For many years, a neighborhood grocery store stood just down the highway from Rose Avenue where townspeople would shop for their groceries. Many locals remember the store fondly, having patronized the business because it was close to the little streets and neighborhoods in Highland Heights. Much like many other small businesses in the area, the grocery store closed several years ago when the bigger supermarket chains moved into town. I’ve spoken to quite a few people who worked at the town grocery store when they were younger–some worked during the morning hours and others worked at night. Some were clerks, one was a butcher, and another worked at the film kiosk. But with all of these people, there is one thing they have in common. They all vividly remember the man on the porch. The people who worked in the morning remember him coming in almost every morning to buy a few things and to talk to the young ladies working there. Some of those young ladies remember trying to hide when they’d see him coming because of how uncomfortable he made them feel when he was there. “He was just so creepy because he’d linger and stare,” one former employee of the store told me. “He always smelled so bad….like stale beer and body odor,” another shared. When his truck would pull in the parking lot, some recall how they’d scramble to be busy elsewhere in the store in order to avoid him.
One former employee of the store–a young man at the time–talked to the man on the porch often, as he was a regular there in the mornings. He felt that the man on the porch was harmless–somewhat creepy–but harmless. During some of their chats, the man on the porch would share stories about him being an over the road trucker. He drove his truck long distances for a trucking company but after some time, he had to end his career. “One day he told me–and I’ll never forget how he said it–he told me he had to quit driving his truck because ‘he lost his nerve.’ And I remember thinking that that was an odd thing to say. I thought maybe he meant it was becoming too difficult to drive a truck that big and maintain control of it on those long trips, but I’ve sometimes wondered what he meant when he said that.” I too am curious about this comment. Maybe he did actually lose his nerve driving a large 18 wheeler and knew it was time to hang up his hat. But my mind drifts. Where was he driving to? And for how long? For how many years had he been making these trips?
And there is the tale of the neighbor.
A woman living very close to the man on the porch encountered him, of course, many times through the years when they were neighbors. Throughout the time that they lived by each other, on about four separate occasions, she came home to find the man on the porch IN HER HOUSE! In her house. He’d always have an excuse–he heard a noise and wanted to check it out, he thought he saw a prowler, etc. and once she arrived home, he’d leave. Of course the question is, what in the hell was he doing inside of his female neighbor’s house?? And these were the times that she had come home to find him there. How many other times might he have come and gone without her knowing? I play this scene out in my head and it terrifies me. The thought of coming home to see your neighbor standing there inside of YOUR home, is frightening to say the least.
And then there is the tale of the HVAC repair man.
One night, I was able to speak to a gentleman who, years prior, had been called to work on the HVAC at the man on the porch’s house on a couple of different occasions. He shared with me that “he was a strange man.” He said that usually, the man on the porch would follow him to the basement while he worked on the unit, and when he did that, he’d just ramble on to the HVAC man while he was working.
“I was used to hearing him talk about things. But there was this one time when things became very strange. It was the mid-1990s and another girl had recently gone missing from a town south of here. It had been all over the local news and somehow he got to talking about the case while I was in his basement working and he seemed absolutely fascinated by her story. And he told me that her disappearance was done by ‘a bunch of amateurs.’ And when he said that, as he stood behind me while I was working, the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. It was creepy. He knew all about her extended family and people they had had dealings with. He was dropping all kinds of names of people he thought were connected to her disappearance. But mostly he wanted me to know that he was convinced of the crime being done by ‘amateurs’.”
“You didn’t happen to see anything odd when you were in his house did you?” I asked him.
“The whole thing was odd. He lived there with his mother and it wasn’t very well kept. I didn’t like being in his basement, but that is because he was down there talking about the missing girl.”
The missing girl? Ah yes, another girl had gone missing. But she, Erica Fraysure, disappeared under completely different circumstances. Her story, and that of Cheryll, are separated by 26 years (almost to the day) and 15 miles. 17-year-old Erica disappeared one night after hanging out with friends and being in the company of a male acquaintance. Her car and belongings were found, but she has never been located. You, the reader, can research her story more, but I find it interesting that the man on the porch was intrigued by Erica’s story. Why was he so captivated with it? Why would he call the individual(s) responsible for her disappearance ‘amateurs’ when they covered their tracks well enough that she’s still never been found? Does it matter that there is a mere 15 mile separation between New Hope Road and Brooksville, Kentucky where Erica was last seen?
What is to be made of these stories–more of them–trickling in about encounters with the man on the porch? They all fit in with the other tales we’ve heard involving him. Was he a creepy man with some voyeuristic tendencies who, in reality, would shrink away from confrontation? Did he get off on making people– mainly girls– uncomfortable, while in actuality he would never be able to physically assault a person? Or, could he have acted on some deep desire one foggy morning and Cheryll paid for that act with her life? I go back and forth with this in my head and obviously, I still don’t know. But I do know that for some time in Highland Heights many people thought that the last question above would have been answered with a strong ‘yes.’
Most mornings, my path to work takes me past Rose Avenue as I travel the highway to get to my job. As my car begins rolling closer to the entrance to Rose Avenue, without fail, I think of Cheryll. Sometimes I say her name out loud. Other times I say a quiet prayer for her. And other times, I fixate on the opening to the street for a moment, envisioning a child walking toward it, thinking of what could have happened on that foggy morning. Was there a person waiting in the shrubs? Was there a car laying in wait? Did someone approach her on foot? Did a car roll past her slowly on the street? Even with all of the research, I don’t have a clear vision of how that morning played out. It frustrates me and it haunts me.
Some of the original Rose Avenue residents still live there and remember Cheryll and that time vividly. There is a new generation of people living on the street now, however, and I wonder what they know and if they even know at all. Sometimes in the mornings when I pass by that street, small children are outside waiting for the bus and I fight this awful longing inside of me to yell to them, “Don’t stand there!” but of course I don’t. Now, I see parents sitting in cars at the end of the street, watching their children wait for the bus. Oh how times have changed.
But there is still another question to explore. What if we’ve yet to discover who did this to Cheryll? What if it was totally random, the crime committed by a person who has never been on the radar of the police? Could someone–a predator, a serial killer– driving on the highway that day have driven by and seen her? It seems so unlikely, so improbable, that it’s easy to dismiss the notion–I certainly did. But then one day, I discovered the name of a man abducting girls– off of neighborhood streets– as they walked to school –just across the river in Ohio– in the late 1960s and in the 1970s, and I realized with horror that it might not be so improbable after all.