When Cheryll disappeared from Highland Heights in 1971, the town police investigated her disappearance. They were a small department with limited resources, but by all accounts they were doing their best to try to find her throughout the 13 days she was missing. Once her body was discovered in Pendleton County, the Kentucky State Police took over the case because Pendleton County was their jurisdiction at the time, meaning they were the police agency in charge of all of Pendleton County. This was fortunate because the state police obviously had more resources to help investigate Cheryll’s murder and they could then partner with the local police to work on the case (though there is some discussion about a power struggle between the two departments regarding who was really in charge and how much information was shared between the two agencies).
To this day, the entire case file is housed with the state police. I have written to the state police requesting access to the police file and my request was denied because it was “not specific” enough. I have since sent another letter with more specific requests and expect a reply soon. My guess is that they will deny all of my requests since Cheryll’s case is an open one. They do not hand over the whole file of an unsolved murder to any random person who requests it. I understand that. But I have yet to discover who, if anyone, is “working” on her case currently. If there is someone working on it, I am sure that by now, some of the people with whom I have spoken would be telling me that they have heard from the state police as well and no one has told me they have. But I am committed to finding out who specifically with the state police is currently “in charge” of Cheryll’s case and am eager to speak with that person. I’m curious to know all there is to know about the case of course, but of utmost importance is to discover what physical evidence exists, though I’ve been told by various authorities that very little physical evidence was collected and what the police had may have been lost. As far as we know, the police never recovered a single shred of Cheryll’s clothes or a murder weapon. Without knowing she was dead during those 13 days, it is questionable as to whether any physical evidence was collected by the police from possible suspects either.
For years, the “company line” regarding Cheryll’s case has always been: “The police knew who did it but they just couldn’t prove it.” I cannot count the number of times people told me that when I asked about Cheryll’s murder. Hearing that line still burns my ass. They know who did it and just couldn’t prove it?? Ugh. Maybe they should have said, “We never had enough evidence to prove who did it.” Just like wanting to know more about the man on the porch when I started this endeavor, I wanted to know more about this simple statement as well. Who did they think did it? Why couldn’t they prove it? Who even is “they?” “They,” the local police? “They,” the state police? Do all of “the police” agree about who did it? These answers are elusive and as I began talking to police officers familiar with the case I also learned that the answers vary depending on to whom I am speaking.
Before I begin delving into the police investigation of Cheryll’s case, I have to explain something about the man on the porch. I started researching him from the beginning of this endeavor since he was the only person I had ever been told may have been involved in Cheryll’s murder. My introduction to Cheryll’s story started with him being pointed out to me that summer day all those years ago, so I set out to learn all that I could about him. Honestly, I was thinking at the time, “What if everyone pointed the finger at this man and he didn’t do it?” I wasn’t sure what I would discover about him. I knew I’d either be unable to find anything substantial pointing to his involvement or the opposite would happen. I must admit, I discovered so much more than I ever expected that makes him seem to me to be a very strong suspect.
What I didn’t know when I started this endeavor was how closely the police looked at the man on the porch as a suspect or if there were any other suspects at the time. What I now know is that as a part of the police investigation, the man on the porch was, eventually, considered to be a person of interest. At some point, the police did talk to him and checked to see if he was at work on the morning of October 19, 1971. What we have learned from former police officers is that the man on the porch was supposedly clocked in at work that morning thus potentially eliminating him as a suspect. From here, I don’t know how much more the police looked at him or if they moved on from him being a suspect at this point, only to revisit him later as his behavior caught their attention. (Side note– in recent years people have come forward saying that a gentleman who worked with the man on the porch admitted that he clocked him in that day and that he was not actually there. This is hearsay at this point and probably cannot be proven to be true or untrue almost 50 years later.) What I’d really like to know is if whether the police at the time knew about the man on the porch’s familial connection to New Hope Road, if he ever did agree to take a polygraph test and if he did, whether one was actually administered on him.
And now almost a year later, having researched and recounted all that I could about this possible suspect–the man on the porch–a new door opens, revealing that there could also be another suspect. The timing was so fascinating. I was at the point where I could find no more information about the man on the porch, questioning where I could go from here, when a whole new person emerged. I said from the beginning that I would pursue any avenue revealed to me and even though this twist wasn’t expected, I felt like I was being called to get started learning all I could about this as well. It’s like the “gods” knew I could only focus on one person at a time and gave me time to work on person #1 before revealing person #2.
After my conversation with the police officer who told me there was another suspect at the time, I took a few days to consider what to do next. I did feel like I was starting all over again, but because I have been asking Cheryll to point me to where I need to go, I knew I had to start from the top learning all I could about the other suspect. I have to confess that I was trying to even convince myself that that officer may be totally incorrect. I mean, no one else had ever mentioned this name or this possibility at all–maybe he was mistaken or even just completely off base. But then I started receiving messages and phone calls from several former residents of Rose Avenue–men and women–some who were children in 1971 and some who were adults.
The first message came through one sunny afternoon as I stood outside watching my kids play. My phone buzzed and I looked to see a new message in my inbox. “Hi Beth. I have been reading the blog and was curious to know whether you knew that some people from Rose Avenue suspected a guy who lived on the street.”
“Really?“ I typed with one hand, while curving my hand over the phone screen, to eliminate the glare with the other. “I have not heard this, only about the man on the porch. Is that who you mean or someone else?”
The response appeared. “Someone else. He was a mean guy and we were afraid of him.” Someone else? I thought. Not only had the cop told me about another suspect, but now I’m hearing the residents of the street suspected someone else as well. So much for only revealing one person at a time, I thought.
“Would you be willing to share his name with me?” I typed back, so like the others, I would know who I should investigate.
And then the reply appeared and I will never forget that moment–when I looked at the screen and saw the name in print. It felt like a bolt of lightning struck the top of my head, raced through my body, and the bottoms of my shoes were pasted to the ground. I couldn’t move. It was the same name that the officer had told me just days earlier. My mind was blown. The timing was so odd. Suddenly, I was met with the same name again. It felt like this message had been sent to give me a huge nudge. As if I had been standing in a vacuum for a moment, the sounds of my kids squealing in the distance brought me back to reality as I looked to see them happily chasing a red cardinal playfully flying about the grassy yard.
** I need to revisit something I discussed in an earlier blog post. Because all people discussed as possible suspects in Cheryll’s murder are presumed innocent until proven otherwise, I will not be writing their names. If the police currently investigating the case decide to close it, agree to share details of it with me, or agree to discuss it publicly, then I will disclose the names of those investigated in the blog. Or, if under the Freedom of Information Act the file is sent to me, then I will be granted the freedom to share it with you, the readers. In the meantime, all information shared with me has been done with the condition of anonymity and I will continue to honor that.