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.”
Boating had long been Tom’s passion. Growing up on a ranch in Chino, his family would take their trawler to Catalina. As an adult, Tom always had a powerboat, and every other weekend, Tom, Jackie and the boys would tow it to a local lake. Vacations meant more boat trips.
All the while Tom and Jackie were saving to buy something like the Well Deserved, going to boat shows and doing research. Their goal was to cruise around Mexico. “They had been planning this for years and years and years,” Schutz said.
After Tom retired, the Hawkses moved into the Well Deserved, took it on short trips to learn its quirks and spent about $50,000 on improvements.
The Hawkses pulled out of Long Beach in October 2002. They cruised down the coast of Baja California, around Cabo San Lucas and into the Sea of Cortez, stopping in Baja and the Mexican mainland.
“The sea was calling us, and we couldn’t wait any longer,” Tom told Latitudes & Attitudes in an article about the Well Deserved in the December 2003 issue. “Life is just too short to put things off, and one cannot discover new oceans unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
For the next 1 1/2 years, they e-mailed friends and family about their adventures -- diving for clams and scallops, swimming with whale sharks and spending Christmas with a Mexican family.
“We are so happy that we are finally in the Sea of Cortez,” they wrote."This is what we have been waiting for. The weather is wonderful, the sea is like a lake....We just had a whale surface beside us, wow!”
If Tom and Jackie Hawks had learned anything while cruising the Mexican coast, it was that maintaining their 55-foot yacht was backbreaking and expensive. They decided to sell the Well Deserved, buy a smaller boat and maybe some property in Mexico and return to Arizona so they could dote on their newly born first grandchild.
The Well Deserved arrived in Newport Harbor on June 23, 2004.
Skylar Deleon was also a man with big dreams; they just went nowhere. He was going to buy a boat so he could teach scuba diving or use it as a charter for fishing trips. Another time he was going to start a business cleaning boat hulls. There were plans to go to nursing school, but he never carried through.
He told people he had been a child actor, but those stories were more fantasy than fact. He convinced the Hawkses that he had starred in the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” show on TV in the early 1990s. An ABC Cable Group spokeswoman said Jon Liberty, a name that one of Deleon’s relatives said Deleon used, was a nonspeaking extra on two shows in 1993.
And for all his talk of paying $400,000 for the Well Deserved, Deleon and his wife were living in her parents’ garage in a modest Long Beach neighborhood. His name growing up in Huntington Beach wasn’t even Skylar Deleon. It was John Julius Jacobson.
Deleon’s parents split up before he was 5. His father was sentenced to three years in federal prison for selling cocaine when Deleon was nine or 10. While his father was imprisoned, he lived with his stepmother. His mother, according to relatives, didn’t have much to do with his life.
“I’m the only mom he knows,” Lisa Wildin said.
Deleon squeaked through high school and enlisted in the Marines about 1 1/2 years later, in November 1999. He went AWOL and received a less-than-honorable discharge, according to his family. He served just 15 months, according to the Marine Corps, which would not say what discharge he received.
While in the service, he cut off contact with relatives but then suddenly showed up a couple of years later with a pregnant wife and a new name. He was living with his in-laws a few miles away.
While the Hawkses were having the time of their lives cruising Mexico, Deleon was having problems staying out of trouble. He got a job as an appraisal contact at mortgage lender Ditech. But on Dec. 9, 2002, he was arrested with two other Ditech employees burglarizing the Anaheim home of a co-worker. He was carrying a loaded gun and plastic handcuffs, authorities said.
Deleon pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail and three years’ probation, and ordered to pay $200 restitution.
A judge allowed him to serve his time in the work-release program at Seal Beach City Jail, in which Deleon was allowed to hold a job during the day and return to jail at night. Deleon paid $70 a day for the program, around $2,000 a month, according to John Forren, chief executive of Correctional Systems Inc., which runs the jail.
It is not clear how Deleon managed to get the money to pay for the program.
Since his arrest, Deleon has become a suspect in an unrelated slaying that occurred while he was in the work-release program. Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Matt Murphy said in court in March that the unnamed victim’s throat was slashed Dec. 27, 2003, 10 months before the Hawkses were presumed killed. Sources say the killing took place in Mexico.
At the time it occurred, Deleon was serving his sentence in the Seal Beach City Jail for the Anaheim home burglary.
While in jail, according to a source, Deleon met Alonso Machain of Long Beach, one of those charged with murdering the Hawkses.
Machain wasn’t a fellow inmate. He was a jailer.
In February 2003, Deleon started work as an electrician’s helper at Total-Western Inc., an industrial maintenance company in Paramount. Machain, 21, and Myron Gardner, 41, of Long Beach also worked there, according to David Wimmer, a lawyer for the firm. Gardner and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 39, also of Long Beach are also accused in the Hawkses’ disappearance.
Like the Hawkses, Deleon enjoyed the sea. Jennifer Deleon said that when they met, her husband owned a 26-foot Sea Ray cabin cruiser. On Dec. 20, 2003, he brought the boat to Mo Beck Stern Drive Co. in Costa Mesa for repairs. He paid an $18,000 deposit for the work -- in cash, sources said.
According to a lawsuit, owner Mo Beck later filed to get the rest of his money, Deleon went to the shop when it was closed on a Sunday in April 2004, cut the lock and took his boat without paying the $7,500 he owed. He was charged with grand theft.
When the Hawkses decided to sell their boat, they were hoping to find someone who would care for the Well Deserved as well as they had, Schutz said.
Always frugal, they hoped to sell the boat without using a broker. “They’re the kind of people who did everything themselves, except when it came to taxes and accounting,” Ryan Hawks said.
On Nov. 12, Tom and Jackie took friends to Catalina and talked about the impending sale. Tom told Brian Gray, his old boss at the probation department, about the former child actor who was about to buy the boat. The Hawkses had wondered how someone so young could afford the price, but Deleon had convinced them that between his acting and real estate investments, money wasn’t a problem.
On Nov. 15, Tom talked to Carter Ford on the phone as he and Jackie waited for Deleon to come aboard for the final test drive. Tom said he wanted to make sure the new owner knew how to operate everything. “In Tom’s eyes, this nice kid was buying the boat,” Ford said.
That afternoon, Jackie called Ford and left a message: “We’re out at sea.” That was the last anyone heard from the Hawkses.
By the next day, the boat had returned to Newport Harbor.
A few days later, Deleon proudly told a relative he had bought a boat. He e-mailed him a photo and said he couldn’t wait to ride it in the annual Newport Harbor Christmas boat parade.