“If Cheryll’s family wasn’t involved in her murder, then who did they think killed her?” I have been asked this question numerous times by readers of the blog and I have often wondered the same thing. I cannot imagine how maddening it would be to have a child killed and not know who did it. I’m convinced it would drive me insane thinking that it could be any adult that I knew and a person whom my child may have encountered–someone from the neighborhood, school, a trusted family member or friend, someone we knew in passing…anyone.
Late one night I laid in bed–the house dark and almost silent–the only noise coming from the furnace. It had been a particularly busy week and I hadn’t had much time to work on Cheryll’s case. But in that quiet moment, Cheryll was on my mind as I laid there in the dark, staring at the ceiling, knowing sleep would soon come. I whispered, “What do you want me to know?” while laying very still, trying to quiet my thoughts and settle my energy. I took a deep breath, and felt the air fill my lungs, and as I slowly exhaled, I quietly repeated the question. “What do you want me to know?” I must have fallen asleep soon after, not knowing that Cheryll would be answering that question in the coming days.
In the midst of a hectic day, my phone alerted me that I had a new email. I looked down and read the opening lines of the message as a surge of energy quickly passed from my feet to the top of my head. “I am so intrigued by the blog and so excited to find it. Let me introduce myself….” And this message led to the exchange of a few more where I found myself having the opportunity to correspond with a person more closely related to Cheryll than most others with whom I have spoken. The sender of the email went on to explain that though she is a relative of Cheryll’s, she never knew her because she was born after Cheryll was killed. Through the years, she would Google Cheryll’s name and see if any new information would appear and to her surprise, this time when she did that she saw that there was a blog about the case. “Anything in particular you’d like to ask?” she offered, willing to help, but also cautioning that she knew only a little about the murder and the circumstances of it. Here are a few questions that I asked and that she was able to answer:
“What became Cheryll’s stepmom, Shirley?”
“Shirley is still alive…however she suffers from severe dementia. She was an alcoholic and she never talked about Cheryll. There was, however, a lot of negative talk about Cheryll’s (biological) mom.”
“I’m curious as to what the family thought happened. I’ve talked to a few people who knew Billy Joe (work buddies, neighbors, etc.) who said that he only said ‘the police know who did it but can’t prove it,’ but never elaborated on who that person was. Did the family ever talk about it amongst themselves? Did they remember her on her birthday/death day?”
“They didn’t talk much about Cheryll. But all of the newspaper clippings about Cheryll’s story were kept. Billy was involved in racing (working on cars I believe) and someone he knew well from the track asked him how Cheryll was about 2 years after her murder. He was suspicious of him.”
“Why no headstone?”
She indicated that she was not aware that Cheryll had no headstone until she read the blog. “We were so sad to find that out. What’s even more sad is that each brother received money after the passing of Billy and yet they didn’t feel the need to purchase one. That really bothered me upon finding that out.”
Through my exchange with this relative of Cheryll’s, I also came to gain an even greater sense that the brothers were very broken over the death of their sister. Therapy wasn’t a normal option for children in 1971 and it seems like the solution they had for the pain and unanswered questions surrounding Cheryll’s death was to simply not discuss it. I’m also wondering if Cheryll’s brothers had/have no idea that a headstone was never purchased for their sister. If the family moved on and closed that door, maybe they found no comfort in visiting the cemetery and as a result do not know there had been nothing there. Maybe it isn’t so much that they decided not to buy her one, but possibly they didn’t realize she didn’t have one to begin with. Billy Joe and his second wife were flawed people and in retrospect may have been callous in their behaviors and seeming lack of emotion after the horrible murder. I’ve come to accept that I will not completely understand it, but have to recognize that people navigate through life differently than I do and I truly don’t ever want to find out how I would react in a similar circumstance.
I also felt more sure than before that the Spegals didn’t have a strong sense of who the murderer could have been. One relative on Cheryll’s mom’s side said they had been told that it might be a strange neighbor who lived nearby. Now I was hearing that Cheryll’s dad thought that maybe an acquaintance from the car club he belonged to might have been the guy because he asked about Cheryll. Other extended members of the Spegal family have also said that if Billy Joe had a strong suspicion about someone he and his extended family would have been the type to take matters in their own hands and avenge the murder. That didn’t happen so it makes me even more strongly suspect that they really just had no idea who did it.
And in case I needed further validation about the information, it came in a short side note from the same relative: “My mother, being the superstitious person she is, even took me to and from school on my 10th birthday…because oddly enough, we share the exact same birthday of October 19.” There was that date again! Of course! It was both astounding and unsurprising at the same time. Like so many times before, Cheryll sent me one of those blatantly obvious signs that she heard and was answering that question I had asked her in the dark of night. More puzzle pieces were gently being laid in place by the other little girl who shared that same birthday, helping to guide this puzzle from beyond the fog into which she disappeared.
Have you ever had an occasion to meet someone new and a connection was formed with the person immediately? For Bridget and me, that person has been our friend, Jill. She’s one of those people with whom Bridget and I crossed paths while on our journey of working on Cheryll’s case and it can’t be explained other than Jill was placed in our lives at this time for a reason. Jill is a high school acquaintance of my mother-in-law and admittedly only loosely followed this blog and Cheryll’s story. When Bridget and I first met her and found ourselves engaging in an hours-long conversation, we quickly realized that Jill’s spiritual insight was a blessing and an aspect of working on Cheryll’s case to which we hadn’t paid enough attention.
“I can tell in just these first thirty minutes of talking to you two that you lead with your head (Jill nodded to me) and you lead with your gut (Jill nodded to Bridget). This affects you though (Bridget) because you absorb other people’s energy and it affects your health. Do you work in a job where you actually have to touch people?”
“I’m a hair dresser,” Bridget replied affirmatively.
“You’re going to have to find a way to let that built-up energy leave you or it will eat you up inside.”
“Oh believe me, it does sometimes,” Bridget said.
“And you analyze stuff so much that you ignore what your gut is telling you,” Jill said, directing her comment to me this time.
I shrugged a little in response. “I can see that, but I just don’t have the gift of being an empath like you or Bridget.”
“You doubt yourself, dear. Haven’t you said you feel like Cheryll is trying to tell you things?”
“That’s because she is. For whatever reason, she has chosen you and you too, Bridget. You have to listen to that because you’re doing good work and because she, for some reason, is working through you.”
Hearing these words from such a spiritual person, a warm and insightful woman the age of our own mothers, gave Bridget and me reassurance that we didn’t realize we needed. We both exchanged a smile from across the room, knowing we’re still in this together and that we are called to do this work.
And with that, Jill randomly asked, “Elmer. Who is Elmer?”
My brain stopped in place. I looked at Bridget who sat with a blank look on her face.
“Do you mean in regard to Cheryll?” I asked confusedly. “If so, I don’t remember any Elmers.” I couldn’t think fast enough.
“No, not about Cheryll. This is about you. When you’re talking I keep hearing the name Elmer. It’s really clear. Who is Elmer?”
I paused, then said, “I had a beloved grandfather named Elmer.” My heart skipped a small beat hearing myself say those words.
“There you go! I just heard his name calmly in my mind when you were talking and while I was looking at you.” My eyes slowly moved across the room to Bridget who sat comfortably in her chair, grinning at me from ear to ear. I smiled back at her, slightly shaking my head in disbelief, also knowing what Bridget was about to say.
And sure enough, I watched as Bridget leaned in closer to where Jill was sitting. “Oh Jill….we just knew we were going to like you. What else can you tell us?”
And with that, we began to learn that there was more to Jill than we first realized.