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.
Is she awake?
No, she’s dead.
Okay, is she breathing at all?
No, she’s dead.
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.
Okay, let me give you some CPR instructions to help her, okay?
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?
Sherry’s been murdered.
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 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?
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 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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