. “It’s so weird,” Bridget said. “It’s just like the psychic told us.” And indeed, it was.