Do we really know what goes on behind the closed doors of anyone’s home? We think we do and we can guess, but we don’t always really know. And for some households, the answer to the question is even more elusive. I am not sure how thoroughly the police investigated Cheryll’s family, but one would understand why Cheryll’s inner circle should be the ones most closely investigated first before the search would be expanded outward. Reports from the time detailed how the police were constantly at the Spegal household and how they were inside dusting for fingerprints. This gives me some reassurance that the police looked at the family during the time Cheryll was missing. For the record, I have not spoken to anyone who lived in the Spegal household. Therefore, the description of Cheryll’s home life below comes from people who knew her at the time and neighbors on the street who remember the goings-on around Cheryll’s home. Their memories paint a less than rosy picture of Cheryll’s life in 1971. Could all of this have factored into Cheryll’s disappearance and murder?
Cheryll was rarely outside without her younger brother, Darren, on her hip and she was not allowed to put him down. So she’d carry him and have to miss out on activities like jump rope and running and playing. Cheryll got creative and would push Darren in a stroller so that he wasn’t down on the ground and running around, but also so she didn’t have to carry him constantly. Some of Cheryll’s friends had a sense that Cheryll didn’t want to go home. She would sometimes hide when she was called inside by her dad or stepmom. We all did that from time to time when we were kids, not wanting the fun to be over, but Cheryll’s friends felt that it was more than that. Why didn’t Cheryll want to go home?
On school mornings, the Rose Avenue kids would catch the bus at 6:30 a.m. (which seems absurdly early to me, but that’s neither here nor there). Neighbors reported that Cheryll was up early every morning and would be out on Rose Avenue sometimes as early as 5:30 a.m., dressed for school, and waiting for a light to come on in a neighboring kids’ houses. Once she saw the dim glow in the morning darkness from a light inside one of those houses, she would then gently knock on the door to see if she could come in and wait in order to have someone to walk to the bus stop with. Why didn’t Cheryll want to be home in the mornings?
In the days leading up to Cheryll’s disappearance, classmates reported that Cheryll was saving her lunch money and telling them it was so she could run away. This would be a fairly big deal for a nine-year-old to arrange. Cheryll seemed angry and bothered by something. If this is true, then Cheryll was showing signs that she no longer wanted to be a part of whatever was going on behind the closed doors of 78 Rose Avenue. What could make a girl want to leave her own home?
It is reported that Cheryll’s stepmom, Shirley, was less than kind to Cheryll and not very friendly to other neighbors. Cheryll’s friends describe the situation as a wicked stepmother type relationship. Might this be the reason Cheryll didn’t want to be home? It is also reported that biker gang-type men would come and go from the Spegal household. Also, Shirley supposedly had a brother with a criminal record who would spend time around the home. Could it be that all of these adults made Cheryll uncomfortable? Was there criminal activity and/or behavior going on behind the walls of 78 Rose Avenue that Cheryll wanted no part of? Were any of the adults in Cheryll’s life or frequenting Cheryll’s home being inappropriate with Cheryll? Was she the victim of abuse of any kind? I don’t have the answers but these little bits of information paint a bleak picture of Cheryll’s life at home.
“Do you want to go on another road trip with me?” I texted Bridget.
“You know I do.” She answered. “Where are we headed this time?” I told her and then, like usual, we planned a day to meet for breakfast before we once again took a drive that would culminate with us visiting another cemetery.
The only place in Pendleton County that Bridget and I had been to was New Hope Road in northeast Pendleton County which was the serene but haunting location where Cheryll’s body had been discovered. This day, I wanted to travel to Gardnersville, Kentucky– a small country town in the northwestern corner of Pendleton County, from which Billy Joe’s paternal side of the family hailed. The fact that Billy Joe’s family was from Pendleton County and Cheryll was discovered in that very county, aroused suspicions in me. If Billy Joe’s extended family all lived in Gardnersville, how close was it to New Hope Road? Might they be familiar with the road on which Cheryll’s body was discovered? I had to travel it in order to feel like I could really understand the geography so Bridget and I took a trip there. We started at New Hope Road, a location she and I both could find with ease because we’d been there, then we entered Gardnersville into our phones and off we went. On a map the two locations don’t seem like they would be very far apart, but let me tell you– IT WAS FAR. It took us over a half an hour to drive across the winding and sometimes narrow county roads and then we were so far off the beaten path that when we ended up at the Gardnersville Cemetery in the middle of “downtown” Gardnersville, we had no cell phone reception.
Bridget said, “You better not break down out here. No one knows where we are and we have no way of letting anyone know where we’re at.” We both chuckled, but admittedly I was a little uncomfortable not having phone service and being in the middle of what felt like, nowhere. We walked through the cemetery and found many headstones with the last name Spegal on them. Soon, we spotted Cheryll’s grandfather’s grave. He died 20 years after Cheryll. Bridget and I stood in the quaint, country cemetery and admired how quiet and peaceful it was there.
“It’s beautiful out here. So simple, but really pretty,” Bridget said as we looked about the country landscape on this sunny day.
I breathed in the refreshing warm air, sighed as I exhaled, and shared what I was thinking. “New Hope Road is not close to this place.”
As if she had been thinking the same thing, Bridget replied, “Not at all.”
As I gazed at Cheryll’s grandpa’s headstone, I thought, “Do you know what happened to Cheryll? Does your son? Whether you do or not, I’m going to find out who the son of a bitch was who killed your granddaughter.” And as we parted the cemetery to begin the long journey home, Bridget and I felt a resolve in our bellies to either narrow our focus to Cheryll’s family or to absolve them of her murder. And over time, one of those two objectives has been achieved.