One of those young men I mentioned in the last blog post seemed to catch the attention of the Highland Heights Police in 1971, but no one now is quite sure how the police came to focus on him as a suspect during the investigation. It might be that they looked at individuals living on Rose Avenue and on neighboring streets who had a known criminal history and worked to eliminate those individuals as suspects. After Cheryll’s body was discovered, the Kentucky State Police came to town to assist in the investigation. The way it’s been explained to me is that the state police came in, helped to interview a few suspects, administer lie detector tests, sought to gain confessions, and then left. They turned their findings over to the local police who then had to work on the case from there.
Here is where some confusion lies for me. A retired officer who was familiar with the case recently told me that the man on the porch was considered a person of interest in 1971. He was talked to, his work records were checked, he refused to take a lie detector test, and the police moved on to other suspects. Then, over the years, when no one was charged, people either forgot or never even knew there was also a second suspect, and the townspeople all continued to focus on the man on the porch as the likely culprit. In some people’s opinions, he may truly be the strongest suspect, but not everyone living in Highland Heights realized he was not the only suspect. And quite a few people living on Rose Avenue have often wondered what evidence the police did or did not have regarding not only the man on the porch but the other possible suspects as well.
In order to be able to answer that question, I would need to be able to read the police reports from that time which would be housed in Cheryll’s case file. As of now, I have not heard back from the Kentucky State Police about my second request for access to the file for Cheryll’s case. From what I have been told, the police will probably not release its contents because it is an open and unsolved homicide case. If the police did oblige my request and release all of the case contents, then it would set a precedent with other open cases and people could say, “You did it for her on that case, so why can’t you give me records for this case?” Therefore, to keep it fair, the state police usually deny all requests for any open records requests of an unsolved homicide case. It’s also been explained to me that the case can and probably will remain open forever. Even if all people connected to the case are deceased, the police won’t close a case on that basis. But one of my prayers throughout this endeavor is for the police to see that this case is old, cold, and crying out for an answer and may decide to make an exception. Even if they won’t let me see the file, I hope to at least talk to someone who works the cold cases to see what they still have, how they go about investigating cold cases, if there is any evidence at all, and possibly persuading that person to give Cheryll’s case a new look.
Knowing that I may never see the police file, I have figured that my best hope would be to be able to talk with someone who has seen the file, investigated the case, and/or interviewed suspects. I had been hoping to speak with a retired officer with this experience and recently, after asking a few different times, and being patient, he finally agreed to meet with Bridget and me. This former detective has actually seen the case file and investigated the case as completely as he could about twenty years after Cheryll was murdered. He agreed to talk to us at his home and I was filled with a variety of emotions leading up to the evening we were able to speak. In fact, I spent part of that day thinking of questions I wanted to ask, loose ends I wanted answers to, and finding myself fighting off nerves. Bridget and I knew this was a big deal and we didn’t want to mess it up.
As we settled into his quiet living room, I held my notebook on my lap, ready to make notes of pertinent information. I soon realized though that I was too enthralled in what he was saying to turn my attention to pen and paper. And a couple times throughout the conversation when I’d give Bridget a sideways glance, she would barely notice because she too was captivated with what he had to say.
“You could probably tell that I was putting off talking to you,” he shared with us as we began our conversation.
I smiled a little and said, “I didn’t think that. I just figured you were busy.”
He voice struck a serious tone as he began to tell us how Cheryll’s case was and still is near and dear to his heart and that he had worked very hard on solving it for years. He said opening himself up to recount all that he had discovered and learned caused a lot of emotion that was not easy to shake afterward. He had had to mentally prepare himself to talk about it again. Hearing this, made it obvious that discussing Cheryll’s murder was not something he was comfortable just sitting around chatting about casually, and it was then that I fully realized how truly special this opportunity was. Ever the investigator, he asked me to explain how I had learned about Cheryll’s case, why I was writing this blog, and what I wanted to learn from him. I answered as thoroughly as I could, hoping that he could sense how sincere I was and how committed I was as well.
It pained me to say it, but I did. “I realize that this case may not ever be solved in the traditional sense. Will someone be arrested and prosecuted in court? Probably not. Is there evidence somewhere that could contain the answer? I hope so, but I realize it’s a long shot. But can I talk to enough people–turn over some new rocks, shake some trees, so to speak–and possibly learn some new information that no one has ever shared before? That could happen. Regardless of that, I want to tell Cheryll’s story. She disappeared into the fog in 1971 but she shouldn’t disappear from people’s minds, right? I believe we can give her justice, in part, by telling her story.” The retired officer listened intently and seemed ready to get to work.
“Tell me who you’ve investigated,” he requested. I shared that we had started with the man on the porch since that is who was pointed out to me first. I thoroughly recounted everything we knew about him–his background, his family, how he was from the New Hope Road area, how he had a sister who killed her baby, how he was stalking kids and school buses, how he made creepy phone calls–all of it. Before I continued, I watched as he digested what we had just shared and after a brief pause and a breath, he finally responded.
“I can tell you that you have spoken to far more people than I ever did.” I tried my best to keep a poker face, but was beaming on the inside and as I looked at Bridget sitting next to me, I could see she was proudly beaming on the outside.
“I guess we needed to,” I responded, “because we had no police file to start with so we knew we would have to talk to people to put the story together. I will tell you that now we hear these anecdotal stories from people often and none paint the man on the porch in a favorable light.”
He nodded as if he knew that to be true then continued. “He was a weird dude. He was creepy for sure. Something wasn’t right with him and I encountered him often. I didn’t have much of a rapport with him, but a couple of times when I tried to ask him about the murder, he would get angry and insist he didn’t do it. One time I finally told him, ‘You are not doing yourself any favors with people if you didn’t do it. STOP following the school buses and watching the kids. You’re making people very uncomfortable.’ But, he’d leave the conversation and be right back at it. It’s like he was sick– he couldn’t help himself.”
Then I asked the question I had been waiting to ask. “So do you think he killed Cheryll?”
His answer was immediate. “No, I don’t. He was being weird in the 1960s. He was a creepy man in the 1970s. Cheryll was murdered and guess what? He was still watching kids in the 1970s, and in the 80s and in the 90s. It went on and on. Nothing changed in his behavior. Do I think he did all that for years and one random morning he snatched Cheryll and brutally killed her? No. Do I think he got off on watching little kids? Yeah, he was a sick dude. I could just never make the leap from that to that he murdered her.”
He continued. “When I opened that police file and I read through everything that was in there, I thought the answer was so obvious. It jumped off the page at me. I am absolutely certain that _________ killed her.” The blank line you see there? In audio form it would contain a beep sound. That blank is where he said the name of the person I had heard about from that other police officer I happened to chat with at a police gathering and also several Rose Avenue residents. Now, hearing it from a police investigator, was like an “oh shit” moment. The possibility of the second suspect being the perpetrator suddenly got very real– as real as the likelihood it was the man on the porch.
“Will you tell us why you think it’s him?” I asked with a slight hesitation. We were on the precipice of what could be some new revelations and I knew then that I’d either be convinced one way or the other, or be left with more uncertainty. Bridget and I looked at each other for a moment. I squeezed the pen in my hand to prepare to take notes. I felt myself swallow hard and then I focused intently as he answered the question….