For nearly four years, Ryan and Matt Hawks have felt certain that a former small-time child actor masterminded the vicious murder of their parents, who were tied to the anchor of their yacht and thrown to their deaths in the Pacific Ocean off Catalina Island.
The brothers sat in the TODAY studio in New York Friday with the show’s co-host, Meredith Vieira, and looked at photographs of their father, Tom Hawks, and stepmother, Jennifer Hawks, tanned and smiling aboard the “Well Deserved,” the 55-foot yacht they had saved a lifetime to buy.
Two days earlier, the attorney for Skylar Deleon, who once had a non-speaking bit part in “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” admitted in an Orange County, Calif., courtroom that Deleon was the mastermind of the plot to murder the Hawks and steal their yacht. The admission was made during opening arguments in the trial, which is no longer about whether Deleon did it, but what his sentence should be: death, or life behind bars.
Back to land
Tom Hawks had planned for most of his life to retire on a yacht with his second wife, Jackie. A body builder and probation officer, he realized his dream while still in his mid-50s.
After cruising the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez off Mexico for two years, the Hawks had decided to sell their boat to move back to Arizona, where they could be closer to their first grandson. Their sons, Matt and Ryan, looked forward to having them back home and sharing their lives with them.
“They realized there was more to life than this boat and seeing the curve of the earth, and that’s what really made them want to sell the boat and come back and be a part of our lives, and especially part of their grandson’s life,” Ryan Hawks told Vieira.
He last talked to his parents by phone on Nov. 14, 2004, the day they disappeared. “I was flying to Seattle for work,” Ryan Hawks said. “It was on the last voyage of ‘Well Deserved.’ I kind of pushed them off the phone; I was running late for a plane. I just felt bad. I had no idea that was the last time I’d talk to them.”
On that day, Tom, 57, and Jackie, 47, set sail for Catalina Island on a test cruise with Skylar Deleon and two other men, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Alonso Machain. Deleon was a smooth-talking 29-year-old career criminal who bragged about being a former child television star who wanted to buy the boat. In reality, Deleon had had just one non-speaking bit part in 1994 on “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” and had been in trouble almost ever since. He introduced Kennedy and Machain as his accountants.
Thieves fall out
Machain admitted his role in 2005 and is awaiting sentencing. Kennedy is to be tried next year. The fourth member of the plot, Deleon’s former wife, Jennifer Henderson, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder last year and will spend the rest of her life in prison.
According to that confession, after overpowering the Hawks with a stun gun, the conspirators forced them to sign over title to the yacht. Then, duct-taped together and tied to an anchor, they were thrown into the ocean to drown. Their bodies were never recovered.
Now Ryan and Matt Hawks just want to see justice served on Deleon, who, according to his own lawyer, Gary Pohlson, also killed another man in 2003. Deleon committed that murder when he was on work furlough from a sentence he was serving for burglary.
Pohlson told the jury Tuesday that his purpose in admitting Deleon is guilty was to save his client from the death penalty.
Justice at last
Matt Hawks said when he heard Pohlson’s statement, “I was kind of relieved in a way, just [at] the thought that they’re admitting guilt. It’s been four years; it’s been a long time. I’m looking forward to this trial, and I’m sure the jurors will make the correct decision.”
Ryan Hawks said it isn’t easy being at the trial and hearing again about the murders. But, he told Vieira, “It’s important to us as a family, because this is the last thing we’ll ever get to do for our parents. And as much as it hurts, we just need to be there and represent them. We’re a true testament to our parents’ parenting, and we feel it’s necessary.”
Matt Hawks said the hardest part for him is thinking about what he and his two children are missing. “It’s just been very difficult,” he said. “I’m raising two beautiful children now. And I don’t have the grandparents so that they can share their lives with them. It’s just very hard not having them around to share the best part of our life, and the best part of our family’s life with them.”
Both brothers said their parents had talked about their plans to sell the yacht and move back home. The parents mentioned that the man who wanted to buy it was a former child star, but neither of the two sons had ever watched “Power Rangers,” so they weren’t especially impressed.
“I was just happy they were selling the boat and coming back to spend a lot more time with [their grandchildren],” Matt Hawks recalled. “They’d be much more grounded with my family. We’d be able to travel out to see them, as I was able to back when I didn’t have children.
“I was looking forward to them coming home.”