This blog post briefly describes the murder of a young child. The content may be disturbing to some readers.
“He covets what he sees.” One of Cheryll’s friends sent me an email quoting that line from the movie The Silence of the Lambs saying that when she heard it, it made her think of Cheryll. I have found myself mulling those five words over and over in my own head and I couldn’t agree more. I have come to believe that whoever took Cheryll knew her routine. Whoever took Cheryll knew she was unsupervised early in the mornings. Whoever took Cheryll probably knew that she had a less than desirable home life. One question that we’ve considered is, if the man on the porch was sitting in his car early in the mornings and Cheryll was at the end of the street alone, could he have befriended her and earned her trust? It seems the answer to that question is probably not. Her childhood friends recall that on the mornings when Cheryll was with them and the man on the porch sat in his car, Cheryll never once acted like she knew him, acknowledged him, or waved to him. If he had been grooming her and trying to earn her trust, she never let on that she knew him and no one ever stumbled upon the two of them talking. I find it hard to believe that a child would be able to cover up this connection if she found herself chatting to the man from across the street some mornings. So perhaps, more creepily, could he have sat silently in his car looking at Cheryll while she waited for the kids to come to the bus stop just as he did with other girls standing there alone on other mornings? How often did she venture up to the end up the street alone? We don’t know, but most people agree that she was known to roam the neighborhood alone waiting for her friends’ lights to turn on or for them to emerge from their houses. Can you imagine standing alone in the dark at the end of your street as a child, waiting for your brothers and your friends to get there, while a strange man sits in the dim shadows inside of his car watching you? It’s truly frightening to consider.
Not long ago, a reader of this blog emailed me, and at the end of the correspondence included a bit of information that sent Bridget and me down a new rabbit hole. “….someone had a baby and left it in a garbage can or something. I’m pretty sure that it was (the man on the porch)’s sister.” What??? What was this about and how did it connect to the man on the porch? Could this be tied to Cheryll’s story at all? We had a lot of questions and the only way to see it through was to follow this quickly growing vine beginning to twist through Cheryll’s story. We were able to begin building the man on the porch’s family tree and found that he had a sister who was two years older than him. It seems that they were raised for some time as children by their grandmother and maybe an aunt, but later in life reunited with their mother. That mother and her new husband bought the house in Highland Heights across from Rose Avenue and her son–the man on the porch–moved in with them. In 1970, the sister was newly divorced and living in an apartment in the nearby town of Newport, Kentucky, when she gave birth to a full-term baby girl in that apartment. She then took her newborn daughter outside and strangled the baby to death with a ligature– most likely an electrical cord– placed the child in a garbage can, and went to work. Eventually her coworkers felt that she might need medical help and took her to the hospital. Once there, medical staff alerted authorities that she had given birth and the police were able to find the infant deceased. She was subsequently charged with murder. After spending some time in jail and having murder charges levied against her, the woman was bailed out of jail by her mother in the fall of 1970 to the tune of $5,000. Take a guess where the sister went to live….. That’s right, in the house across the highway from Rose Avenue, with her mother, her stepfather, and her younger brother– the man on the porch.
After a year of this arrangement–two adult children living with their mother and stepfather– in September of 1971, the stepfather passed away, (I’m not sure of the circumstances surrounding his death). This then left the man on the porch, his mother, and his sister living together in the house across the street from Rose Avenue. Throughout 1971, the sister had been fighting the murder charges by reason of insanity and meeting with attorneys and psychiatrists who were determining if she was sane or not. One court filing to delay her trial was on October 23, 1971, the same time Cheryll was laying dead in a creek on New Hope Road. Another filing was submitted on November 1, 1971, the very day Cheryll’s body was discovered by the milk man. Both psychiatrists who met with the sister found that she was sane. Perhaps upon learning this, she finally, in January of 1972, chose to plead guilty to the murder (which by then had been amended to manslaughter) and her plea was accepted. She was sentenced to three years probation and had to pay a court cost of $26.50.
What does all of this mean? First, unrelated to Cheryll, it’s astonishing to me that someone can plead guilty to killing a baby and only get probation. It took me a bit to stop reeling from the fact that it costs more to birth or adopt a baby than it did for this woman to kill hers. $26.50 was so appalling to one local resident who read about the case in the newspapers, that he sent a letter to the courts expressing his outrage about it. Second, it’s a sad story of an innocent baby who, for some disturbing reason, never had a chance to live because of the sin of her mother. But on a deeper level, it could speak to the issues that were cultivated in that household. Could a baby-killing woman be living in the same house as a possible child-killing man? Could the sister know about the sins of the brother? Could she be involved in it or helped to have covered it up? And what about their mother? Did she have not one, but two child killers living under her roof? And for Bridget and me, we found that the dates, the timing of the whole incident with the sister to be really curious. I will never forget the evening that I had the documents spread out on my kitchen island in front of me. It was so much to process, but there they were, all stamped with dates of the court filings and hearings– dates that are also important to Cheryll’s story. It was just astounding. It COULD all be coincidental but when reviewing it, it certainly didn’t feel like it. Maybe with the discovery of all of this information, more puzzle pieces were fitting together.
One evening my phone rang and it was Bridget. I answered.
“What’s up?” I asked her.
“I was talking to a friend tonight and she told me that years ago there was a house for sale on that street where the man on the porch was living.”
“Go on.” I said, interested to hear where this story was heading.
“She went through the house with the realtor and liked it and even signed a contract on it, but when her sister-in-law was checking out the house on a different day, a woman who lived in a neighboring house came up to her outside.”
“Oh, what’d she say?” My curiosity was piqued.
“She said, ‘Are you thinking about buying this house?’ and my friend’s sister-in-law told her, ‘yes.’ The woman said, ‘Don’t. Bad things have been known to happen around here and if you have kids, you don’t want to buy this house.'”
“Wow! Someone actually came up to her and said that?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes, and she said when she was getting in her car, the man on the porch was staring at her. Between the neighbor woman saying that to her and seeing and feeling the man on the porch’s gaze, she, the sister-in-law, told my friend that she shouldn’t buy the house. My friend got out of the contract and decided against buying it.”
What did the neighbor woman know that compelled her to discourage someone from moving onto the street? Was she a part of the town mob thinking the man on the porch was guilty, but not truly knowing if he was or not? Or, were there other strange occurrences and incidents of which the woman was a part or aware that compelled her speak up? People felt so unsettled in their neighborhood that they were discouraging people from living there? Maybe she said something because of what happened to Cheryll. Maybe it was because people felt uncomfortable with the man on the porch always watching. Or maybe it was because she had heard the stories about the disturbing phone calls….