NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., December 2003—Tom and Jackie Hawks’ yacht rests snugly against the busy pier at Newport Harbor, where some of California’s wealthiest residents come to show off yachts worth more than most large homes. Unlike most of their yachting counterparts, the Hawkses of Prescott, Ariz. are not wealthy. Their 1998 Honda CR-V looks a little out of place among the Mercedes and BMW’s lining the curbs.
Tom Hawks, a retired supervisor for the Yavapai Probation Department, while not financially rich, is rich in many more important ways. He and Jackie sold their home to buy a 55-foot yacht and cruise the beaches, living out their lifelong retirement dream.
The aptly named Well Deserved quickly became their passion. The Hawkses spent months outfitting and preparing her for voyage. Jackie had painted and stained the teak interior herself. Tom had installed a solar generator and every other amenity he could dream up.
It’s December, and Tom and Jackie plan to spend another year living on the Sea of Cortez aboard the Well Deserved. For the tanned, fit and adventure-loving grandparents-to-be, it will be their last year alive.
While the Well Deserved rests at the pier, the Hawkses are in Prescott, visiting their two adult sons. It’s a sunny December afternoon, and Tom Hawks, 56, is playing in his mountainside boat garage. Trophies from arm wrestling and power-lifting championships sit near tools, a bear skin rug and an antique potbelly stove.
Tom has built an overhang connecting his boat garage to a permanently retired RV trailer, axles removed and insulation added. This is where the yachting couple lives the few weeks out of the year when they aren’t on the water.
Tom and Jackie are in love. They are active, and they are unknowingly on one of their final visits to see their children.
SEAL BEACH CITY, Calif., December 2003— About the same time the Hawkses are visiting Prescott, Skylar Deleon, 23, is visiting the Seal Beach City Jail, this time for armed robbery. While incarcerated, Deleon meets corrections officer Alonso Machian, a 21-year-old who has bounced around from job to job. The two soon become friends, Deleon earning the confidence of Machain with exaggerated claims of fame and fortune.
While Deleon had once been a back-up actor on the hit show Power Rangers, his subsequent acting career failed to live up to his extravagant claims of childhood stardom and mountains of money.
Easily impressed, Machain believes Deleon’s stories and is convinced Deleon is making in upwards of $2 million per month. Deleon is, in fact, thousands of dollars in debt.
Machain, who would later testify against Deleon, relates the details about the crime in this story. Machain now claims he was unaware of Deleon’s money problems or crime-riddled record.
Like Tom Hawks, Skylar Deleon dreams of life on a yacht, traveling the coasts of California and Mexico. And like Tom, Deleon is also a husband and father of two.
Unlike Tom, Deleon is not going to spend his life working for that dream. He is going to take that dream by force. And soon.
BUCKEYE, Ariz., September 2004—Jackie Hawks holds her first grandchild, a boy, Jace Hawks, for the first time. Jace is two weeks old, and Jackie could not be happier. Jackie is a fun-loving and sensitive mother who has spent her life caring for her husband, Tom, and their boys, Ryan and Matt.
A best friend, a joker and a compassionate listener, Jackie considers the title “homemaker” the highest compliment she could be paid. Her life, quite simply and beautifully, consists of loving her husband and her boys. She surprises her family with at least one brand-new recipe every week at the family’s evening dinners.
Seeing their first grandson in person, Grandma and Grandpa Hawks decide that after spending nearly two years “cruising” at sea, it is time to move closer to family. The couple wants an address on the gravel mountainside road where both their sons now have homes. They will first need to sell Well Deserved.
On Saturday, September 4, 2004, Tom and Jackie Hawks leave Buckeye to enjoy their final months at sea. They have decades of family and love to look forward to.
Before they leave that Saturday, Tom and Jackie snap pictures with their grandson, Jace. It is the last time the family will ever see them.
The Killing Team
ORANGE COUNTY, Calif., October 2004—Shortly after losing his job at the jail, young Alonso Machain again meets up with former inmate Skylar Deleon, who is driving a Ford Explorer with nearly $40,000 in custom accessories. Deleon’s truck and a Sea Ray speedboat, equipped with almost $20,000 in diving gear, reinforce Machain’s belief in Deleon’s claims of fame and fortune. Behind his facade, Deleon is living with his wife and two kids in an apartment on his in-laws’ property.
Soon after their reunion, Deleon asks Machain to participate in a murder for hire. “You want to make a few million dollars?” Deleon asks Machain.
“How can we make that much legally?” Machain asks.
“It isn’t illegal unless you get caught,” Deleon replies. The hit will be on a wealthy couple and their yacht.
“I only kill people who deserve to be killed,” Deleon says as Machain considers the proposition.
NEWPORT PIER, Calif., November 2, 2004— Soon after settling on a move back to Prescott, Tom Hawks posts an ad for the Well Deserved, with an asking price of $435,000. The well-equipped vessel has an onboard washer and dryer, two refrigerators, two staterooms and two bathrooms.
Four days after Tom lists the boat for sale, Deleon and Machain are putting their plan into action, walking through the Lakewood Center Mall in California, purchasing handcuffs and stun guns.
Deleon’s plan is simple: stun and handcuff Tom and Jackie Hawks, then force them to sign over their boat and powers of attorney so they can access the Hawkses’ bank accounts. Deleon and Machain will then kill the couple, drive their Honda CR-V to Mexico and make it appear that the Hawkses are missing. That is the plan.
Having received a few calls from interested buyers, Tom and Jackie Hawks are growing sentimental about selling the Well Deserved. For most of November, the Hawkses polish and re-polish everything from the massive hull to the hand-carved teak interior.
Their daily routine remains otherwise unchanged. The couple spends their days on the water: kayaking, swimming and diving. Jackie drinks Lipton tea from a coffee maker the couple has rigged to brew tea while Tom prefers cruising the Sea of Cortez with a Pacifico beer in hand. In the evenings they share tacos, chips and salsa with friends at Catalina Island.
At 57, Tom still works out three days a week, curling weights he stashes on deck. He does 100 crunches each morning and at least 10 chin-ups on the handrails, his legs dangling over the Pacific Ocean.
A Fateful Meeting
NEWPORT PIER, Calif., November 6, 2004—Machain and Deleon dress as well-to-do yacht buyers, and, with concealed stun guns and handcuffs, come to take a tour of the Well Deserved.
As usual, Deleon plays the Power Rangers card first. Tom and Jackie seem to buy it: a former child actor with too much money wants to buy a yacht.
The plan had been to subdue the “elderly” couple during that first meeting. Deleon was going take Tom while Machain handled Jackie. However, after seeing Tom Hawks’ chiseled chest and massive arms, Deleon quickly abandons the original plan, opting instead to return with additional manpower.
Hawks, a retired corrections officer and power lifting champion, could likely subdue either Deleon or Machain in a fair fight.
When Deleon asks to take the boat out of the harbor, Tom says he’d rather talk money before heading out to sea.
Sensing the Hawkses aren’t entirely comfortable with the con, Deleon brings his wife and nine-month-old baby onto the yacht three days later. With a child nearly the same age as their grandson, Jackie Hawks fawns over the baby while Deleon convinces Tom he is a serious buyer. The men agree Deleon will return a week later with his accountant to buy the boat.
That week, while Tom and Jackie cruise to Catalina Island for a frenzy of farewell parties, Deleon decides he will need a third person to subdue Tom Hawks.
Deleon works a prison connection to find an L.A. thug, a known gang member named John Kennedy, to provide the muscle to act out the murderous scheme.
NEWPORT PIER, Calif., November 14, 2004—Tom Hawks guides the yacht into its tight harbor parking place with Jackie’s assistance. The couple’s perfected routine consists of Jackie scampering across the deck as Tom watches from the helm on a video monitor. “Closer,” Jackie says over a walkie-talkie as Tom gently throttles the small liner into position.
“Like a ship and rudder, one doesn’t work without the other,” Tom regularly tells Jackie after they park the huge boat. With the boat safely docked, Tom cracks open a Pacifico.
“Tomorrow the buyers are coming. It’s the Power Rangers’ kid,” Jackie tells her son Matt on the phone. She calls every day to talk to her grandson in Prescott.
The next morning, when Deleon and Machain arrive for their test voyage, the Hawkses have the boat shining and ready to go. John Kennedy, a linebacker-sized gang member, sports khakis and a business casual polo, playing the part of Deleon’s accountant.
The Hawkses invite Deleon and his friends onto the boat. Now having interacted a number of times with the money-flaunting actor, and having met his wife and child, the Hawkses trust Deleon.
It is a sunny California afternoon when Tom maneuvers the yacht out of Newport Harbor, his custom hawk-head ring rests on his hand at the helm. He invites Deleon to take the giant wheel and then offers beers to Machain and Kennedy, the supposed accountant.
About this time, Jackie Hawks telephones a friend in Arizona. “The buyers are on the boat. We’re out to sea,” she says.
It is the last time anyone on land ever hears her voice.
Depths of Evil
In open water and with no other ships in sight, John Kennedy descends into the ship’s bathroom, pretending to be seasick.
When Tom hurries down the stairs to help, Kennedy blindsides him with a punch to the temple.
Tom recoils from the blow and begins pounding the larger, heavier street fighter. Deleon, a former marine, joins the tussle with a stun gun. Together, Deleon and Kennedy manage to handcuff Tom.
“What’s going on?” Jackie screams when she hears the commotion. In the kitchen, Machain reaches for Jackie and wrestles her to the ground. He fires his stun gun and then cuffs her.
As Machain drags Jackie to the master bedroom, she screams, “How could you do this to us?”
Tom is cuffed and laid out on the bed. “You brought your wife and kids here. We trusted you,” Jackie pleads before being thrown on the bed herself.
“I don’t want to die. I want to see my grandson,” Jackie cries as Machain and Deleon stretch duct tape over her mouth and eyes. The couple is handcuffed and laying sideways on their bed in the belly of the boat.
Deleon tells the couple if they cooperate, they will live. One at a time, he leads them up to the main cabin, where each signs and fingerprints a title transfer for the boat as well as power of attorney documents.
Jackie shakes uncontrollably as she signs her name. While signing, she leaves the “s” off Hawks, a clue that will later help investigators.
With the documents signed, Kennedy and Deleon move to the rear deck, where they rope up a disengaged anchor. Tom and Jackie are then led to the deck of the boat.
“Why are you doing this?” Jackie cries in a muffled voice. It is probably the last time Tom hears his wife’s voice.
Restricted by handcuffs and blindfold, Tom soothes Jackie’s hands. When he hears the 66-pound anchor being dragged toward them, Tom kicks Deleon in the groin, sending him hurtling through the air toward a deck chair.
Kennedy again blindsides Tom in his right temple. The strike echoes with a dull thud, and Tom begins stuttering and slurring like a boxer, bruised on the brain.
Angry at the kick, Deleon ropes Tom and Jackie together, Jackie’s back against Tom’s chest. Without Jackie in front of him, Tom likely would have collapsed from the knockout punch.
The last words Jackie Hawks’ murderers hear are more a cry than a statement: “Just let us live,” Jackie screams, shaking in fear as the couple is tied to the anchor. “I just want to see my grandson.”
As Kennedy drags the bound couple to the edge of the boat, Tom is unconscious and Jackie screams, “Skylar, why are you doing this? We had your wife and kid down here. We trusted you.”
With that, Kennedy pushes Tom and Jackie Hawks off the stern of the boat, and Skylar Deleon heaves the 66-pound anchor, chained to the couple, into the ocean. Jackie’s head hits the side of the boat as the couple falls into the water, the anchor pulling them deeper and deeper.
Deleon laughs before turning the yacht toward shore. Machain rummages through drawers, collecting cash, jewelry and other valuables. Meanwhile, Kennedy grabs a cold beer, drops a line in the water and fishes all way back to the harbor.
NEWPORT PIER, Calif., November 18, 2004—The Well Deserved bounces against the rubber-edged pier at Newport Harbor. Tom and Jackie have been missing for almost three days.
Before Tom’s older brother James Hawks even steps onto the yacht, he knows his brother Tom didn’t anchored the boat to the pier. Tom cared for his yacht with compulsive precision. When James Hawks, a retired police captain, sees unfamiliar tie knots and custom wet suits carelessly strung about, he knows Tom hadn’t harbored the boat.
The Hawkses file a missing persons report and check with every hospital and police agency between Arizona and California. No word. When they learn that a 24-year-old by the name of Skylar Deleon holds the title to the Well Deserved, they become more suspicious.
Despite its hackneyed simplicity, Deleon’s plan almost works. When questioned by detectives, Deleon tells the police he paid the Hawkses $400,000 in cash for the yacht, after which he saw them get in their Honda and drive to Mexico.
The Hawks family knows Tom would never take cash, and Tom and Jackie had no reason to drive to Mexico, especially without calling friends or family. Unfortunately, Deleon’s tracks are covered.
In late November of 2004, Ryan Hawks appears on Good Morning America and numerous TV shows, presenting photos of Tom, Jackie and their missing Honda CR-V.
A viewer then reports seeing the CR-V in Mexico, and another witness identifies Deleon as its driver. Days later, authorities learn Deleon has tried to withdraw money from Tom and Jackie’s bank accounts.
On January 15, 2005, Newport Police arrest Skylar Deleon.
In November 2006, Jennifer Deleon, Sklyar Deleon’s wife, is found guilty of first-degree murder. She helped Deleon clean the boat with bleach after the murder. By bringing her baby on board, the jury found that she also lured the Hawkses into trusting her husband. During her first court date, Jennifer Deleon reportedly laughed at the surviving members of the Hawks family. Her sentencing is scheduled for January of 2007.
Alonso Machain has testified against Jennifer Deleon, providing many of the crime’s details. Due to Kennedy and Skylar Deleon’s prison gang connections, Machain is being kept in a separate facility for safety. Machain has not been offered a plea bargain, but hopes his cooperation as a witness will result in a more lenient sentence.
A Legacy of Love
ORANGE COUNTY COURT, Calif., 2007— As the trials and sentences drag on, Ryan Hawks drives regularly to the Orange County Court, where he listens to testimony about his parents’ murder in person. “The evidence is so powerful and overwhelming. The most the defense can hope for is a mistrial,” Ryan Hawks says by phone from California.
“I know their day is coming. I want it as much as possible because I just want to get my life back. I want to do the best I can to represent my parents.”
Matt Hawks, a Phoenix fireman who resides in Prescott, is building a home for his wife and son Jace, now two years old. The home is two lots away from the house his father built, the home Tom and Jackie sold to buy the Well Deserved.
Matt Hawks turns down most media interviews, but in his dad’s Prescott boat garage, he’s happy to talk about his parents in person. “I don’t think anything negative could happen to my parents where they would not be able to find a positive attribute to the situation, and I have carried that with me in my life,” Matt says.
“They did more in their last three years of retirement than most of us ever get to do. There is no doubt in my mind that they lived each and every day to the fullest,” he adds.
Jace is playing with a Tonka truck in the gravel driveway near Grandpa Tom Hawks’ garage. Matt hopes to father Jace the same way Tom Hawks fathered him. “I spent more time with my dad growing up than most guys spend their whole lives,” he says, remembering nightly wrestling matches, regular building projects and vacations on the water.
They were my best friends. They knew everything about my life,” he says of Tom and Jackie. “They were always there to lend an ear, to give me advice and guidance on how to overcome,” he says.
Though Matt’s son Jace will never get to meet his grandparents, he already knows their names. And as he learns to read, he’ll certainly read the last letter his Grandma Jackie sent to Matt and his wife Nicki.
Matt and Nicki both have the one-page letter memorized, but they still read it regularly, touching the same paper Jackie once folded.
“I would love to do some cooking, shopping, etc. with your Nicki. I’ve always wanted a daughter to be close to and have fun doing girl things with. Give my little love bug a kiss. I miss him very much! Miss you two also! Let’s talk soon. Take care. Love you all. Hugs, Grama Hawks…Grandpa too!”
Matt Hawks is determined to pass Tom and Jackie’s spirit on to his children letting them come to know Tom and Jackie not for how they died, but for how they lived.
Editor’s Note: The above reconstruction of events is based on numerous interviews, including the court testimony of defendant Alonso Machain. All untried suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Jennifer Deleon was found guilty of first-degree murder in November of 2006.