As a professional journalist for the past 32 years, I’ve published thousands of news and feature articles for newspapers and magazines. I’ve also written and coauthored 13 books since 2005, penned countless blog posts, and I’m working on two new books as we speak.
But now that I’m looking back over my career, I realize that I’ve been researching and writing about the case of the transgender killer, Skylar Deleon, and the murder of Tom and Jackie Hawks, longer than any other story I’ve ever covered. As long as I’ve been a published author, in fact.
I’m thrilled to be working with WildBlue Press once again to release a newly revised and updated version of my book about this case, DEAD RECKONING, one of my most popular and bestselling books. This meaty update provides lots of new material, including new photos, which you can find here (wbp.bz/deadreckoninggallery), as well as a Cast of Primary Characters that will make it easier to keep track of who is who.
Here’s the basic story line of the murder: In November 2004, Skylar Deleon and a crew of criminals, including her wife, Jennifer Henderson, concocted a scheme to kill the Hawks on their yacht by tying them to an anchor and throwing them overboard—alive—off the coast of Newport Beach, California. I can’t imagine a more horrible way to die other than, perhaps, being burned alive in a fire.
Part two of the plan, to pillage the Hawkses’ bank accounts, using power of attorney documents Skylar and her crew forced the couple to sign, never came to fruition. So, Tom and Jackie were, essentially, killed for nothing.
Much can happen in fifteen years, and in this case, it certainly has. But this case is unique in comparison to others I’ve written about in that I have stayed in touch with the people involved for that entire period of time.
I’m friends on Facebook with the prosecutor, members of his staff, the lead detective, and victims’ family members. We wish each other Happy Birthday, and comment on each other’s photos of children, grandchildren, and home remodeling. Some members of the Hawks family have even come to signings for my other books, including the controversial LOST GIRLS, to support me. I did a book club by Skype with Tom’s niece, Lee Anne McCollough. I talk to Jackie’s mom, Gayle O’Neill by phone or email now and then, to give her updates. And I was honored when Jim Hawks gave me a gold “Well Deserved” commemorative pin as a thank you for writing this book.
I genuinely care about these folks, because they are such nice people. The victims’ families have lost loved ones, whom I never met, but I feel like I know them. I have continued to talk to these folks about breaking news, cultural and legal developments, because they just keep on coming.
The lead detective in this case, Dave Byington, was such a tremendous help to me, I will always be grateful for his cooperation, and we are still in touch as well. His mother is a sweetheart too, and to my knowledge, has bought more copies of this book than any other single person.
I’m also grateful to the prosecutor, Matt Murphy, and his staff, who provided me with updates and documents I needed during all three trials, which involved a two-hour drive each way, every day. (By the way, the Byington-Murphy team are also featured in another one of my books, I’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU, about the murder of Bill McLaughlin by his fiancée, Nanette Packard, and her lover, Eric Naposki. Between these two high-profile, made-for-TV cases, we must have appeared on nearly 20 different TV crime shows together.)
This newly updated version of DEAD RECKONING not only includes up-to-the-minute developments I’ve gathered in the last few months, but it also revives details that I tried to publish in my last update in 2016, which sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. Because my previous publisher let that book go out of print, I got my rights back and decided to re-issue this new version with WildBlue as a trade paperback and ebook.
This is my second book with WildBlue, which also published an updated and revised version of my one and only novel, NAKED ADDICTION, a mystery that is available as a trade paperback, ebook or audio book.
When the Hawks case started in 2004, I was still an investigative reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune, working on my first book, POISONED LOVE, which is about the Kristin Rossum case, and came out in 2005. I learned about the Hawks case because one of my coworkers wrote about the murders and an interview with Tom’s son Ryan, who lived in San Diego.
Skylar was still living and identifying as a man back then, but she’d been trying on dresses and wanting gender confirmation surgery for quite some time. She wanted it so badly, she killed this poor innocent couple of retirees to get the money to pay for it.
Skylar and Jennifer were subsequently tried and convicted, as was John F. Kennedy, and all three were sent to prison for the rest of their lives. Skylar and JFK, as he was nicknamed during the trial, were sent to death row, however Governor Gavin Newsom recently gave all condemned inmates a temporary reprieve. (Check the WBP website for my blog on the death penalty.)
The Deleons’ two children—who have been living with Jennifer’s parents since the Deleons were arrested, and who were cut off from Skylar more than a decade ago—are teenagers now, just like the grandson whose birth prompted Tom and Jackie to put their yacht, the Well Deserved, up for sale.
I have also stayed in touch with Skylar and watched her appearance and psychological state evolve. I interviewed her in the Santa Ana county jail four times before she was sentenced in 2009, when she still looked like a man, but could not stop talking about wanting to cut off her penis.
After she was transferred to death row at San Quentin prison, she started taking hormones, and wearing makeup and women’s clothes. I sat in a locked cage with her in 2015—they removed her handcuffs and left us alone in there for 2.5 hours—for another interview. In May 2019, a judge granted Skylar’s petition to legally change her name and gender to female.
It’s all described in the update.
As the LGBTQ community has been working for more civil rights and social acceptance in our culture, prison systems here in California and across the nation have had to adapt in light of court decisions concerning the medical and psychological treatment for transgender inmates. These changes include the ability for transgender inmates to apply for taxpayer-subsidized gender confirmation surgery. Although many people oppose having their tax dollars spent for this purpose, the move stems from our U.S. Constitution, which requires inmates to receive “adequate” medical care.
This updated edition will explain all of these complicated issues—and much more—but the bottom line is that Skylar Preciosa Deleon is now legally a woman. She could, conceivably, end up getting the surgery and be housed in the same prison as her ex-wife Jennifer. Such requests are made on a case-by-case basis. I will be watching to see if it happens to let you all know.
Because I attended all three trials in this case, it took me five years to put together the first edition of DEAD RECKONING, which came out in 2011. And because I had done so much research, the original manuscript was so long that I had to cut 35,000 words—or 200 pages—out of it. It became a question of what to take out and what to leave in.
Now with this detail-packed update, I’ve added to its length once again, making it the longest book I’ve ever written. I’m proud to present this new version to my readers, which has grown along with me and my career as an author. I hope you all enjoy it!
You can pre-order the book here: Amazon: wbp.bz/deadreckoninga
You can buy the book here: wbp.bz/deadreckoning
And you can learn more about me by visiting my website, https://caitlinrother.com. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.