53. “I Wasn’t Alone”

Cheryl Segal. One evening, I found myself slowly typing the name of another local murder victim in a Google search bar. I had decided to take a deeper dive into the horrific story of a girl who shared a name– and a fate– very similar to Cheryll Spegal, but I found myself slightly hesitating. Another sad tale. Another horrible ending. I was about to open a metaphoric book filled with the dusty pages of a twisted plot of another senseless murder. But I did it, realizing that the story could possibly hold clues for our Cheryll and therefore it was time to read all that I could about the “other” Cheryl.

16-year-old Cheryl Segal, a junior at Woodward High School, and her 17-year-old friend were hanging out at The Firefly Cafe in Cincinnati on Saturday, October 17, 1970 when Cheryl decided she was tired and wanted to go home. Cheryl’s friend could have called home to ask her dad to come pick them up, but according to her friend, Cheryl didn’t want to have to wait for him, so when a man in his 20s, introduced to them by a mutual male friend, offered to drive the teenage girls home, they accepted the ride. It ended up being a fateful decision.

According to testimony given in court, Cheryl’s friend explained that the man, later identified as James Findley, drove the car while Cheryl sat in the middle and she (Cheryl’s friend) sat in the far passenger seat. During the drive, Findley told the girls he was a member of a biker gang and slowly reached behind the driver’s side seat and produced a gun which he tucked into the car’s sun visor. Perhaps sensing their trepidation at seeing the weapon, he told them not to worry. As they approached Cheryl’s friend’s stop, her friend was apprehensive to exit the vehicle leaving Cheryl behind with Findley. She told Cheryl to call her when she got home, but the call never came.

Late the following afternoon, after a day filled with phone calls, searching, and trying to find Cheryl, her mother was notified that her daughter’s nude body had been found by horseback riders in a wooded area on a country lover’s lane by Gregory Creek off of Princeton Road in Hamilton.

Cheryl was killed when a .25 caliber bullet was fired into her head at close range. She also had stab wounds on her arm and neck. After death, a large zig-zag shaped letter Z was carved into her chest and abdomen. The medical examiner found that she had not been sexually assaulted. There are conflicting reports about whether Cheryl had been killed there in the wooded creek area or elsewhere, but since blood was found at the scene, it is most likely that she was killed there.

Because Cheryl’s friend had been in the car with Findley and Cheryl, she was able to identify him as the man who had given them a ride home, and his car, a light green 1955 Plymouth, as the one in which they had ridden. A waitress at the cafe where they had been, told police she had sold Findley a .25 caliber gun the week before the murder. The seat in Findley’s car had had battery acid poured on the upholstery as if in an effort to destroy evidence and his pants supposedly had blood on them when he was arrested on Monday, October 20, 1970, two days after the crime was committed.

During his trial, Findley took the stand in his own defense and broke down crying on a couple of occasions. He claimed that he had joined the biker gang in order to write a book about the them, but they soon discovered he was a spy. The night of the murder he admitted he gave the girls a ride and dropped Cheryl’s friend off first. After that he said the pair met up with his brother-in-law/best friend/fellow biker gang member, Dennis Smith, and Smith eventually offered to take Cheryl home, once Findley decided to stay at his girlfriend’s apartment for the night. He last saw Smith, Cheryl, and possibly a couple of other people pull away from the apartment building in his (Findley’s) car, as he turned in for the evening. Around 3:00 in the morning he heard the loud muffler of his car return to the apartment complex and Dennis Smith then took his own car home from there, leaving Findley’s Plymouth parked at the apartment. The following morning he sat inside his car and searched for the gun only to find that it was gone. When he did this, he sat in a pool of blood on the car seat, getting it on his own pants. He went into the apartment to wash his pants once he realized blood was on them. The next day, with the help of Smith, they poured battery acid on the seat and then burned it to destroy “the stench of the blood.” Findley realized that his car must have been involved in a crime when Smith borrowed it, but he didn’t know yet what the crime was.

Smith contradicted this account and said he never saw Findley after 8:00 that evening and friends of his from the biker gang all gave sworn statements that Smith was with them all night the night of October 17 and into the morning hours of October 18, 1970. Smith also testified that he had not driven Findley’s car. Findley’s own girlfriend said she heard him come to the apartment in the early morning hours of October 18 and spend some time washing up in the bathroom.

His wife, girlfriend, mom, and fellow biker gang members were in court when the jury announced that they had found James Findley guilty of first degree murder even though the defense argued that the state’s case relied heavily on circumstantial evidence and there was just as much circumstantial evidence showing that Dennis Smith could have committed the murder. Findley was sentenced to death, but a couple of years later his death sentence was commuted to life in prison. He is still in prison to this day. After he was convicted, Findley made this statement: “You are going to know I am not guilty….when you get the next one.” Meaning, he predicted that after he went to jail, there would be other murders. Were these the words of a guilty man, bitter that he had been convicted, even after trying to pin the crime of his friend/brother-in-law? Or, were the words he spoke that day somehow prophetic?

Once Cheryll Spegal was found murdered in 1971, it didn’t take long for people to compare her case with Cheryl Segal’s. First, the two girls obviously shared a name that only differed by 2 letters. Second, they were last seen alive on October 17 and October 19 respectively, a year apart. Third, both girls were from the Greater Cincinnati area. Fourth, both were likely driven to a remote location where they were killed and in both crimes a knife/sharp instrument was used, the girls were found unclothed, and they were discovered in a wooded creek area.

Once our Cheryll–Cheryll Spegal–was found murdered, convicted killer James Findley’s words gave people pause. “You are going to know I am not guilty…when you get another one.” And when I heard a little nugget of information about the man Findley fingered for actually being the man who committed Cheryl’s murder–Dennis Smith–being connected to a person of interest in Cheryll Spegal’s story, I too gave pause. Could the two cases possibly be connected after all?

*****

After a long night of researching Cheryl Segal’s story, I was greeted with a text message from my friend, Erin, the following morning: “Call me when you get a chance. I was at yoga this morning and I feel like Cheryll had a lot to say.” The first chance I had, I called her.

After exchanging our hellos, Erin spoke first. “You may want to get a notebook to write this down. I feel like this is important.” I quickly ran to the next room and grabbed my notebook off of the dining room table.

“Go ahead,” I said, as I nervously clicked the top of my pen up and down, ready to write the details about to be relayed to me.

“Okay, well first, I kept seeing an overhead view of the wooded creek area. If you imagine a cross shape, I feel like there is something about the top right area that is significant. I might have to ride out there with you sometime to see it, but it’s like there is something in that area that is important.”

I was writing this down quickly as Erin spoke again. “She made me feel like she knows how hard you’re working and wants you to know that she’s proud of you. If you feel like you’re disappointing her, just know that you’re not.” I smiled. I know I get discouraged from time to time, but it goes without saying that I’m not giving up.

Erin continued. “And also….she said these words….’I wasn’t alone’. My heart stopped for a moment.

“Wait, what? Was there someone there with her at the creek?” I asked confusedly, my heart pounding a little more quickly.

“No, not that, not there. It’s once she passed. She wasn’t alone. She’s with someone else. She brought a friend to yoga today.”

I smiled for a moment, somewhat relieved, and inquired more. “Oh she did? Who was it?”

“I don’t know, but it was a girl who seemed to be about Cheryll’s age. I felt as if this girl had passed before Cheryll so she was there to meet her that’s why Cheryll said she wasn’t alone. And, it’s random to say, but I feel like she came from a wealthy family. And she had long, dark hair.”

I let out a gasp as I realized it was likely the face of the girl that had been staring back at me from my computer screen throughout the night, the night before. The image of Cheryl Segal.

“Oh my GOD, Erin! Yes! Yes, I know. I know exactly who her friend is,” I said in bewilderment. And for a moment I felt as though I was in a vacuum and I sat in stunned silence. Of course, they’re together. But why? My mind and heart were racing trying to make sense of it all. As I explained to Erin what I’d been up to the night prior and as I hurriedly sent her Cheryl’s photo, I already knew what she was going to say.

“That’s her, Beth,” Erin said affirmatively. “That is absolutely her. She was with Cheryll today.”

Then, and even now, I wonder. Was this a big clue? Was another piece of the puzzle being handed to me? What did it mean? Or maybe, was this just spirit’s way of letting me know they see what I’m doing? A validation of sorts. For a moment I was shocked, a little freaked out, and then a sense of calm came over me as if a little whisper from within was saying to me: Keep working, Beth. Keep working….

Cheryl Segal, as her photo appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer Oct. 20, 1970
Cheryll, to whom this blog is dedicated

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