While kids were getting ready to go trick-or-treating in Granite Bay, California, police would discover a missing single mom murdered. Was it a crime of passion or was she the victim of a serial strangler?
Beloved elementary school teacher Cherilyn Hawkley was found strangled in a ghoulish Halloween murder on October 31, 1993. Her shocked family, friends and young students are heartbroken.
And residents of Granite Bay, California, are terrified there's a macabre killer on the loose in their safe, peaceful little town.
For 22 years, Cherilyn Hawkley's unsolved murder has haunted everyone who knew and loved her.
Miss Hawkley is even memorialized in a plaque from her students that remains embedded in brick and cement at Eureka Elementary School.
But now, after all this time, cold-case cops believe they may be close to finally catching the Halloween monster who killed Cherilyn Hawkley.
On October 29, 1993, in Granite Bay, a quiet bedroom community of Sacramento, it's the most fun party day of the year at Eureka Elementary, and the popular Miss Hawkley is enjoying the Halloween festivities with her class of fifth-graders.
Hawkley's life is suddenly about to be cut tragically short at age 39.
"She's last seen at the school about 4:30 or so, nothing out of the ordinary, some students and teachers see her, that's about it," said Placer County Sheriff's Detective Bryan Mattison.
And nobody would see her alive again.
"The next we know, her boyfriend's kind of looking for her that night, she doesn't come home," said Mattison. "He goes to the school, is calling family. 'What's going on?' He reports her missing."
Hawkley's ex-husband and their three children are worried too, but are trying not to be alarmed.
Then two days later, less than a mile from Eureka Elementary,
"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."
"She was strangled," said Det. Mattison.
The hunt for Cherilyn Hawkley's killer begins, and goes on for more than two decades.
Cherilyn's daughter Heather was just 14 when her mother was murdered, and Heather's sister Melissa was 16.
They have now been waiting 22 years to learn who killed their mom and left her half-clothed body in the back of her minivan.
Cops investigating the case at the time wanted to know the same thing, but they struggled to find a motive. Tests to determine if Hawkley had been sexually assaulted were inconclusive. It didn't appear to be robbery, because her purse and other personal property were still in the van. Nor was there any evidence of jealousy or a romantic encounter with someone she might have just met.
Police investigate a report of a stranger parked in a Volkswagen Bug outside Eureka Elementary the day Hawkley disappeared, but it leads nowhere.
Nor can police find any link to the unsolved murder of another woman, 35-year-old Cindy Wanner, who was also strangled in Granite Bay two years earlier.
"The manner of death, the situation involving how they were found are markedly different, the behavioral pattern of the offender is different in both of them," said Det. Mattison.
And detectives are almost certain Hawkley's killer was no stranger to her.
"When the case first started there was definitely a sense that it was probably somebody who at least knew her, somebody familiar with the area, and to a large extent that remains true today," said Det. Mattison.
But they immediately discount one of two main persons of interest: Cherilyn's boyfriend; and her ex-husband, Royal Hawkley.
Despite an extensive investigation, police come up empty in their search for Cherilyn Hawkley's killer, and the case goes cold for more than two decades, leaving residents of Granite Bay on edge to this day.
Cherilyn's daughter Heather admits she's lived in fear that her mother's killer might come after her or someone else in their family.
Now, finally, cold-case detectives Bryan Mattison and Chris Joyce of the Placer County Sheriff's Office think they could be close to solving the 1993 Halloween murder, thanks to mind-boggling advances in forensic science.
"I think DNA in this case will probably be the bridge between solved and unsolved," said Det. Mattison.
The two detectives have returned to the scene of the crime for evidence that may have been overlooked and could now be forensically examined.
And 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."
"Basically it's thousands of pages in multiple books," said Mattison. "It's every statement, report, newspaper clipping, card ever sent to the department, every interview ever done. It literally runs to 30 pounds of paper. The advantage to that is that is the information you need is in that case somewhere. The suspect's statement is in there."
"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,'" said Det. Joyce.
And detectives Joyce and Mattison revealed to Crime Watch Daily they already have a suspect they are ready to zero in on once the results of the DNA tests come back from the lab.
"I think I know who did this," said Det. Joyce.
But they won't say anything more until they have the DNA evidence to prove it.
Asked if Cherilyn Hawkley's killer is in the murder book, Mattison said, "I think so. Absolutely."
Anyone with information on this case is urged to contact the Placer County Sheriff's Office at (530) 889-7854.