"A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it."
It was the 15th of June 1974. A Saturday. Cheryl Miller was 21 years old and had just moved in to a new apartment with a roommate, Maxine Gutierrez, in Saginaw, Michigan, United States. Cheryl was in college studying art and worked in a bakery part time to make sure her rent was covered.
Cheryl was extremely popular and very much sought after by a lot of male students. She was very beautiful and fun and men loved that she had her own motorbike. Cheryl had just broken up with an exchange student she had been seeing, Abbass Esfehani, so wanted to go out to have some fun. On the Friday night, the 14th of June, Cheryl went to the Scene Bar. A lot of students went there. Maxine was there too and spent some time with Cheryl but Cheryl decided to head home before Maxine. It was 6 am on the Saturday morning by the time Maxine made it back to the apartment.
That morning was particularly rainy. When Maxine entered the apartment, she found Cheryl dead in the apartment. It appeared there had been a violent struggle. Cheryl had bruises on her lips, scalp and right cheek and a number of scratches on her neck. There were two marks on her collarbone. Maxine called the police. There were signs of a forced entry. The window downstairs was open and the screen had been moved from the window. The curtains were hanging half outside the apartment. It looked like someone entered the apartment through the window.
An autopsy revealed that Cheryl had been raped and strangled and it was determined the time of death was between 5.30 am and 6 am that morning. Police believed they were looking for a sterile, dark haired man. The reason they believed this was because they found semen but no sperm and dark hairs were found on Cheryl's body.
Police retraced Cheryl's movements and it wasn't long before a person of interest emerged. Cheryl's ex boyfriend Abbass Esfehani. Abbas was a dark haired exchange student from Iran.
Just a few days before her murder, Cheryl told her parents that she ended the relationship with Abbass because she was afraid of him due to his temper. He had also been at the Scene Bar the night before and argued with Cheryl. He wanted to get back with Cheryl but she refused.
Cheryl's body was found on the floor in her bedroom. Abbess's fingerprints were found on the banisters leading upstairs to the bedroom. Abbess had questions that needed to be answered but before police got the chance to interview him, he left and returned to Iran. He left a week earlier than he was supposed to. He sold his car just a couple of days after Cheryl was murdered and booked a flight. He even left some of his belongings behind. He never returned.
A warrant was issued and Abbass was arrested in Iran. Hair samples were sent to the police in Michigan but it could not be verified with 100% certainty that the hairs sent were his hairs.
With Abbass gone, police looked at whether anyone else may have been responsible. There was another dark haired man in Cheryl's life. Antonio Alvarez. Antonio was Maxine's cousin and had lived in the apartment for a short time but apart from the fact his hair was dark, there was little else to tie him to the murder.
Police discovered that Cheryl had been in a relationship with another man , Gabriel Ferris. Gabriel was a 27 year old man and came from a prominent family in Saginaw. He had been in trouble before but for drug offences. They were in a relationship up until a week before Cheryl's murder. It ended because Gabriel got married. That was also his alibi. He told police that on the night of the murder, he was 65 miles away on honeymoon in Lake Huron with his new wife. His wife, Terri Igaz, confirmed this.
Police found his fingerprints on a dresser in Cheryl's bedroom but he did not deny being in a sexual relationship with her and it could not be determined if the fingerprints were left there the night of the murder. Gabriel was also not sterile and did not have dark hair. The case went cold.
Twenty years after Cheryl's murder, the case was reopened and the focus again turned to Gabriel and after speaking to his wife and a former friend, he was charged with Cheryl's murder.
It was the Prosecution's case that the position of the fingerprints that were found on Cheryl's dresser that belonged to Gabriel showed that he murdered Cheryl. Her body was found on the floor beside the dresser and the fingerprints were just inches from her head. It was their case that the fingerprints could only have been left by a man who was committing murder.
Terri Igaz gave evidence. Terri initially told police that Gabriel was with her all night. They went to bed at 10pm and got up around 5am. In the years that followed Cheryl's murder, Terri and Gabriel's marriage ended and her story also changed. At Trial, she gave evidence that as the sun was coming up that morning, she saw Gabriel returning to their cottage. She heard him slam the door. When she saw him he had spots of blood on his clothes. He told her that he hit a rabbit with the car and it got stuck in the wheel well. He pulled it out and that was why there was blood on his clothes.
The Defence argued that Gabriel was not sterile, did not have dark hair and did not want Cheryl dead. Notwithstanding that, according to Terri's new story, she saw him as the sun was coming up. This would have been around 6am. The murder was said to have taken place between 5.30am and 6am and Cheryl was murdered some 65 miles away.
They also placed a lot of emphasis on the fact that there was no physical evidence. None of his semen, blood, hair or skin tissue had been found.
The Defence pointed the finger at Abbass and Tony. They highlighted the fact that Abbass was known to have a temper, Cheryl had ended their relationship which made him angry and he returned to Iran earlier than he was supposed to. They also said that it may have been Tony as the Prosecution admitted that the dark hairs found belonged to Tony. According to the Defence, there was a lot more evidence against Abbass and Tony than there was against Gabriel.
Prosecutors said that they no longer believed the killer was sterile. In fact they believed that no semen was found and that the substance came from Cheryl. They also believed the hairs may have come from a rug during a struggle.
The Jury went out to deliberate. The Trial of Gabriel was the third time he faced the Court for Cheryl's murder. The first Trial ended with a hung Jury and a conviction was later thrown out. This time though, the Jury made a decision. They found Gabriel guilty of Cheryl's murder.
In June 2004, almost 30 years to the day after Cheryl's body was found, Gabriel was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Cheryl's murder was a vicious assault on a beautiful young woman and her family deserve justice. She was fun and free spirited, someone who loved life and made friends easily. There is no doubt that evidence in this case was not gathered correctly and statements were changed by people during the course of the investigation. So one question still remains. Was the correct person convicted of Cheryl's murder?
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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