The Final Voyage: Retired California couple chained to anchor, thrown off their own yacht
04/30/2018 5:44 pm PDT
A headline-dominating murder mystery in California. A brutal crime filled with so much greed, deception and pure evil that it will continue to be talked about for years to come.
Thomas and Jackie Hawks were living the life they always dreamed of: sailing the Pacific Ocean for nearly two years on a yacht appropriately named Well Deserved.
"The best example one could ever hope for of how couples should treat each other," said Carter Ford, a friend of the Hawks. "They were just totally devoted."
The loving couple had worked hard their entire lives, Tom as a probation officer and Jackie as a stepmom to Tom's two sons. And when they retired, they bought their dream boat, the Well Deserved, a 55-foot yacht. Life couldn't have been better on board.
"They personally were precious people to talk with," said friend Judy Weightman.
Weightman and Ford moored their boats near the Hawks in the same upscale harbor in ritzy Newport Beach, California.
"They lived on the boat better than most people can live in a house," said Ford.
The Hawks cruised the most exotic ports of call from California to the Mexican Riviera. Little did Tom and Jackie know they would soon be headed into troubled waters and a dangerous transition they never saw coming.
After two years of endless vacations, Tom and Jackie's dream is suddenly interrupted in the most wonderful way.
"They had a new grandbaby in Arizona," said author Caitlin Rother.
Crime writer Caitlin Rother says Tom and Jackie decided to embark on a new journey.
"They wanted to get back to Arizona and spend time with this little boy," said Rother.
Tom and Jackie put their beloved Well Deserved up for sale. Instead of paying a hefty commission to a boat broker, they were going to sell the yacht themselves.
"For Tom and Jackie the savings of that fee was going to be significant with what they were going to have left, so they advertised in boating magazines," said Carter Ford.
The Hawks place a small ad in Yachting World magazine, asking $435,000 for the meticulously maintained Well Deserved.
Now all they needed was a legitimate buyer. And it didn't take long.
"They got interest from a buyer for the Well Deserved," said Caitlin Rother. "This buyer though was young, 25 years old."
The buyer tells Tom he has cash -- lots of it.
"This guy said he had made money as a child actor and made some money in real estate," said Rother.
Initially Tom, the former probation officer is skeptical. But then the buyer does something that eases both Tom and Jackie's fears.
"He brought his wife, and his wife was pregnant, and she brought their little baby daughter in a stroller and that made Jackie and Tom trust them," said Rother.
The Hawks accept an all-cash offer for their asking price of $435,000, and an additional $15,000 for some personal items. Tom and Jackie celebrate their financial windfall with one last trip on board the Well Deserved.
But before the deal is officially sealed, the buyer calls with one more request: a sea trial to inspect the hull and to test the motors.
"The idea is to take the boat out on a sea trial and then they're going to come back and finish the deal," said Rother.
Tom and Jackie expect the buyer and his wife to show up. But this time he has a different crew.
"The buyer comes with a young guy, skinny guy and a much bigger guy, who he says is his accountant," said Rother.
The Hawks are a little suspicious, but agree, and cautiously navigate their way out of Newport Harbor and into open waters for one final voyage on the Well Deserved.
Carter Ford says he made plans to meet up with the Hawks later that night. But as darkness descended over Newport Harbor, he got a troubling message from Jackie.
"'Hey Carter, we don't know why we're not back at shore yet, we're still out here on the sea trial.' We really don't know what's happening other than the fact that they're telling us that there still sea-trialing the boat," said Ford.
Jackie says they'll let him know when they get back to the harbor. But they never called.
When the sun rises, the Well Deserved is moored back in Newport Harbor, but Tom and Jackie are nowhere to be found.
"When they never turned up, it sends chills up your back, of course," said Ford.
The 55-foot yacht is moored back in Newport Harbor, but the Hawks seemed to have vanished into the ocean air.
"They're not calling their friends, they're not calling their family, they're not answering their cellphones, and you know something's wrong," said author Caitlin Rother.
Rother says Tom and Jackie's SUV was also missing, so initially friends assumed the Hawks took a road trip to celebrate their financial windfall.
But when the Hawks failed to contact anyone for more than a week, the family asks Carter Ford to cruise out to the Well Deserved and dig around a little. And when Ford steps onboard the normally meticulously kept yacht, his heart sinks.
What first alerted you that something was wrong with the boat?
"The way it was left, not only was the boat sloppy, there was a white towel hanging out the port hole on the side," said Ford. "This does not look good."
The family immediately files a missing-persons report.
"When I first got the call, I had one of the detectives, I said 'Head out to the yacht, see what you can see,'" said retired Newport Beach Police Detective David Byington.
Retired Detective Sgt. Byington says the detective smashed the lock on the cabin door and entered with caution.
"There wasn't any signs of violence," said Byington.
They find that white towel and a fresh inkpad wedged between the master bed and a wall. Then something else stops him dead in his tracks: a receipt.
"And on this receipt were bleach, cleaning supplies, heavy-duty trash bags and Tums," said Byington. "Just something in the back of my head said 'Well, if I was going to commit a murder, that would be my 'clean kit.' I'd get bags to destroy evidence, clean up and down with bleach wipes, and maybe my stomach would be upset so I would take some Tums."
Newport Police now want to know who was buying the Well Deserved.
"So the buyers were this young couple, Skylar Deleon, 25 years old, and his wife, Jennifer. Jennifer's pregnant and they have a little baby daughter," said Caitlin Rother.
Skylar Deleon may look familiar: he's a former child actor appearing on the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" TV show. His wife Jennifer, the daughter of Christian evangelical parents, worked as a hairdresser.
"He wanted to get the boat with his wife to live on and charter and so have a business on the boat and take families out fishing," said Rother.
With still no sign of the Hawks, Byington secretly puts a surveillance team on the Deleons.
Undercover officer David Moon tracks them down at a local church, but they aren't there to pray. They're actually cleaning the church.
"We show up at a church and he's volunteering his time there with his wife and baby," said Byington.
"We'd also followed Jennifer, she was a hairdresser, and to her job, and she was just walking in, cutting hair," said Newport Beach Police Officer David Moon. "They looked pretty normal. Just a young couple doing their thing.
"I'm expecting to see, you know, some bad guys that you'd get from Hollywood casting. This wasn't it. This was this husband and wife volunteering their time at a church, cleaning," said Byington.
Skylar Deleon and his wife are regulars at church, but they're not volunteering much to help police find the Hawks.
Detectives uncover that Skylar was on probation after being busted for burglary. And when they dig into their finances, they find the couple is $87,000 in debt, living in Jennifer's parents' garage.
Cops start to wonder where in the world did they get the money to buy the Well Deserved? It certainly wasn't from Deleon's acting career.
"Skylar Deleon had told people that he had been on 'Mighty Morpin Power Rangers,' but in fact it turned out he had just had two minor non-speaking roles," said Caitlin Rother.
Detective Byington hauls Skylar in for questioning, and in the recorded interrogation, Skylar adamantly maintains they did in fact buy the Well Deserved.
"We spent like 485 on it."
"And that was cash, right? That you paid them that day?"
"I go 'How is it that you have this money that you could buy this yacht?' And he said, he almost dropped his shoulders, and said 'I have to be honest with you, the money I got was from drug sales,'" Byington tells Crime Watch Daily.
Skylar says he gave Tom Hawks a briefcase filled with mostly one hundred dollar bills he'd laundered out of Mexico; he handed over the dirty money, and Tom and Jackie signed over the Well Deserved.
"Did he seem nervous?"
"He was excited but nervous. He was just like 'Let's just close this up.'"
"Was it in the trunk so you're out of view, or was it just on the back of the trunk?"
"We were out of view."
Skylar tells Byington the Hawks then asked him if he would use his connections to help the couple open up a bank account in Mexico so they could buy a house.
"He was saying that him and his wife, they were looking at places in San Carlos."
"Did he say anything specific regarding that? 'Cause that's what we're trying to focus looking for them."
"He just said that they liked the Sea of Cortez."
Skylar takes his story one step further, telling Detective Byington that Tom and Jackie even signed a power of attorney giving him full access to move all of their money to Mexico.
"You're telling me you got these two power of attorneys specifically for that, you didn't embellish it any other way. Nothing like that."
As suspicious as it all sounds, the Deleons produce a power of attorney that looks legitimate.
"They hand them over to the police, they are signed, everything looks OK," said Rother.
"Skylar, you have nothing to do with disappearance, wife doesn't either, nobody in your family, your dad. Nobody, right?"
"Even though the story didn't ring true, my first instincts, when I talked to Skylar, was that I don't see him doing anything," said Byington.
Adding to Skylar Deleon's credibility, cellphone towers show the Hawks' phones were "pinging" near the Mexican border the morning after they sea-trialed the boat with Skylar.
Detectives are back at zero, and they turn to the Hawks family for help.
"The Hawks' son Ryan is a really good-looking individual, so we put him in front of the cameras on national news for a plea to find this car and his parents," said Byington.
Cops get the hit they've been waiting for, and it's across the border.
"We finally got a call from an American citizen down in Mexico who said 'Hey, I'm watching the news right now and you say you're looking for a car and I'm looking at it,'" said Byington. "And sure as hell, here's the Hawks' vehicle sitting there."
Thomas and Jackie Hawks did what thousands of people do: They took out an ad to sell their yacht. Little did they know they were setting themselves up for a trap.
Detectives are staring at Tom and Jackie Hawks' missing SUV. It's spotted outside a house near Ensenada, Mexico.
Is this the break Newport Beach Detective Sgt. David Byington has been waiting for? The Hawks mysteriously disappeared more than a month prior, last seen heading out to sea onboard their yacht.
A Mexican federale takes the lead and knocks on the door. Byington speaks very little Spanish, but even he understands what the man says.
"The gentleman inside the house said the name Skylar Deleon," said Byington.
The same Skylar Deleon who bought the Well Deserved, and he wasn't alone.
"And then I hear the same Mexican gentleman inside say Jennifer's name," said Byington.
The gentleman at the door is an old surfing buddy, and says Skylar gave him the car. After that, Deleon's very pregnant wife Jennifer picked him up and drove him back to the States.
"He swabbed the knobs within the car and end up hitting Skylar's DNA on the heater knob in there, so it turned out to be amazing," said Byington.
Detectives now believe something bad happened to Tom and Jackie on the Well Deserved -- but what?
Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy smells big trouble.
"This case was uniquely diabolical," Murphy tells Crime Watch Daily.
Murphy suspects Skylar and possibly his wife Jennifer are both involved in the Hawks' disappearance, but he needs proof.
So he circles back to that power of attorney. Skylar told detectives the Hawks willingly signed it, hoping Skylar Deleon could help them buy a home in Mexico.
"They had a durable power of attorney, OK. That makes no sense," said Murphy. "That would give this young 22, 23-year-old couple, strangers to them still, access to their bank accounts."
Here's the problem: the notary, a woman named Kathleen Harris, tells cops it's the real deal, claiming she witnessed the Hawks signing the papers and personally took the required fingerprints to make the documents legal.
"She said, 'I was down there, I saw the transaction. I didn't see how much money was in the suitcase,' but she tells the same story essentially that Skylar told. They also had fingerprints all over the documents," said Murphy.
But when cops ask the notary to physically describe Tom and Jackie Hawks, she stumbles.
"She describes Tom to a tee, but she described Jackie as having brown curly hair, which was odd because Jackie, when they moved onto the Well Deserved, she cut her long curly hair and she spiked it and dyed it blonde. So that was one of those things, it didn't quite make sense."
Could the notary just be confused? The fingerprints on the power of attorney are an exact match, and the signatures also appear to be legitimate.
"We send these things off to the FBI and the finest handwriting experts in the world look at it and go, 'That is Tom's signature,'" said Murphy.
The experts also confirm it's Jackie's signature -- but there is something strange.
"Their last name is Hawks with an 's,' OK, and she wrote 'Jackie Hawk,' and somebody else came in later and wrote in an 's' that's inconsistent with her signature," said Murphy.
Murphy believes Jackie may have been secretly trying to alert someone they were in deep trouble.
"She wanted to send a signal to somebody in the future that something here is not right," said Murphy.
And just as Murphy is about turn the spotlight on the Deleons, the D.A. gets tipped off that Skylar is about to scramble like a cockroach looking for cover.
"Suddenly Skylar contacts his probation officer and says 'Can I get permission to leave the country?'" said Caitlin Rother.
So the quick-thinking D.A. comes up with a plan, and it's all caught on audio tape. An arrest warrant is issued for Skylar Deleon for money-laundering. During Skylar's interrogation, he confessed to laundering money from a Mexican drug deal.
As the officer moves in to cuff Skylar, he is reportedly wearing an adult diaper at the time.
"So they arrest Skylar and Jennifer has the gall to start being angry at the police officers, like 'You have some nerve to take my husband away,' and it was just an unbelievable scene," said Rother.
Detectives also head to that converted garage apartment at Jennifer's parents' place, where the two have been living. Cops hit the jackpot.
"They find all of Tom and Jackie's stuff. They find their camera, they find driver's license and other kinds of very personal belongings," said Rother.
And detectives can't help but notice that in Jackie's driver's license, she looks remarkably similar to how the notary described her.
"So that raised suspicions about the notary, and did the notary actually witness these documents being signed or not," said Rother.
Cops are beginning to suspect there are more people involved with the Hawks' disappearance than just the Deleons.
Detectives also stumble across something else in the garage that raises a few eyebrows.
"One of my detectives found a business card from LAPD and the detective was assigned to as a liaison with Interpol," said Byington.
Newport Police contact the Interpol agent, and when detectives reveal they're investigating Skylar's possible involvement in the disappearance of the Hawks, the agent hits them with a jaw-dropper.
"He says 'That's funny because I was talking to him a year ago because we were looking at him for murder of an American citizen in Mexico," said Byington. "I go, 'They killed the Hawks, because this is no way,' you know, this is too much of a coincidence."
But Mexican federales could never link Skylar Deleon to the murder.
"We have no proof he did anything illegal but its stinks on ice," said Byington.
The noose is quickly tightening around Skylar Deleon in the disappearance of Tom and Jackie Hawks. Cops just need to figure out motive and method.
On a hunch, Murphy calls an old boating buddy he met in Indonesia named "Salty Sam."
"I'm like, 'Hey, man. What should we be looking for on a boat if we're trying to figure out if there was a murder committed?' And without skipping a beat, he said 'Look for missing anchors,'" said Matt Murphy.
Investigators go back to the ad the Hawks had placed in that yachting magazine.
"And in every single photo there were two anchors on the bow," said Murphy.
They rush back out to the harbor to check the Well Deserved. And sure enough:
"On the bow of the boat there's only one anchor, and there should have been two," said Murphy.
"Our working theory was 'Hey, they had him sign the paperwork, they shot them, they threw them overboard,'" said retired Newport Beach detective David Byington.
Cops claim Skylar Deleon is actually a master manipulator. Detectives don't believe Deleon ever intended to buy Tom and Jackie Hawks' yacht. Instead, they say, he hatched a twisted plan to steal it by murdering the Hawks in cold blood, then dumping their bodies into the Pacific Ocean.
"Utterly diabolical," said Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy. "He used his kids to get two innocent people to trust him enough that he would go out to sea with them and they'd let their guard down. And that's what happened."
Murphy has Deleon arrested for money-laundering so he can build a case. But it becomes crystal clear Skylar Deleon didn't pull of the elaborate scheme by himself. Authorities believe his pregnant wife Jennifer was his partner in crime who helped him set the trap.
"The entire investigation at that point shifted to her," said Murphy.
Still, Murphy needs solid evidence to prove Jennifer was a willing accomplice. And he finally gets it.
"We actually have video surveillance pictures of them walking up to the teller, and Jennifer's got a grin ear to ear," said Byington. "They came up and said 'We want to get money out for the Hawks, and here's the power of attorney,' and the manager comes over and says 'I know the Hawks and I'm not giving you a dime until we verify this.'"
"Physically, she wasn't on that boat, she was absolutely on that boat in every other way. She's cheerleading the whole time," said Matt Murphy.
It was all the proof Murphy needed to charge Jennifer as an accomplice. But instead he makes Deleon's wife an offer he thinks she can't refuse: immunity. All Jennifer has to do is rat out her husband.
"She's probably about seven months' pregnant, at that point, so she told us to pound sand," said Murphy. "Young love prevailed and she said no."
Murphy then goes back to Kathleen Harris, the notary that he suspects lied about witnessing the Hawks sign the power of attorney documents. But Harris doesn't flinch either.
"Everybody stuck to the same story. So we had to see if there was somebody that would tell us the truth," said Murphy.
And there in black and white is the mistake that will sink the Deleon's story, a name staring prosecutors right the face: A signature on that power of attorney of a man who witnessed the deal going down, Alonso Machain.
"So Alonso was 19 years old at the time, living with his parents, and he's working at the Seal Beach city jail," said Murphy.
Machain worked as a jail guard, and he'd befriended Deleon when he was serving time for burglary.
"They develop this weird sort of friendship. And I mean he wraps Alonso around his finger and gets Alonso to go with him for all these meetings with Tom and Jackie Hawks," said Murphy.
But when cops try to haul Machain in for questioning, he flees to Mexico. Again, Murphy offers up a deal. He can't give Machain complete immunity, but if he returns and tells his side of the story, Murphy will take the death penalty off the table.
"He decided at that point to do the right thing," said Murphy.
Detectives turn on a tape recorder and Alsono Machain tells his story.
"Skylar approaches me with this plan he has. He was going to do something that was going to make some money. So he offers me to help him."
Machain tells detectives there was another man in Deleon's crew that day. Deleon introduced him to the Hawks as his accountant. But he was actually a notorious gang-banger and a convicted killer named John F. Kennedy.
"He'd been to prison before, he was an original founding member of a gang called the Long Beach Insane Crips," said Matt Murphy.
Machain says before he, Deleon and Kennedy board the Well Deserved, Deleon gives them strict orders.
"The plan is that we were supposed to kidnap them and take them out to sea and toss them overboard."
"And how was he planning to do that?"
"Tasers. He thought of Tasers."
Machain says once out to sea, they set their plan in motion. Kennedy pretends to be seasick and goes down below into the cabin.
"Mr. Hawks becomes concerned because John F. Kennedy is not returning, so he goes down, Skylar follows Mr. Hawks down to the lower area and that's when he gets ambushed," said David Byington.
Up on deck, Jackie Hawks hears the commotion.
"She says 'What's going on,' and that's when they were actually holding him down. Then that's when I realized that I had to, you know, hold her."
"Alonso at that point produces a Taser and tasers her," said Murphy.
"I was able to cuff Mrs. Hawks. At this time I walked her down to the bedroom area where Skylar told me to go get some tape from the engine room. He got the tape and he told me to tape their eyes, tape their mouth."
"Jackie Hawks is crying and screaming through the piece of cloth over her mouth, and Alonso says the only thing he can see is Mr. Hawks stroking her hand with his fingers, the handcuffed hands, trying to calm her down, and rightly so, because I know Tom Hawks knows what's going to happen," said Byington.
"They had them one by one go up to the kitchen area where she was first. They had her sign a power of attorney."
"Skylar told them 'I'm going to let you go if you cooperate. If you don't we're going to kill you here,'" said Byington.
Alonso Machain says Deleon then heads to the cockpit and punches coordinates into the GPS to steer straight toward the deepest part of the ocean near Catalina Island.
Jackie and Tom, still cuffed and blindfolded, are led to the deck of the boat.
"Got some rope, got up to the back, tied them together."
Then a sound pierces through the ocean waves, a sound Tom and Jackie have heard hundreds of times.
"At that point Skylar disconnects one of the anchors from the bow of the boat and he drags the chain, so they're inside a fiberglass boat and he's dragging the chain to the back," said Murphy.
"He knows that sound," said Byington. "You don't need vision to know that, 'cause they're blindfolded. That chain's coming down the side."
"And she's begging for her life and she's saying 'I have to see my grandchild one more time. I have to see my grandchild again. I'm too young to die,'" said Murphy. "And Tom was stroking her hand, saying 'It's OK, we're going to be together.' So at that point they know what's going to happen. They're going overboard."
"I didn't believe what I was looking at, just pushed them."
The brand new grandparents were still alive when the 50-pound anchor plummeted to the bottom of the sea, dragging the helpless couple 3,600 feet straight down.
Alonso Machain witnessed the inhumanity, and unbearable cruelty of Skylar Deleon, the twisted mastermind behind the murders.
"Skylar picked up this massive anchor and threw it over the side of the boat, and they have the most horrific death I can imagine, and their bodies were never recovered," said retired detective David Byington.
Machain, who helped Deleon kidnap the Hawks, is now a witness against him, telling investigators after Deleon threw the Hawks overboard, he started getting rid of any sign of the Hawks.
"He collected all of Tom and Jackie's personal photographs and tossed them overboard like they were Frisbees," said Matt Murphy. "Skylar had no remorse at all. Skylar Deleon is a complete psychopath."
Once Deleon got rid of the evidence, Machain tells investigators, Deleon and John Kennedy kicked back and started fishing on the way back to harbor in Newport Beach, California.
"How was Skylar acting maybe while this was happening?"
"He was calm, like it was the most normal thing."
Skylar Deleon, John Kennedy and Alonso Machain are all charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Days later, Jennifer Deleon is still standing by her man, telling a Los Angeles television station her husband is absolutely innocent.
Cops say not only is Skylar guilty, but Jennifer is too. Prosecutors charge Jennifer with two counts of murder, claiming she helped carry out the murders from the shore. The motive clear and simple: the Deleons wanted money.
"She's a witch. She knew that they had no money, and yet she's going out to meet the people that are selling Skylar this yacht, and she's bringing her child," said Byington. "She might as well have tied the anchor to those people and thrown them over too."
Separate juries hear each case, but they all come back with the same verdict: guilty.
Jennifer Deleon is sentenced to life in prison.
Alonso Machain is given leniency and sentenced to 20 years.
John F. Kennedy is sentenced to death for the double murder.
Before Skylar Deleon's trial even begins, he's hit with a third murder rap.
"He not only murdered the Hawks, but he murdered, slit the throat of another American in Mexico a year earlier," said Byington.
Cops say Deleon slit the throat of a man named Jon Jarvi after luring him with a promise of turning an investment of $50,000 into more cash. Prosecutors say there was no deal; the motive for the murder was all for fun.
"They purchased a new car because they wanted something to tool their little brood around in," said Matt Murphy. "And then he made a bunch of internet purchases including a $658 piston-driven sex toy."
Nearly five years after the Hawks were murdered, Skylar Deleon faces trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.
"There was another motive, and it was a primary motive, and that was that Skylar Deleon wanted to get gender-reassignment surgery," said crime author Caitlin Rother.
"He had already put down a $500 deposit on this surgery and had one scheduled for two weeks after the Hawks were murdered, but they didn't have the money," said Rother.
Rother knows Skylar Deleon as well as anyone. She started visiting him in prison while researching her book.
"All Skylar wanted to talk was how he wanted to get rid of his penis," said Rother.
But with no money and thinking there was no chance of making the transition while sitting in a cell, Rother says Skylar made a desperate attempt.
"He tried to cut his penis off in jail with a razor," said Rother.
But now the state of California is paying for Skylar Deleon to transition to a woman. Deleon is currently sitting in the psych ward on death row at San Quentin.
"And Skylar is now living as a woman and wants to be called 'she,'" said Rother.
"It's ridiculous," said Byington. "There are legitimate people out there with transgender issues that work their tails off their whole life, if they are lucky enough to get a surgery. Skylar doesn't deserve that right. Skylar doesn't get to kill people and then get rewarded, and that's kind of the way it feels."
Skylar Deleon and his wife have since divorced while behind bars. Deleon continues to maintain he had nothing to do with the Hawks' deaths and has appealed his conviction.