Cherilyn Ann Gartin Hawkley (Mar 19, 1954 – Oct 31, 1993) was murdered on Halloween night in 1993. Two days later, she was found just off Elmhurst Drive less than a mile from Eureka Elementary School where she taught fifth grade, in Granite Bay, California. It is part of the Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The spot where she was found was close to Oakhills Elementary School. “To have the body found so close to where she was last seen, tells you that the total crime scene is contained within that 0.8 miles,” said Placer County Sheriff’s Detective Mattison. “She probably didn’t make it past that.” And this makes me wonder who visited that other school right when Cherilyn left hers. Did she know anyone there?
“One of our deputies are on patrol in that area and discovers a vehicle in a wooded area,” said Placer County Sheriff’s Detective Chris Joyce. “He goes up to check the vehicle and finds Miss Hawkley deceased in the van.” Her partially clothed body was found between the second and third seats in the back of her Dodge Caravan. She was strangled to death. The autopsy showed that Cherilyn died within the first 24 hours of her disappearance.
Cherilyn Ann Gartin Hawkley Timeline
Cherilyn prepared her classroom for the Halloween festivities before she vanished. “She’s last seen at the school about 4:30 or so on Oct 29, 1993, nothing out of the ordinary, some students and teachers see her, that’s about it,” said Placer County Sheriff’s Detective Bryan Mattison. When she didn’t return home, her boyfriend got worried and went to the school looking for her. He is the one who reported her missing.
Many newspaper articles just mention this man as “a boyfriend.” However, I found this piece of information in the LA Times. His name is Robin Witnauer of Anaheim and he has attended meetings of a group called Parents of Murdered Children. He started one month after Cherilyn was killed. Point is, that article identifies Cherilyn as his fiancée. If that is correct, their relationship was far more serious and that should have been respectfully reflected in newspaper reportings.
Witnauer drove to the school looking for Cherilyn. He spoke to a night custodian around 730pm, according to Eureka Principal Rick L. Schrichfield. Schrichfield said there had been “no indicators there were any reasons for concern” in her personal life.
This above-mentioned article is noteworthy for another reason: it mentions that Cherilyn was beaten. I have not seen that in other articles about her. I have some links below under resources. This is an interesting detail. Do we know how badly she was beaten? Manually or with an object? Depending on the severity, we have blood spatter inside the car that can tell us something about movement, angle, speed, and intensity.
After Cherilyn was found, police struggled to find the motive for this crime. Tests to find out if she had been sexually assaulted were inconclusive. It did not seem to be a robbery because her purse and other personal items were still in the van. There was no evidence of jealousy or an affair with someone she might have just met. So who did this? Someone she knew or a complete stranger? If it was someone she knew was it a crime of passion?
In the papers I found that Cherilyn had been strangled with a cord or rope that was never found. That too is an interesting detail. It means reflection and a moment of clarity. Reflection on what was done and the clarity of mind to remove the murder weapon from the scene reducing the risk of identification. If that rope had been found in the van on or Cherilyn’s body, we would have found touch DNA on the ends and along the line where hands held it tight around her neck.
In this article from the Sacramento Been of Nov 14, 2013 it said that Cherilyn had not been sexually assaulted. Does that mean we had the DNA tests back in 2013 about sexual assault?
Since an autopsy was done I wonder about her neck. Was she strangled from behind (in a surprise attack) or from the front facing her attacker? Was there one or multiple attempts to strangle Cherilyn? This could be visible from her skin. Did the autopsy report mention any beatings?
Cherilyn had recently divorced Royal Hawkley after a 15-year marriage. They have three children: Melissa, Heather, and Ryan. After the divorce they stayed with their father in Chico. Cherilyn moved to Roseville.
For the record: police have eliminated both Robin Witnauer and Royal Hawkley as suspects.
At first, authorities thought a stranger might be responsible for this murder. However, in this 2015 article, Placer County Sheriff’s Office detectives Bryan Mattison and Chris Joyce now think they have a new theory: “All signs point to the fact, that she likely knew her assailant,” said Joyce.
Old forensic evidence found in the van, including a ligature, are being retested with new forensic technology. Ligature is just an umbrella term. It means anything that can be used to tie or bind. In other words, they found something that could have been used as a murder weapon but until we have the test results back we do not know what it is and that it had been used. But in 1993, they already mentioned “rope.” I wish the reporting was more consistent.
Mattison is confident police already spoke to the killer when the original investigation took place. “They are somewhere in the binder you have. That name has already come up somewhere. You just have to kind of narrow it down. I think DNA in this case will probably be the bridge between solved and unsolved,” said Det. Mattison. The two detectives even visited the crime scene to check if anything was overlooked that should be send to a lab for forensic examination.
This Crime Watch Daily article from 2016 says that “they have already taken old evidence collected over the past 22 years, including the rope she was strangled with, and submitted it for fresh DNA analysis they hope will ensnare their suspect. They are also painstakingly sifting through what they call the “murder book.”
If this is correct we have confirmation that the ligature was a rope (and not a shoelace, string, belt, etc.) and that it was confirmed to be the murder weapon. That means they found Cherilyn Ann Gartin Hawkley’s DNA on it. But that also means they could have touch DNA from her killer. Unless he wore gloves, the endings of the rope will show touch DNA e.g. dead skin cells left when his hands took a firm grip on the rope before tightening. Having touch DNA means you can try to run it through various databases. And this means that since we have not heard anything anymore, they either didn’t find a match or are still running the sample.
As for the murder book, it refers to the entire case file with all reports, statements, newspaper clippings, etc.
A remark from Det. Joyce should be quoted here: “Now we have the ability to incorporate scientific evidence into those statements to either contradict or corroborate someone’s statement, which gives us the ability to say ‘You’re absolutely lying, you lied to us back then, you’re lying to us now.'”
He told Crime Watch Daily in 2016 that they have someone on their radar.
“I think I know who did this,” said Det. Joyce.
As long as we are testing, I hope that the authorities will use the M-Vac as it is a superior way to collect materials for testing. It remains to be seen if they will use familial DNA. We have seen results with that in the case of the Golden State Killer. Until all results are back, the detectives are talking to family, friends and old witnesses in the case again.
Police checked reports of a stranger who parked his Volkswagen Bug outside Eureka Elementary School on the day that Cherilyn disappeared. It didn’t go anywhere.
Authorities also did not find a link to the unsolved murder of Cindy Wanner (35). She had been strangled in Granite Bay two years before. “The manner of death, the situation involving how they were found are markedly different, and the behavioral pattern of the offender is different in both of them,” said Det. Mattison.
A memorial on the Emporia State University campus was dedicated in a special ceremony to honor 113 educators who died while teaching. After the Sandy Hook massacre, Carol Strickland, director of the National Teacher’s Hall of Fame, wanted to create a memorial to honor all teachers who died in “the line of duty.” When she began her research she found 113 cases. This memorial includes Cherilyn Ann Gartin Hawkley.
If you have any information in the Cherilyn Ann Gartin Hawkley case please call the Placer County Sheriff’s Office at (530) 889-7854. If you wish to remain anonymous call Placer County Crime Stoppers at (800) 923-8191 or go online to tips.placercrimestoppers.com. Any tips that lead to an arrest are eligible for a cash reward.