The day is here. October 19, 2021. Today officially marks the passing of 50 years since Cheryll’s life ended. When I started this journey of telling Cheryll’s story and trying to solve who was responsible for her murder, my target date was today because I was aware of the significance of the passing of half of a century. I had hope that as we embarked on the passing of 50 years, we would know who was responsible for her death, and I can say with absolute disappointment that I didn’t get the answer in the timeframe that I had set for myself. And for that, I feel a sense of apology to everyone who has hoped we’d know by now and I can’t help but feel like I’m letting Cheryll down because I was determined to solve this by her 60th birthday.
I wonder sometimes what the original investigators, family members, neighbors, and friends of Cheryll’s would say if back in 1971 we told them that this would still be unsolved 50 years later. Would they be shocked? Would they have predicted this? Did they have a sense even back then that this crime would be almost impossible to solve? I also think about the souls of those departed from this earth– the passing of people who cared for Cheryll and those who longed for resolutions in this case– why can’t they let us all know the answer and end the torture of not knowing? I look and listen for the subtle signs and simple messages sent to me by the universe or maybe by those who have passed, but sometimes I want them to shout it out or appear to me and just give me the answer. But I know that that’s not how this works.
Over the summer I read a book called, “What Happened to Paula” written by Katherine Dykstra. It was riveting. The book detailed the still unsolved murder from 1970 of 18-year-old Paula Oberbroeckling, but delved even further into how her murder was able to be cast aside and left to remain unsolved for so long. What happened to Paula is not only a murder specifically, but how she was forgotten by society at large. The opening inscription in the book really struck me. It is a quote by Susan Taylor Chehak that reads: “If no one is guilty, then everyone’s to blame.” I repeated it several times when I read it and was chilled by it because it rings true for Cheryll as well. At this point, no one is publicly guilty of the crime, but there is plenty of blame to go around. How does a young girl just disappear and get murdered while the community just goes on living life as a killer walks free? How many people ever stopped and cried out, “This isn’t right. Where is the justice?” and actually tried to do something about it? Some people from Cheryll’s inner circle have been almost frozen by her murder and the lack of justice that followed, screaming with grief and anger into a void while no one who had any power to move the needle on her case had been willing to do anything over and above what was required of them by a job description. Cheryll was failed so many times by so many people and after working on her story for three years, I’m angry about it. But that burning bitterness I feel helps fuel the fire to keep pressing ahead. Now, there are people with the power to do something, working hard to find the answer. This gives me hope.
If nothing else, I feel like after the passing of 50 years, we’ve at least been able to hit the un-pause button and get some movement, noise, activity, discussion, prayers, and passion moving again in Cheryll’s case. It’s like the record has been sitting on the turntable for 50 years and collectively we all started cranking the lever to get the record turning and playing again. And the sound? It is louder than it’s ever been.
Cheryll Ann Spegal, you truly are a child of our hearts. I hope you are dancing with the angels and resting knowing how many people care and are working to find answers to not let your death be for nothing. It has been said that a person dies two deaths. The first is when your body physically dies and your soul departs your physical body. This happened to you on October 19, 1971. The second death comes when no one living on the Earth speaks your name again. Cheryll, I hope you know that it is my mission to not let your second death come for many, many, many more years. What will your legacy be? I’m not exactly sure yet. But like with everything else in your story, I’m sure that answer will be revealed in time. Happy 60th birthday to you, Cheryll. You mattered. You were and are loved. And you are not forgotten.
And to my dear father-in-law, Tom Rowland– today would have been your 72nd birthday. We miss so many things about you and my kids talk about you more than ever. You’re the grandfather they never met, one of the best men they never knew, and their lives are impacted everyday by the man you helped mold and raise– your son, my husband, and the father of my children. I know you’re watching over us. I can feel it. Like I ask you often, help me. Please help me. Please look over Cheryll and please keep moving those puzzle pieces. The best comfort I get from your absence here on earth is knowing what you’re working on over there on the other side. The only thing dividing you and Cheryll from me and the rest of the world is a thin, thin veil and from time to time you’re finding ways to poke a hole and send some light through.
Time marches on. Hearts are still beating. The drum is growing louder. The record on the turntable is spinning again. The answers will come. The answers will come.