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What Happened to Tom and Jackie Hawks?

A couple sold their yacht in November and drove off, says the supposed buyer -- and murder suspect. They haven't been seen since.

May 23, 2005|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

It had been a week since anyone had heard from Tom and Jackie Hawks, and that wasn't right for a pair as dependable as the tides.

The 55-foot yacht that the retired couple called home still was moored in Newport Harbor when Tom's older brother, Jim, arrived to track them down.

Waiting for him that late November day was Carter Ford, port captain of the Lido Isle Yacht Club, who had befriended the Hawkses, finding the newcomers refreshingly unpretentious and endearing in a world where people often are intent on flashing their wealth.

Ford had already noticed that the 11-foot dinghy that ferried Tom and Jackie between the Well Deserved and Balboa Peninsula was tied sloppily to the dock, and its motor was still in the water, mistakes the couple would never make.

Something wasn't right.

The men jumped into Ford's 21-foot harbor cruiser and made the five-minute trip to the Well Deserved.

They circled the yacht a couple of times. The green canvas that covered the nautical equipment was half off. A towel hung out of a porthole. They could tell this wasn't the way Tom and Jackie would care for the boat. They pulled up closer, and Jim, a former Carlsbad police chief, went on board and left his card.

The next day, a woman called. She said that she and her husband, Skylar Deleon, had bought the boat about 10 days before but hadn't seen the Hawkses since then. If you hear from them, she said, tell Tom my husband needs to talk to him about changing the fuel tanks.

Nobody heard from the Hawkses again.

A few weeks later, Skylar Deleon, 25 -- who had said he was a former child actor -- was arrested by police. Authorities say he hatched the plan to kill the Hawkses, steal their boat and loot their bank account. He and four other people -- including his wife, Jennifer -- have been charged with murder.

Police say that somewhere between Newport Harbor and Santa Catalina, the Hawkses were handcuffed to the boat's anchor and thrown overboard alive. Tom was 57; Jackie, was 47. Their bodies have not been found.

In the days after the disappearance, Deleon drove the Hawkses' car to an Arizona bank, where, police say, he tried to empty the couple's bank account using a document signed by the Hawkses giving him power of attorney. Unsuccessful, he tried again a couple of days later, calling the bank from Mexico, and abandoned the couple's car in Ensenada, police say. On Nov. 26, the family filed a missing-persons report.

Deleon told police that on Nov. 15 he paid the Hawkses more than $400,000 in cash for the Well Deserved and watched as they got into their silver Honda CR-V and drove off from Newport Beach.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled for late May or early June.


The Hawkses were the kind of people personal finance magazines hold up as models.

They invested well in real estate and bought the Well Deserved in October 2000. Shortly before Tom retired as a Yavapai County, Ariz., deputy probation officer in August 2001, they sold their house and moved onto the boat, mooring it in Long Beach. It had two decks, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a galley. The interior was hand-carved teak.

Tom added wooden racks for a kayak and a windsurfer. He equipped the boat with the latest electronics, a generator and a 400-gallon-a-day desalination system so they could stay at sea for months.

Tom was so good with his hands that "he could turn a dump into a mansion," said his son Ryan, 28, of San Diego.

After divorcing his first wife, Tom moved from Del Mar to Prescott, Ariz., where he bought a small cabin and nearly quadrupled its size, adding three bedrooms, a gym and a sewing room.

Tom and Jackie met in 1986 at a chili cookoff. They were fitness buffs, and Tom worked out an hour and a half a day. Jackie went to a gym religiously. Tom was an Arizona arm-wrestling champion, and he competed in amateur bodybuilding competitions into his early 50s, said Ryan Hawks and his brother, Matt, 26, of Buckeye, Ariz.

Tom wrote an article for the yachting magazine Latitudes & Attitudes' February 2005 issue explaining how to exercise in the limited confines of a boat. The photos show a short-haired man with a mustache curling past the corners of his lips, his large biceps straining under the weight of a pair of dumbbells.

Jackie grew up in Mentor, Ohio, a block from Lake Erie and moved to Arizona after high school. She was on the back of her first husband's HarleyDavidson in 1985 when a car pulled out of a side street and crashed into them, said her mother, Gayle O'Neill. Jackie's husband was killed, and she barely survived.

She and Tom married in 1989. His two boys lived with them most of the time, and they called her Mom.

"Tom would walk on water for her," said Tricia Schutz, a Prescott friend. "I've never experienced a couple that much in love, that compatible working together."

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