My family and friends have grown used to me sharing random thoughts that come to my mind regarding Cheryll’s case. This evening was no different. As my husband and I sat together watching TV, I sighed. Sensing something was bothering me, he asked what I was thinking. I shared, “I don’t know, it just feels like they quit the case.”
“Who?” he asked, puzzled.
“The police,” I replied matter of factly, staring at him intently.
“They didn’t just quit the case,” he said with slight sarcasm in his voice as he looked away, continuing to watch TV.
“I know they said that back then they wanted a confession and a murder weapon to make it a tidy case and when they didn’t have it, things quickly went cold, but I can’t help but wonder why.” I explained.
Like usual, my husband reasoned with me. “You already know that they interviewed people, searched cars, gave people lie detector tests, checked work records, and other stuff, so I’d say they were following up, but they probably didn’t get enough solid evidence to go somewhere with it.” He was right–the cops did do all of those things, so I ended the conversation.
Sometimes I know better than to argue with my husband, the cop, about other cops because–though he says he can–it seems to me that he cannot separate that part of himself from how he views many things. But, he will concede that police practices have come a long way in the past 50 years, and like I’ve said before, Cheryll was, unfortunately, a victim of time in many regards, including how police investigated cases.
We live in an era where science plays a huge part in cases and anymore we anticipate and almost expect some DNA evidence to help tie a suspect to a crime. As we look at Cheryll’s case in 2019, we all wonder what evidence might still exist that contains even the smallest amount of DNA. The idea of there being no DNA is so disappointing to consider because we know how critical it is for solving cases. So naturally, back in 1971, before anyone understood how DNA worked, the cops and investigators relied on the training they had to help solve the case. And to be honest, the training then was minimal for small town cops investigating the homicide of a girl. The state police lent their expert services for about a week, and then the local police were left to continue investigating on their own. Did they have training in effective interrogation techniques? Did they understand how body language can tell someone a lot about the person to whom they are talking? Did they know how to properly search for evidence and how to gather it? They didn’t have years of research about homicides of children at their disposal like they do now, so they asked questions, poked around for evidence, and tried to get people to talk, but when nothing came to fruition, what did they do then? Sometimes you hear that more cases come along and the investigators get busy with those and cases like Cheryll’s just go in a drawer, no longer being actively worked on because newer cases are more pressing and take precedent. But if that’s what happened, I question what other cases truly came along that would have been more pressing than Cheryll’s unsolved murder?
I wish I could talk to the original investigators, but almost every single one of them is now deceased. Cops who worked on the case in the 1980s and later have opinions about who the primary suspect was and is, but they were not the original investigators. Did the original investigators agonize over Cheryll being missing? Did they work round the clock trying to locate her? Were they losing sleep at night trying to think of where she could be? Once her body was discovered, were they sick about the murder? Did they have that fire in their bellies to solve the case? Did they declare they wouldn’t rest until the murderer was arrested and the case closed? If I could talk to them now, would they tell me this is the case that haunted them for their whole lives? Would they say there are things they would have done differently? Or, would they say with confidence that they did their very best and are satisfied with the amount of time they put into investigating the case? Would they tell me that they revisited the case every so often and followed up when new leads that came their way? Would they be able to tell me who they think the murderer was and that they just couldn’t gather enough evidence against that person to charge him? Or would they echo what the papers back then reported–that there were no leads, no evidence, and no main suspects?
And I do have a couple of “what ifs.” What if, when the case wasn’t a tidy package, the cops threw their hands in the air after some time and admitted they couldn’t figure it out, and that was it? What if, when the investigating got tough, instead of staying the course, they chose to shelf it? What if there was, at the least, lazy police practices involved and at the most, deliberate halting of the investigation? Could any outside forces have motivated the cops to “forget” this case? There have been several bits of information shared with me about connections the suspects had, the police had, and the suspects’ families had, where wealth and power could have factored in to this case being forgotten. It’s hard to discern whether this information is based in fact or in lore at this point, but one can’t help but consider who could have influenced whom regarding the solving of this case. This is uncomfortable for me to discuss because I am a part of the blue, law enforcement family that has my constant support and respect, but I’m also a person who can acknowledge that not all investigators and their work ethic are alike and not every victim is provided a fair path toward justice.
I don’t know enough about the original investigation….yet….to say with total confidence how any of the questions above would be answered, but in fairness to the story, I have to consider all of the possibilities. And last, where is the oversight? Once the local police were left to investigate, who checked in on them to monitor their progress and their commitment to solving the case? Was there any oversight then? If they quickly decided to shelf the investigation into Cheryll’s case, would they have been held to account by any governing agency? These questions are ones that I hope to be able to discuss with the state police someday.
“Even hardcore assholes have nightmares and need to talk about it.” Someone once said that to me and I can’t help but consider the meaning of it in regard to Cheryll’s case. This statement has two big ideas for me. First, as I reflect on the police investigators being haunted by Cheryll’s unsolved murder, I also think– what about the person who killed her and the possible accomplices who helped cover up her murder? Were they haunted? Did they see what they did to Cheryll in their dreams? Did Cheryll haunt them from the grave for their whole lives? Did they live tormented lives, unable to escape the memories of the girl they killed? And also, did they ever talk? Did the murderer(s) confide in anyone? Did they yell out in their sleep and someone overheard it? Were there any deathbed confessions that have yet to be shared? Were there drug or alcohol induced outbursts where secrets were spilled? There are good people out there who knew the people involved, whether they realize it or not. The person(s) who killed Cheryll had families and friends. Maybe you, the reader, are one of those people. And if you are, maybe you know something, and maybe you don’t. My prayer to Cheryll and for Cheryll as her story continues to be told and continues to intertwine people together, is for the reminder of her loss to touch the memories and the hearts of people who might know something, and inspire them to share what they know. It’s time for Cheryll and her story to be lifted out of the fog and back into the light.