And then, in a sort of bomb-dropping moment, Mark took a turn answering Bridget’s question. “You know I talked to the police detective about a month ago and he gave me the name of a man he thinks could have done it. And you haven’t mentioned this guy at all.”
“Wait, you’ve talked to the current detective?” I asked, confusedly, exchanging a look of disbelief and slight excitement with Bridget.
“Yeah, he’d been calling, so I finally called him back and he asked me what I knew about this guy.”
The brothers could sense our astonishment and my mind was racing as questions were wanting to spill out of Bridget and me.
“Who is it? What’s his name?” I asked breathlessly.
Mark answered with the man’s name. “It’s Jon _______.” (I will only be using his first name in this blog). The brothers explained that this man owned a business in Highland Heights and was an acquaintance of their dad, Billy Joe.
I slowly turned my head and looked at Bridget as her mouth dropped and eyes grew wide. She didn’t have to say anything to me because I immediately knew what she was thinking. The name “Jon” had appeared on a hillside spelled out in lights, months earlier and we’d been wondering if it was a clue to Cheryll’s case. Hearing this name, though a common one, made the hairs on our arms stand straight up. (Refer back to entry #52. “He Was Right There”)
The brothers looked at us looking at each other and our reaction seemed to cause small grins on their faces.
“Have you heard of him before or something?” Mike asked us.
I shook my head, no. It would have been too odd for me to explain to the brothers about seeing the cardinal, talking to Cheryll, then spotting the name JON in lights on Route 8, so I responded with a simple, “No, not exactly.”
Then I moved on and asked the next question. “Did you two know this guy?”
Mark responded. “No, I don’t think I ever met him.”
Mike continued. “I know who he is. The Old Man went into his business from time to time, but I was never allowed to go in. I sat in the car and would wait for him to come back out. I saw this Jon guy around the business, but never talked to him or anything.”
“So this guy never came to your house or hung out there with your dad?” Bridget asked.
“No, no. Nothing like that,” Mike answered. “The Old Man knew him from his store, but like I said before, he never had friends or guys like this to our house.”
“So, do you think Cheryll knew who he was?” I asked next.
And here, the brothers entered a discussion where they disagreed slightly. Mike was certain that Cheryll never interacted with Jon and was never in a position to talk to him or interact with him. Mark recalled something slightly different, however. He seemed to remember riding bikes with Cheryll where they would ride past the business where Jon would have been in a position to see them, and Mark found himself wondering if this would have given the man an opportunity to see and possibly target Cheryll.
“You never rode your bikes by that store,” Mike matter-of-factly told his younger brother.
“Yes, we did. I think we did. You weren’t there.” Mark responded.
“Well, obviously not,” Mike sort of laughed, “because I don’t recall ever riding my bike that far from home to be out in front of his business. I’m not sure you and Cheryll did either.”
“I think we did from time to time,” Mark said in response to his older brother.
Bridget and I sat and watched the brothers discuss this topic back and forth and both understood, having brothers ourselves, how boys can disagree and banter with each other while trying to convince the other that each is correct. They never really came to an agreement on whether they were in the vicinity of Jon’s business in order to have become possible targets if he was potentially a possible child abductor and killer.
“What else did you learn? Why is his name now on the police radar?” I asked the brothers next.
Mark explained, “The detective said that someone called in a tip at some point, and said that he (Jon) told them (the tipster) that he had stabbed a girl and left her in a creek. And since they knew he had a business in Highland Heights in 1971 when a girl who lived nearby died under those circumstances, they felt compelled to call in the information.”
“I wonder who the tipster was,” I said thinking out loud as Mark continued.
“The detective never said, but I think he asked me about him to see if he was close with our family or if we had any memories of him. And like we said, he wasn’t hanging around our house or anything, but we know that our dad knew him.” I sat sort of thinking through the information– how Cheryll may have known this man and how he may have recognized her and wondering how they may have crossed paths–when Mark continued talking.
“There is one more thing about him.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“He’s supposedly some kind of child molester. I don’t know who or when, but the detective seemed to indicate that he had committed other crimes against children that is what was making this guy seem like a possible suspect.”
“Oh, really?!” I exclaimed, feeling my eyes popping out of my head again. “Well, that’s a big deal. No one else they’ve investigated has known crimes against children as far as I know. Right?” I asked Bridget as I looked at her, double-checking the known facts of the case, since my brain was still spinning with this new information.
“Yes, you’re right,” she confirmed.
“This is crazy,” I said to the group, still reeling from all of this new information. I could feel the blood pumping through my body, and I knew I needed time to process it and then start learning as much as I could about Jon.
Bridget and I were breathless when Mike looked at me and said emphatically, “Please write about him in the blog. I want to see if anyone will come forward with what they know.”
I assured them that I would, and after our meeting that day, Bridget and I got to work learning all we could about this newest person of interest– this man named Jon– whose name, whether by spiritual design or in a huge coincidence, had been spelled out on a hillside in lights for me months earlier.
In the days and weeks following our meeting with Cheryll’s brothers, I found myself talking to Cheryll, reviewing through all of the information I had gathered from Mark and Mike, researching and digging into the life of Jon, and being swept up in the details of how the morning of October 19, 1971 might have played out for Cheryll. It’s so easy to get all discombobulated in my thoughts and sometimes feel like I’m going in circles. I will always stay the course and am totally committed to the case, but I at times have to shut it down and give myself mental and emotional breaks.
In the midst of a morning like that, after having closed my laptop to take a breather, my cell phone alerted me that I had a new text message. It was from my friend, Erin.
Erin: I was at yoga this morning and Cheryll had a message.
Me: Aww, what is it?
Erin: Stay the course. You’re going to figure it out.
I stared and stared at the cell phone screen. How is it that in the moments of frustration or overwhelming feelings, a message comes that makes absolute sense and provides the encouragement that I need? Is it really Cheryll? Is it the universe reaching out to me? God? Tom and Cheryll together? I cannot explain it, but I always welcome it.
Me: You have no idea how perfectly timed this message is. Thank you for texting me and tell Cheryll I’m not giving up.
Erin: She knows that.
And after a few moments more, I opened up my laptop and got back to work.