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48 Hours Mystery: Dark Voyage

Dark Voyage 43:00

This story originally aired on May 2, 2009. It was updated on June 12, 2010.

Newport Beach, Calif., Detective Dave Byington doesn't rattle easily.

"This is probably the thirtieth time I've been on this vessel and I don't like it," he says of a 55-foot yacht, which now sits in dry dock - cold as a tombstone - giving silent testimony to a crime that defies humanity.

"I get the heebie jeebies on this boat. I just don't feel comfortable on it. You start to think about - imagine, only try to imagine what they experienced, and it's too horrific," he tells "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Maureen Maher. "The boat's under way, It's nighttime. It's cold."

The only thing outweighing the horror of what happened that night is the power of Tom and Jackie Hawkses love. It is a fairy-tale romance that started hundreds of miles from any ocean, in the mountains of Prescott, Ariz., where Tom was raising his two sons alone.

Tom's boys, Ryan and Matt, are sons from a first marriage that ended in an amicable divorce.

Ryan describes his father as a "man's man."

"He was very masculine, very outdoors. And he just wanted us to appreciate what we had in life… He would take us to Catalina Island to do a lot of hiking, fishing and backpacking," he says. "Some of my better times with him were on the water."

"It was an absolute great life," says Matt. It was a life where toughness was taught early on.

"You know, stay strong. I remember if I wrecked or cried as a little kid, he'd be like, 'Toughen up boy. Toughen up,'" Ryan recalls.

Above all else, Tom Hawks played by the rules. He worked with the probation office of Yavapai County, helping those in trouble, find a second chance.

"Tom was a kind of probation officer that would take a real interest in the problems that his probationers were having," John Ryder tells Maher.

Ryder, Brian Gray and Bill Paiano were Tom's co-workers and knew what kind of a man he was. "Tom was a quality guy," says Paiano.

"I believe Tom's family life, like most of us that worked together, was really important to him," says Gray.

But something major was missing in his life. Then, the tough, single father had his heart melted by Jackie O'Neill.

"She met Tom at a chili cook-off. I believe it was July of '86," says Jackie's best friend, Patricia Shutz. "He would walk on water for her, and she would do the same for him."

It was clear where things were heading.

"He got down on his hands and knees and he asked her to marry him," Shutz says. "She was very excited and she was very happy."

And soon, Ryan and Matt were happier, too. Because, they say, there was a downside to life alone with dad - like Tom's "famous goulash."

"He would make a pot of it for a week," Ryan explains. "And every time we'd come home for dinner it'd be like, 'Ugh, this again?'"

Things changed once Tom and Jackie wed. "Dinners got a lot better," says Matt.

Matt and Ryan were still in elementary school when Tom and Jackie wed in 1989. The boys came to think of Jackie as their mother.

"She was the best mother any boys could ever have. Really," says Shutz.

Ryan describes Jackie as a real trooper. "Most of the time they do something, it's my father's idea. And Jackie never complains and she just goes with it."

So it came as no surprise when Tom sold the house and Jackie said 'yes' to a dream Tom had been nurturing for years - to retire, own a yacht and live on the sea.

"He said, 'Life's too short, and it's my life, this is our time, and I feel if I hesitate, then it would just go by and I'll miss it,'" says Ryan.

It was in Newport Beach, Calif. that Tom and Jackie Hawks came to find paradise. Their dream was rooted in two simple things: being together and being on a boat. Few people had lived better lives, so it almost seemed like fate when the couple bought a 55-foot yacht that was already named Well Deserved.

For Tom and Jackie, a dream had come true. Life was an endless cruise filled with good times and best friends, sailing from Catalina Island to Mexico's Sea of Cortez.

"Being on water for them was a solitude," Ryan explains. "It was seeing the curve of the Earth and seeing the sunset fall right behind it every night."

While Tom and Jackie were living the life they'd always dreamed of, something wonderful was happening in the mountains of Prescott, Ariz., that would alter their lives forever: Matt and his wife, Nicole, welcomed baby Jace.

"They were just very excited," Matt says. "Jackie was already buying baby clothes."

After four years at sea, Tom and Jackie decided being grandparents was worth more than all the sunsets across the Pacific.

"They wanted to come back and be a part of our lives," Matt says. "They believed very strongly in family."

The couple put a small ad in a boating magazine and the Well Deserved was on the market; all they needed was an honest buyer.

Skylar Deleon: File under loser.

"Tom and Jackie Hawks put their boat up for sale and I went to buy it," Deleon tells Maureen Maher.

If the Hawks are all about family, the man who showed up to by their boat is all about the lack of it.

"Growing up I've never really felt like loved," Deleon tells Maher. "My childhood, I hated it… the environment, my dad… I hated him. He was into manufacturing drugs. And… distributing them and selling them."

Despite those odds, Deleon did try to make something of himself as an actor. He even made it onto the TV show "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers." He'd tell people he was a major member of the show's cast, but it was a lie. He admits to Maher he was an extra "three times."

Then, eager to get away from an abusive home, Deleon joined the Marines; he ended up going AWOL.

Deleon was fast drifting nowhere. "I don't think I have a life plan," he says. And then, through a random e-mail, he met a small-town girl with big ideas.

Jennifer Henderson grew up in Long Beach, Calif., in a devoutly religious home. She'd finish high school and end up working in a hair salon. After they chatted for a few weeks online, she and Deleon agreed to meet at the mall.

Orange County Prosecutor Matt Murphy now knows everything about these two aimless young adults and their twisted relationship.

"She wasn't really doing a whole lot with her life until she met Skylar," he says. "He was a manipulator and somebody that was a complete conman and she was a spoiled brat. Basically, the two of them together was the perfect combination."

They'd marry, and soon, daughter Haley was born. The pressure mounted for Deleon to support his new family and prove his worth to Jennifer.

"I definitely loved her. I mean, to the point there's nothing I wouldn't do for her," he says.

But Deleon couldn't hold a job and couldn't find a way to move his young family out of his in-laws' garage apartment. He grew desperate.

Other than going AWOL with the military, he tells Maher that he had never committed a crime before. "Not until I met Jen."

Deleon's new ambition led him to a new line of work: burglary. He was arrested and ended up in California's Seal Beach City Jail, leaving his wife to care for their baby.

"Their relationship is characterized by debt… they were $87,000 in debt," Murphy explains. "Skylar has no job. And [Jennifer's] pregnant again."

When asked if Jennifer was happy, Deleon says "no," explaining she was tired of the bills and tired of living with her parents. "She's like, 'You know, we gotta do something.'"

It was that pressure that led Deleon to Tom and Jackie Hawks, where he used the one deadly skill he really had.

When asked how he rates Deleon as a con artist, Murphy says, "As far as his effect on other people? I've never seen anything like Skylar."

Even those who chase horror for a living are haunted by the depravity of what happened on the Well Deserved.

"It drives me nuts. It makes me so angry," Det. Dave Byington says. "And you start thinking about it … It's one of those things that you can't get out of your mind because it's that terrible."

It all began with the simple ad Tom placed in a boating magazine so he and Jackie could spend more time with their family.

Deleon says he called and talked to Tom. When asked if he was really planning on buying the boat, he replies, "Well, we really didn't have the money… Our thought at that point was to, I guess, rip them off."

But he knew he'd need help. That's when Deleon says he enlisted Alonso Machain, a young prison guard he'd met when locked up on the burglary charge.

"Alonzo is unsophisticated. He hasn't been a lot of places. He hasn't done a lot of things," Murphy explains. "So he was really ripe for Skylar to enlist as a confederate in this whole thing."

On Nov. 6, 2004, Deleon and Machain went down to the waterfront to meet Tom and Jackie Hawks. Tom, who was smart and savvy, didn't like what he saw.

"Thomas Hawks had been a probation officer for 20 years and Thomas Hawks was kinda leery," Murphy explains.

Tom was asking $435,000 for the Well Deserved. Deleon just didn't look like the kind of guy with that type of cash. When Jackie started proudly boasting about her new grandchild, he saw his opening: family.

"And the first thing that Skylar did when they got off the boat… is he picked up his phone and called Jennifer up in Long Beach, and he said, 'You gotta come down here and bring Haley and put these people at ease,'" Murphy says.

Jennifer came down that same day.

"I can't think of anything more horrific than a mother using her child," says Byington, who tears up at the thought.

But the Hawkses fell for it, convinced they had a real buyer. They couldn't imagine the trap that was being set. No one could.

The disgraced Marine sized up the life-long public servant mentally and physically.

"And what did you think when you saw Tom?" Maher asks. "The fact that he's pretty big," Deleon replies.

The gang of two needed a tough guy. Byington says Deleon recruited a gang member from Long Beach named John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Arrested more than 20 times, JFK joined the plot. Deleon set a date to test drive the boat while Jennifer stayed home - her child having served her purpose.

"Oh, she's up to her eyeballs in the whole thing," Murphy says of Jennifer's involvement.

It was Nov. 15, 2004. Machain came along and JFK even wore a suit. Deleon told Tom and Jackie that Kennedy was his accountant. The Well Deserved headed out to sea.

Good and evil were about to intersect in waters off Newport Beach, Calif.

Tom and Jackie Hawks guided their yacht, the Well Deserved, from the shelter of the harbor. But as light danced across the waves, darkness was set to descend, brought on by the very passengers they'd invited onboard: Alonso Machain, John F. Kennedy and their hapless leader, Skylar Deleon.

"I don't think anything was even 100-percent serious until it was too late," Deleon tells Maureen Maher. Too late, he says, was when they were already on the boat.

But that's one of Deleon's lies. The truth is everything was deadly serious and meticulously plotted weeks before, when he and Jennifer Deleon used their very own baby to con Tom Hawks into believing they were honest buyers.

Detective Sgt. Dave Byington and Sgt. Evan Sailor would come to know everything about Deleon's plans - right down to the tasers and handcuffs he brought on board.

"He's capable of making decisions, and making his conscious decisions and planning things out over a period of time," says Sgt. Sailor.

When asked if Deleon's plan gives a whole new meaning to the concept of premeditated, Byington says it's "beyond anything I could imagine."

That's because stealing the 55-foot yacht was only the start of the plan.

"They didn't want to get a job," Byington says. "They wanted to take other people's money."

Because of the work led by Byington and Sailor, the Well Deserved - home to Tom and Jackie - would become evidence. Incredible detective work by the two cops would eventually reveal every horrifying moment of that day at sea.

The boat was now anchored well outside Newport Beach Harbor. Deleon went below. Moments later, John F. Kennedy - the hulking gangbanger who was pretending to be Deleon's accountant - also came down, feigning seasickness.

"Eventually, Thomas Hawks also goes down to investigate, 'cause they're not returning," explains Byington. He says Jackie remained on deck with a jittery Alonso Machain.

"Jackie first hears a commotion down in the stateroom," Byington continues. "And at this point, she sees Thomas Hawks being choked by John Fitzgerald Kennedy and being struck by Skylar Deleon.

"Alonzo now knows he has to do his part. And he starts to overpower Jackie first by applying the taser. And he actually overpowers this poor woman, puts handcuffs on her. Skylar and John Fitzgerald Kennedy end up overpowering Thomas Hawks, handcuff him. And eventually, Jackie Hawks is brought downstairs with Thomas Hawks. And they are laid on their bed."

They were bound, and now, Tom and Jackie Hawks would be gagged.

"Skylar tells Alonzo to go get some duct tape. And Skylar instructs him to duct tape over their mouth and their eyes. And he proceeds to do so," says Byington.

Tom and Jackie huddled together on their bed. These are the details their sons, Ryan and Matt, would come to know - the agonizing flashbacks that will never fade:

"She couldn't stop crying. She was yelling at Skylar saying, 'You this, you that. You took your baby daughter and your wife on our boat. How could you?'" says Ryan.

"She was begging for her life, wanting to see her grandchildren again," says Matt. "I mean she was only 47 years old."

"And I think the only thing my father could move was his hands. And he just calmly stroked Jackie's hands to give her some level of comfort," says Ryan.

When Maher points out that that was the last gentle moment Tom and Jackie shared, Byington says, "I never thought of it, you're absolutely right. That is. After that, everything else was pure horror."

Finally, the depth of the depravity of Deleon's plan was about to be revealed.

He produced a set of phony documents and handed the couple a pen. Deleon says he wanted the Hawkses to sign over the boat and power of attorney for their bank accounts.

"They brought with them an ink pad," Byington explains. "Jackie's obviously still crying. She can't help herself and it's understandable. They remove one handcuff and they remove a little bit of the tape so she can see out, instruct her to sign her name, roll her fingerprints. And Skylar starts asking her various questions about her accounts, account numbers, where the banks are."

Then it was Tom's turn to sign away the honest life he's worked so hard for to a man who had hardly worked an honest day in his life.

"And if there was a chance of living, I think he was willing to just stay calm and follow their commands," Matt says of his father.

"[Tom] proceeds to sign all the paperwork, roll his fingerprints, gives him the account information that he's requesting," Byington says.

With the phony papers signed, the Well Deserved powered further out to sea.

"Skylar came up and punched in coordinates which set him out to Santa Catalina," says Byington. He says Deleon knew exactly where he was going.

The yacht and its passengers were headed out towards the deep waters off Catalina Island, where Tom and Jackie shared so many good times, and where only days before, they'd enjoyed a final cruise with friends on the Well Deserved.

Byington says, "These people were living a dream and Skylar just took it."

Handcuffed, gagged, and now tied to one another with nautical ropes, Tom and Jackie were dragged up on deck. That's when, Byington says, they heard the sound:

"He hears the chain coming. There's no doubt. Skylar gets behind and starts and actually hooks the anchor to the rope so now this anchor is now attached to these two poor people."

"He heard that sound a hundred times," says Ryan. "And he's like 'Son of a bitch. They're not gonna let us go.'"

Aware of his destiny, Matt says his father fought back one last time.

"…he basically does a reverse mule kick with his leg and kicks Skylar… and he kicks him so severely that Skylar's lifted up off his feet and lands on his backside," Byington explains. "John Fitzgerald Kennedy sees this and - JFK is a big man and he levels him, hits him. It knocks Thomas Hawks out. The punch is so severe and so violent."

With the anchor chain tied around the couple, Deleon threw the anchor overboard. The chain fed out to sea, yanking Tom and Jackie into the icy waters.

"So that's where they are now," Ryan says. "They're 3,600 feet below the cold Pacific Ocean tied to an anchor."

The deed now done, the Well Deserved headed back to Newport Beach. Deleon called his wife, Jennifer, on his cell phone.

"I remember her asking if 'I was sure'" he tells Maher, of the question of whether the couple was dead. "I was like, 'I'm sure.'"

Sgt. Sailor says Deleon had a motto: No body, no crime. Deleon thought he was going to get away with it because there were no bodies.

Friends and family believed Tom and Jackie Hawks had just sold the Well Deserved and were headed home to Prescott, Ariz., to see their new grandson. Their sons, Matt and Ryan, couldn't wait for them to arrive.

"I called my dad first. It went straight to voice mail. Then I called Jackie's and it went straight to voice mail. And they never shut off their phone," Ryan says. "I was thinking maybe they're taking a last-minute cruise… And I talked to my Uncle Jim. He's a retired police chief from Carlsbad."

Just a few days earlier, Jim Hawks spoke with his younger brother about Skylar and Jennifer Deleon buying the boat.

"It was very brief," Jim says of the call. "You know just, 'Hey ugly.' We called each other that. And, uh, 'if you need help when you get ready to move, just let us know.'"

But it had been about a week since that final conversation. Jim decided to take a look at his brother's boat, which was tied up back in Newport Beach. "We circled the boat on its mooring and noticed things out of place," he tells Maureen Maher.

Then, Jim Hawks and a friend boarded the Well Deserved. "I said, 'Be careful. Don't touch any smooth surface… Let's treat this like it could be a crime scene."

Ryan Hawks called his brother. "And he finally said it out loud. I'm like, 'Well what do you think is going on, Matt?' And he's like, 'They're dead. I think they're dead.'"

Eleven days after Tom and Jackie last left port, Jim Hawks filed a missing persons report. That's when Det. Dave Byington and Sgt. Evan Sailor drew the case of a lifetime.

"When did you first hear the names Skylar and Jennifer Deleon?" asks Maher.

"Actually, the Deleons were both listed in the initial missing persons report," says Byington.

Within days, Skylar Deleon agreed to be interviewed. Cool, calm and collected, the con man spun his tale.

Deleon told the cops he'd just bought the Well Deserved and that he'd never even taken it out of the harbor. He told police he'd paid Tom Hawks in cash, and that Tom and Jackie had said something about heading down to Mexico.

"As far as we know, they are down in San Carlos right now," Deleon told investigators.

When asked where he got over $400,000 in cash to pay for the boat, Deleon told investigators the cash was profit from a drug deal: "$60,000 here, $90,000 there."

We're talking about this money he had to launder. He was very at ease telling us this stuff," says Sailor.

Deleon confessing to a crime threw off investigators. Plus, he had all the paperwork to prove the boat was legally his - the documents he'd forced Tom and Jackie to sign. He tells police that neither he nor his wife had anything to do with the Hawkses disappearance.

Police also spoke to Jennifer Deleon. For the most part, cops bought the couple's story just like the Hawkses had.

Byington says he was convinced they were telling the truth.

But the couple's story began to fall apart when they went to Tom and Jackie's bank. With the phony power of attorney document, they tried to make a withdrawal.

"We've got surveillance video of her smiling ear-to-ear, you know, basically trying to steal these people's money," says Byington.

Then, police got a tip from Skylar Deleon's parole officer learning that he'd asked permission to leave the country. Concerned he was a flight risk, Deleon was arrested - but not for murder.

"He just kept asking me 'What am I being charged with?' Once I told him it was money laundering, I could see kind of like a sigh of relief," says Sailor.

That feeling wouldn't last long. Police moved in, searching the cramped garage apartment the Deleons had so desperately wanted to leave behind. It was there that they found items belonging to Tom and Jackie Hawks.

"We found their video camera… Jackie's laptop computer… and then the batteries to Tom and Jackie's Sprint Nextel phones," says Sailor.

On Dec. 16, police got a call from San Miguel Village, Mexico, saying that the Hawkses vehicle was there.

"And then we come to find out… the vehicle had been dropped off by Skylar about a week earlier and that following him in another car was his wife Jennifer," says Byington.

It was time for investigators to talk with the district attorney.

"We hit it out of the ballpark getting Matt Murphy as our D.A.," says Byington.

Murphy quickly grasped the enormity of what had happened.

"Tom and Jackie Hawks were not only really good people, they were totally innocent," he says.

But Murphy had a problem. He had never dealt with a crime scene like this before and he knew very little about boats. But he knew someone who did: Salty Sam, a.k.a. Gary Burns - a friend of Murphy's located 6,000 miles away in Darwin, Australia.

"He's a character. He's been on boats pretty much his whole life," says Murphy, who called Burns and described the shadowy outlines of the case.

"I called Matt back and said… 'A boat that size would probably have, for sure, two anchors,'" Burns says. "Get your guys to go on board the boat and count the anchors around there. And they'll probably be missing one."

"Sure enough, just like Gary said, there was an anchor that should have been on the boat, and wasn't," says Murphy.

Now that investigators had their theory, what they needed was an eyewitness. And Skylar Deleon provided one during his police interview: Alonso Machain.

Deleon told police Machain had been with him when he bought the boat and could back up his story. Deleon bet wrong.

"[Machain] is the only one on this investigation that actually had a conscience," says Sailor. "And it was that guilty conscience eating and eating at him."

Skylar Deleon's Police Interview Excerpts
Alonso Machain's Police Interview Excerpts
Pictures: Murder at Sea

After briefly fleeing to Mexico, Machain returned to Newport Beach and made a full confession about his involvement - " I was able to cuff Ms. Hawks" - and every horrific detail of the murders.

Alonso Machain: Skylar was looking for an anchor to push them over…
Sgt. Dave Byington: How was Skylar acting when he threw them off the boat?
Machain: He was calm. It was like the most normal thing.

Machain also told police about the muscle for the murder: gang member John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

In March 2005, Machain, JFK and mastermind Skylar Deleon are all charged with the murders of Tom and Jackie Hawks.

Jennifer Deleon told a local news crew her husband was innocent.

Reporter: Would your husband want to kill somebody for their money?
Jennifer: No. That's not him.

But Matt Murphy and company weren't done yet. They had the alleged killers who'd been on the boat. Now it was time to focus on the one who dialed into the murder on a cell phone.

"In the time they were killed, he made a call to Jennifer. When they were turning back after throwing these poor people off the boat, he made a call to Jennifer," says Byington.

Reporter: What if they try and point the finger at you and say you were involved?
Jennifer (holding her baby): You have to be positive and hope that it won't come to that and take you away from your kid.

A month after her husband was charged, Jennifer Deleon was also charged with first-degree murder. Murphy was determined to get justice for Tom and Jackie Hawks.

"Thomas and Jackie Hawks were thrown overboard alive and begging for their lives," Murphy tells Maher. "It's as ruthless and dark and cold blooded as any murder capable of being committed by another human being."

Prosecutor Matt Murphy was working overtime preparing to bring Skylar Deleon and his crew, who were each charged with two counts of murder, to justice.

"This very well-thought-out diabolical plot to do this, they thought they were gonna get away with it because the bodies have never and will never be recovered," says Murphy.

With Deleon his prime target, Murphy approached Deleon's wife, Jennifer, with a deal.

"We offered her immunity," says Murphy. "We offered her a complete walk initially in the investigation… She said, "No.'"

Jennifer Deleon refused to testify against her husband. But Skylar was willing to tell "48 Hours Mystery" about Jennifer. He explains that it was actually his wife's idea to kill the couple. "She threw it out there - 'What if they're not here?' and I agreed."

Jennifer Deleon was the first to stand trial. On Nov. 17, 2006, she's found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to two life terms in a California prison.

Skylar Deleon would be tried next. But his attorney, Gary Pohlson, says there's not a chance of his client testifying, because "he's told so many lies."

And it turns out that Tom and Jackie Hawks may not be Deleon's only victim.

Pohlson wouldn't let Deleon tell "48 Hours Mystery" about John Jarvi - a man Deleon says he met at Seal Beach Jail and targeted a year before he met Tom and Jackie.

"He conned John Jarvi into taking out $50,000 on his condo and told John Jarvi some sort of story that he bought into and convinced John Jarvi to accompany him… down into Mexico," Murphy explains. "And led him down into a ravine, and there Skylar Deleon cut his throat."

Deleon is charged with John Jarvi's murder, leaving no question that the con man is also a cold-blooded killer.

"Did you kill Tom and Jackie Hawks?" Maher asks Deleon. He replies, "According to the law and stuff like that, yes."

The three killings are merged into one trial and it didn't take long for a verdict.
Deleon is convicted of the murders of Tom and Jackie Hawks and John Jarvi.

Gary Pohlson was fighting to keep Deleon off death row. But those who treasure the memory of Tom and Jackie had very different ideas.

Ryan Hawks is hoping for the death penalty. So is Det. Dave Byington. "If anyone deserves the death penalty it's Skylar Deleon," he says.

Saying he is not afraid to die, Deleon's life hung in the balance; Yet, he was still blaming everyone but himself.

"The feeling I'm getting from you," notes Maher, "is that you're this little weaselly guy who's trying to make his wife happy. You concoct this big scheme and then you lost control of it… That's the part people will hold you responsible for."

"Uh, huh," he agrees.

And the people did hold him responsible. On April 10, 2009, Skylar Deleon is sentenced to death.

"It wasn't a good feeling or exciting. It was sad," Ryan says of hearing the verdict. "It was all over and my parents are still missing. And I'll never get to bury them. I'll never get to say goodbye. And that bothers me."

In death, as in life, Tom and Jackie Hawks touched everyone they ever met.

"Every day I look at the ocean, and I say, 'Hi' to Tom and Jackie. Every day I make a point of saying hello to them both." And, says Byington, he probably always will.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was also found guilty and sentenced to death.

Alonso Machain was found guilty and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Skylar and Jennifer Deleon's two children are living with her parents.
Produced by Jamie Stolz

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