Extensively Revised And Updated!
Tom and Jackie Hawks loved their life in retirement, sailing on their yacht, the Well Deserved. But when the birth of a new grandson called them back to Arizona, they put the boat up for sale. Skylar Deleon and his pregnant wife Jennifer showed up as prospective buyers, with their baby in a stroller, and the Hawkses thought they had a deal. Soon after a sea trial and an alleged purchase, however, the older couple disappeared and the Deleons promptly tried to access the Hawkses’ bank accounts.
As police investigated the case, they not only found a third homicide victim with ties to Skylar, they also uncovered an unexpected and unusual motive: Skylar had wanted gender reassignment surgery for years. By killing the Hawkses with a motley crew of assailants and plundering the couple’s assets, the Deleons had planned to clear their $100,000 in debts and still have money for the surgery, which Skylar had already scheduled.
Now, in this up-to-the-minute updated edition, which includes extensive new material, New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother presents the latest breaking developments in the case. Skylar, who was ultimately sentenced to death row for the three murders, transitioned to a woman via hormones while living in the psych unit at San Quentin prison. Recently, she legally changed her name and gender to female, apparently a strategic step in her quest to obtain taxpayer-subsidized gender confirmation surgery and transfer to a women’s prison. Combined with Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent moratorium on executions, this only adds insult to injury for the victims’ families, who want Skylar to receive the ultimate punishment for her crimes.
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About the Author
Julie McKay is a Los Angeles-based narrator with New York roots, a degree in music, and a background in classical theater. As an actor, she has worked at Shakespeare festivals and regional theaters across the country as well as Off-Broadway in New York.
Read an Excerpt
By Caitlin Rother
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2011 Caitlin Rother
All rights reserved.
Matt Hawks was probably the first one in the family to sense that something was wrong. His father and stepmother had been calling constantly to ask questions about their new grandson, Jace, and to listen to him make gurgling noises over the phone. It was driving Matt and his wife a little crazy.
But the calls from Tom and Jackie Hawks stopped completely after November 15, the day they'd taken a prospective buyer out for a sea trial. Skylar Deleon was only twenty-five, but he told the Hawkses he'd made enough to buy the boat from working as a child actor in commercials, starring in a kids' show called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and investing his earnings in real estate.
Don Trefren, one of Tom's oldest friends, was among the next to notice something amiss. He shared his concerns with Tom's older son, Ryan, a couple days after the sea trial.
"I've been trying to get ahold of your parents, and your dad's cell phone went straight to voice mail," he said. "It's not like your dad to stand me up."
Don had been trying to call Jackie's cell phone, with the same result. He'd expected a call from Tom by early evening on November 15, by which time Tom was 90 percent sure they would have completed the sale. Don had offered to load their belongings onto his truck and transport them to a trailer in Prescott, Arizona, where the Hawkses were going to stay until they could buy a house and a smaller boat in the resort town of San Carlos, Mexico.
Tom and Jackie had been married for fifteen years, and were still very much in love. Jackie had been in a wheelchair, recovering from the motorcycle accident that had killed her first husband, when she met Tom at a chili cook-off, near Prescott in August 1986.
Ryan was only ten that summer, but he would always remember the first time he met her. She wore these "crazy big sunglasses," and one of her shoes was higher than the other. But she earned points by letting him feel the metal screws in her legs and horse around on her crutches, which were bigger than he was.
Once Tom and Jackie got to know each other better, Tom nicknamed her "Patches" because she was all patched up after the accident, which had rendered her unable to have children. Nonetheless, she soon grew so close with Tom's sons that they both called her "Mom." She and Tom made sure to have the boys participate in their Hawaiian-themed wedding ceremony three years later.
Now fifty-seven, Tom was a decade older than Jackie, but they looked much closer in age. Both had a vitality, a youthfulness, and a sense of adventure about them. Quite a bit of mischief, too. They enjoyed working out together, and shared the dream of retiring early to live on a yacht. The sailing life did them both good. Their bodies were toned, their hair was sun-bleached, and their tanned faces glowed with health.
The active couple considered Prescott to be their base, a scenic valley at the northern edge of the Bradshaw Mountains, about ninety miles from Phoenix. But they moored their yacht in Newport Harbor, because they loved watching the annual boat show and Christmas parade there. Newport allowed for an easy drive south to see Ryan and Jim, Tom's older brother, in San Diego County; it also allowed for a quick sail to Catalina Island. However, they'd spent most of the past two years cruising the waters around Mexico — down Baja California, around Cabo San Lucas, and north in the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos, scuba diving and swimming with whale sharks.
Life is just too short to put things off, and one cannot discover new oceans unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore, Tom wrote in an article for Latitudes & Attitudes magazine in December 2003.
Tom had spent considerable time and effort fixing up the Well Deserved, which he'd purchased for $290,000 in November 2000. In addition to state-of-the-art GPS navigation equipment, Tom put in a beacon device to help the coast guard find them if they ever got stranded. "Captain Hawks," as he called himself, also made sure they could survive for a year with their salt-to freshwater converter and a boatload of food. Never at rest with his hands, Tom even insisted on restoring an old eleven-foot dinghy to near-perfect condition. He and Jackie took the same care of the boat's interior, polishing the hand-carved teak until it shined.
Things changed after Matt and his wife, Nicole, had Jace. Tom and Jackie wanted to watch their first grandchild grow up, but they were ready for a lifestyle change, anyway. Their fifty-five-footer was getting to be too much boat for the two of them. They'd come up with a way to use cameras and walkie-talkies to pull into the mooring, but the job really required three people. The plan to relocate to San Carlos, a few hours south of their grandson, would let them be close to family and maintain their cruising lifestyle.
If the Hawkses couldn't get the sale price they wanted this time around, they were going to take one last sail — to Alaska — before putting her back on the market.
Tom said it would take about $500,000 for him to break even after the refurbishments, but he would settle for $400,000. So he advertised independently on the Internet and in boating magazines to save $50,000 in brokerage fees. He also listed the yacht with two brokers for prices up to $480,000.
"He was kind of hoping it wouldn't sell," Jim said, so they could still do the Alaska trip, then lower the asking price to try again.
Skylar saw one of the ads and called Tom on November 1 to express interest in the trawler. After Skylar had paid several visits to the boat, Tom figured the sale was imminent. So he and Jackie invited Jim, Don, and two other longtime friends from Prescott to join them for a farewell cruise. Don and Jim sailed separately to meet them at Catalina Island on November 11, where they played Mexican train dominoes, toasted to all the good times on the Well Deserved, and Tom played one of his usual pranks, hiding Jim's dinghy and pretending it had floated away.
While they were celebrating, Skylar called to confirm their date for the sea trial.
"Tell the Hawks we want it," Jackie heard the buyer's wife, Jennifer, saying in the background. "Tell the Hawks not to sell that boat."
Jackie told Jim that Jennifer was pregnant, and had come down to the yacht with her baby daughter, chatting with Jackie while Skylar talked with Tom.
Jim figured that Skylar would want a survey done before purchasing the boat, so he told Tom to be sure to have a cashier's check in hand before transferring the title.
"This guy isn't trying to negotiate the price?" Jim asked.
"No," Tom said. "He wants all my toys."
They all figured that Skylar was a rich guy, with money to burn.
On November 13, Jim and Tom sailed back to Oceanside and Newport, respectively. The brothers never really worried about each other, not after they'd both served in the military and had chosen somewhat risky careers — Tom as a firefighter turned probation officer, and Jim as a Vietnam helicopter pilot turned police officer.
But the weather was rough on the return trip, so Tom made a rare call to his brother to check on him.
"Hey, ugly," Tom said, issuing his usual brotherly greeting.
The call ended with an offer from Jim: "Let us know if you sell the boat, and we'll come up and help you move."
Jackie Hawks was usually conservative with her cell phone minutes, but she'd called her best friend, Patricia "Tricia" Schutz, an unprecedented three days in a row to update her on the negotiations with Skylar.
On Sunday, during their last conversation, Jackie told Tricia the price for the boat and the mooring had risen to $450,000 because Skylar wanted them to leave all their bed linens, dishes, cooking utensils, scuba equipment, and kayaks on board. Jackie said she was going to leave just the basics in the kitchen, not her special spice rack and pressure cooker. She promised to call Tricia back later in the week to give her the latest.
Although it wasn't unusual for Tom and Jim to go five days without talking, Jim Hawks felt his brother surely would have called after selling the boat. But he was hoping — wishful thinking, perhaps — that Tom and Jackie had driven up to a Santa Barbara resort to celebrate, or were vacationing on a friend's yacht out of cell phone reach.
On Wednesday, November 17, Ryan talked to Tricia, who managed the couple's business affairs and paid their bills from Arizona while they were at sea. She was concerned because she'd set up a medical appointment for Tom at the VA Medical Center in Long Beach that Friday, but hadn't been able to reach him to confirm.
Ryan said he was trying to remain optimistic, thinking his parents could have gone straight to Mexico, found a good deal on a house, and were having so much fun they didn't realize they were unreachable by cell phone. Unwilling to accept Jim's argument that they wouldn't have driven through Carlsbad without stopping to say hello, Ryan and Matt called real estate agents and their parents' friends in San Carlos, including a scuba instructor who had certified them all to dive. Ryan tried e-mailing them, too, to no avail.
He was not encouraged after an Internet search found no connection between Skylar Deleon and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, a show from the early 1990s about five teenage superheroes who fought evil forces with martial arts in the fictional town of Angel Grove, California.
After a week of exchanging concerns and possible scenarios, the Hawks family made a pact. If no one had heard from Tom or Jackie by Thanksgiving, Jim would file a missing persons report the next morning. Jim had wanted Ryan and Matt to do it in Prescott, where Tricia had the couple's financial information, but the boys wanted their uncle, who had recently retired as Carlsbad's police chief, to do it.
Back in Mentor-on-the-Lake, Ohio, Jackie's parents, Gayle and Jack O'Neill, were worried, too.
Jackie hadn't been home for more than three years. Soon after she and Tom began their life at sea, Jack had to have open-heart surgery, and Gayle came down with breast cancer. Jackie wrote her sister Beverly that she felt bad she couldn't be there, but that was part of the reason Jackie wanted to sell the boat — so she could be closer to her family as well.
Even though Jackie couldn't be with them in person, she always stayed in touch. She made sure to check in with her mom by e-mail as soon as they got into port, and after she and Tom bought a computer and a primitive satellite system for the boat, it was even easier to send e-mails about their latest adventures. As long as she could get cell phone service, she and Gayle spoke every Sunday.
Jackie never turned off her cell phone; she even answered it when she was busy or struggling to put on her wet suit.
"Mom, can I call you back?" she'd say.
That's why Gayle became concerned on Sunday, November 21, when Jackie's phone went straight to voice mail. When they'd talked the previous Sunday, Jackie hadn't mentioned going anywhere she couldn't be reached.
Gayle tried to tell herself they must have had some miscommunication. But, as Thanksgiving approached, and Jackie still hadn't gotten in touch, Gayle's worry escalated. Jackie never missed a holiday, birthday, or anniversary without calling. Then Tricia called.
"We're concerned — we can't find them," Tricia said, explaining that she'd been calling everyone she could think of and comparing notes.
Still, Gayle tried to remain optimistic, looking out the window with hope that Tom and Jackie would drive up and surprise her for Thanksgiving.
On November 23, Jim Hawks confided in Carlsbad police Sergeant Jay Eppel, whom he'd hired and supervised for many years. Well aware that his former boss typically hid his emotions, Eppel knew Jim's concerns about his brother's welfare had to be serious.
That same day, Jim and Don drove up to Newport to check around. They met up with Carter Ford, a fellow sailor who had last heard from Jackie in a voice mail message the afternoon of the sea trial.
"Hi, Carter, we're still at sea," she said. "I don't know anything. Talk with you later. Bye."
Jim and Don hopped aboard Carter's skiff at the Lido Isle Yacht Club and powered over to the Well Deserved. The yacht was in its usual mooring, however, Jim immediately sensed a change in stewardship. Tom had a tendency to be anal, yet the green canvas cover was askew and a towel hung sloppily out of a porthole. On closer inspection Jim saw that the combination lock on the cabin door had been replaced, and peering in, he noticed that Jackie's custom- made nautical quilt wasn't on the bed. The dinghy was tied up with a knot Tom never would have made, and its motor was submerged in the corrosive salt water. Tom always lifted it out.
All of this reinforced his hope that the boat had been sold, but Jim was puzzled, nonetheless. Jim's fishing gear was still on board, along with his sailboard and the surfboard that Don had had custom-made for Tom. Jim knew the couple wouldn't have abandoned these treasured items, so, careful not to touch anything in case the boat proved to be a crime scene, he left one of his old CITY OF CARLSBAD business cards on the cabin door. He wrote "retired" next to his former police chief title, and scrawled a note on the back with his home and cell numbers: I'm trying to locate my brother Tom Hawks. Please call.
Jim and Don drove around the parking lots and side streets surrounding the harbor, looking for the Hawkses' 1998 silver Honda CRV, but found no sign of it. Where could they have gone?
At this point, seventy-five-year-old Betty Jarvi knew nothing of Tom and Jackie Hawks's disappearance, unaware that her family was destined to become intertwined with theirs in a way she could never imagine. As she lay awake at night in Anaheim, about twenty miles north of Newport, she wondered only if she would ever learn who had murdered her son almost a year earlier in Ensenada, Mexico.
Jon Peter "JP" Jarvi had always been a headstrong boy — his first word was "no" — but he loved the ladies, and they loved him. At five feet eight inches, his athletic frame moved with confidence, his sandy brown hair smoothly combed back, and his Finnish father's bright blue eyes sparkling. He flashed that wide grin and chatted up just about anyone. Betty marveled that when the two of them dined out, the waitress was often sitting down with them by dessert.
JP was intelligent, but he had a short attention span, a daring drive for adventure, and a habit of choosing the wrong friends. He also had a taste for cocaine and, even worse, heroin. Nonetheless, he managed to graduate high school early, earned his pilot's license, and started flying rich people around in private planes. As he got involved with auto racing and the flying Team America, his world was all about speed.
He'd started using the hard drugs in high school, and as the result of several back and neck surgeries, he also got hooked on painkillers and lost his pilot's license. Although the drugs were hard to kick, he rebuffed his parents' attempts to do an intervention and refused to go into treatment.
"I don't want to be around all those people," he said.
JP got involved in making jewelry, and Betty thought he was getting his life back together. But after her husband, Norm, died in February 2002, JP got in with a bad crowd that introduced him to new illegal activities. That December, JP was arrested for counterfeiting.
"I've got to learn to be a better judge of people," he told Betty.
JP had served about six months at a federal facility in Los Angeles when he received his short sentence. He was transferred to a jail in Seal Beach, where he shared a cell with Skylar Deleon for about two months.
After his release in October 2003, he and Betty went out for a meal several times a week. He was no longer friendly with his older brother, Jeff, who lived across the street from Betty, but she still enjoyed spending time with JP. He was so handy around the house, always fixing things for her, and a joy to be around.
Then, on December 27, 2003, the day after JP's forty-fifth birthday, Betty was cleaning up a mess in her kitchen when the doorbell rang, around 10:00 P.M. Flustered, she was surprised to see Jeff with a group of people standing behind him on her doorstep. Betty was as adventuresome as JP and thought nothing of standing in a field of black bears, but she knew something had to be wrong for such a contingent to be huddled there at that hour. Aware that JP's drug problems were serious, Betty had been bracing herself for the worst for some time now.
Excerpted from Dead Reckoning by Caitlin Rother. Copyright © 2011 Caitlin Rother. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Also by Caitlin Rother,
PART I SKYLAR AND JENNIFER,
PART II THE BIG PAYOFF,
PART III THE INVESTIGATION,
PART IV TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS,
AUTHOR'S NOTE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS,
The Experts Praise Dead Reckoning,