Details of Disappearance
Thomas was last seen together with his wife of seventeen years, Jackie, in Newport Beach, California on November 15, 2004. They were driving their silver 1998 Honda CRV with the Arizona license plate number 774CPE. Neither of them has ever been heard from again. A photograph of the CRV is posted with this case summary.
Thomas had been employed as an adult probation officer for Yavapai County in Arizona until his retirement in 2001. He and Jackie had bought a 55-foot fiberglass Lien Hwa houseboat, named the Well Deserved, and lived for two years at a dock in the area of 15th Street and Balboa Boulevard in Newport Beach, but still claimed residency in Prescott, Arizona. They spent their time traveling in their boat and often made trips to San Diego, California and San Carlos, Mexico.
Jackie and Thomas kept in close touch with their friends and family with frequent shore visits, cellular phone calls, and a satellite email system. Their children reported them missing after they had not heard from them for several days.
Thomas's brother went to examine their boat and saw that it was deserted and that many of the couple's personal belongings were on board and several items were out of place. The eleven-foot dinghy the Hawkses used to get from shore to the boat was tied to the dock with its motor still in the water. This is uncharacteristic of Thomas and Jackie, who usually kept their boats very neat, clean and well maintained.
The Hawkses reportedly sold the Well Deserved shortly before their disappearances. A photograph of the boat is posted with this case summary. It was too much work for them to maintain and they decided to buy a smaller vessel and a house near San Carlos, closer to their family and friends in Arizona.
They were allegedly paid $400,000 in cash for the Well Deserved the day they vanished. Thomas and Jackie planned to remove all their possessions from the vessel before turning it over to its new owner.
It was originally thought that Jackie and Thomas had simply gone off on an impromptu trip together, but their loved ones all said they would not have left without telling anyone. Their first grandchild was born shortly before they vanished and they frequently inquired about him. Their credit cards, email and bank accounts, and cellular phones have not been used since their disappearances.
After the Hawkses' disappearances, authorities seized the boat as evidence. They said that the buyer cooperated with the investigation.
On December 16, a month after Jackie and Thomas vanished, their car was found in Ensenada, Mexico, about seventy miles from the United States border. The next day, police arrested the houseboat's buyer, Skylar Julius Deleon (whose birth name was John Julius Jacobson Jr.), for money laundering.
Investigators stated that the cash Skylar paid for the Well Deserved had been obtained through the sale of illegal drugs. In January 2005, prosecutors withdrew the money laundering charges against Skylar and charged him instead with grand theft in connection with an incident unrelated to the Hawkses' cases.
Over the course of several days in March 2005, prosecutors charged Skylar, his wife Jennifer Henderson Deleon, and Myron Sandora Gardner, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Alonso A. Machain, with murdering Thomas and Jackie.
Photographs of all of the suspects are posted with this case summary. Gardner and Kennedy are members of the Insane Crips street gang; Machain was a jailer who met Skylar while Skylar was in a work furlough program as the result of a burglary conviction.
On November 14, the day before the couple disappeared, Skylar called a residence in Ensenada, Mexico. It was the same residence where the Hawkses' car was found in December
A receipt for the purchase of heavy-duty garbage bags and bleach was found on the boat. Authorities believe one of Skylar's relatives bought the items, which can be used to dispose of bodies. Skylar also made at least two unsuccessful attempts to access the Hawkses' bank accounts using a power of attorney document.
Authorities believe the couple were killed as part of a scheme to steal their boat and other assets. Court documents stated Thomas and Jackie were taken by surprise and overpowered on the Well Deserved, bound with duct tape, handcuffed to the boat's anchor, and tossed into the ocean while still alive. Prosecutors stated that the alleged sale of the boat never took place and the documents associated with the purchase had been forged.
In August 2005, Skylar was charged with another, unrelated December 2003 murder. He allegedly stole $50,000 from a man named Jon Peter Jarvi, slit his throat, and left his body by a Mexican highway.
In July 2006, he was additionally charged with soliciting others to kill two witnesses: his father, who was a witness against him in the Hawks case, and his cousin, who was charged as an accomplice in Jarvi's murder.
Jennifer was the first of the five defendants to face trial. Prosecutors argued that, although she was not present at the scene of Thomas and Jackie's presumed murders, she was a key conspirator in the plot to have them killed and, while heavily pregnant, brought her older child to visit with the couple in order to gain their trust.
She was convicted of first-degree murder in November 2006 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If she had cooperated with the investigation from the onset, she would have gotten immunity from prosecution. She has since gotten divorced from Skylar.
The charges against Gardner were dismissed in March 2009; he pleaded guilty to being an accessory and was sentenced to time served. Investigators stated Skylar had asked him to take part in the crime, but Gardner declined and instead referred him to Kennedy. Skylar paid Kennedy a few hundred dollars in exchange for his participation in the murders.
Machain accepted a plea bargain and testified against the other defendants in exchange for a term of twenty years in prison. Kennedy and Skylar were convicted in 2009; both were sentenced to death.
Jackie and Thomas's bodies have not been located and are believed to be in the Pacific Ocean. Foul play is suspected in their cases due to the circumstances involved.