Until November of 2004, Thomas and Jackie Hawks were spending their retirement cruising the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean in their fifty-five foot cabin cruiser. After the birth of their first grandchild, they decided to permanently relocate to the vicinity of their family in Prescott,Arizona. To begin this transition, they docked their boat at Newport Beach, California and placed an advertisement in a local boating magazine offering the vessel for sale at a cost of $440,000. The ad was answered by twenty-four year old Skylar DeLeon, who claimed to be a former child actor turned real estate investor. The Hawks’ were skeptical that such a young person would have the assets to buy their boat but when DeLeon returned for a second meeting and brought along his pregnant wife and infant daughter, they reasoned that his intentions were at least sincere.
The Hawks had good reason to be wary. In fact, on his first trip to the marina, Deleon had been accompanied by twenty-one year old Alonso Machain, a former jail orderly that Deleon had met while incarcerated for burglary. When Skylar was confronted for the first time by the sight of Tom Hawks, a former parole officer and weightlifting enthusiast, he realized he would have to retool the plan he had in mind. Through a mutual criminal associate, he recruited a third individual named John Kennedy to accompany him on a third trip to the marina. Ostensibly, the powerfully built Kennedy was Deleon’s “accountant” and would accompany Machain and Skylar on a test run of the boat before details for a final purchase could be arranged. In reality, Kennedy was a member of a Long Beach streetgang, had a 1988 conviction for attempted murder, and would be the final piece of the sinister puzzle being assembled by Skylar Deleon.
On November 15, 2004, the fashionably dressed trio of Deleon, Machain and Kennedy boarded the Hawks’ boat, the “Well Deserved”, and set off for what was supposed to be a routine sunset excursion toward Santa Catalina Island. At some point after the boat was well out into the ocean, Kennedy began to complain of seasickness and went below deck. Solicitous of his guest, Thomas Hawks went below as well to see about Kennedy’s condition and as he descended Kennedy ambushed him with a blow to the head and a stun gun. With the help of DeLeon, who also attacked Hawks with a stun gun, the duo quickly handcuffed the boat owner and dragged him into one of the boat’s staterooms. Hearing the commotion, Jackie Hawks tried to investigate and began to scream when Machain produced a stun gun and managed to quickly subdue her, dragging her below in handcuffs to the room that contained her husband. There, the couple had their mouths and eyes duct taped. DeLeon told them that if they did as they were told, they would be allowed to live. One by one, the couple was taken up to the cabin and forced to sign and fingerprint boat title documents as well as other documents that allowed access to the Hawks’ financial assets. Jackie Hawks must have been dubious, signing her normally meticulous signature without the “S”.
Still handcuffed, blindfolded and gagged, the couple were then lead back to the stern of the ship. In the dark night off of the Southern California coast, Jackie Hawks desperately pleaded for her life, telling Skylar that she just wanted to see her grandson one more time. Deleon and Kennedy ignored her, preparing one of the boat’s sixty pound anchors with a chain and rope that was quickly lashed to the doomed pair. Understanding what was about to happen, Thomas Hawks attempted a last ditch attempt at escape, kicking backwards and landing a solid blow to DeLeon’s groin which sent the assailant backwards onto a deck chair. Kennedy responded by punching Hawks brutally in the temple, rendering him virtually unconscious. Additional rope then secured the two tightly together as Kennedy lifted the couple towards the edge of the stern. Skylar DeLeon blithely tossed the anchor into the ocean, the rope quickly snapped taut, dragging the Hawks’ overboard, Jackie’s head slamming into the deck before the couple disappeared into the darkness.
As DeLeon steered the boat back toNewport Beach, Machain stripped it of any valuables and cash while Kennedy drank beer and fished off of the stern. Skylar attempted to cover his tracks by bribing a notary to backdate the purchase so that he could claim that the sale had occurred legitimately onshore. He even showed color photos of the Hawks’ to the notary in the event that police questioned her about their physical appearance. But it wouldn’t take long for the murder to unravel. When Thomas Hawks’ brother got no response to his calls and emails, he went to Newport Beach to investigate. Finding the boat in shambles and still unable to locate his relatives, he filed a missing person’s report and emphasized that his brother would never leave his boat voluntarily in such a condition. Within a matter of days, police had determined that the boat was now registered to Skylar DeLeon and they brought both Skylar and his wife in for questioning. Asked how he and his wife, both unemployed and living in his in-laws garage apartment could afford to buy a $440,000 cabin cruiser, Skylar finally admitted that he was attempting to launder money from a drug deal. He insisted that the last time he saw the Hawks’ was when they took his cash and set off for Mexico. The Hawks’ car was eventually recovered in Ensenada, but unfortunately Skylar was identified by eyewitnesses as the man who had abandoned the vehicle. Alonso Machain, described by Skylar as a witness to the boat transaction, was also detained and questioned. He quickly crumbled and told investigators the entire sordid tale. He agreed to testify at the trial of all three of his co-conspirators and would ultimately receive a twenty year jail sentence.
Skylar DeLeon, jailed for the Hawks’ murder, was eventually indicted for the murder of John Jarvi, an acquaintance that he swindled out of $50,000, lured to Mexico and then killed, burying Jarvi in a shallow grave. DeLeon was also charged with soliciting the murder of his own father and another potential witness against him in the Hawks’ prosecution. Orange Countyprosecutors decided to try Jennifer Henderson (she had divorced Skylar) first and declined to seek the death penalty. Although she claimed that she participated in the murders out of a deathly fear of her husband, her frequent phone conversations with Skylar on the day of the Hawks’ disappearance, her willingness to manipulate the couple by appearing with her child to put them at ease and the police recovery of a receipt from the “Well Deserved” which proved that she had purchased bleach and trash bags used to clean the crime scene were her undoing. She was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and given two terms of “life without parole”. Skylar DeLeon and John Kennedy would be convicted of first degree murder aggravated by special circumstances and would be sentenced to death.