The hitman was offering Alonso Machain the deal of a lifetime. Machain was only 19 years old, and his short career as a California correctional officer had not afforded him the opportunity to experience much of the world. So when a TV-star-turned-international-assassin approached him about working together, a world of adventure and intrigue seemed to open up before him.
The two had first met in the Seal Beach city jail where Machain had guarded the man as a prisoner. Now the newly freed man was out on probation, speaking to Machain as an equal, and laying out who he really was: an independently wealthy hitman.
He said he’d first come into money as a cast member of the hit children’s TV show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Since then, he had become a killer-for-hire, though he insisted that he only killed bad people who had it coming.
The man explained to Machain that he had just received a new contract, this time for the assassination of a married couple living on a yacht. It was going to be a more difficult assignment than his usual job, and he would need some help. If Machain would join him, he promised $1 million in cash plus the spoils taken from the yacht.
The guard had never considered killing anyone. But if one day’s work eliminating bad people could make him a millionaire, there was no way he could turn down the offer.
A Well Deserved Life
After 15 years of marriage, Tom and Jackie Hawks finally retired to a picturesque life together. Throughout his career as an Arizona probation officer Tom had dreamed of a life at sea, and unlike so many others, he intended to make those dreams a reality.
“Life’s too short, and it’s my life, this is our time, and I feel if I hesitate, then it would just go by and I’ll miss it,” he told his son Ryan after retirement.
The couple sold their house and bought an aging 55-foot yacht that already bore the name Well Deserved. Though they no longer had property of their own, they lived out Tom’s romantic vision every day, sailing from Catalina Island around the Baja Peninsula, into Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and wherever else the wind took them.
Tom and Jackie loved the life they’d chosen, but after four years on the ocean, more important possibilities appeared on the horizon. Their youngest son Matt and his wife became parents. As happy as they were together on the open sea, they decided to return to land to be present in the life of their new grandchild.
Tom listed the boat for sale at $440,000 and Jackie began buying baby clothes. After a promising call from a potential buyer, the couple told their family back in Arizona that the Well Deserved would probably be sold in a couple of days, promising to get in touch after the deal was done.
The Disappearance of Tom and Jackie Hawks
Retired police chief Jim Hawks got out of his car and stepped onto the pier at Newport Beach. The Well Deserved was right where he expected it to be, but his sense of foreboding lingered. After his brother Tom had failed to answer or return phone calls for days, Jim had decided to find out for the whole family what was going on.
He approached the yacht cautiously and called out for Tom: no response. He went on board and began to notice some small things out of the ordinary. Some lines that should have been stowed were hanging over the side of the deck. A tarp that usually covered the control panel had been removed.
It occurred to Jim that the sale of the boat could have gone through as planned, with the new owners responsible for the slight disarray. Still, he needed to find Tom and Jackie. Jim left his business card, along with a request for the new owner of the boat to contact him.
His phone rang just a few minutes after leaving the docks. A woman named Jennifer Deleon said that yes, she and her husband Skylar had purchased the boat from the Hawks on November 4. She said they were having a hard time getting in touch with Tom and Jackie as well.
“When was the last time you saw them?” Jim asked. Jennifer replied that she and Skylar had packed a suitcase with $485,000 in cash, paid the Hawks at the dock on November 4, then watched them drive away.
The Tale of the Sale
When detectives first caught up with Skylar and Jennifer Deleon, they were cleaning a church. They were an attractive and well-spoken young couple, and seemed to be genuinely concerned about Tom and Jackie. They explained that they had been trying to get in touch with the Hawks too, since they had left lots of personal belongings on board and the Deleons still had some questions about caring for the yacht.
At the detectives’ request, they explained their purchase of the boat in detail. Skylar noted that they had legal documentation of the sale that he would be happy to provide.
Background checks showed that Jennifer had no criminal record. Skylar — born John Julius Jacobson Jr. — was an ex-marine. He had recently been incarcerated for a charge of armed burglary, but had served his time and was out on probation.
The detectives perceived no signs of deception. Suspicions began to ease, but they still needed an official statement. Skylar agreed to come in without hesitation.
In his official statement at the Newport Beach Police Department, Skylar convincingly laid out the story in full: they had seen the boat advertised for sale, and Skylar had arranged a test drive just off the coast. There were five people on board that day: the Hawks, Skylar, a friend of his named Alonso Machain, and the notary public who he’d brought to certify the legal sales documents.
After the test drive, Skylar agreed to purchase the yacht, they all signed the paperwork together, and the Hawks drove away with a suitcase stuffed with $485,000 cash. Tom had mentioned buying a house in Mexico, but other than this small clue, Skylar didn’t know where they might be.
He produced the official documents, signed and dated by the Hawks and the notary public. Everything appeared legitimate. Both Alonso Machain and the notary public confirmed Skylar and Jennifer’s story.
But the officers had one big question: Skylar and Jennifer were living in a large garage next to her parents’ house. Where had they gotten $485,000?
To be honest, Skylar told detectives, the money had been stolen from a drug kingpin before his incarceration for armed burglary. He had hidden the cash, then retrieved it after getting out of jail, hoping to start a better life for his wife and their two small children. This was the textbook definition of money laundering, but in exchange for being so cooperative and forthcoming, detectives told the ex-marine that they wouldn’t bring the charge against him.
With legal documentation of the sale and multiple corroborating witnesses, authorities took to Good Morning America to ask the public for help locating the Hawks or their 1998 Honda CRV.
A Lead in Ensenada, Mexico
Police were alert and cautious as they walked past the SUV toward the front door of the trailer home where it was parked.
Only one day after the Good Morning America episode aired, a woman had contacted authorities claiming that she was looking at the Hawkses vehicle as she spoke. American and Mexican officers both mobilized to the site.
Sure enough, they had found it.
A man answered the door to the home and the visitors identified themselves.
“Is this your vehicle?” the lead officer asked.
“No, it belongs to my friend.”
“Is your friend Tom Hawks?”
“No, Skylar Deleon.”
Skylar was immediately arrested for money laundering. If nothing else, police wanted him locked up until they could figure out what was going on. A search of the Deleon home turned up several items belonging to the missing couple, including a video camera.
On the tape inside, the Hawks had documented their lives on the Well Deserved. There was a beautiful sunset, loving banter, Tom fishing, then the video cut to a very different scene: the Deleon family Thanksgiving. Skylar and Jennifer had literally replaced the lives of Tom and Jackie Hawks with their own.
It wasn’t long before the corroborating witnesses broke down.
The notary public, Kathleen Harris, had never even seen the yacht, much less been on test ride with the Hawks. She met the Deleons through a mutual friend. They had offered her $2,000 to backdate some paperwork, and like Machain, she accepted the payday. But she hadn’t counted on being roped into a murder plot.
Kathleen was soon informed that she would need to take care of some more documents for the Deleons, or Skylar would come after her family. She was told he had ties to a Mexican cartel and was already responsible for the deaths of more than 20 people.
None of this was true. While Skylar Deleon had been on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers — three times, as an extra — he had not built up any wealth in the industry, he was not an international hitman, and he had no ties to the cartel. But he and Jennifer were extremely convincing con artists.
It was Alonso Machain that ended up putting all the pieces together for investigators. He said that although Kathleen wasn’t on the boat that day, Skylar had brought one other person along: a former youth pastor turned Insane Crips gang member, John F. Kennedy. He had been recruited the very day of the test drive.
According to Machain, when he, Skylar and Kennedy first showed up for the test drive, Tom and Jackie were immediately suspicious. These did not look like potential buyers of a half-million dollar yacht.
To ease the mood, Skylar stepped away for a moment and called Jennifer, who was waiting nearby, to bring their one-year-old daughter Haley to the meeting. With visions of grandkids already in mind, Jackie immediately softened, and Tom followed her lead. Jennifer left shortly, and the group headed out into the ocean.
At some point during the short voyage, Skylar gave the signal and his two accomplices overpowered the Hawks long enough to secure their hands behind their backs with cuffs. Their mouths were covered with tape, and they were placed on the bed. Tom stroked Jackie’s hand in an attempt to comfort her. She managed to pull a lip away from the tape, and Machain heard her shouting, “We trusted you! Why are you doing this?”
The Hawks were forced to sign sales documents, then sit back-to-back on the deck. Skylar bent down and tied their handcuffs to the boat’s anchor line. Realizing what was about to happen, Tom kicked out, striking Skylar in the groin. He jerked back, recovered, picked up the 65-pound anchor, and threw it overboard.
Everyone stared as the slack in the line whipped over the side of the ship, disappearing at incredible speed. Soon it was gone entirely. Tom and Jackie were still conscious as they were jerked over the side, plummeting to the ocean floor.
Skylar let out a cheer, watched the water until it was still, then turned the boat back to shore. Kennedy cracked open one of Tom’s beers from the fridge and started fishing.
When it was all said and done, Jennifer was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. John Kennedy was sentenced to death. Alonso Machain received a plea deal for his testimony, receiving a sentence of 20 years and four months.
While awaiting trial, Skylar was hospitalized after partially severing his own penis with a razor blade. In later interviews, defense lawyers claimed that Skylar had murdered the Hawks to obtain money for gender reassignment surgery.
Skylar Deleon was eventually convicted of murdering three people — Tom, Jackie, and a former fellow inmate named Jon Jarvi — and sentenced to death by lethal injection. During the Hawks investigation, it became clear that Skylar had fleeced Jarvi out of $50,000, slit his throat, and left him to die along a desert road.
While awaiting trial, Skylar was also charged with plotting to murder his own father and cousin, both of whom were witnesses in the Jarvi case. In 2019, Skylar began identifying as a woman attracted to women. She is currently incarcerated at San Quentin.
Where to Watch
- Overboard, 20/20 (aired January 17, 2020)
- Calm Before the Storm, Wicked Attraction (aired August 26, 2010)
- Love Lost at Sea, The Real Murders of Orange County (aired November 15, 2020)
Sources & Further Reading
- ABC News Network. (n.d.). Skylar Deleon legally becomes a woman while on death row: Part II. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/skylar-deleon-legally-woman-death-row-part-11-68365137
- CBS Interactive. (n.d.). 48 Hours mystery: Dark voyage. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/48-hours-mystery-dark-voyage-12-06-2010/
- Culp, K., & Francescani, C. (2008, October 22). Tearful Testimony in Yacht Murder Trial. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=6090923
- Dirmann, T. (2008). Vanished at Sea: The True Story of a Child TV Actor and Double Murder. St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
- Fisher, G., Ruppel, G., Caron, C., & Culp, K. (n.d.). Yacht Murderer: I “Never Really Felt Evil.” ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=6803295
- Franklin, C. (2010, January 7). Man sentenced to death for throwing couple off yacht. NBC Los Angeles. https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/death-sentence-delivered-in-plot-to-kll-couple-on-yacht/1876883/
- Jones, M. (2009, February 6). Power Ranger Skylar DeLeon claims he murdered for a sex change operation. The Inquisitr. https://www.inquisitr.com/17534/power-ranger-skylar-deleon-claims-he-murdered-for-a-sex-change-operation
- Rother, C. (2019). Dead Reckoning. WildBlue Press.
- Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, June 18). Murder of thomas and Jackie Hawks. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Thomas_and_Jackie_Hawks