Cheryll Spegal died in 1971. The number one song on the radio was “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart. “The Electric Company” debuted on television that October, around the time of Cheryll’s death. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” was the most popular movie showing in theaters at the time. Richard Nixon was President. The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified that year, lowering the voting age to 18 years. And Disney World opened its doors in Orlando, Florida.
“Turn on ‘We Will’! Turn on ‘We Will’!” This is a common exclamation from my four-year-old son as he calls out from his carseat when we travel down the road. I always chuckle when he says it because this is his way of demanding that I play the song “We Will Rock You” by Queen through the car speakers. As I work on this blog, he is listening to his other favorite Queen song– “Another One Bites the Dust”–while he plays. Queen’s music is iconic– some of the most popular from the 1970s– and just the other day it dawned on me that Cheryll had never heard a note of their music before her death. She died two years before their first single was released to radio stations.
I reflect sometimes on how much has occurred in the world after 1971. Cheryll had been gone for ten years when the first woman was appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Cheryll would have been 20 years old when Sandra Day O’Connor took the bench. In 1984– the date that the first cell phone went on sale for $4,000–Cheryll would have been 23. Cheryll never lived to see the Challenger disaster. I was eight when the space shuttle exploded in the sky on television. She would have been 25. The terror attacks on the World Trade Center occurred in New York just a little over a month before what would have been Cheryll’s 40th birthday. I think that while I was a kid in the 80s, now looking back fondly on the fads, music, and fashion of the time, Cheryll would probably have been getting married and maybe having a child. It’s just so unfair. This injustice, however, fuels our quest to find the identity of the person who ended her life.
As I continued to pore over the research gathered by The United States Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Attorney General of Washington State, titled “CASE MANAGEMENT for Missing Children Homicide Investigation,” I continued to be captivated by their findings, continually comparing the information to Cheryll’s case. “Child abduction murderers were strangers to the victim in 44.4% of cases, and were family friends or acquaintances in 41.9% of the cases.” Whoever abducted and murdered Cheryll was probably someone she did not know or did not know well based on these statistics. To try and understand why this person would have done this to Cheryll is of course not for us rational people to make sense of. But when studying what motivates these killers to abduct and kill, the research strongly shows that there IS usually a sexual component to the crime. “More than two-thirds (69.2%) of child abduction murders involved a sexual motive…” and “almost one-half (46.3%) of the child abduction murders were classified as rapes….” We know this to be true in Cheryll’s case, unfortunately. Also, interestingly, “in the case of child abduction murders, there was evidence of at least one precipitating crises (or stressor) in the life of the killer…” Examples are listed as marital or relationship issues, employment or financial problems, criminal or legal problems, etc. The man on the porch may have had some stressors in his life especially with his sister moving in and dealing with her own legal problems. But could there be other possible suspects who too would have been enduring similar issues in 1971?
“The child abduction murderers overwhelming chose their victims because the opportunity presented itself (40.3%). Killers rarely chose their victims for their physical characteristics (9.7%) or because of a prior relationship with the victim (14.4%)….In 34.2% of cases the manner of initial contact with the victim is unknown.” I can’t help but think back to our time with Moira, the intuitive, who told us that the killer or killers “just did this.” She didn’t get a sense that this was a planned crime. The research also indicates that in the majority of these types of crimes “…killers came into contact with the victim because the killer lived in close proximity to the victim.” This begs the question then, who living close to Cheryll had the propensity to kill a child?
Here friends, is where I need you to put your investigative hats on with me. Like me, you will probably have to read this, and then reread it, to really process what this means for Cheryll’s case. But the information is important when trying to possibly figure out what happened to Cheryll the morning of October 19, 1971. First, there are four different sites that are outlined in a child abduction murder case– Victim Last Seen Site, Initial Contact Site, Murder Site, and Body Recovery Site. For Cheryll, the Victim Last Seen Site was either in her house as her dad saw her leave at 6:25 a.m. or at her friend’s house as she left saying she was headed to the bus stop. She may have been at the end of Rose Avenue that morning, but no one ever testified that they actually saw her there. The distance between the Victim Last Seen Site and the Initial Contact Site (where she encountered her killer or killers) “…was 199 feet or less in 64.2% of murders and 200 feet to a 1/4 mile in 15.9% of cases.” If we put Cheryll in the majority here, then whoever grabbed her had to live or be in close proximity to where she was walking that morning. If we put her in the latter group, then the person could have been at the end of the street in the bushes because that would have been between 200 feet and a quarter of a mile from the Victim Last Seen Site, however, remember, no witness has ever come forward saying Cheryll was definitely seen at the bus stop early that morning.
“The Victim Last Seen Site was within one-fourth mile of the Initial Contact Site in 79.4% of child abduction murder cases. Also, in 40.3% of the murders, the Victim Last Seen Site was less than 199 feet from the victim’s home. In 36.1%, the Victim Last Seen Site was within one-fourth mile of the killer’s home. The data show that the victim is near his or her home when last seen prior to the abduction, and that often the killer is not far away. …in 57.2% of cases, the victim lived less than one-fourth of a mile from the Initial Contact Site and less than 199 feet from the Initial Contact Site in 35.0% of cases… The initial contact between the killer and the victim was also typically very close to the victim’s last known location. In fact, it was located within less than 199 feet in 63.8% of cases.” Research also shows that the time between when a victim is last seen and when they have initial contact with their murderer usually occurs in less than 30 minutes (76.3%). For Cheryll’s case, I am going to assume that she did, in fact, encounter her killer not long after she was last seen, putting her in this 76.3%.
“The distance between the Victim Last Seen Site and Murder Site was 199 feet or less in 26.6% of child abduction murder cases. The killer transported the victim more than one-fourth mile from where the victim was last seen in 54.2% of cases.” Furthermore, in only 16% of cases was the distance further than 12 miles. Could Cheryll have been killed right there on Rose Avenue, that close to home and to her family and friends? If not and she was killed somewhere other than Rose Avenue, it could have been on New Hope Road which was almost 20 miles away. Would the killer have kept her alive and subdued all the way there, thus putting her in the 16% category? Either way at the Initial Contact Site, “The majority of killers gained control over the victim by using direct physical assault (47.2%). An additional 2.1% used verbal threats, with deception (11.6%) and victim incapacity (11.1%) used equally as often to gain control over their victims.” I have horrible visions of what this might have meant for Cheryll that morning. The time that passed for Cheryll between her Initial Contact Site and Murder Site to this day, remains unknown. In 31.8% of cases, 1-5 hours passes between these two events. In 38.1% of cases, only 0-30 minutes pass. All other amounts of time are accounted for in the study, but these are the two most common time spans. I shudder to think about how much time Cheryll had to spend with her killer.
The Murder Site is the one that is usually the most likely to be unknown in a child abduction case. That site though is usually the most rich in physical evidence. But if the law enforcement officials do not know where the child was actually killed, then they will be unable to collect that physical evidence. The Murder Site is only determined in 69.4% of these cases and it seems that Cheryll would not be included in this percentage. Quite often the Murder Site is within 199 feet of the Body Recovery Site so it is imperative that searchers look at least within 200 feet of the body to recover evidence. The papers from 1971 discussed law enforcement officials searching the surrounding area on New Hope Road for clues, but it was reported that nothing was found. If Cheryll was murdered closer to home, the killer had that whole day to discard evidence when no one was aware that Cheryll was even missing. And even after Cheryll was discovered to be missing, no one was looking for a Murder Site because they didn’t know there was a strong likelihood she had been killed at that time.
I said it a few different times already, but I’ll say it again. In order to really understand how child abduction murders occur, reading and considering the research is important especially when it can help shed some light on the events surrounding Cheryll’s case. There are just a few more points that I will highlight in the next blog entry. In the meantime, all the research and theories in the world cannot quench that nagging desire we have to figure this out. The research doesn’t diminish the anger we have about how an innocent girl had her life snuffed out for no reason. Reading the research isn’t giving us much comfort amidst the sadness we feel for the loss of Cheryll. But the research IS providing us with important logic we need in order to investigate this. And all those emotions we are feeling? They are fueling our passion and giving us motivation. Bridget and I are asking questions and time and time again, you, the readers, and Cheryll’s family, friends, and former neighbors are providing us the answers. It’s a one thousand piece puzzle, and we’re still being handed pieces everyday while more and more of us are working to put it together.
- K. Brown, R. Keppel, J. Weis, M. Skeen. CASE MANAGEMENT for Missing Children Homicide. Rob McKenna Attorney General for Washington & U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 2006. <http://www.pollyklaas.org/media/press-releases/wa-abduction-homicide-study.pdf>