Thomas and Jackie Hawks christened their yacht “Well Deserved.” It was a fitting name for a happy and successful seafaring couple whose hard work enabled them to retire early and realize their dream lives in Newport Beach, California.
But in 2004, the dream turned into a nightmare. They were murdered in what author of "Dead Reckoning" and former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Caitlin Rother described as the “most unbelievably horrible” way to Oxygen’s “The Real Murders of Orange County,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
After spending years traveling and living on their 65-foot-boat, Tom Hawks, a 57-year-old bodybuilder and former probation officer with two sons from a previous marriage, and his wife, Jackie, 47, were ready to leave the California coast and get their land legs back.
Destination: Arizona, where they’d wed in a joyous Hawaiian-themed ceremony years before and now had their first grandchild. In mid-November 2004 they put Well Deserved up for sale and appeared to have found buyers.
But around that time, the Hawkses vanished. They didn’t return calls. Their bank account went untouched, the San Diego Union Tribune reported at the time.
Family and friends wondered if the Hawkses had possibly taken an impromptu voyage as a celebratory least hurrah, but it soon became clear something was amiss. Jim Hawks, a former police chief in nearby Carlsbad and Tom’s older brother, called the authorities, according to the outlet. Officers from Carlsbad and Newport Beach police departments got busy on the missing persons case.
The search began at the couple’s boat, and the discovery of what could have been a bloody partial fingerprint on the Hawks’ yacht gave authorities probable cause to enter the vessel and search for clues.
No clear evidence emerged, however. Crime Scene Investigation analysis revealed that the suspected partial bloody fingerprint was actually rust.
Detectives then turned to Skylar Deleon, 25, and his wife, Jennifer Deleon, 23, who were listed as the buyers of Well Deserved. Skylar was a former child actor who appeared in the TV series “Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers” and dabbled in real estate. Jennifer was pregnant with their second child.
Detectives interviewed the couple in Long Beach, where they lived with Jennifer’s parents. They told authorities that they had paid cash — a whopping three quarters of a million dollars — for the yacht. The money had been saved from Skylar’s acting days, they claimed.
Authorities expressed doubts to Skylar about his story, and they were shocked when Deleon admitted that he was actually flush with cash because he was involved in large-scale drug sales — a felony.
“He admitted to money laundering,” investigators told producers. However, they decided to table this revelation to focus on the missing persons case.
Three weeks after the Hawkses disappeared, there was suspicious activity on their bank accounts. The people trying to access the money were the Deleons.
This break in the case became doubly alarming. Investigators learned that Skylar was on probation for armed robbery. Moreover, documents showed that the Hawkses had given durable power of attorney to Skylar, which defied logic.
Skylar, meanwhile, claimed the Hawkses signed over an all-access pass to their money because he was helping them secure a vacation home in Mexico.
Careful scrutiny, though, raised a red flag: Jackie’s surname appeared to have been signed as Hawk, not Hawks. Did someone else add the “s”? Was it a subtle signal that Jackie signed under duress?
Despite their suspicions, the document seemed to be above reproach. It bore the name of a witness — Alonso Machain, a friend of the Deleons — and a notary, Kathleen Harris. When questioned separately, their stories confirmed the transaction was legitimate.
By mid-December, authorities “were desperate to find” the Hawkses, retired Newport Beach Police Department Det. Sgt. David Byington told producers.
After fliers and bulletins were distributed with information about the missing couple’s car, the vehicle was found across the border.
Detectives recovered the missing couple’s Honda CR-V in Ensenada, Mexico, the Union-Tribune reported in 2004. The person who had the car said it had been a gift from the Deleons.
“My heart stopped right there,” Byington told producers.
Inspecting the car for evidence became an urgent priority. Skylar had insisted during police interviews that he’d never been in the Hawks’ car. DNA evidence could prove otherwise.
While awaiting that proof, detectives learned from Skylar’s probation office that the former child actor requested permission to leave the country for work.
Investigators needed to arrest Deleon, and luckily, they had a reason to in their back pocket: his admission of money laundering. They arrested Skylar at his Long Beach residence. Searching the premises, police found personal papers, IDs, videotapes, and a laptop that all belonged to Tom and Jackie Hawks.
“Any hope the Hawkses were alive died right there,” Byington told producers.
Meanwhile, Deleon’s DNA turned up on a dashboard knob of the Hawks’ car.
It was potentially a game-changer, but there was still a high hurdle, according to Newport Beach retired Det. Sgt. Mario Montero. “It’s hard to have a murder case when you don’t have any bodies,” he told producers.
There was more digging to do. Detectives re-interviewed Harris, who initially swore she saw Thomas and Jackie Hawks sign a document giving their power of attorney to Skylar Deleon. Harris eventually admitted that she never laid eyes on Tom and Jackie Hawks. Motivated by making some extra money, Harris had backdated the documents to Nov. 15, 2004, at the Deleons’ request.
Investigators then set their sights on Machain, who, they discovered, was in Mexico to elude arrest. Investigators believed that he was the only avenue to find out what happened to the Hawkses, so they took the death penalty off the table and Machain returned to California.
In early 2005 he related the details of the murder: Machain said he was present when the Hawkses were lured out to sea, forced to sign legal documents, and then tossed overboard chained to an anchor.
Skylar had sought help from a Long Beach gang member named John F. Kennedy to help physically subdue the burly Tom Hawks. He passed JFK off as part of his business team. The presence of Jennifer Deleon, a mom with a baby on the way, helped convince the victims there was nothing to fear.
“She’s as evil as anybody on that boat,” Byington told producers.
Tom and Jackie Hawks “were pulled down 3,500 feet to the bottom of the ocean,” said former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Caitlin Rother. “They were drowned alive.”
Alonso Machain was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the heinous crime. Jennifer Deleon was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sentenced to death for his part in the murder of Thomas and Jackie Hawks.
Convicted murderer Skylar Deleon was sentenced to die by lethal injection. However, because of California’s moratorium on the death penalty, the ringleader in the deaths of Tom and Jackie Hawks will live out his days on Death Row.
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.