The murder of 24-year-old Vera Jo Reigle in 2011 is rarely publicized, but remains one of the most gruesome and painful murders in US history. Vera was a mentally challenged mother of a two-year-old who was whipped and abused regularly by her boyfriend and his family for years leading up to her demise. Her corpse was discovered nude and mutilated beyond recognition on a set of train tracks close to her house in Findlay, OH.
The Story Of Vera
Vera’s story is a complicated tale of a woman who had been taken advantage of by everyone she knew her whole life. Starting when she was just 11 years old, she was sexually abused by her dad. Willard Reigle was convicted of 20 years in jail for the offense. Soon after, Vera grew estranged from her mum and her mum’s family. Vera was widely known to be mentally challenged–experts have said that her intellectual capacity was that of an eight-year-old. But with assistance from teachers and special classes, Vera was able to graduate high school.
Shortly after, Vera went on disability and started receiving checks from the government.
When Vera was 19, she started dating a boy named Zachary Brooks, who was just 13 years old at the time. Vera soon moved into a dilapidated two-story house with Zachary and his family. From then on, Vera’s life started ending one minute at a time.
The head of the Brooks family is one Cheri Brooks–a strong matriarch and crime boss who is almost as dreading as Carlo Gambino of the Italian mafia. Cheri is the mum of nine children in total, nonetheless, her first “set” of children was taken away by the state and put into foster care for allegations of sexual abuse against Cheri. Family members of Cheri have told frightening stories of walking in on Cheri alone performing the most horrible acts on her infant kids. Cheri does not deny these allegations publicly.
Cheri had another round of kids with her husband Kevin after the previous children were taken away. These children were all sons (including one legally named Garth) and were known criminals in and around Findlay. The whole Brooks family, including Cheri, were proud members of the Crips street gang and engaged in assault, burglary, and drug trafficking regularly. Zachary Brooks is one of Cheri’s younger sons and is the dad of Vera’s daughter Willadean. Baby Willadean was just two years old at the time of Vera’s casualty.
The Brooks boys had a 21-year-old cousin named Danny Bixler, who had recently gotten out of jail and started dating 17-year-old Nicole Peters upon his release. In nearby Tiffin, OH, Bixler and Peters were caught attacking a teenager at a public park. They both ran away to Findlay to hide out at the Brooks’shouse to avoid prosecution for the attack charges. Bixler and Peters were the ones who eventually carried out the dreadful task of killing Vera, but the intentions were not their own. Vera’s killing was entirely conspired and plotted by Cheri Brooks and her sons.
As A Child
Since she was a child, Cheri Brooks had an obsession with baby girls. It’s been substantiated that Cheri was also sexually abused by her dad as a child. After Cheri’s oldest daughter Maria was taken into foster care, Cheri tried, again and again, to have another daughter to raise, to no avail. Nonetheless, when Vera moved into the Brooks house with Zachary, Cheri advised the couple to become pregnant. Cheri herself said that if Vera were to become pregnant with a baby girl, the baby would “belong” to Cheri, and Vera would have no connection with her daughter.
When Vera was 22 and Zachary was 16, Vera did become pregnant with a baby girl. During the maximum of her time living in the Brooks house and throughout her pregnancy, Vera was whipped, assaulted, and raped by various Brooks boys. Police were called to the Brooks home nearly ten times in two years for domestic violence allegations. Vera had been repeatedly queried by police and social workers, who saw apparent signs of physical abuse. Nonetheless, Vera continued to assert that she was comfortable living with the Brooks and wanted to continue staying there. Vera was of legal age and determined fit to make her own decisions, despite her diminished mental capacity and apparent signs of abuse.
After a tough pregnancy, Vera gave birth to Willadean over a month early, the day after Cheri’s birthday. Vera was given castor oil to induce early labor; an old midwives trick. The typical dose needed is a couple of tablespoons. Vera was forced to drink three full bottles. Cheri was bored of waiting for “her” baby girl. From the day Willadean was released from the NICU, Vera was not authorized to interact with her daughter unless she was permitted by Cheri. Cheri treated Willadean as her daughter and told everyone that Willadean was hers.
Police and social workers who came to the Brooks house noticed the filth in which Willadean was being raised. A “pet” pig was allowed to live inside the house along with at least one dog. The animals used the bathroom freely in the home. It seemed that the house was hardly ever cleaned, and at least ten people were living there at any one time, who were consuming drugs and alcohol often. Nonetheless, Willadean wasn’t taken away immediately because Cheri was Vera’s legal guardian, and Zachary had legal rights to his daughter.
Things came to a head in March of 2011. After conspiring with her sons, Cheri decided that Vera needed to be “eliminated,” so that Willadean could completely become hers. Because Bixler and Peters regularly took part in, and sexually enjoyed, the beatings of Vera, it was eventually decided that the two of them would carry out the act with Zachary’s blessing.
Cheri’s reasoning for why Vera “had” to be murdered was complicated, but Cheri had somehow convinced herself and her children that Vera was responsible for the demise of Cheri’s oldest son Punky. She claimed that Vera and Punky were walking down a road in town at night and that Vera pushed Punky in front of a wayward taxi. The actual story was that Punky was walking with his girlfriend and that the cab swerved out of control and hit Punky accidentally. But this is an instance of the layers of lies that Cheri spread among her family.
Another instance is Cheri’s story about how Vera allegedly dropped a brick onto Cheri’s foot while cleaning out the rabbit cage in the backyard. Ironically, the animals who created the least amount of waste were the ones kept outside. There were no witnesses to corroborate Cheri’s story, but even the family members believe that the brick(s) fell onto her foot, rather than Vera deliberately dropping them. Cheri now has “permanent injuries” because of the accident. Vera was hospitalized for the heavy beatings she received from this incident, but, like always, she declined to press charges.
Cheri had done her due diligence though–she had already concocted a cover story for Vera’s killing well in advance. She and the other family members were going to tell the police that Vera had set off a canister of mace all over the house. This mace had allegedly caused the wife of Cheri’s son Michael, Shannon Brooks, to have a miscarriage. Shannan was not even expectant at the time, but this was the story that Danny Bixler and Nicole Peters told the police, along with the rest of the family. To cover up Bixler and Peters’ involvement, they were going to tell the police that Vera left the home on the night of her death with a boyfriend. Nonetheless, Bixler later confessed to killing Vera.
Around 9 pm on March 26th, Bixler, Peters and Zachary left the home with Vera to “take a walk.” Vera resisted at first but was ultimately threatened to go. Vera and Shannon Brooks had become what could be described as friends, and Vera looked to Shannon for help as the group left the home. Shannon is convinced that Vera knew that she was being led to her death.
Scattered about the crime scene were Vera’s clothing, shoes, and personal effects. Not much has been documented about Vera’s final moments, but Findlay inhabitants describe, through hearsay, an awful act. Even though the story is technically hearsay, it matches up with the evidence discovered at the crime scene. Prosecutors believe that Bixler and Peters tried to stab Vera to kill her, but the knife was too dull to penetrate Vera’s clothing. So the group somehow persuaded Vera to remove her shoes and clothing so that the knife could penetrate her skin, all while pleading for her life. In a confession to his sister Desta, Danny Bixler said that he and Peters stabbed Vera numerous times. Finally, he moved behind Vera and slit her throat completely from ear to ear.
Vera’s corpse was then placed perpendicular over the train tracks in the hopes that her corpse would be destroyed beyond identification by trains. Nonetheless, Vera’s corpse was discovered crumpled up lying parallel in between the tracks. The oncoming train, whose conductor found her body, barely avoided hitting her body by a clearance of one inch. This told police that in her last moments, Vera managed to pull herself off the tracks and lie in between them to avoid being hit.
Later that night after murdering Vera, Bixler, Peters, and Zachary went to a friend’s home to quite literally celebrate Vera’s death. During the party, Danny’s sister Desta saw that Zachary was sulking and looking depressed. She inquired him what was wrong, and Zachary then admitted to what they had done. Desta confronted her brother about what happened to Vera, and then Danny also admitted. Desta went to the police with the information, and Bixler and Peters were shortly apprehended and charged with aggravated murder. The day after Vera’s corpse was discovered, and before her funeral, Cheri and Zachary contacted the state to obtain full parental rights for Willadean.
After being apprehended, Bixler and Peters told police the story formulated by Sheri about having to kill Vera because she had caused Shannon Brooks to have a miscarriage, along with allegedly pushing Punky in front of a cab and causing Cheri’s severe injuries to her foot. The other family members of course corroborated this story. Nonetheless, it was well known throughout Findlay that Cheri had Vera murdered so that she could get custody of Willadean.
Throughout the investigation, it became clear to police that the mace story was a sham. Cheri had Vera murdered because she wanted Vera’s baby, end of the story. Cheri and other family members were charged with obstructing a police investigation and put on probation. Daniel Bixler was convicted to life in jail and is eligible for parole after 40 years. Although Nicole Peters was a minor at the time of the crime, she was tried as an adult and convicted for 23 years for her involvement in the murder. Zachary Brooks was not charged with the murder, but he was charged with lying to the police.
The correct people are in jail for Vera’s murder, but not all the people responsible are in jail. Cheri was given probation for her obstruction of justice charge. In 2015, Cheri was sentenced to 40 months in jail for drug trafficking charges while on probation. One of Cheri’s sons and her husband were also charged with selling prescription drugs. Cheri pleaded guilty to her charges in court. Cheri also spent ten days in jail in 2014 for inappropriate “contact with an unrelated minor,” another violation of her probation.
Some people find some comfort in Cheri’s imprisonment, but others still believe Cheri should be in jail for much longer because she is responsible for planning the killing. Bixler and Peters were nothing more than foot soldiers ordered by a gang leader to carry out a hit. Some believe that everyone living in the Brooks home at the time should have been charged and prosecuted. Everyone in the house knew that Vera would ultimately be murdered so that Cheri could take custody of Willadean.
If you look at the facts, Cheri is a sex offender who engages and has engaged in improper relations with young children. Numerous witnesses testified that they have seen Cheri engage in sexual acts with children, but none of those claims could be substantiated by the police. Thus, Cheri wasn’t charged until 2014 for this offense.
All of Cheri’s children and their spouses witnessed years of physical and emotional abuse towards Vera, and nothing was reported to the police. I think that nothing was done because Cheri’s children are deathly scared of their mother. Whether they were worried about being kicked out of the house, physically harming themselves, or just simply too high, something could’ve been done. Neighbors and Vera’s family members went to the police and Social Services several times over the years, but Vera was an adult capable of making her own decisions, and she always said she was “happy” staying in the Brooks house.
Soon after Vera’s death, baby Willadean was taken out of the Brooks home and put up for adoption, despite Cheri’s claims of guardianship. Vera’s family members now take solace in knowing that Willadean has an opportunity at a normal life. At the trial of Bixler and Peters, the prosecutor read aloud the following note discovered in Vera’s purse shortly after her death:
“I love you Willadean. You are a good baby girl to us. I’m glad to be your mommy and I’m glad that I had you on Nov. 4 at 4:16 a.m. Six pounds, two ounces, 19 inches long. Mommy loves you.”