Here we are at the 50th blog entry on the path of telling Cheryll’s story and naming her killer. And as her story continues to be shared and people read about the investigation and possible suspects and theories, I often get asked what I think happened to her that morning. I’m sure you can imagine that I think about this often. I try really hard to play out the scene in my mind, almost like it’s a movie that I’m watching, hoping that the story will just unfold before me and I’ll just know the truth. Bridget and I discuss the scenarios and pick them apart as to how things could or could not have transpired that morning. I sometimes can’t help but implore Cheryll to just show me and help me, and as much as I know she is helping in her own ways, it’s still frustrating at times that I can’t just know the truth.
The Man on the Porch
Why might it have been him? In 1971, he was on the police radar immediately because of the reports of him sitting in his car at the top of Rose Avenue watching kids in the morning. He made neighbors uncomfortable even then and he just seemed “off” to people on the street who were familiar with him. People in Pendleton County claim to have seen him in the New Hope Road area around the time of Cheryll’s disappearance, possibly with blood on his shirt, AND he was very familiar with that area since his family lived on that very road. Furthermore, he lived with his mother, step-father, and sister who had killed her own newborn baby. Some claim today that he had his car crushed not long after Cheryll’s disappearance, but I’ve never been able to confirm to be a true fact.
Why do I lean away from him being the perpetrator? First, there are no reports that he ever approached any of the Rose Avenue kids. While they saw him in his car, he never got out of it nor did he ever tried to talk to any of them. There are no confirmed reports of him being missing from somewhere he should have been that morning, no reports of him being scratched or injured when he was interviewed, no person ever emerged saying he confessed to it in subsequent years. He did refuse to take a lie detector test, but I don’t put much stock in that either way. The reports of his creepy behaviors–the following of the school buses, the slow drive-bys watching the kids playing, the chasing of a girl down the street, the scary phone calls, being in his female neighbor’s house, etc. all happened after 1971. His weirdness almost seemed to be escalating as he aged. He has no criminal history at all, but especially for other rapes, murders, child abductions, molestation, etc. Might he have filled some murderous desire and violently killed a child in 1971 only to remain creepy the rest of his life, never committing a similar crime? Certainly. Deep in my gut do I feel that it is him? I just can’t get there.
The Car Thief
Why might it have been him? He had a criminal history. This man spent time in prison. He was known to be violent with members of his family, his girlfriends, and other men when he was enraged. He was a known drug user who may have been so hopped up on drugs that morning that he thought it would be fun to pick up a girl and offer her a ride. He very well could have seen Cheryll walking that morning since he lived on the street from where she disappeared. In fact, he told police he knew he was the last person to see her that morning. He and his cronies were possibly familiar with New Hope Road and used it to dump car parts they no longer needed. He is reported to have hung out at a hideaway house on Route 8 that he could have driven Cheryll to, stored or destroyed evidence in, and would have been in close proximity to New Hope Road. He had cleaned out his car that day–possibly even pressure-washed his trunk, which is not a normal thing for people to do.
Why do I have doubts about him? For starters, this guy was a car guy who had a passion for cars and almost seemed addicted to the illegal activity of stealing and stripping cars. Selling parts for money could help fuel his drug habit. The stints in prison were for car thefts and drugs. He seemed focused on these activities even after he got out of prison. While he is known to have been abusive to his girlfriends and wives, there are no other reports of possible abductions, rapes, murders, attempted murders, molestation, etc. Furthermore, in all of the years after Cheryll’s murder, no one has ever come forward to report that he ever outright confessed to them, bragged about it, threatened to do the same thing to them, etc. Not one girlfriend, wife, family member, or friend. Plenty of his old friends have said they think he was certainly capable of it, and using the right kind of drugs might have been out of his mind enough to commit a heinous murder, but none of those friends ever heard him speak of the murder. No one has reported that he was missing for a certain amount of time, had visible wounds when interviewed, and he agreed to take–and passed–a lie detector test. While I certainly agree that this is not a good person, I still can’t be convinced that he was absolutely the person who plucked Cheryll off the street that morning and savagely killed her.
The Spegal Family
Could they have been involved? Yes. Here are reasons why: Cheryll’s stepmother was known to have been mean to her. Could something have gone terribly wrong at the house leading up to Cheryll’s birthday which resulted in her death? Yes. The brothers said that she was running late so they went ahead to the bus stop without her, but that was not the norm. They usually headed to the bus stop either with or after their little sister. How odd is it that the one morning she runs late and the routine has been altered, is the same morning she disappeared and is killed? But was she late? Her girlfriends said she was at their house that morning early so why then the story that she was running late? What can be made of that? Could the brothers have been so terrified by whatever went down at home with Cheryll that they covered for their parents? Definitely possible. They had extended family from Pendleton County so perhaps they were familiar with the New Hope Road area and put their daughter there, far away from the house.
Do I think it’s them? I don’t. I just can’t see how it was them. Here’s why. If some sort of argument occurred like Cheryll went back home that morning, and she upset, let’s say, her stepmom enough that she grew enraged, would one parent have stood by while the other stabbed her to death? Would the brothers have stood by? Four people older than Cheryll would have been there and three would have not interceded while Cheryll was stabbed 51 times. Then the brothers would have had to have gone off to school without anyone thinking something was amiss and that act would have had to continue in the following days when the family was searching for Cheryll. Their house was swarming with cops for days and days and no one saw evidence of a crime scene there. Billy Joe, Shirley, Mickey, Mark, and even little Darren got their stories straight and no one breathed a word of the murder? And now, almost 50 years later, no one ever confessed to a spouse, a friend, a teacher, a relative what really happened in their home? I find it close to impossible to get a whole family to stick to a story and remain silent for 50 years if they knew who committed the murder of their little sister. If the brothers weren’t there when the murder happened, then both Billy Joe and Shirley would have had to have kept their stories straight and cover for each other and even now the brothers would have to have never suspected their dad or stepmom of the crime because they have never come forward to say they believed it was a parent or a family member who killed her. Also, while they may not have been the most outstanding parents, most people agree that Billy Joe did have a fondness for his daughter and there are no reports that he had any propensity for violence toward his children.
The Random Killer
In past blog entries, I’ve discussed the possibility of a total stranger being her killer. Maybe Cheryll made it to the top of Rose Avenue either very early in the morning or late at 6:30 like her dad reported and at either of those times, she was spotted by a passing driver and quickly abducted right there on the street. The idea is terrifying. Maybe someone like Eugene Gall or Raymond Clutter was driving by and everyone’s worst nightmare became a dreadful reality for Cheryll–a total stranger overpowered her and drove off with her that morning. Sometimes when considering the possibilities, this scenario becomes equally as likely in my mind to it being any of the other suspects. This type of scenario, though very, very rare, could have happened just like it did to Eugene Gall’s other two victims. Do I think Gall was out of the state mental hospital up in Ohio that morning and driving the streets of Highland Heights? I find that to be highly unlikely. Raymond Clutter did molest a teenage girl, rape a grown woman, and violently kill another. Before he committed those crimes could he have been in the Highland Heights area and chosen Cheryll to abduct, rape, and murder? In theory, it could be, but in reality, I don’t think he was living in the Highland Heights area yet so without this to be true, I don’t think Clutter is the likely killer.
After I go over and over and over all of this in my mind–all that I’ve learned, all that has been shared with me–I still lay awake at night and think, “What if it’s NONE of these?” What if after two years of all the investigating and digging and talking and reaching out to people, we haven’t even discovered who the true assailant is? What if it is someone else who was close by, watching and waiting, possibly familiar to Cheryll, and no one ever suspected that person? What if someone else never made it on the police, family, or community’s radar, but he was there all along? The idea is so very unsettling, but it is something to consider when considering all of the possible suspects to date.
And just like it always seems to happen, just when I’m going crazy in my head considering all of these possibilities, a new door opens–Cheryll helps us. This time it came in the form of a Facebook message from Cheryll’s cousin–the one who’d been in touch with the state police.
“GREAT NEWS!! I just got off the phone with the cold case detective. 555-555-5555. Call him. He wants to talk to you.” And in that moment my heart leapt with joy and I also felt as though I could drop to my knees with relief. Finally. FINALLY. Oh my God, oh my GOD. Thank you. Cheryll, thank you.