Bridget and I hearing about the brothers on the same night at the same time felt like more than a coincidence. What were Tom and Cheryll trying to tell us by moving those pieces of the puzzle? Yes, an obvious thought would be that maybe it was a sign for Bridget and me to look at the brothers because they were involved in the murder. But maybe Cheryll was sending us a sign to look at her brothers because we needed to exhaust that angle or felt that it was time for us to learn more about them. So as good investigators would do, we went into this part of the investigation with open minds, attempting to prove the brothers’ innocence, knowing that it’s easier to do that than to prove guilt. We talked to family, friends and neighbors, and also pored over news reports from that time. Using those sources, Bridget and I compiled as many facts about the brothers as possible, from the time before Cheryll went missing to the time afterward, to see if anything would point us in a direction other than them being uninvolved.
Our findings are immense but I can say with confidence that we have found no evidence or circumstance to suggest that any of the brothers had anything to do with killing Cheryll. Let me explain….
First, her youngest brother was only 2 years old when she was killed. He obviously didn’t stab her to death. Her brother Mark was 10 (almost 11) when she was killed, and Mickey was 13. Could something have gone wrong at home and the family conspired to cover it up? Here is where some speculation comes in. Let’s say some sort of argument occurred between brother and sister. I first considered perhaps it was an accidental death like a head injury that occurred during a fight and the stabbing came later to cover this up. This type of theory was proven to not be possible because the official cause of death was internal hemorrhaging due to the stab wounds, so the stabbing itself caused her death. Could one of the boys have been angry and homicidal enough to stab their younger sister to death 26 times? If so and it happened at home, it doesn’t seem that any evidence was found pointing to this–the boys being involved or the murder occurring at 78 Rose Avenue. But if it did, then someone else would have had to have helped clean up the scene and to have transported her to New Hope Road after the fact because neither of the boys was old enough to drive.
The boys themselves are accounted for on the day of October 19, 1971. They were seen that morning, on the street and on the bus, at school that day, on the bus after school, and in the neighborhood that afternoon/evening. I tried to find old school records for further confirmation of their attendance at school, but those school records couldn’t be located. Plus, there are no reports by classmates of them missing school that day. In fact, classmates to this day remember them actually being IN school. So the only way that one of them could have murdered her would be if it happened the night before and then they were able to be “normal” the next day and go along with the story of her running late.
However, there are now multiple reports that Cheryll WAS seen the morning of October 19, 1971. Her childhood friends report seeing her early that morning, her brothers reported that she was running late, and some of the brothers’ friends say that they were aware that she went back home because she forgot something that day. If you believe some or all of this accounting, then it would not be possible for Cheryll to have been killed the night before by anyone (including her brothers) and her brothers couldn’t have killed her that morning because they were already on the street and boarding the bus that morning when she disappeared. Also, Cheryll’s brothers continued to talk to reporters as late as the 1990s about their resolve to find her killer. Mark shared how her murder messed up his life and his interview, in my opinion, was absolutely heartbreaking. If either one of them was involved, then why would they have continued to talk to reporters and bring attention to their sister’s case? This, again, is a gut instinct on the part of both Bridget and me, while others, perhaps even you, the reader, may not be able to eliminate the brothers at this point. We, however, have come to feel strongly that they were not involved. There is just no evidence to show that they participated in the homicide of their sister.
The Police Officer
“Logically, it makes sense that someone in the family killed Cheryll,” I told my husband one night after the kids had fallen asleep, even though that thought was contrary to what Bridget and I were coming to believe.
“How so?” He asked, the police investigator in him always needing to hear the logic behind my thinking.
“They had the most access to her. She seemed upset about something going on at home. She told kids she was running away. Maybe her plan to runaway on her birthday was exposed. Maybe when she went back home that morning, something happened.” Micheal nodded, with his lips flattened together over his teeth, a wrinkle in his forehead present– none of this necessarily in agreement, but as if to show me that he was processing what I was saying.
“But there is just one big thing I cannot get past,” I added.
“What’s that?” He asked in reply.
“New Hope Road. I cannot figure out who in her immediate family, living behind those walls, would have thought or have known to travel there to put her body. Besides Billy Joe’s dad living in that county, what is their connection to New Hope Road? The Spegals were from Gardnersville and were familiar with that area, but New Hope Road is a long way from there.”
In response, my husband said, “Well, you could look at it this way: Does there have to be some big connection? You don’t know where people have traveled. They may have been on or heard about that road just one time and that’s where they decided to take her. I know all kinds of backroads in Campbell County that I’ve only traveled one or two times where I could put a body and people like you would say, ‘Yeah but he didn’t know that road. He never had occasion to travel that road. He didn’t have a connection to that road.’ But you don’t know that. You don’t know what roads I’ve happened to drive down once by accident or on purpose on the way to somewhere else. Maybe you should stop dwelling on the road so much.”
And this is where two paths diverge. My husband, the police detective, who admittedly knows less about Cheryll’s case than I do, upon hearing about the lack of familial connection to that road, thinks that this is a minor detail. Me, a person who is NOT a police detective, who knows a lot about Cheryll’s case, knowing that there is a probably lack of familial connection to that road, thinks that this is a major detail. The words of the police investigator from the Somebody Knows Something podcast rang in my head. “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.” So the question is HOW familiar with the crime scene/dump site does the person have to be? My husband would have you think that a slight familiarity could be the answer while I have always felt that the killer would have had to have been very comfortable and familiar with the site. So, who is correct? I realized we both had a valid argument for both perspectives. At this point in my investigation, my head was saying the family should still be considered suspects because they were the closest to Cheryll, but my gut was telling me otherwise. I couldn’t find anything in my research tying Billy Joe or the brothers to the murder. As I continued to learn more, I began to feel that trusting my gut was the right thing to do, all the while reminding myself to keep an open mind. Keeping an open mind helped me to soon discover, that another tentacle had wrapped itself around Cheryll. And this one? It began growing from the porch of a house across the street from Cheryll’s bus stop, with so many creeping vines growing from it, that it hasn’t let go of Cheryll yet.