Episode 44 | THE CHILLING YACHT MURDERS of Southern CA
We’re going to unpack a heavy one today. When I first heard this story back in 2004 it really shook me for its callousness, greed, and evil. A former child actor already with one murder under his power ranger belt planned and carried out a most heinous murder of a retired couple in Southern CA. They had been living a dream aboard a beautiful 55ft trawler that they had spent decades saving for. The ‘Well Deserved’ was their home and their life. However, they decided to sell it, and the buyers had no intentions of paying for it. None at all. The boat was worth nearly 1/2 million dollars and what the buyer’s had in mind for the cash THEY would sell it for after taking it.. well that adds a whole other twist to this horrific story. What took place aboard the Well-Deserved Nov. 15th 2004 was far from deserved and would alter the course of Tom and Jackie Hawks’ lives forever. Let me explain.
It was in Newport Beach, Calif. that Tom and Jackie Hawks came to find their paradise. Their dream was rooted in two simple things: being together and being on a boat. Few people had lived better lives, so arguably it was fate when the couple found fell in love with and bought a 55-foot yacht christening it ‘Well Deserved’, a name their close circle of friends and family agreed was perfectly suited.
Life was an endless cruise filled with good times and besties, sailing from Catalina Island to Mexico's Sea of Cortez. Wining and dining, snorkeling, and becoming even more inseparable as a couple very much in love.
Tom Hawks, a Vietnam veteran, and father of two boys had prudently saved and invested his money for decades, with a goal of buying a big boat. After years of planning, Tom and Jackie eventually bought the 55-foot trawler yacht for about $300,000. They renovated the vessel finishing the interior entirely in teak and macked it out with the latest technology. A rig any abled-bodied seaman would kill for. And that’s the sad irony. For two years they traveled from their Newport Beach mooring along the California coast to Mexico, stopping at various ports of call along the way.
But after 4 years at sea, they were ready for the next chapter, becoming grandparents. While they were living yacht life in So Cal, back in the mountains of Prescott, Ariz., Tom’s son, Matt from a previous marriage was welcoming a baby. Tom and Jackie were excited and were already buying baby clothes.
They put the Well Deserved up for sale, choosing to list it for sale themselves rather than through a broker, they could save tens of thousands of dollars that way and that would go a long way for retiring back in Arizona. This was a life-altering mistake.
On November 12, the couple took their last trip to Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, California, to commemorate the end of a dream lived and to mark the beginning of the next chapter in their lives. A sale was imminent. They told family and friends that they’d found a buyer and that the sale was going to take place in the next few days.
A young couple, Skylar and Jennifer Deleon had answered their ad about the Well Deserved. The soft-spoken Skylar told them that he had been a child actor and had saved a large sum of money and like the Hawks, it was their dream to live on a yacht with their young child and soon to be number 2. This tugged at the heartstrings of the Hawks as it would being expecting grandparents and all. They arranged to meet, and the Deleons joined them at the marina in Newport along with their toddler to check out the boat.
Before closing the deal, plans were made to take the boat out along with the Hawks for a short cruise to check the vessel’s seaworthiness. The Hawks had one final party aboard the Well Deserved with friends before that fateful cruise.
Over the next few days, the family became concerned as no one could get a hold of the couple. Their phones were switched off which was extremely out of character. When Tom’s brother Jim went to the Newport Beach moor, he knew something was wrong right away.
He found the Well Deserved moored in its usual berth at Newport Beach but the couple and their car — a silver Honda CR-V — were nowhere to be found.
He noticed the dinghy they used to get to their yacht hadn’t been tied properly to the dock and its motor hadn’t been lifted from the water, which was protocol.
Tom Hawks’ friend who moored a boat in nearby slip, also noticed things were out of place on the yacht. The tarps on the deck and on the flying bridge, were all off. All the controls were just kind of peeled back and there was a towel hanging out one of the portholes. They never left the Well-Deserved in such a state. It was as though Tom and Jackie were in an urgent rush to leave the vessel or more likely they weren’t the last ones to disembark. He got a sick feeling something was very very wrong.
Their friends and family knew Tom and Jackie had gone with the prospective purchaser on Nov. 14th to take the boat out for a cruise. They wanted to check the boat’s seaworthiness, which was nothing out of the ordinary. They also knew that the buyer of the boat was likely the last person to have seen them.
Tom’s brother Jim, a retired police officer, left a note on the Well Deserved with his phone number in hopes that the buyer would contact him. It wasn’t long before he received a call from a woman by the name of Jennifer Deleon. She told him she and her husband Skylar were the buyers and had paid for the boat in full with cash. Being a former cop and still unable to reach Tom and Jackie, he was suspicious. He reached out to a close friend of the family, Trisha Schutz, who managed the couple’s finances while they were at sea.
According to her, if they had sold that boat for cash, they would have deposited the money into their bank account right away. But there was no activity on their account. They knew something was very wrong. They contacted the police department and filed a missing persons report.
It would be 2 weeks after the couple’s disappearance before Newport Beach police took on the case. Det. Sgt. Dave Byington headed the case and was struck with some obvious red flags. The purported buyers, Skylar and Jennifer Deleon, were a very young couple that appeared to not have the means with which to buy a luxury boat worth 1/2 million dollars. Add to that, Skylar Deleon happened to be a convicted felon and was on probation.
It didn’t take much more digging for Det. Byington to start to assembling the horror story that had unfolded.
Who is Skylar Deleon? He’s is a former child actor who joins a long list of child actors that have come completely off the rails. As a youth, he appeared in television commercials, as well as an episode of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in 1994. After his legitimate work on camera dried up he started performing on other cameras- the surveillance type, predominantly while breaking into homes. He began to chock up a rap sheet of theft and burglary, receiving a felony conviction. Adding to the mix, Skylar Deleon wasn’t always Skylar Deleon. He was born John Julius Jacobson Jr. to a real piece of work dad, former U.S. Marine “Big John” Jacobson, himself a convicted felon. As an adult, triple J (quadruple j if you count the jr. bit) changed his name to Skylar Julius Deleon. What’s more, Skylar Julius Deleon is now Skylar Preciosa Deleon, and what’s even more, he now identifies as a woman! More on that later. Are you still with me?
Apparently Skylar has identified as female since childhood but was forced to live a lie for years in large part due to Big John’s harsh rearing. After he discovered young John Jr. was dressing up with the neighborhood girls and wearing mascara, he was livid and the beatings began. Lucky for John jr., Big John got sent to the pokey for drug trafficking. Dad of the year nominee right there! When he got out of prison, he saw an opportunity to make some extra income with John Jr. and registered him with some talent agencies in the LA area. He started landing some gigs including roles in the Saturday morning kids’ show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” during the 1993-94 season. John jr. hated the work and never saw any of the money he made. Wonder where it went?
Fast forward to 2001. Skylar looking for love online meets a super cute hairdresser named Jennifer Henderson. After dating a short time they got married and had a little girl together. Jennifer, a hairstylist, was the breadwinner for the family while they lived in a converted garage behind her parents’ home in Long Beach.
He was expecting another child with her at the time that the Hawks went missing.
After a short-lived career in the Marine Corps,15 days to be exact, Deleon began bouncing from job to job, eventually staying home with their daughter, unable to earn enough to pay for childcare.
From all indications, Jennifer Henderson led a trouble-free life until she met Deleon, himself racking up an impressive rap sheet for burglaries and other crimes. It wasn’t long before Deleon corrupted that innocence. The couple was severely in debt by the time their child’s first birthday, however, the promises of a future of great riches by Deleon had Henderson setting her sights on a lavish lifestyle. The first installment in that wealth scheme would come in 2003 with the murder of Jon Peter Jarvi.
While serving time at the City of Seal Beach jail, Deleon met Jon Jarvi where the two became acquainted during the day on a work-release program. After Jarvi was freed, he stayed in touch with Deleon, who promised him a big score.
It was December 2003, a year before the Hawks’ disappearance, when Deleon sold Jarvi on an investment opportunity to make a tasty chunk of money. As part of the deal, while Deleon was out of jail on a supervised furlough, Jarvi gave Deleon $50,000 in cash, then accompanied Deleon to Mexico where they were supposed to close the deal and make out like bandits. Deleon promised he’d triple or quadruple his investment. Jarvi never returned. Deleon murdered him in Mexico by slashing his throat and leaving him to die at the side of a road.
Turns out there was never any deal in Mexico. He took Jarvi down there specifically with the intent to kill him and pocket the $50,000.
Mexican police questioned Skylar Deleon at the time, but Jarvi’s case remained unsolved until Newport Beach detectives started working on the Tom and Jackie Hawks case.
Based on the information they had and no sign as to the whereabouts of the Hawks, Police began their investigation with a search of the Well Deserved. Onboard they found a receipt from Target. The purchase, which was dated two days after the Hawks were taking the prospective buyer for a test ride, listed trash bags, bleach, and oddly the antacid Tums. OK I get that if you are going to kill someone you need a clean kit. Garbage bags, and bleach yes. Tums? Perhaps those were to settle their stomachs after the murders.
Investigators requested surveillance footage from Target to see if they could identify the purchaser. But investigators, who expected to see Skylar Deleon buying the supplies, were surprised to find his wife’s dad, Steve Henderson, instead.
Police learned Jennifer Deleon sent her father to buy the Garbage bags, bleach, and Tums so the couple could help clean their new boat. When asked by authorities where the Deleons were, Henderson pointed them to a nearby church that he said the couple was helping to clean.
When Det. Byington saw the family volunteering at a church, he was put at ease a bit and thought, ‘OK, this is going to turn out OK. The Hawks are fine. When he spoke with Jennifer and said that they were looking for the Hawks and that the family's very concerned, she replied very genuinely, that she and Skylar were really concerned, too. Indicating that they’ve been trying to reach out to them continually since they had bought the boat, they had questions about operating the boat itself and that there were a lot of items still on the Well Deserved they wanted to return to them.
To Detective Byington she seemed very genuine in her concern for the Hawks and finding them.
Skylar Deleon produced complete, legal paperwork for the boat’s purchase, including signatures, fingerprints and a notary public’s certification. Signatures could be forged, and fingerprints could be taken from a dead body, but what about the notary Public’s certificate?
To the surprise of the detective, Skylar Deleon openly admitted to him that he had used drug money to buy the vessel. Now that's an odd smokescreen considering he was on probation for armed burglary.
He told Det. Byington he was turning straight. He’s a father now and has another child on the way. In earnest, he wanted to do the right thing. So with his ill-gotten cash from drug dealing, he wanted to invest the money in a way that he can support the family.
Deleon told police that on Nov. 15, 2004, he present the Hawks with a briefcase full of cash in the parking lot near the moored yacht. He said that his wife, child, a notary public and a friend from Mexico, Alonso Machain, were also there for the transaction.
According to Deleon, Tom [Hawks] asked him, if the cash was all there. He assured them that it was and the Hawks gave them the keys to the yacht. And with the transaction complete, Tom and Jackie drove off in their silver Honda CR-V and that was the last time that they saw them.
It was mid December, nearly a month after the Hawks’ disappearance, and the case had reached a dead end. Ryan Hawks, Tom’s son was urged by his uncle and investigators to go on national television to recruit the publics’ help in finding his dad and stepmother.
A retired couple in San Miguel, Mexico, were watching when they heard his plea. They contacted authorities right away when they saw the missing couple’s 1998 silver Honda CR-V parked next to a mobile home near their residence.
When Mexican authorities questioned the home's owner he told them he didn’t know Tom or Jackie Hawks, but that the car was given to him by a friend: Can you guess who that friend was? Yep… Skylar Deleon.
And at that moment…the case got it’s wind back but for investigators and family and friends of the Hawks, the possibility that Tom and Jackie were still alive became far more remote.
Det. Byington concluded that Skylar had murdered these people but still didn’t have enough to prove it, just yet.
On Dec. 17, 2004, police moved in and arrested Skylar Deleon on money laundering charges while they continued investigating him for the murder of the Hawks. The money laundering charges of course were related to his admitting the cash he supposedly used to pay the Hawks for the yacht was acquired through drug dealing.
When investigators searched the Deleon’s home, they found a heap of compelling evidence including the Hawks’ laptop and their video camera, which the Deleons had the audacity to use to film their Thanksgiving feast, just 10 days after murdering the Hawks. A Thanksgiving that the Hawks never got to spend with their family. Cold heartless killers.
For months after Skylar's arrest, Jennifer Deleon continued to insist on her husband’s innocence in the Hawks’ disappearance, even declining an offer of immunity in exchange for information as to the whereabouts of the Hawks. Something I imagine now she greatly regrets.
The investigation began to expand. Detectives questioned Kathleen Harris, the notary who certified the paperwork for the sale of the Well Deserved. She had been interviewed by police several times but repeatedly denied that anything was amiss until she finally came clean. It was the first domino to fall.
Harris admitted to detectives that she'd actually never met Tom and Jackie Hawks. She had nothing to do with the murder. She had been given documents and paid handsomely in cash to backdate those documents to Nov. 15, which was the day that the Hawks went missing.
Then investigators began pressuring everybody else because they knew everybody else had lied to them.
One of those was Alonso Machain. You see it was Alonso Machain’s signature as ‘witness’ on the Well Deserved sales documents that the Hawks had signed under duress while out at sea. Why on earth would he use his real name!? Don't get me wrong I am thrilled that he was dumb enough to use his real name and hence lead to cracking the case wide-open as you're about to hear.
He told police that he first met Skylar Deleon when he was a jailer at the City of Seal Beach jail. Remember that’s the pokey that Deleon was getting 3 hots and a cot in after being convicted for armed burglary. It’s also where Deleon met Jon Jarvi, the guy he murdered in Mexico. Machain next revealed his role in and the full scope of the murder conspiracy of the Hawks.
Machain said Skylar Deleon convinced him that Deleon was an international hitman and that he needed to take out Tom and Jackie Hawks because they were bad seeds. Well based on the fact that Einstein used his real name as a witness on the documents we can assume it was pretty easy to pull the wool over his eyes.
Machain told police that on November 15, 2004, he, Skylar Deleon and another accomplice, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, ( yes that’s the guy’s real name) met up to go over the plans. JFK (the thug) was a member of the Long Beach gang called Insane Crips. Lovely. He was posing as Deleon’s accountant and was tasked with being the muscle to subdue the well-built Tom Hawks. (I know it sounds like tomahawk) God these names are getting confusing. By age 40, Insane Crip Kennedy had racked up an impressive 21 arrests to his name, including battery, grand theft, drugs, and attempted murder. Sounds like the perfect guy for the job.
The trio met the Hawks at the port, were welcomed aboard the Well Deserved by Tom and Jackie, and set out toward Santa Catalina Island on a “sea trial,” or test run of the boat.
Tom Hawks was skeptical if not a little nervous having these 3 guys along for the short cruise. After all he and Jackie had only met Skylar and Jennifer Deleon and suddenly these other dodgy-looking guys are in the picture.
Machain explained that Skylar Deleon and Kennedy followed Tom down into the galley where they overpowered him and handcuffed him, while Machain subdued and handcuffed Jackie Hawks. They then forced them to sign over the boat and authorize power of attorney to their bank account. The Hawks’ Signatures and fingerprints were secured.
At one point when Deleon was in striking distance, the muscled Tom Hawks donkey-kicked him sending him flying across the boat. This only enraged Deleon.
Machain said he, on Deleon’s orders, taped over the couple’s eyes and mouths and tied them together as Deleon navigated the boat toward the deepest point of the sea, where depths reach more than 3000 feet.
Machain said they then tied the still handcuffed couple, to one of the yacht’s anchors. And we can guess what happened next to the loving couple. According to Machain, Deleon threw the anchor overboard and it dragged the horrified couple over the side of the Well Deserved and into the deep to their deaths. An absolutely horrific way to die.
Machain added that after the Hawks’ were murdered, JFK cracked open a beer and they even fished on the way back into port. With the Hawks now out of the picture, Deleon’s master plan was almost complete. All that was left was to sell the boat, drain the Hawks’ bank accounts and be set financially for life.
While Newport police were searching the Deleon’s home, they discovered another interesting clue – a business card for LAPD Det. Joe Bahena, who worked as a liaison with Mexican police. When Det. Byington contacted him, they found that Bahena was helping Mexican authorities investigate the case of one Jon Jarvi. Hmmmm…
Fast forward to 2009. It would be 5 years after the brutal murders of Tom and Jackie Hawks that justice would finally be served to all parties involved.
Alonso Machain pleaded guilty to two counts of murder. He was sentenced to 20 years and four months in prison. Machain had reportedly cooperated with authorities in unraveling the mystery of Hawkses’ murders, hence the lenient sentence. Machain had initially tried to escape justice by fleeing to Mexico, but he returned to Orange County threatened by Mexican authorities’ arrest. The earliest date for his parole is reported to be this year, 2021.
John F. Kennedy (the thug) was sentenced to death for his role in the murders and is currently on death row in San Quentin State Prison.
Although Jennifer Henderson Deleon was not aboard the Well Deserved for that final cruise, she had an integral role in planning the murders, and was convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to two terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
As for The Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, Skylar Deleon, well he also received a death sentence by lethal injection for the murders of Tom and Jackie Hawks and was also tried and found guilty of murdering Jon Jarvi in Mexico. He was convicted as a man and if the capital punishment sentence is carried out will die as a woman. What!?
Skylar Preciosa Deleon, is on death row at San Quentin Prison in California where she has undergone hormone therapy and continues to hope for gender confirmation surgery on the State’s dime. The audacity!! Apparently, it was the desire to pay for the surgery in the first place that fueled the ghastly murders of Tom and Jackie Hawks. Deleon’s name was officially changed to Skylar Preciosa Deleon, by Supreme Court of California order in 2019 and her gender was officially changed to female.
In a jailhouse interview with a television network, Skylar Deleon says she is attracted to women exclusively, but has identified as a woman for many years.
At one stage being so desperate and driven to live life as a woman that she tried to remove her penis in prison with a disposable razor blade. Thwarted only after jailers spotted the bloody mess.
According to Det. Byington, At the end of the day, all those involved are getting what they deserve. Only Alonso [Machain] will ever see the light of day again.
What a sad tale indeed. As we see with so many of these stories, money is the impetus. Sheer greed and an unconscionable lack of respect for a fellow human, fuels these monsters.