12-year old Sarah Cherry disappeared while babysitting on July 6, 1988. A clue laying in the driveway of the house where she was last seen pointed investigators to their primary suspect. Two days later, Sarah’s body was discovered in a shallow grave in the woods in Bowdoinham, Maine.
Dennis Dechaine is serving a life sentence for the murder of Sarah Cherry, but over 30 years later, he maintains his innocence, and so do his loyal supporters.
Retired Detective Dan Reed joins me in the telling of this story. He was one of the first to respond when Sarah was reported missing. Dan Reed came face to face with the man who would later be convicted of her murder.
This is the Murder of Sarah Cherry.
The Day She Disappeared
The date was July 6, 1988 and 12-year old Sarah Cherry was a little nervous, but excited for her new babysitting gig.
Sarah lived in Bowdoin, Maine with her mother, step-dad, and sister. She was an incredibly bright young girl, in the gifted and talented program at school, she was a girl scout, she loved sports. Sarah was also exceptionally responsible and reliable for being only 12-years old, a mere kiddo herself, and this responsible nature made her the ideal babysitter for Mr. and Mrs. Henkel’s 10-month old baby, Monica.
Sarah was great with kids, and although she’d never babysat a baby so young before, Jennifer Henkel trusted Sarah, and she admired her gentle manner and kind personality.
At just after 8 a.m. the morning of July 6, 1988, Mr. Henkel picked Sarah up and brought her back to their house, and by 9 a.m. that day, Sarah was alone at the Henkel home with baby Monica.
Jennifer called to check in on Sarah around noon and things seemed to be going well. Sarah was feeding Monica and she was going to make herself some hot dogs for lunch. Mrs. Henkel hung up the phone, apparently comforted and unconcerned. Sarah was doing great.
But just over three hours later, Mrs. Henkel returned home to a concerning scene.
She pulled carefully into her dirt driveway, deliberately avoiding two objects laying in plain view. Stepping out of the car, Jennifer realized that the objects were a notebook and nearby, a sheet of paper. Jennifer picked it up to discover it was a receipt from a car repair shop. She carried both of the items with her as her eyes darted ahead at the house.
Jennifer walked through the unlocked door, just as she’d left it. Mrs. Henkel didn’t want Sarah to get locked out if she took the baby outside. But the interior door leading from the attached garage into the home was open.
The TV was on in the living room and Sarah’s glasses were folded on the table. Her sneakers and socks were in a neat pile on the floor. Her jacket was there, too. But as she called out for Sarah, she received only silence in response. Baby Monica was sleeping soundly in her bed but the babysitter, Sarah Cherry, wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Mrs. Henkel called Sarah’s mother and dialed 9-1-1.
Detective Dan Reed was one of the first to respond to the Henkel home on Lewis Hill Road in Bowdoin. His daughter is a Dark Downeast listener, and she connected us for a conversation about this case.
Press play and tune into this episode to hear the full story plus a first-hand account of the investigation from retired Detective Dan Reed.
Episode Source Material
Thank you to retired Detective Dan Reed for joining me on Dark Downeast to discuss this case.
- Police search for missing babysitter, The Bangor Daily News, 08 Jul 1988
- Dechaine’s drug use revealed by attorney, Bangor Daily News, 08 Mar 1989
- Dechaine to appeal murder conviction by Susan Morrissey, BDN, 20 Mar 1989
- Trial and Error: Outcry for Justice in the Dennis Dechaine Case
- Slain girl’s family relives ordeal, Sun Journal, 22 Aug 2005
- Loved ones rediscover the strength to endure, Portland Press Herald, 04 July 2010
- Appellee Brief, JAMES E. TIERNEY Attorney General, LAW DOCKET NO. KNO-89-126