When Bridget and I made the drive to New Hope Road, we knew then that someone had to have been familiar with the location. It was not a road that one would just stumble upon. I think at this point, everyone can agree that whoever took Cheryll out there, had some prior knowledge, experience, or familiarity with that road. Who that person is has been a lingering, unanswered question.
We discovered a lot of information regarding the man on the porch’s family tree and his living arrangements in 1971 when Cheryll disappeared. What about before that? What was his story? What brought him to Highland Heights? I was digging to find as much as I could about him and, like usual, asking Cheryll to help me when, one day, a new message appeared in my inbox. It was like the heavens opened and so many answers came pouring out. I felt as if Cheryll had answered my prayer. Reading the contents of the message was a watershed moment for me and a turning point in my investigation of Cheryll’s case. Here is what I learned: the man on the porch’s maternal grandfather lived on New Hope Road, as did his uncle and his cousins. At one point, his parents and his sister (the one who murdered her baby) lived on New Hope Road with his grandparents, a year or so before he was born. After that, he and his sister lived with their grandma and possibly an aunt for some time in that very area of Pendleton County and they spent a lot of time on New Hope Road, hanging out with their extended family, mostly cousins on their mother’s side of the family. After the man on the porch moved out of Pendleton County and eventually made his way to Highland Heights, living with his mom and stepdad, he continued to travel to Pendleton County, sometimes several times a week. When he did make his way south, he was often seen in the town of Foster, sometimes just driving around, sometimes accompanying another local man who was a carpet installer on his jobs, and other times visiting his family on New Hope Road. And also, he was known to have been on the very road where Cheryll was found from time to time…dumping trash.
I frantically read and reread the message. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking a little. The words of the Somebody Knows Something podcast were ringing in my ears. “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.” Finally, someone living in the vicinity of Cheryll had a mighty strong connection to New Hope Road. I couldn’t call Bridget fast enough. I was reading the words from the email to Bridget out loud, stumbling through the words. We were both stunned.
A week later, a separate person, independent of the first person who contacted me, wrote to me to tell me the same information, explaining the man on the porch’s connection to New Hope Road. This source also shared that before Cheryll’s body had been discovered, the man on the porch was seen with brown stains on his shirt. He was questioned and he told people it was rust from a hot water heater he had helped a cousin move. People living down there then, found this to be very unsettling and quite frankly, they didn’t believe him, but at the time didn’t know the significance. Other locals in Pendleton County said that when there were quiet whispers about their suspicions of this man, the police would tell them confidently that a man from Highland Heights was the main suspect, to assuage their concerns. With the discovery of this information a light bulb went off in our minds. The police said the suspect lived in Highland Heights while the locals always steadfastly believed it had to be a person who knew the area. The man on the porch fit both these descriptions. All of this time, could the police and the locals both have been correct in their opinions without really realizing it? Could they have been talking about the same person?
But, is the man on the porch the resident the police were referring to back then? Did the police know about the man on the porch’s strong ties to New Hope Road? Or could there be another resident of Highland Heights that they suspected who might also be tied to that road in some way? We have yet to learn how thoroughly the man on the porch was investigated. And how soon after Cheryll disappeared was he questioned? What are the chances that the brown stained shirt he was seen wearing was collected by the police? Unfortunately by the time the police may have questioned the man, his shirt may have been long gone.
Back in blog post #7, when I wrote about Cheryll’s body being discovered on New Hope Road, I called it No Hope Road. Chances are that that isolated country road was the place that a girl violently lost her life on her 10th birthday. I still get a sick feeling in the pit in my stomach when I think about it. I sometimes force myself to play it out in my head to remember why telling this story matters. But something remarkable happened as we began learning about the man on the porch’s connection to that road. A new hope was surging through my body. While this information was circumstantial to him committing the murder, it sure felt like a huge clue that we were discovering. No Hope Road for Cheryll’s life was New Hope Road possibly for Cheryll’s case. Maybe the name of the road wasn’t about Cheryll. Maybe it is about the rest of us finding a newly renewed hope to solve this case.
On a beautiful spring day I stopped in the office of Highland Cemetery to inquire about Cheryll’s grave. The lady in the office was helpful, but also all business when I told her I needed to learn about specifications needed by the headstone company to order a headstone for a burial site.
“Do you know the section number?” she asked matter of factly. I answered with the section number AND the grave number. I had come prepared.
“What is the decedent’s last name?”
“What is the year of death?”
“1971,” I answered. She looked up from her desk, looking a little surprised.
“1971? And you’re here to talk about putting in a headstone now?”
“Yes.” I responded with confidence.
“Are you family?” she asked with a slight tone of condescension in her voice.
“No, but it’s for a girl who is in an unmarked grave and it’s something that I and some friends want to do for her.” The middle-aged, well-dressed woman again looked up from her desk at me, somewhat puzzled so I continued. “She was murdered and it’s never been solved so we want to get her a headstone.”
She paused, looking as if it was dawning on her that this was a conversation she didn’t often have during a routine day of work. “Okay, because it’s been so long since the death, it shouldn’t be a problem. We can’t pull the headstone up once it’s been put down; that’s the only thing. If the family would come to put one in, they’d have to do it beside the one you put in. Let me see if there is anything in the file.” And off she went into the records room. I have to admit that even then I was hopeful. Maybe there had been a misunderstanding about Cheryll’s headstone and some truth was about to be revealed. She returned to her desk after a brief moment saying, “Yeah, the file is empty.”
“There is nothing there?” I asked, feeling sort of surprised as my heart dropped a little.
“No. It doesn’t appear that there was a headstone ever ordered,” she said as she set the file folder aside. She could probably see the look of disappointment on my face and therefore felt compelled to explain. Her voice softened a bit. “There are more unmarked graves here than you’d probably think. It doesn’t necessarily mean the family didn’t care. Don’t read into it too much. Sometimes they don’t have the money to pay for a headstone and other times people have the burial and never come back. Cemeteries are not comforting to some people. And we respect that.”
I thought about what she had just said and softly replied, “That makes sense,” though I’m not sure I entirely meant it. With that, the woman handed me a paper with specifications for the area in which Cheryll is buried to take to the headstone company. Being there in that office made this whole experience more real and though the empty file saddened me, I was inspired to get to work raising more money for Cheryll’s headstone.
I thanked the woman for her help and headed to the door. As I was leaving she called out to me, “Miss…” I stopped and turned to look at her. She stood in front of her desk and said firmly, “It’s a good thing….what you’re doing for her. If you need anything, come back to see me. Good luck to you.” In the midst of all the sadness, heartbreak, and horror of Cheryll’s story, her kind words really touched me that day. It’s as if I were making arrangements for a beloved family member. I walked out into the sunshine and breathed the fresh air to calm the tears that had welled up in my eyes, then I got in my car to drive down the lane to visit Cheryll’s grave.