Vera Jo Reigle Messersmith Murder – “Matriarch of Murder?” — an Investigation Discovery’s documentary that explores the shocking events surrounding the brutal murder of Vera Jo Reigle Messersmith in Findlay, Ohio, in March 2011. This thought-provoking film provides insight into the investigation, showcasing how law enforcement’s hard work, compelling evidence, and statements from victims’ family members effectively resolved the case. However, family members claim that despite the successful conviction of two individuals involved, certain key masterminds behind the crime remain at large and free to commit more acts of violence. If you want to learn more about this case – such as who committed it and where they might currently be hiding – continue reading below.
Vera Jo Reigle Messersmith Murder Story
Vera Jo Reigle Messersmith was born to Lynn and Verna (Garner) Messersmith on July 11, 1986, in Findlay, Hancock County, Ohio. Vera Jo developed an engaging personality after graduating from high school there in 2005. She enjoyed socializing, listening to country music, and expressing her personal style through accessories. Ashley shared a particularly close childhood bond with Vera Jo and fondly recalled their times together playing, riding bikes, and attending church. With teary eyes, Ashley expressed, “Vera Jo was my best friend, and we had this unique special bond where we could tell each other everything.”
Tragically, Vera’s life came to an abrupt end on March 27, 2011. Police discovered her body between train tracks in Findlay. Police sources expressed shock at how tragically Vera had been run over by a passing freight train. They reported that the train’s cow-catcher measured 13 inches, while Vera’s head measured only 12 inches.
Blood-spattered train tracks indicated that Vera had suffered serious injuries in a quick and violent attack, as stated in police records. They described her as short-framed with multiple wounds, having been repeatedly stabbed with large knives. The investigation revealed various articles of clothing scattered from the train tracks to the nearby lakeshore, suggesting that she may have been exposed to the elements. One officer recognized Vera through her teddy bear tattoo on her shoulder as Vera Jo.
Vera Jo Reigle Messersmith’s untimely death has cast a dark cloud over her community, prompting further investigations and searching for justice for Vera and her loved ones. In “Matriarch of Murder?” we gain additional insight into this case as it unfolds. We uncover more investigation details while providing justice for Vera and those grieving her loss.
Investigation and Arrest
Vera Jo’s early years were marked by significant hardship, including allegations of sexual and physical abuse by her biological father, as depicted on a television show. Family members noted that she suffered from a developmental abnormality that caused her to exhibit behaviors more typical of someone aged eight to twelve, such as talking back. At nineteen, she entered into a romantic relationship with Zachary Brooks (then just thirteen) before Cheri Lynne Brooks adopted Vera Jo.
Cheri Brooks had a difficult history with child custody as her first five children were taken away due to allegations of sexual abuse. Reports indicate that she gave birth five times. Maria Brooks was removed from her care after it was discovered that she had been exposed to rape at one year of age. Their fifth child was born into foster care and never returned home with them.
With her second husband, Kevin Brooks Sr., Cheri had four additional children, including Zachary. Cheri, known as a methamphetamine dealer and user in Findlay, became their primary caretaker, earning her the nickname Sugar Babe in local media reports. Although confined to a wheelchair due to her condition, media portrayals showed her as a manipulative individual with a reputation for bullying and sadistic behaviors. In one incident, she allegedly convinced her son’s girlfriends to become pregnant so she could adopt the children after losing custody of all her other children to authorities.
Cheri eventually involved her other children in a street gang known as the Crips. Additionally, Cheri took control of Vera Jo’s monthly disability checks and expressed joy upon learning of Vera Jo’s pregnancy. However, Cheri coerced Vera Jo into taking multiple bottles of castor oil to induce labor, resulting in Willadean Messersmith arriving over one month early and necessitating time spent in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Vera Jo was mistreated by the Brooks family, leading to continued and constant abuse over time. Living without plumbing or running water, she was forced to clean the bathroom and kitchen by hand daily. Neighbors and family members attempted to contact the police many times, but Vera Jo always lied under Cheri’s manipulation and threats.
Cheri believed she had solved her issues with Vera Jo when Zachary’s cousin, Daniel Lee Bixler Jr., and Nicole Peters moved in. Daniel, a convicted felon who admitted to taking lives, and Nicole Peters (then seventeen years old) both expressed interest in murder for thrills alone. Together, they subjected Vera Jo, a single mother, to four days of torture before killing her with a crude knife on nearby train tracks.
After disposing of the blunt knife in a nearby lake, the group left the scene. News of their actions led the police to question Cheri and her relatives. To deflect responsibility for Vera Jo’s murder, they created an apparent boyfriend. However, when the police discovered bloodstained clothing and locks of Vera’s hair in his apartment, the truth became clear. On March 26th, security footage captured Zachary, Daniel, Nicole, and Vera Jo heading toward the train tracks together.
Vera Jo Reigle Messersmith’s tragic demise paints an unsympathetic picture of abuse and violence. Multiple individuals were involved, while manipulative dynamics within her Brooks family further complicated this distressing case.
Prosecution of Nicole Peters and Daniel Bixler Jr. in Murder Case
Daniel and Nicole admitted to killing Vera Jo, resulting in legal consequences, including their arrest. Daniel claimed that Cheri drugged Vera Jo before coercing them into carrying out her death by providing specific instructions and coercive measures. Daniel eventually reached a plea agreement and was sentenced to 40 years to life for charges, including aggravated murder, felony assault, and tampering with evidence. Nicole faced similar consequences.
Daniel, currently 33 years old, is currently housed at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, according to court records. Nicole, 29 years old, pleaded guilty in 2010 to kidnapping charges, as well as conspiracy and kidnapping. She received a 23-year prison sentence at Dayton Correctional Institution, with her parole date scheduled for 2033.
Zachary, charged with obstruction of justice, was arrested and received a prison term. However, Cheri was never brought up on charges of Vera Jo’s murder. Instead, in 2014, Cheri, her husband, and one of their sons were convicted of narcotics trafficking charges. Cheri received a 10-day detention period before trial and eventually received a federal prison term of 40 months as punishment.
The legal outcomes in this tragic case highlight the complexity and variation in accountabilities within our justice system.