“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.
“I read the file and I heard the recordings of the state police interviewing him. If you could listen to the police interrogation tapes, you would know. It’s what he said and how he said it.” I stared straight at him as he kept talking. “First, his car had been completely cleaned out, the trunk too. It was spotless. That raised suspicions.” I noted this as he continued.
“On the tapes, he volunteered that he was the last person to see Cheryll that day. The detective asked him how he knew that and he said he assumed so because he saw her that morning on the street. He said he was driving up the street in his car and asked her if she wanted a ride to school and she said ‘no’ so he continued on his way.”
“Oh wow,” I said in reaction, feeling the air sort of leave my lungs for a moment. This was something we had not heard before.
“There was some talk about his whereabouts that day and what he’d been up to, the usual type of conversation. At some point they asked him if he had any weapons on him and he said he did and pulled a pocket knife out of his pocket. On the tape, the state investigators asked him to show them his knife and as they were looking at it, one of the local cops sort of yelled out, ‘We know you were stealing milk trucks!’ and it derailed the line of questioning. As far as I know, he put the pocket knife away and they didn’t collect it from him.”
I could feel my face scrunch up in confusion. “Why did the local cop chime in about stolen milk trucks?” I asked.
He shrugged a little. “It was strange. The state police were making headway and when the he did that, there was a definite shift and they couldn’t get him to talk much more after that moment.” I too found it odd, thinking this might be another example of how the local police might not have been well-trained in interviewing people.
“But do you think a pocket knife could have been used to stab her to death?” I questioned, sort of doubtful. I always imagined something with a big blade or a tool of some sort–maybe I’ve seen too many horror movies, I don’t know.
“Yes, you can kill someone with a pocket knife, especially when you stab them a lot of times,” he replied matter of factly.
A question came to mind. “Did he have an alibi for that morning?” I asked.
“As far as I could tell he wasn’t working then so they couldn’t check time cards or anything. I’m not sure that in 1971 they could establish his alibi so that helped keep him on their radar.” I paused for a moment, contemplating what to ask next, but he continued. “Back when I was investigating the case, I got a phone call one day at the police department. A man identified himself as a friend of the suspect’s and said he was not in good health and that he had something he wanted to get off of his chest. I asked him what it was and he said it had to do with the murder of ‘that little girl from Highland Heights’. And you know, it was so odd. Here I had been working to investigate the case, and I was the one who fielded the phone call that day.”
His recollection continued. “I told him that yes, I knew what case he was referring to and then he said, ‘Well, _______asked me to say I was with him if the police asked. So when the police did ask….I lied…and said I had been with him. But….I hadn’t been with him at all that day.'” The officer paused for a moment as I was laser focused on his words. He continued. “I said to him, ‘Well then what about _______ passing the lie detector test? He said, ‘That’s because he took a quaalude beforehand.’ I asked him how he would be able to prove what he was saying and he said he would ask _____ to meet him to talk and see if he could get him to talk about the events of that day. I told him to try and set up a time to talk and to let me know what came of it. I followed up with this guy later and he said that _____ would never agree to meet with him so he didn’t get anything out of him.”
I blinked hard and questioned what I had just heard. “He PASSED a lie detector test?”
“Yes, it was in the file that he passed,” the officer acknowledged.
Bridget and I exchanged a glance. “Interesting…., “ I reflected out loud. “And do you think based on that call that this former friend was telling the truth?”
“I do. Why would someone call like that out of the blue? He had nothing to gain from it. And it felt like he really did want to get it off of his chest. I’m not sure, but I heard he died not long after that phone call so maybe he felt better after he called. I don’t know.”
“What if HE, the caller, was more connected to the murder than he let on? Like what if he felt guilty because he participated in it,” I said glancing at Bridget who nodded.
“He DID feel guilty about his part in it since he supplied the alibi. I didn’t get the sense that he had anything more to do with Cheryll’s death if that’s what you mean besides providing the alibi. He didn’t kill Cheryll.”
“Okay, so the circumstantial evidence against ______ is that he said he saw her that morning. He cleaned out his car really well. He had a pocket knife on him during the interview. He passed a polygraph though it could be because he took something beforehand. And he didn’t have a solid alibi. But he was a drug guy. He stole cars supposedly. What is his motive to pick up a girl and kill her like that?”
“At the time he had a young girlfriend, 14 years old or something like that. There were reports of other young teenage girls saying that he had propositioned them. That seemed to be the age he was interested in. When I was working the case, we went and interviewed that former girlfriend who was obviously older by then. When she sat there with us, she seemed normal and calmly answered our questions, but when I finally got to the point and asked her about him, she literally started having a seizure. She was shaking and couldn’t talk and her husband at the time told us time was up and that we had to leave. Her reaction to just hearing his name was so severe she had a seizure so what does that say?”
“What does that say?” I asked quickly. “She knew something? She was a part of it? Or she just had bad memories?”
“I think she probably knew something, but was so afraid of him or so traumatized by whatever had happened in the past, it’s like her mind wouldn’t let her go there. We weren’t able to get any details from her.” We all sat quietly for a moment. I felt myself take a big, audible breath as Bridget sat quietly next to me also digesting the information.
My mind was racing when suddenly New Hope Road popped into my head. “So then, what’s HIS connection to New Hope Road? The man on the porch had such a strong connection to that road. Did they know each other? Spend time together out there? I can’t figure out how this second suspect would have known about that road.”
“His young girlfriend was supposedly from out that way. There was a junkyard near where Cheryll was found where he was known to dump his car parts and he very likely could have used the dump on New Hope Road to dispose of some of the remnants of stolen cars. I am sure he’d been out that way before.”
Bridget chimed in with a follow up question. “What about the man on the porch? Did they possibly know each other?”
“No, I don’t think they did. They weren’t known to interact. The man on the porch kept to himself and wasn’t hanging out with these guys. He liked to drink on his porch, drive around, and watch people. I don’t think he was into drugs and cars like the group ______ ran around with.”
In a clear and direct voice, Bridget then asked perhaps the most important question. “So what do YOU think happened that morning?” And with that, he laid out his theory for the morning of October 19, 1971 and by the time he finished with his explanation, I felt a rush of sadness and deflation come over me like a strong ocean wave, weighing me down in a blanket of emotion and confusion.