"There's no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were."
-President Dwight Eisenhower
It was the 21st of June 2013. That day was not a normal day for Cherish Perrywinkle in the sense that she was due to fly to California the next morning to spend the summer with her father. Cherish was just eight years old and lived with her mother Rayne, Rayne's boyfriend and Cherish's two younger sisters in Jacksonville in Florida. So on that day, the 21st of June, Rayne was getting Cherish ready for her trip- things like packing her bags, washing her hair and she wanted to buy her some new clothes.
At around 7.30pm that evening, Rayne took Cherish and her two sisters to the Dollar General Store on Edgewood Avenue. It was a twenty minute or so walk away. As Rayne didn't have a car and didn't drive, she walked with the girls and their stroller to the store.
Rayne and the three girls looked at some clothes at the Dollar General Store. Rayne had $100 but that was to cover clothes, household items and the cost of travelling to the airport the following morning. So in reality she didn't have a lot of money to buy Cherish new clothes for her trip. At the Dollar General Store, Rayne took a few items to the till to have them price checked . She wanted to buy Cherish a little white dress with red hearts on it . When she realised she couldn't afford it, she put it back. At that point, Rayne had no idea that there was a man watching her every move. The cashier at the Dollar General Store confirmed a man asked if Rayne had put the clothes back. That same man waited for Rayne outside the store.
The man struck up a conversation with Rayne outside the store. He told her he was waiting for his wife and that they had a $150 gift card for Walmart that he would be happy for her to use to buy clothes for the girls. The cashier later confirmed he saw them talking in the car park for around 15-20 minutes. During that time the man introduced himself as Don to Rayne. After waiting for his wife for a few minutes he told Rayne they could meet her at Walmart instead.
At this stage , it had started to rain so Rayne had two choices - she could walk home in the rain or take a lift with Don to Walmart to buy some clothes for the girls. Rayne was reluctant at first but agreed to the lift. She got into Don's van. The van was white with carpet inside and blinds on the window. When Rayne and her three girls were inside the van, Don drove to Walmart which was a ten minute drive away to meet his wife. There was just one problem with that though. Don didn't have a wife.
When they arrived at Walmart, Don continued with the lie that he had a wife and told Rayne that he would wait for his wife in the car park. Rayne went into Walmart with the three girls and began shopping. The shopping trip was very focused around the girls and Rayne stayed with them in the children's section. Don later joined them inside the store.
A number of troubling incidents happened inside Walmart. Don wasn't interested in shopping for himself and in fact only added a bundle of rope to the shopping cart. He also had an unhealthy obsession with Cherish. He picked out some shoes for her to wear, really inappropriate shoes for an eight year old child as they were women's high shoes. Even more disturbing than that was the fact he took Cherish on at least two occasions to the dressing room alone. But it wasn't until closing time that his true and sinister intentions were revealed.
Walmart announced they would soon be closing and at that stage none of them had eaten anything. Don told Rayne he would get cheeseburgers in McDonalds. Cherish went with him. Rayne would later say she thought it was fine as McDonalds was inside Walmart so really they were not leaving the store and there were plenty of people still around. When 20 minutes had passed Rayne began to worry. Walmart was closing and she had a shopping cart full of clothes, no gift card and no sign of Don, his wife or Cherish. She spent around 20 minutes searching Walmart, McDonalds and the car park. There was no sign of Don or Cherish. At 11.20pm, Rayne called 911.
Who is Don and where was Cherish?
Rayne didn't have a lot of details to provide to the police. She didn't know Don at all and described him as a man with white hair who drove a white van. All she knew was that she had a bad feeling about him and that he must have taken Cherish. Police were familiar with Don. Don was 61 year old Donald Smith, a registered sex offender with offences dating as far back as the 70s. He had just been released from prison some three weeks earlier. And now, this sex offender had Cherish.
Despite searching throughout the night , it was only the next morning at 9am when police got a break in the case.An officer dealing with a separate road accident recognised Don's van as it drove past. Don was arrested.
The van itself was empty. There was no sign of Cherish and the items Rayne had left in the van such as the stroller and items she bought at the Dollar General Store were missing. Police were clear about one thing though. Wherever Cherish was, it involved water. Don was wearing the same clothes as the day before-a black t-shirt and jeans and the lower half of his body was soaking wet.
Police received a tip off that Don's van had been seen parked in woods. Police went to the area and looked for water. There was a creek behind a Church and along with the help of a police dog, police made a devastating discovery. Any hope of finding Cherish alive was over. Her body was found in the water , weighted down by bricks and debris and under a tree.
Cherish's injuries gave an insight into some of the brutality and horror Donald had inflicted on her. She had injuries all over her body. Donald had gagged her so severely that her gums had bled, he raped and sodomised her. There was a hickey on her right breast and traumatic injuries to her genitalia. The Prosecutor in the case said Donald had tore her apart, that's how brutal the injuries were. There was blunt force trauma to her head and ligature marks around her neck. Cherish had been strangled with such force that her eyeballs bled-the blood vessels burst in her throat, face and eyes. Her injuries revealed defensive wounds which showed this little 67lbs 8 year old girl fought for her life but she was no match for the monster who had kidnapped her.
Donald Smith was charged with the kidnap, sexual battery and the first degree murder of Cherish Perrywinkle.
The evidence in this case was overwhelming. Not only was there CCTV of Donald leaving Walmart with Cherish, there was evidence of his arrest while still wet and a witness who saw his van parked near to where Cherish's body had been found. There was also DNA evidence. His DNA was found on and inside Cherish's body and Cherish's DNA was found on his penis. Donald put forward no defense and called no witnesses so it was hardly a surprise that it took the Jury less than 15 minutes to find him guilty of the kidnap, sexual battery and first degree murder of Cherish. He was sentenced to death.
We did hear from Donald in this case. Not so much at his Trial but in a prison recording of a conversation he had with his mother.
There is no surprise that a man like Donald lies and he told his mother that Cherish followed him out and hopped in the van and he knew then he would already be in trouble due to his previous convictions. When discussing Cherish with his mother, he said "what's her name again?" . Even after all the horror he inflicted on Cherish the callousness of that statement is striking and further confirms a man like Donald will never change and if given the chance will do it again.
In his discussion with his mother, he put an emphasis on rape being a violent act. Of course it is a violent act but he wanted the rape to be viewed as him inflicting rage and violence on Cherish as opposed to him viewing her as a sexual object. It is clear he did not want to be seen as a paedophile but make no mistake, that's exactly what he is. He saw Cherish as a sexual object and when he raped her, he murdered her in an attempt to evade justice.
How Did This Happen?
This case is the type of case that every parent dreads so how did it happen? Donald saw an opportunity that day when he saw Rayne with her three girls. She was alone, under pressure and finding it difficult to manage and couldn't afford to buy them clothes. He used that to his advantage and lured them to a second location to buy time so that he could take Cherish in a manner that would not attract a lot of attention and that's exactly what happened. In all likelihood Cherish would not have been concerned getting into Donald's van outside Walmart that night as she had already been in the van with her sisters and mother. There was no kicking or screaming. It would have seemed like a natural thing to do as she had already travelled in that van to Walmart. People at Walmart would not have been concerned either. Seeing a skipping and smiling Cherish with an older man would have looked like a regular grandfather and granddaughter.
The thing to really note in this case is Rayne's intuition. It is clear from the 911 call that she didn't trust Donald, she had a strange feeling about him and her instant fear when she couldn't find Cherish was that she would be raped and murdered. She had a gut feeling from the very moment she met Donald that something wasn't right but she pushed it to one side and tried to convince herself that a trip to Walmart would be worth it. She said that she did not want to appear too overprotective. Her intuition was warning her about Donald. We all get those warning signs and sometimes we act on them and sometimes we ignore them. In this particular case, Rayne made a mistake accepting a lift from Donald and as such has paid the ultimate price but there is only one predator to blame here and that is Donald Smith.
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“She's not with me, and she's not with my parents, and at that moment I know that my sister's dead.”
- Alayne Katz, Gail's sister
"Madness, as you know, is a lot like gravity. All it takes is a little push."
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