Throughout this past year of researching Cheryll’s case, I also read books about other true crimes, listen to true crime podcasts, and watch true crime TV shows. Yes, I do this because I’ve been true crime obsessed since the late 1980s– my middle school years– when I started watching the best TV show of all-time–Unsolved Mysteries (I can still recite the introductory statement and have an undying love for Robert Stack’s voice). I also immerse myself in all things true crime because I like to learn all that I can about the psychology of a person who commits crimes. Throughout all of this listening and reading and watching there have been small, odd moments where I felt like the material in the episode at an exact point in time is actually meant for me. Crazy, I know. But as I continue to ask Cheryll to guide me and ask Tom to keep sending me pieces to the puzzle, I think that those little moments are, in fact, little whispers for me.
A couple of years ago I learned about podcasts and found that right away I was drawn to those about true crime (of course). I usually listen while I am home and doing housework. Folding laundry, sweeping, washing dishes, and other mundane household tasks can be made much more interesting when I can listen to something while I’m doing the work. There is a podcast called Someone Knows Something produced by the BBC and hosted by David Ridgen. It is excellent. I listened to all 10 episodes of Season 5 in one weekend. That particular season detailed the still unsolved homicide of a 15-year-old girl named Kerrie Brown from Manitoba, Canada. I will never forget that, while folding laundry in my dining room and listening to the ending segment of episode two, I had one of those moments where I stopped in my tracks, clinging to the shirt I was folding, frozen as I listened to a police investigator’s words.
The investigator asks the narrator to suppose he is living in a small town and that he has just killed someone and finds that he has a body he needs to hurry and discard. He asks, “What are you going to do with the body?” He goes on to ask whether the killer would drive aimlessly with a body in his car, hoping to discover a good place to dump the person. Or, is the killer going to think, “Wait a minute. I know a place because I go there fishing. Or I know a place because I used to party there as a kid.” He explains that the killer would think of a secluded place to drop a body because he was familiar and comfortable there. “Dump sites or the scene of the crime is always significant. Seldom ever is it random. Somebody had to know that was the place to go. That was the place to go where you could be hidden away.” I stood in my dining room and absorbed those words and thought, “I am hearing this. I am supposed to be hearing this. And I am getting the message. The location of Cheryll’s body is significant.”
Admittedly, I did not know much about Pendleton County roads or communities when I was researching Cheryll’s story, so I went in search of people who did. I was able to meet and speak with some very special women who have lived their whole lives in the county and who are familiar with the lay of the land. They enlightened me about New Hope Road. In 1971, it was not a road easy to stumble upon. The locals told me that even back then it was not a section of road that they even traveled. The women that I talked to told me that then and now they believe that the person who killed Cheryll had to have known that road, spent time on it, traveled it, and/or felt comfortable there. As much as it pains them to think it, some people familiar with the case in Pendleton County felt in 1971 and still today that the killer was probably a person with ties to their community despite the police at the time insisting it was a man from Highland Heights who committed the murder.
New Hope Road was over twenty miles from Rose Avenue. It would have been at least a twenty minute car ride there. At the time, there were two possible ways to get to New Hope Road from Highland Heights and both involved traveling country back roads. Anywhere along the way, the killer could have easily discarded Cheryll’s body in a multitude of other quiet locations likely without being noticed. But he didn’t. Why not? The answer in my opinion, is that if Cheryll was already deceased, he wanted to place her body where he knew he absolutely wouldn’t be seen or if he was seen his presence there wouldn’t have been overly suspicious. Also, sickeningly, he would know that her body was in a location that was special to him and putting her there would be a sort of a memorial to her, perhaps even compelling him to come check on it. However, if during that long car ride Cheryll was still alive, the killer couldn’t just stop at any of the other locations to kill her because he’d still run the risk of him or his car being seen or possibly even Cheryll herself being seen or heard. He was heading to a place with which he was comfortable and familiar in order to assault Cheryll. Killing her was either planned or happened as a result of her fighting back. New Hope Road was a place where, in a culvert under a bridge, with garbage scattered around, screams would likely not be heard and a small body would likely not be noticed amongst the garbage if a passerby would happen to drive through.
The Police Officer
In 2006, my husband, Micheal, and I had been married for five years, were settled into our careers, were trying to start a family, and were looking for a new house. Micheal had just graduated, earning his paramedic certification to go along nicely with his career in fire service. So when Tom died suddenly, we were rattled. Losing his father at the age of 26 was devastating and caused Micheal to seriously contemplate his life’s goals. I’ll never forget standing in the quaint kitchen of our first home, looking with pride at the paramedic certificate laying on our dining room table, when Micheal announced, “I’m going to be a cop.” My knee-jerk, super-supportive response was, “okay.” What could I say? I knew he meant it and I knew he was going to do it. And he immediately set out to accomplish his dream. He was hired by a local police department, and then spent 16 weeks away at the police academy. Now he’s almost twenty years into a career in law enforcement. I’m proud of him. Not just for doing so well in his career, but for pursuing his dream with a passion I had never seen in him before. His career doesn’t define him or us as a family, but we respect it and we respect the vigor with which he does his work. He’s living his dream. Being a police officer is in his blood. And I know Tom is proud.
When I embarked on seriously investigating Cheryll’s case a year ago, I wanted to do it on my own, not relying on my husband’s line of work to make progress. I’ve been able to talk to law enforcement people along the way who I knew before I started this venture because of Micheal and Tom’s careers–and their perspectives have aided in my investigation–but otherwise, this is my project. I did not and still do not want my husband to have to do any of the work. Naturally, I talk to Micheal about the progress I’m making and every once in a while ask his opinion or advice about who to contact. One night we went to dinner alone–which is a rare occurrence now that we have three kids–but finally, that night over dinner, he brought up my work on Cheryll’s case. He asked, “So what’s the latest? With all that you’ve been working on, tell me your theory.” I typically have so many thoughts about the case in my mind that I am happy to talk about it out loud to free those thoughts. So I responded, “I’ve been thinking a lot about New Hope Road. I just feel like whoever took Cheryll there, they knew that road was there. They had been there before. It’s not a road you would randomly stumble upon.” He looked at me from across the table and with a serious tone and slight smile he said, “I think you’re on to something.” I felt a calm satisfaction inside, hearing him say those words. He continued, “Now you have to find out, who has a connection to Cheryll and to New Hope Road?” I nodded my head. My wheels were already turning.
And my investigation continued.