How the Death of a Cheerleader's Dad Unravelled Disturbing Family Secrets

The 1986 murder of Cheryl Pierson's father, James, is re-examined in a new episode of People Magazine Investigates

James Pierson’s murder revealed a life he’d kept hidden.

His daughter, Cheryl Pierson, a 16-year-old high school cheerleader, had discovered the 42-year-old electrician face-down in the driveway of the family’s home in the Long Island hamlet of Selden, New York, on the morning of Feb. 5, 1986.

Police found he’d been shot in the head, with several small-caliber bullet casings on the ground near his body.

Some of the officers’ first questions were put to the widower’s three children: Cheryl; her brother Jimmy; and their younger sister, JoAnn. All three had lost their mother to kidney disease only one year earlier.

“My father was very rough around the edges,” Cheryl says in an episode of People Magazine Investigates airing Monday, December 30 at 10 p.m. ET, on Investigation Discovery. (An exclusive clip is above.) “There was no love in the house; we never said ‘I loved you.’ It was no emotions.”

She adds about her father: “He had an evil side to him.”

Courtesy Cheryl Pierson

“My brother and I were the ones that got hit and put up with the emotional and the verbal abuse,” she says. “We just did what he wanted us to do so we wouldn’t get hit. So we tried to be on our best behavior at all times.”

Questioned by police, Jimmy spun the accusations back around to his sister with a bombshell allegation.

Courtesy Cheryl Pierson Cuccio

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“Jimmy said that he suspected his sister Cheryl and her boyfriend, Robert Cuccio, of being involved in the murder, and that her boyfriend Robert Cuccio asked him to find someone to murder James Pierson,” says Roy Baillard, a now-retired Selden police officer.

Was Jimmy trying to deflect blame, or was he telling the truth? What other secrets buried in James’ past might lead police to a motive for his murder?

People Magazine Investigates: The Cheerleader and the Hitman premieres Monday, December 30 (10 p.m ET) on Investigation Discovery.

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