Although Henderson was not on board the yacht, called the Well Deserved, when Tom and Jackie Hawks were murdered, she played a critical part. After Deleon approached them about buying the boat, the couple wondered how such a young person could afford the $435,000 yacht. They were put at ease when Deleon introduced them to pregnant wife Jennifer Henderson and their 2-year-old daughter. The Hawkses were on a test run of the boat, along with Alonso Machain and John Kennedy, when the couple was brutally murdered. All four were convicted in the case.
Henderson once played shortstop for the Cal State Long Beach 49ers women’s softball team. She introduced herself to Deleon in a flirty email in September 2001, according to author Tina Dirmann in her book, “Vanished at Sea.”
Deleon and Henderson are no longer married, although Henderson had been offered immunity to testify against Deleon. Deleon is transgender and now identifies as a woman, although Deleon’s sexual identity and preference was not a reason for the divorce. Read more about Deleon’s life now here.
ABC 20/20 is revisiting the case on an encore episode airing Friday, July 23, 2021 at 9 p.m. Eastern time.
Here’s what you need to know:
Jennifer Henderson Is Serving a Life Sentence in Central California Women’s Facility
Jennifer Henderson, who is now 38, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in the murders of Jackie Hawks, 47, and Tom Hawks, 57. Thomas and Jackie Hawks vanished after taking Deleon and his co-conspirators on a test run of the yacht, which Deleon expressed interest in buying. Thomas Hawks was initially suspicious of Deleon, but he was put at ease after meeting Deleon’s family.
“That woman was physically not on the boat during the murders, but she was absolutely on the boat with guidance in spirit,” Orange County Prosecutor Matt Murphy told ABC 20/20.
Henderson gave birth to their second child shortly before her arrest.
She is incarcerated in the Central California Women’s Facility, where she is serving a sentence of life without parole, according to her prison records.
Jennifer Lynn Henderson, formerly Jennifer Lynn Deleon, was incarcerated in the Central California Women’s Facility October 22, 2007.
Ryan Hawks, the murdered couple’s son, spoke at Henderson’s sentencing, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I know the defendant could care less about my family, how we feel, how this horrific crime has affected us,” said Hawks. “I urge the defendant’s family to give up the children for adoption. The best possible future these children can ever have growing up is not knowing who their biological parents were, what they did, and how the children themselves were used as decoys [in the plot] to murder my parents for financial gain.”
In addition to helping Deleon gain trust from the Hawkses, she also lied to investigators multiple times, helped Deleon clean the boat, backdate the bill of sale and other documents to assist in their fabricated story about buying the yacht, helped Deleon dispose of the Hawkses’ car in Mexico and went with him to try to withdraw the Hawks’ savings, the newspaper reported.
At the time of the murder, Jennifer Henderson and Skylar Deleon were buried in debt. They were living in Henderson’s parents’ converted garage, and Deleon had recently made a down payment for gender confirmation surgery. Henderson hoped to live a lavish lifestyle, Deleon said in later interviews. Henderson and Deleon had $100,000 in credit card debt, according to a blog post by Caitlin Rother, who wrote a book about the case, “Dead Reckoning.”
Jackie Hawks’ mother, Gayle O’Neill, made a statement after Henderson’s sentencing, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Our family – me, my husband, son and three other daughters – have been devastated by these events. Jackie was a wonderful person who did not deserve what they did to her,” she said. “Our hearts will never heal.”
Jennifer Henderson & Skylar Deleon Were Divorced & Deleon Now Identifies as Female
Jennifer Henderson filed for divorce from Skylar Deleon before she was taken to prison. Deleon and Henderson were married in September 2002, just one year after they met online, according to the Orange County Register. Their daughter, Hailie, was born in 2003. She gave birth to their second child shortly before her arrest. Henderson was sentenced to life without parole for her role in the murders of Jackie and Tom Hawks.
“Rumor had it that she could have won some leniency from prosecutors had she cooperated and told the truth early on. But she stuck by her husband,” the Orange County Register reported.
She had been offered immunity for testifying against Deleon, according to the Los Angeles Times. At her sentencing, her attorney said his client had started divorce proceedings against Deleon and had returned to using her maiden name, the newspaper reported.
Skylar Deleon now identifies as female, although the divorce between Deleon and Henderson did not involve Deleon’s sexual preference. The murders were motivated, in part, by Deleon’s desire for gender confirmation surgery, according to the Orange County Register. After Deleon was convicted, she tried to cut off her penis in prison. You can read more about Deleon here.
Deleon told ABC News in 2009 that she is attracted to women exclusively, but identified as a woman for many years. Henderson said Deleon often wore women’s clothing. Deleon said at the time she planned to continue her relationship with Henderson.
“I’m not attracted to guys,” she told ABC News. “But I wanted the surgery, and I knew I 100 percent wanted the surgery. But I only like females.”
Deleon’s appearance has become more feminine since she started hormone therapy in prison, including testosterone blockers. Caitlin Rother reported for the Orange County Register Deleon wore her hair in a side ponytail and wore a bra at an interview in 2015.
Deleon went to the California Supreme Court to officially change her name and gender in 2019. Her name was changed from Skylar Julius Deleon to Skylar Preciosa Deleon.