The Deck - Sherry Black (9 of Hearts, Utah) Part 1

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Our card this week is Sherry Black, the Nine of Hearts from Utah.

In November of 2010, the community of South Salt Lake was shocked by the vicious murder

of a beloved great-grandmother.

Investigators chased leads and interviewed suspects, utilizing every resource at their

disposal to learn who could have committed such a brutal crime and why.

But those answers and justice would remain elusive for nearly a decade, until a dogged

investigator cracked the case.

I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.

It was just after 1.40 in the afternoon when Earl Black got home from work, and he went

to let his wife know that he was back.

But he called out for his 64-year-old wife Sherry in their house and didn’t get an

answer, so he figured that she was working right next door in this little outbuilding

that they had that Sherry ran a bookstore from.

And this place is itty-bitty, you can see almost the whole thing from the front door

of the shop, so he was surprised when he walked inside and didn’t see Sherry sitting at

the front counter or organizing a collection of rare books on the shelves.

Now he knew she was around because her car was outside, so he made his way to the back


He didn’t know it in that moment, but at 1.43 p.m. on November 30th, 2010, his whole

life was about to change.

I am in a house, and it’s my shop.

What’s the name of the business?

30, uh, B&W Billiard.

Okay, I’m going to help credit you, okay, sir?

I’m just going to ask you a few more questions while I help us on the way.

Oh, f**k.

Oh, f**k.

Is she awake?

No, she’s dead.

Okay, is she breathing at all?

No, she’s dead.

Oh, f**k.

Oh, f**k.

Is the person who did this, could they still be nearby?

I doubt it.

Is there any serious bleeding?

Oh, just get here.

Okay, I do have help on the way.

I need to ask you some more questions just to get help started, okay?

No, just get here.

Okay, I have help on the way to you.

Is there any serious bleeding?

I don’t know, f**k.

Okay, listen carefully.

I want you to lay her flat on her back and remove any pillows.

I haven’t touched her.


Can you get next to her to see if we can start CPR on her?

Oh, you can’t.

She’s cold.

Oh, f**k.

Oh, man.

What the…

Jesus Christ.

Okay, let me give you some CPR instructions to help her, okay?

Uh, f**k.

I can’t.

I can’t handle this.

Okay, I need you to get next to her and look in her mouth for any food or vomit, okay?

Hey, she’s dead.

Just get here.

So you don’t want to do CPR?

She’s cold.

She’s dead.

F**k them.


Sherry’s been murdered.


Yes, yes.

Do you have any idea who could have done this, sir?

I have no idea.

It’s a bookstore.

I have no f**king idea.

It’s a bookstore?


I’m trying to talk to my grandson at the same…


I’m sorry.

I got a wrong number.

No, sir, are you talking to me or her right now?

I was talking to somebody on the phone.

Okay, just to verify, you’re at 3466 South 700 East?



A bookstore.

Yes, it’s a bookstore.

Sir, we’re just arriving, sir.

We’re just arriving.

This is the dispatcher.

Just stay on the phone with my friend, okay?

Any idea who could have done this?


Do you know what time frame this could have happened between?

Hey, I just got home.


No, don’t hang up, sir.

Sir, are you still there?

Oh my God.

Police arrived at the scene within minutes,

where a distraught Earl told them what he had found,

which was his wife lying on the floor

face up in a pool of blood.

Her pants and underwear were pulled down,

her shirt and bra were pushed up,

and stuck in her chest

was the pair of heavy scissors

Sherry would use to pack up books for shipping.

Officers did a sweep of the store

and determined that the only person inside

was Sherry, and it was too late

to save her.

Since she was already gone, officers decided

not to let paramedics inside

in the interest of preserving the scene.

Instead, they called in backup

and the state’s evidence processing team

to meticulously comb through the shop.

And while they were hard at work,

officers got statements from the only

two people there, Earl and his

employee, this guy named Mike.

You see, both men were on a job site

building a pool table for a customer.

That business Earl mentioned in the call,

B&W Billiards and Books,

was his and Sherry’s business, a combo

of a bookstore and a billiard shop.

Sherry had the books, and Earl

had the pool tables.

Both men essentially told police this same story.

Earl left his house at around

9.30 or so, and then from his house

he drove over to pick up Mike,

and the two spent the morning and early afternoon

assembling the pool table at their customer’s house.

They got back to the Blacks at about

1.40 p.m., and that’s when Earl found

Sherry’s body. When police spoke

to Mike, he said that he’d known the couple

for more than two decades and had no

idea who would do this.

Everyone loved Sherry.

She and Earl had no enemies. Nobody

would want to harm them. Earl,

meanwhile, was devastated.

Investigators eventually had to

cut his interview short when he broke

down in tears and asked if they could

call anyone to come sit with him.

But he assured them that he had already

contacted his and Sherry’s daughter, Heidi

Miller, who was on the way. Heidi

told me that she was at home with one of

her daughters when she first heard from her dad.

Somebody’s killed your mom.

You need to get her. Just something that

you never,

you never in your wildest dreams expect to hear.

Heidi and one of her daughters

raced over to her parents’ house in disbelief,

where they met up with more family.

Like Earl and Mike, Heidi couldn’t think of

anyone who would do this, but she

did have some information for officers

that helped narrow down

the time of Sherry’s death.

Heidi told officers at the scene

that she’d tried to get in touch with

Sherry all morning.

I called a number of times, started at about

10 o’clock and she didn’t answer.

And that wasn’t typical of her. She was

either at home and would answer on the

home phone or had her cell phone with her.

And I just had this weird

feeling that something wasn’t right.

If everyone’s timelines were

accurate, that meant Sherry was alive

when Earl left that morning and

probably dead or with

her killer by the time Heidi called,

leaving just a half an hour or so

window for this whole thing to happen.

South Salt Lake PD took

Sherry’s family to the police station so

detectives could formally question Earl

and learn more about his and Sherry’s relationship.

He told them that the two had married

in their teens when Earl,

who’s a year younger than Sherry, was just a

senior in high school. According

to CBS News reporter Julia

Dahl, Sherry spent years as

a stay-at-home mom to their kids, Heidi

and Jason, while Earl ran his

pool table business. But Jason

died from a gun-related accident in

  1. And after

his tragic death, Sherry turned her passion

for books into a business

venture. Sherry specialized

in rare collectible children’s books

and books from the Church of Jesus

Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She’d visited thrift stores and estate

sales to find books that she would resell,

some for thousands of dollars.

And she had a regular routine.

Here’s Earl.

She would get up early and

first thing she’d do is grab a cup of coffee

and go out in the shop and

jump on the computer and start

putting books online and

see what orders she had.

Police learned Sherry spent her days

hunting for bargains at Desiree

Industries, which is like a Latter-day

Saints version of Goodwill. And she would

take their dog to the park, she would run errands,

and she spent a lot of time selling

books. And Earl said there was

nothing going on in their lives that

would make Sherry a target.

They had a big, happy family.

Six grandchildren, one great-grandchild,

and another even on the way.

All in all, they lived a

low-key, quiet life together.

Now, I’m not sure why,

but investigators didn’t question

any other members of Sherry’s family

that night. Everyone was allowed

to leave, including Earl. Between

his alibi, which they were able to verify

quickly, and his obvious distress, police

didn’t seem to consider him much of a suspect.

My dad, he

had to be escorted into his home to get

his toothbrush and a couple things.

And we took him

to my home and he never

slept in his home again.

That home, or at least the

bookstore next to it, was a crime scene now.

And even if it would eventually

be cleaned up, it would always be

a crime scene to Earl.

The scene told investigators that the crime

didn’t appear to be well-planned or

well-organized. As far as they could tell,

the killer hadn’t brought their own weapon with them,

hence why they used the shears.

Next to Sherry’s body was

broken glass, which officers determined

came from an antique soda bottle that she

kept on a shelf by the cash register.

And whatever had happened,

she didn’t go down without a fight.

Because in addition to the stab wounds

and bruising, they could see what looked like

defensive wounds on her hands.

It was also obvious that the

brunt of the attack happened in the

stockroom, because as gruesome

as it was back there, they only

found a few bloodstains in the

common area, and they weren’t super

noticeable unless you were actually looking

for them. But the good

news, if any news can

be good in a situation like this,

was that investigators quickly found

some key pieces of evidence.

First was an imitation

Armani Exchange men’s belt

near Sherry’s body. It was size

36 to 38, brown,

with a square silver buckle.

On the front of the buckle were

the letters AX, and on the

back was a sticker with the number

323 on it, which police thought

could be a store item or

inventory number. They also

found a bloody palm print and

fingerprint on the stockroom door,

and two more bloody fingerprints

on the doorframe. They didn’t know

yet if the prints had been left in Sherry’s

blood or the killer’s, but either

way, this felt incredibly promising.

Law enforcement

worked through the night, and on Wednesday

December 1st, as techs were still

pouring over the shop, Sherry’s

autopsy was conducted. The

medical examiner found that she had been stabbed

eight times in the head, neck,

chest, torso, and abdomen.

There were also indications

of sexual assault. A bite mark

on her breast, slash marks

around her nipple, and bruising in her

vaginal area. What the

autopsy really couldn’t tell investigators

was why this happened.

They didn’t think robbery

was the motive. Sherry had still

been wearing her diamond jewelry, and

there was still cash in the register.

Even the safe where she kept her most

valuable books hadn’t been disturbed.

That being said, though, they

couldn’t totally rule out robbery

either. I mean, the store was

filled to the brim with literally

tens of thousands of books.

She had

64,000 books.

When you’d walk in the bookstore, it just looked like

kind of craziness, you know?

Stacks of books, and

she knew how they were organized,

but for those of us

who didn’t, it was very overwhelming.

And Sherry hadn’t

kept any written inventory, because

she kept it all in her head.

So, if there were any missing

books, they had no hope of

tracking them down.

As investigators continued

searching for leads, news of Sherry’s

murder spread far and fast

through the South Salt Lake community.

Everyone was stunned and wondered

how someone could commit such a heinous

crime in broad daylight and

get away with it with no one seeing them.

That Wednesday, police gave

reporters some updates, but

they shared very few details

other than that they had no suspects

and didn’t know what the motive could be.

They didn’t reveal that Sherry had

been sexually assaulted, or that

shears, rather than a knife, were used

in the stabbing. That would be

information that only the killer would know,

and police wanted to keep it close

to the vest. But they did

appeal to the public for help.

According to KSL News,

they wanted to talk to any witnesses

who were in the area from 8 a.m., when

Sherry opened the shop, until the time

her body was found. Especially

anyone who saw a car speeding away

or maybe somebody running from the area.

Someone who might

have been covered in blood.

And there was someone in particular

that they wanted to speak with.

Earl had told detectives that he heard

Sherry on the phone with a customer

that morning before he left work.

A man who was supposed to come pick up

a book that day. So maybe he

saw something. And luckily,

that man reached out to police.

The customer told detectives

he called Sherry twice on Tuesday morning.

First at 9-0-9 to discuss

the purchase and to make plans for picking

up the book. Then he called her again

at 9-53, this time to tell her that he

was running late because of traffic.

He said Sherry picked up the phone for the second

call and told him it was fine. She’d wait for him.

But when he got there

around 10-30, the lights on

the B&W sign were off.

And he didn’t see her in the shop.

Here’s Ben Pender, a detective

with the Unified Police Department of

Greater Salt Lake.

Just kind of looks around in the

common area for her and doesn’t see her

even goes next door to her house

because it’s on the same property

and knocks on the door. I think he

opens the door and hollers into her.

This customer didn’t find Sherry

anywhere, but he knew that she

was expecting him. So he went back

into the bookstore where he hung around

for like 40 to 45 minutes

thinking she’d return. He told

police that he didn’t check for her in the stockroom

because it wasn’t generally open to customers.

And he said he hadn’t seen anything alarming

in the main area of the store.

I think he was looking for her

and probably not paying attention to any

of those other details and not imagining

what he’s walked into.

So, assuming this guy wasn’t

the killer, and detectives didn’t seem

to think he was, they realized

that Sherry must have been

dead by the time he pulled into

the Black’s driveway. In fact,

he was probably the last person to speak

with her. So that meant one of two things.

Either someone came into the

store, brutally murdered Sherry,

and left in just 35 minutes,

or someone came into the store,

brutally murdered Sherry, heard

the customer arrive, and hid

until he left. Either way,

you’ve got the bulk of this terrible

interaction happening in

35 minutes.

There was that small window. It’s almost as

though somebody may have seen Earl leave

and knew that they

had X amount of time. It was just

unbelievable that that person could get in,

do this crime in that short amount of time, and be

gone. That customer

wasn’t the only person who stopped by that

day. He told police that while

he was waiting for Sherry, a second man

came in hoping to sell a book.

He left when he realized the store owner wasn’t

there, and then a third person

pulled into the driveway around noon

but figured that the store was closed since

the sign wasn’t on, and they left without going

inside. Now, keep in mind,

the bookstore wasn’t a mainstream

Barnes and Noble type of place

with people randomly stopping by to browse

the latest titles. Because of the shop’s

location and its niche market,

most of Sherry’s business was done

by appointment only. Basically, the way

Detective Pender described it to me is that

the bookstore was open when she was around

and closed when she wasn’t.

This cozy little shop, tucked back

from the road off an eight-lane highway

seemed like the most unlikely

place in the world for a random

crime to occur.

It was a very busy street, but all along

the street were houses, and

her house was right next to the bookstore,

and the bookstore was just

set back, even from the house.

I actually

went to Utah and saw the property

for myself, and even with

the sign the blacks kept outside,

it is not the type of place that you

just stumble upon by accident.

In fact, when officers canvassed the

neighborhood, lots of the people that they spoke with

didn’t even realize there was a bookstore there.

Only a few had ever

been inside, and many of them

didn’t know Earl and Sherry at all,

even though the couple had lived there for decades.

And that’s mostly

because this area is home to a

highly mobile population with lots

of renters, most of whom

didn’t fall into the target demographics

of either side of the blacks'

business. But the people who did

know Sherry and Earl had nothing

bad to say about them.

Detectives and Sherry’s loved ones

were at a loss. With no

motive and no suspects,

the possibilities were frustratingly

endless. And without

much else to go on, Sherry’s business

became a focal point of the

investigation as police

waited for lab test results.

When police asked around to local rare books

and antiques dealers, they learned

that Sherry was well-known and respected

in that circle, a circle

that was just as bewildered and

scared as the rest of the community.

One bookseller who knew Sherry told

KSL News that this sort of thing

quote, doesn’t happen in the

usually genteel world

of books, end quote.

But as police found out,

that world was actually home to

some pretty shady characters.

In fact, Salt Lake City

Weekly reporter Stephen Dark had interviewed

Sherry a few years before this for

an article about the murky underbelly

of the used books and antiques trade.

The piece followed a man’s

quest to recover some Latter-day Saints

artifacts and artwork after they were

stolen from his home. Sherry,

not knowing the stuff was stolen, had

actually purchased some old photographs

from one of the thieves, a guy named

Gerald Corey Lloyd, who the reporter

described as quote, a one-time

antique dealer, picker, forger,

and meth addict, end quote.

The check Sherry paid

Gerald was eventually used as

evidence against him in court, and

he was convicted of burglary.

When Sherry was killed, he was still

in jail undergoing treatment for

substance use disorder, so he wasn’t

a suspect. But after the murder,

Stephen Dark went to visit Gerald

to see what he made of this whole situation.

Gerald told the reporter that

he felt a little guilty.

You see, before the stolen photograph fiasco,

Gerald had sold Sherry an expensive

book, and she was so nice to him.

He essentially gave her an underworld

stamp of approval.

He said that he told other pickers that he

knew about her sweetness and generosity,

and once he put the word out, Sherry

was added to an unofficial group

of secondhand books and antiques dealers

that they could sell stuff to.

So any of those shady

people he knew could have targeted her.

Gerald said that he was totally

convinced that her murder was

related to Latter-day Saints memorabilia

and methamphetamine.

And it seemed like he might be onto

something, because as police

quickly realized, Gerald wasn’t

the only person Sherry helped put in jail.


learned that in early 2009,

Sherry had bought some rare Latter-day

Saints books from a 20-year-old man

named Lauren Nielsen.

She paid $20,000 for

14 books, a good deal considering

she estimated that they were worth more than

twice that. But she found out

it was too good to be true when police

contacted her. It turned out

that Lauren had stolen the books from his

father, a well-known church

president. According to Deseret

News reporter Paul Koepp, when

his father found out, he confronted Lauren,

who warned him not to get law enforcement

involved because he was in a gang

called the Juggalos. Now the

FBI classifies the Juggalos as a

loosely organized hybrid

gang whose members religiously follow

the rap group Insane Clown

Posse. They’ve been known to commit

assaults, robberies, vandalism,

and even murder.

Sherry was mortified when she found

out that the books were stolen, and she had

already sold one to another book dealer, but

she quickly returned the others and helped

with the investigation. Lauren

was arrested and sentenced to 90 days

in jail after he pled guilty to felony

theft charges. Lauren’s

father told police his son had threatened

him before and had a history of

carrying weapons. And since

Sherry was instrumental in putting him in jail,

police wondered if he was angry enough

to kill over it. This was the

most promising lead investigators

had. And as luck would

have it, within a week of Sherry’s murder,

they arrested Lauren on an outstanding

warrant for violating his probation.

So while he was in jail,

they questioned him about Sherry.

He admitted that he had

sold some books to her and admitted what he had done

in the past, but denied any

involvement in this particular case.

It was around this time that early

lab results started coming back,

and investigators realized that they

had crucial evidence about the

killer’s identity. They had

his DNA.

It turns out that bloody palm print

left on the door was in the killer’s blood,

not Sherry’s. Investigators

figured that he must have hurt his hand while

he was stabbing Sherry, and it was enough

blood that they were able to get a

full DNA profile.

Now, they knew this DNA belonged

to a male, and they used it to

rule out two key people,

Lauren and that customer who had been

in the store that day.

It also wasn’t a match for Earl,

which I don’t think surprised anyone.

But what was surprising,

considering the violent nature of the crime,

was that there was no match in

CODIS either. So in

all likelihood, whoever killed

Sherry didn’t have a felony record.

Although, as Detective

Pender pointed out, they couldn’t

really rule someone out 100%

from the DNA alone.

I mean, for all they knew, more than one person

could have been involved.

And what about the fingerprints, you’re asking?

Well, there’s a whole different database

for those. The fingerprints

they found were actually poor quality.

In fact, under normal circumstances,

they wouldn’t have even been submitted to

law enforcement fingerprint databases.

However, due to the nature of this case,

the crime lab pushed them through.

But they still didn’t get any hits there either.

So police turned to

their other big piece of evidence,

the belt. No one from

Sherry’s family recognized it, and

investigators didn’t think that it had been

used in the attack because Sherry didn’t

have any injuries that matched up with it.

But it was so close

to her body that they were confident

it was the killer’s. And they were

proven right when they tested the belt for

DNA, and it came back with the

same unknown male DNA

as the bloody handprint.

With no other leads, police released

photos and details about the belt

to the public. According

to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle,

it was unique, and they hoped

that someone would recognize it.

Sure enough, they were flooded with tips.

It seemed like everyone knew

someone who knew someone else who had

a neighbor who wore that type of belt.

Unfortunately, none

of those tips led anywhere.

Even after Sherry’s family created

a website for her case and put up

billboards seeking information.

By late March, still

with no leads or suspects, police

held a press conference to share the fact

that they had the killer’s DNA.

They also announced a $50,000

reward for information leading to

the arrest and conviction of those responsible

for Sherry’s death. And Heidi

also issued this heartbreaking


I miss my mom so much, I can’t even begin

to explain the pain that I feel.

The person who took her away from our

family needs to be caught and put

away so that they don’t hurt anyone else.

They are a danger to our community.

My mom was a warm,

loving, kind

and generous woman.

She was a wonderful wife, mother,

grandmother and great grandmother

and friend. We miss

her every minute of every day.

If you have any information, please help us.

If the person who killed her is listening,

please turn yourself in.

As tips came in,

police consulted with the FBI’s

behavioral analysis unit.

And in April, the unit issued

a lengthy report. Their

theory was that a single offender killed

Sherry and that the crime

was sexually motivated.

Maybe the offender becomes

sexually aroused by

the eroticized violence.

They just kind of find it out. You know, she

was alone in the bookstore. The bookstore

is concealed from the view of traffic.

The offender targeted the victim.

It appears the offender had been in

the store previously. The offender

could be a customer of either Earl’s

or Sherry’s.

Even though the FBI believed there was

planning and surveillance involved

in the murder, they agreed with the police’s

initial assessment that the suspect

appeared to be criminally unsophisticated

because he didn’t bring his own

weapon and wasn’t skilled at using

the one he chose.

And the timing of this attack also

told them something. Not just

that maybe he was familiar with the couple

or saw Earl leave and targeted Sherry,

but the fact that this happened

mid-morning on a weekday

suggested that he had the freedom

and flexibility to commit the crime without

anyone noticing he was gone,

perhaps due to a job that was

somewhat unsupervised or allowed him to

travel. What’s interesting to me

as I was looking into this early on was that

Earl had just gotten back from

a long hunting trip a few days before

the murder. Sherry had been home

by herself for a couple of weeks.

So that begged the question,

if someone was watching her

in the time leading up to the murder,

why didn’t they attack when Earl was away?

Why take that extra

risk? The FBI believed

that the killer might strike again

if the opportunity presented

itself. And that was everyone’s

biggest fear. Whoever this

guy was, he had clearly

been flying under the radar.

But they didn’t know if that was because he

wasn’t committing any crimes

or he just wasn’t getting caught.

For Sherry’s family,

it was torment. They wondered

if they knew the killer. Was he in

line next to them at the grocery store

watching them as they went about their lives?

Here’s one of Sherry’s

granddaughters, Alyssa.

You really, like, go through

everyone that you know and it

kind of changes the way that you

look at people.

I don’t think there’s anything to

describe that kind of pain.

And knowing that you’ve

lost her, but also thinking

about what she went through.

A lot of anger that

he’s out there

or whoever did it is out there

living their life.

That year, a local forensic consulting

firm unveiled a method of testing

DNA that could help determine someone’s

genetic ancestry.

The results weren’t precise. They could only

break down ancestral mixes into

five broad categories.

But South Salt Lake police decided it was

better than nothing. And in May,

they learned that Sherry’s killer was

of 46.2%

West African descent.

And while they couldn’t narrow down the other half,

it was a surprise to Sherry’s family

because in Utah and

specifically South Salt Lake County,

the people there are overwhelmingly

white. So this narrowed

down the suspect pool significantly.

But the new info

still didn’t provide answers.

Though another person of interest surfaced

in the first year of the investigation.

In November 2011, KSTU

TV reported that police were

looking into a 22-year-old man

named Helaman Pergana.

He had just been arrested that month for

a string of robberies and sexual assaults

across South Lake County.

But his MO was approaching women at ATMs,

robbing them at gunpoint,

kidnapping, and then sexually assaulting

them. And once they compared his

DNA to Sherry’s killer, and it wasn’t a match,

it was back to square one.

Just before the

one-year anniversary of Sherry’s murder,

her family held a press conference in the

bookstore to draw attention back to her

case. Earl hadn’t even reopened

the business, but he told Deseret News

reporter Pat Reavy that they

hoped to at some point.


it was a book that gave

Heidi an idea of how they might

be able to catch Sherry’s killer.

But I’ll have to tell you about

what Heidi learned, and how the course

of the investigation changed.

So please, go listen to Part 2

right now.

The Deck is an AudioChuck

production with theme music by

Ryan Lewis. To learn more about

The Deck and our advocacy work,


So, what do you think, Chuck?

Do you approve?