This blog entry briefly describes a horrific murder. The content may be disturbing to some readers.
One day a new message appeared in my inbox. “Have you ever heard of Raymond Clutter? He is in prison for killing a woman with a knife and I think he may have lived in Highland Heights at one time. I wanted to suggest you look into him as a suspect.” I sat staring at the words for a moment. It was a new name that I, in fact, had never heard of. I found the new information intriguing and was eager to learn more. I replied to the sender, saying that I appreciated the information and gave my assurances that I would look into this lead. So, like we do with any new information, Bridget and I started digging.
We first found Raymond Clutter living as a young man with a wife and young son in Indiana in the late 1960s. Somewhere along the line, he and his first wife divorced and he ended up in Campbell County, Kentucky, where he eventually became a bar owner in Newport. His first known crime occurred in 1973, when he was arrested for breaking into a post office. In 1979, he and another man were arrested and charged with first-degree rape, sodomy, kidnapping, and first-degree robbery for kidnapping a Newport woman and taking her to rural Campbell County to commit the rape. The charges against the two men were later dropped because the victim was unable to be located.
We researched more and learned that in the 1980s and 1990s, Clutter became a millionaire by way of his ownership of strip clubs throughout Kentucky. He is said to have built a sprawling estate in Warsaw, Kentucky complete with a pet tiger and an alligator. In 1987, Clutter was arrested for having drugs in a home he owned in Highland Heights and released on bond. Sometime after that, he and a live-in girlfriend broke up, Clutter sold his house in Highland Heights in 1996, and in 1999 he received a 10-year federal sentence for trying to hire someone to kill his ex-girlfriend and for tax evasion. In 2008 while in federal prison for his prior conviction, he was sentenced to 20 more years in prison for sodomizing a teenage girl in the 1990s.
Here is where it gets really interesting…. In 2000, (before the sodomy conviction), as he sat in federal prison, in an attempt to get a reduction of his prison sentence for his hiring of a hitman and tax evasion convictions, Clutter contacted police about an unsolved murder from 1994. He said he would offer information about who committed the crime, but his plan backfired when the man–a former friend of his– who he was trying to turn in, ended up admitting his part in covering up the murder and implicated Clutter for the actual killing. What Clutter didn’t know is that while he was in prison for his other crimes, investigators had been hard at work investigating the 1994 murder, believing that Clutter himself was the actual killer. The state spent years making their case against Clutter, and ultimately when it went to trial in June of 2010, the jury believed his friend’s version of events. 16 years after the murder, Clutter was convicted of killing Peggy Casey, as well as tampering with evidence. He was found not guilty of rape, however, since there was no clear evidence that he had committed that crime.
The story of Peggy Casey’s murder was horrific and eerily similar to the crime for which he and a friend were arrested back in 1979. Clutter, his friend, Tony White, and his own son, Floyd Clutter, offered to drive Casey home from a bar in Covington after a night of drinking. Instead of driving her home, however, the three men drove her to Floyd Clutter’s trailer in a remote part of Boone County where they raped her. Raymond Clutter killed her by slitting her throat with a knife, and then he dismembered her body. The men then spent the night dumping parts of Casey’s body throughout west Central Ohio. Upon his conviction, Clutter received a sentence of life in prison which he is serving to this day.
What does all of this tell us about Raymond Clutter? He had no trouble kidnapping females and taking them to remote locations to rape and murder them. He knew how to use a knife to commit murder. He found other male accomplices to commit rapes and murders with. While adult women were his victims, so was a teenage girl. Could he have been capable of killing Cheryll? Absolutely. But the question we really needed to answer was this: Was he around Highland Heights in 1971 to have abducted and murdered Cheryll?
After discovering the stories of Clutter’s heinous crimes, Bridget and I began researching where Clutter lived when. We know he was in Indiana in 1966 and then we know he was definitely in Campbell County in 1977. But where was he in 1971? As we dug for answers, Bridget sent me a text message.
“Hold on, Beth. I just found an old address for him.”
“Where did he live?” I asked, staring at my phone for her response. And it was upon learning where he had once lived, that little alarm bells started going off in my head.
“Maple Avenue,” Bridget responded. When I saw those words, I felt the air leave my lungs for a moment. Holy cow, Maple Avenue, I thought to myself. Of all the streets in the town of Highland Heights on which he could have been living, he lived on Maple Avenue which is one street over from Rose Avenue, basically running parallel to the very street on which Cheryll was living in 1971. In fact, Cheryll’s house at 78 Rose was in walking distance from the house in which he lived.
“Omg, wow!! When did he live there?” I responded, anxiously awaiting her reply.
“I can’t tell. It’s just listed as a previous address for him.”
“Hmm, I wonder if he was there in 1971.” I texted quickly.
Bridget’s response summed it up: “THAT is the million dollar question.”
Luckily, a search of property records helped shed more light on Clutter’s time in Highland Heights. We discovered that he bought the house on Maple Avenue in 1986 from the previous owner for $1. $1! Was it a gift? Did Clutter have a rent-to-own agreement? We’ve yet to uncover the answer to that question. It was only a year after he bought his house in Highland Heights that he was in trouble with the law for having drugs in his home. He owned that house for 10 years, selling it in 1996. I find it unsettling that during those ten years of owning a home in Highland Heights, Clutter built an estate in Warsaw, sodomized a teenage girl, and he kidnapped, murdered, and dismembered Peggy Casey.
But, was he there in 1971? After all of our research, Bridget and I have never been able to find a definitive answer to that question. Unless he was renting the house on Maple in 1971, we can’t find evidence that he was definitely living there when Cheryll was kidnapped and murdered. Could he have been? Yes. Do we know for sure? No. We did reach out to lifelong residents of both Maple and Rose Avenues and no one remembers anything remarkable about Clutter and most people don’t recall him even being there at all. So if he was there in the 70s, he was very much under the radar or if he wasn’t and didn’t show up there until the mid-80s, he laid low then as well.
Raymond Clutter is alive and already serving a life sentence. If he did kill Cheryll, might he be willing to confess to it knowing he has nothing to lose at this point? This is a question I would put forth to investigators.
After leaving Jill and assuring her we would help her discover the story of her birth father, Bridget and I spent many nights researching. Using the names to which Jill was connected on Ancestry, we began to build her biological family tree. We helped make sense of who was who on her tree, and encouraged her to contact people who ended up being her cousins, her aunt, and even half-sisters. We scoured old newspapers, finding old photographs, obituaries, and articles with information about her possible birth father and his family. The three of us exchanged hundreds of messages as we sorted through all the information. And sure enough, in time, after the research was completed and blanks filled in by those biological extended family members, we were able to answer the question for Jill as to who her biological father was. I’ll never forget the day when the truth was revealed and Jill was able to know the answer she had longed to learn. It was truly a rewarding and special feeling.
You see, this is where I feel that Cheryll’s spirit is at work. If it hadn’t been for us connecting with Jill regarding our journey to tell Cheryll’s story, we wouldn’t have been able to help Jill on her journey of telling her own story. Might part of Cheryll’s legacy be that on the path of telling the truth of her life and death, she is helping people learn their own treasured truths as well?
While the answer to who killed Cheryll continues to elude us, Jill was able to step out of her own fog and into her own light of truth. And I can feel it burning strongly in my gut– Cheryll will have her turn.