From award-winning author Anthony Flacco comes a powerful tale of a picture-perfect family, the madness that plagued them, and a betrayal that plunged them into a fatal nightmare.
Robert Peernock appeared to have the ideal life; working as a pyrotechnics engineer and computer expert and coming home to his wife and daughter, Peernock projected the American dream. Even when he and his wife separated, it seemed amicable, just a small bump for the well-to-do family. But there was madness in his house: in private, Peernock was violent, subtly manipulative, and bordering on psychotic. But the horrifying details of his home life would only come to light after Peernock finally lost all control.
Peernock had come home, brutally beat both his wife and daughter, force fed them alcohol, and deliberately sent them to their death behind the wheel, staging it to look like a drunk driving accident. He didn't foresee that his daughter would survive, and even with years of abuse, her attempted murder, and horrendous injuries, he never anticipated that she would speak so powerfully against him.
Throughout his trial, Peernock claimed a massive government conspiracy against him. He hired and fired lawyers multiple times, deadlocking juries and spinning a web of lies. New York Times bestselling author Anthony Flacco ( Impossible Odds, The Road Out of Hell ) chronicles the sensational trial and all the terror that preceded it, looking deep into the mind of a deranged killer whose American dream was a waking nightmare for those trapped within it.
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About the Author
Anthony Flacco was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, one of four brothers. Their father was an Air Force pilot and mother was a talented artist and painter.
His background as a trained stage actor with over 2,000 performances under his Actors Equity membership provides the primary basis for his critically acclaimed ability to empathize with a wide cross-section of personalities. He moved into screenwriting when he was selected for the prestigious American Film Institute fellowship in Screenwriting. He received his MFA in screenwriting after winning AFI's Paramount Studios Fellowship Award and was then selected out of 2,000 entrants for the Walt Disney Studios Screenwriting Fellowship, where he spent a year writing for the Touchstone Pictures division. His screenwriting experience drives narrative stories that are visually compelling, whether for a movie theater or the screen of a reader's imagination.
He is an experienced public speaker and frequently gives seminars on crime writing, and is a featured speaker on writing for writers’ conferences and clubs and serves as Editorial Consultant to Martin Literary Management in Seattle, WA.
For more information, see www.AnthonyFlacco.com
Read an Excerpt
She lay in the seat listening to the metallic sounds as he tinkered under the Cadillac. Was it safe to move?
She still had a little physical control left, despite her cuffed hands, her bound ankles, her blindness inside the canvas hood. But long hours in captivity being force-fed a combination of alcohol and some kind of an unknown drug had served to take a severe toll. Even though she was a healthy eighteen-year-old and had always been athletic, by this point it took all her effort just to make her slim body obey her.
She reached out over her mother's unconscious form. Slowly, she ran trembling fingers down the steering column until at last her fingertips brushed the ignition. The key was still there, but she pulled back. Could she start the car even though her hands were cuffed in front of her? Could she shift the transmission into reverse even though she couldn't see, stomp on the gas even though her feet were tied? Most of all, could she do it fast enough to run the car over him before he heard her and scrambled out of the way? She had to try. There was no longer any doubt that he was about to kill them both. Once again she leaned over her mother, stretching her cuffed hands out toward the key.
But just as her fingertips finally reached the ignition, she realized the sounds under the car had stopped.
Sometime before 4:00 A.M. on July 22, 1987, a motorist named John Dozier pulled over to the side of a desolate road. He peered into the early morning darkness and struggled to focus on a jumble of twisted wreckage off the right-hand shoulder. It seemed to be a single car wreck; no one was moving at the scene.
He looked closer. A thin wisp of smoke was rising from the undercarriage of an old Cadillac resting near the side of the road. The rear of the car was still on the gravel shoulder, but the front straddled the remains of a wooden telephone pole. It appeared that the heavy '71 sedan had rammed the pole with such force that it had splintered and collapsed. The front of the car had come to rest on top of the remains of the pole as it lay on the ground.
Dozier realized that the wreck must have happened only moments before and that he was the first to come along. He knew that on an isolated strip of road like this one, it might be hours before anyone else chanced by in the darkness.
He hurried over, opened the driver's door of the Cadillac and discovered a petite woman lying inside. She gave no signs of life. He tried to pull her free but she was jammed under the dashboard beneath the steering wheel. On the floor beside her he could hear a female passenger moaning softly, but the door on the passenger side was jammed in place and there was nothing he could do to free the second victim either.
Then he remembered the thin wisp of smoke rising from under the car. He realized an explosion could happen at any second.
Dozier hurried away to find a phone and call for help.
At 4:25 on that same July morning, Paramedic Clyde Piephoff was sleeping through the quiet hours of a twenty-four-hour shift at Fire Station 89 in the North Hollywood area of Los Angeles when he received a radio dispatch over his hotline. The call came from the main dispatch center in downtown L.A., located five riot-proof floors below ground level. The order directed him to proceed to San Fernando Road near the Tuxford intersection in the neighboring town of Sun Valley. Clyde was a supervisor with the rank of paramedic 3, serving all county municipalities, so the call was within his jurisdiction. He summoned his partner, Paramedic 2 Todd Carb, and their trainee, Paul Egizi. Within moments they were rolling toward the scene.
Clyde's problems began immediately; there are two San Fernando Roads that intersect Tuxford. He made his best guess and arrived shortly afterward at what he considered the more commonly traveled of the two locations: the new strip of road, where most of the traffic could be expected to go.
There was nothing there.
Knowing he was losing precious seconds, he and his crew rushed toward old San Fernando Road, a lesser used strip of dead-end road running slightly north of a set of railroad tracks. There they finally spotted the "dispatch incident."
Four minutes had elapsed since their call came in.
Clyde saw the first body before he and the crew had even exited their ambulance. The woman lay on the floor under the steering wheel, her back against the driver's seat and her head slumped against the door frame. Her knees were jammed up under the dashboard, with her right arm on the floor and her left arm trailing out of the open driver's side door and onto the ground.
He did not notice the missing section of the underside of the dash or the exposed brackets for mounting stereo equipment, because in his mind, the woman became Clyde's patient the moment he arrived on the scene.
Visibility inside the car was a problem; the dome light was not on, even though the driver's side door was open. His attention was already fixed on assessing her condition. But he suspected that once he reached the woman his check for vital signs would be useless; in addition to clear evidence of massive blood loss, Clyde's patient had sizable portions of brain matter exposed just above her eyes.
After his first quick check of the woman hanging out of the doorway, Clyde saw a second body on the floor of the passenger side. The second passenger, also a female, wasn't moving either. He called for Todd and Paul to circle around the car to look after the second passenger while he knelt by the driver's side passenger to continue his preliminary assessments.
The smell of gas is typical in bad car wrecks, but Clyde noticed that the odor from this wreck was unusually strong. Glancing around the interior of the car, he saw puddles of fluid on the floorboards. Alarmed that they could be dealing with an active fuel leak, Clyde quickened his pace.
In that first brief moment he had also noticed that blood was also splattered across the inside of the windshield and over the gearshift area. But there was, oddly, no damage at all to the windshield itself or the steering column.
In fact, with the exception of all that blood, the interior of the car did not appear damaged at all. At that moment he couldn't tell if the splattered blood was from one or both of the women. But when Clyde spotted a thin leather strap, several feet long and knotted at both ends, lying across his patient's face, he immediately began conducting his movements so as to disturb things as little as possible. He had been trained to do it that way whenever something about a simple wreck indicated that it might be a crime scene.
Meanwhile Todd and Paul were having trouble getting the passenger's door pried open. The point of impact was on the right front of the car, but the shock had distorted metal all along the car's right side. Quickly retrieving a manual retractor called a hayward from their unit, they began working to free the second patient.
While Clyde was occupied with his examination of the woman on the driver's side, other details of the scene continued to strike him as strangely out of place. A partially empty bottle of whiskey lay in the driver's footwell, but the odor inside the car was more like gas than alcohol. The driver's clothing was soaked, but there again the odor on the clothing was that of gasoline and not alcohol. Most of all, the driver's head injuries were so severe, her face so bloodied and distorted, that he couldn't even guess her age. Clyde couldn't imagine what she might have collided with inside the car that would tear her up so badly without also showing some sign of damage to the impacted object itself.
The urgency of the situation, with the car's interior puddled with gasoline, kept him from continuing his trauma evaluation. With nothing else to go on but his initial impressions, he noted that the driver was small and trim, with no visible signs of aging. He estimated her age to be around thirty while he quickly checked her vital signs.
At 4:35 A.M., Clyde pronounced his patient dead at the scene.
On the passenger side, Todd and Paul called out to Clyde that the second victim showed faint signs of life. As soon as they began to check her, leaning in the window to determine her condition, they confirmed what Clyde had already noticed; there was a strong odor of gas inside the car. It was pooled on the floor around the second victim, soaking through her clothes.
John Dozier had returned to the scene and stood off in the background watching the action, and at that moment he called out a warning to the driver of a street sweeper from a nearby gravel company who had pulled his rig over to protect the scene from traffic. Dozier directed the driver's attention to the source of smoke under the car. When Clyde hurried around to assist his partners in removing the survivor, the street sweeper's driver relayed the warning of fire danger to Clyde.
Clyde dropped to his knees and peered under the car. A piece of rope that he would later describe as looking like a "wick" hung from the undercarriage below the gas tank area. The rope had been partially burned. The end of the rope still smoldered.
The smoldering rope made it imperative to immediately get the surviving young woman out and away from the car. It was also vital to get an engine company on the scene for fire-related backup. The deceased driver would have to remain in the car. Clyde ran to his unit and put out the call for additional aid, then rushed back to help Todd and Paul remove the survivor.
Given the severity of her injuries, they moved her out as quickly as they could. But like the woman on the driver's side, the passenger had suffered massive trauma about her head and face. It took extra precious seconds to handle her with extreme care as they got her strapped to a backboard with her arms and legs fixed in place and a cervical collar stabilizing her neck. Such precautions are standard under the circumstances, but careful handling of the surviving female became more urgent when they found what appeared to be brain matter on her clothing. The paramedics didn't know yet if the brain matter was hers.
They rushed the surviving passenger away on the gurney to begin first aid at a spot behind their ambulance, which had been parked away from any possible flow of gasoline from the wrecked car. They knew it would be a fight to stabilize her enough for the ride to nearby Holy Cross Hospital. With an apparently severe skull fracture and the resulting possibility of coma, the traumatic shock of moving could kill her.
The surviving female groaned softly and muttered a few delirious words. Head-injury patients tend to go in and out of consciousness, so whenever a victim seems alert enough to speak, paramedics will take the opportunity to attempt a few basic questions to determine if the patient is oriented. Clyde asked her name, but got no intelligible answer.
All three paramedics were struck by the fact that even away from the accident scene the young woman's clothing still reeked of gasoline.
While Clyde directed the treatment and the gentle questions, he noticed an engine company arriving in response to his call. Fire fighters used a two-and-a-half-gallon water gun to soak down the smoldering rope under the car. Then they pulled a hip line over to spray off the accumulated gas under the car, reducing the danger of explosion. Amid the flash of emergency lights, the typical noise of an accident scene was beginning to drone in the predawn darkness. Idling engines rumbled under the crackles of dispatch radios.
Todd and Paul continued with the surviving passenger while Clyde asked the fire fighters to leave the deceased woman in place after the fire danger was controlled. He knew that police investigators would not want anything disturbed more than necessary.
Meanwhile Todd and Paul were unable to orient the survivor. She couldn't identify herself, tell what had happened to her, or even say if she knew where she was. Her breath smelled slightly of alcohol, but it seemed unlikely that alcohol could be the cause of her incoherent condition.
Natasha Peernock was in the place dreams come from. Dreams, or nightmares. Her eyes could register forms moving. Her ears could register sounds. But her conscious mind had been knocked aside and the messages coming in through her senses were getting lost somewhere deep within her. They mingled with the rest of her unconscious, with memories, with hallucinations. Whatever was taking place in the three-dimensional world around her, or even in that tiny part of the world right outside her own skin and bones, it would all have to go by without her help, without her attention, without her even taking notice.
Arson investigators Michael Camello and Derrick Chew responded to the 8600 block of old San Fernando Road between 5:00 and 5:30 that morning. They saw a fire engine, a patrol car, and a paramedic ambulance already there, plus a handful of onlookers.
The hood and trunk of the car were open. Fire Captain Gene Allen told them that when he had arrived on the scene he'd found both lids closed, but that his men had had to open the hood to check for possible sparking. The fire fighters had also taken the trunk key from the ignition in order to open the trunk and make the same check there.
Camello and Chew had been summoned to determine if this was a crime scene. Had someone intended this car and the people inside of it to explode in flames? In those first moments they learned that a surviving passenger had already been removed from the car and was being given preliminary treatment in the ambulance, but that she was in no condition to offer them any information.
The heavy car was built like a battle tank. Despite a collision severe enough to tear down a telephone pole, most of the damage to the car was in the area of the right front fender. Other than having the one front wheel collapsed, the car was, incredibly, almost drivable.
Inside the passenger compartment, Camello and Chew shared the reactions of the others, amazed that there was no observable damage to the interior other than a minor ding in an air-conditioning vent and a thin crack in the lower right portion of the windshield. Even that small fracture was a single stress crack, not the sort of spidery impact lines that distinguish a blow to the glass from the inside. They observed the deceased woman still in her original position on the driver's floor of the car. Camello spotted a single brown work glove on the floor next to the body, and a capped bottle of Seagram's 7. In his experience, it seemed odd for anyone to drive with a large bottle of such hard stuff. But he also knew that people are completely unpredictable in their drinking habits.
Camello and Chew noted a large amount of blood on the dash and on the floor. Camello suspected that some of the residue was brain matter. Like the paramedics, he and Chew agreed that the deceased woman was in terrible shape for being in such a well-preserved automobile.
Camello looked inside the open trunk. He saw a gas can, scraps of paper, rags, and a wooden stick. It appeared that they had all been burned recently; the rags still felt warm to his touch. He directed photos to be taken while he checked to see if there were any exposed wires that might have ignited the trunk contents in some accidental way. But although he knew that anything is possible with explosive liquids, the trunk fire had already struck Arson Investigator Camello as being incendiary in nature.
The sight under the vehicle was also consistent with a crime scene. He noted that the rope "wick" near the gas tank was wrapped around some type of metal bar. The bar had a sharpened edge and was pointed toward the gas tank with the tip of the point about half an inch from the fuel supply. The other end of the bar was secured to the car's undercarriage by a single screw. Even though everything under the car was dirty, the single screw holding the pointed bar was shiny and clean. Camello noted some darkening on the underside of the gas tank, appearing to be a hydrocarbon burn residue. The location of the partially burned rope added to Camello's suspicions of attempted arson. But with a dead woman in the front seat and a delirious female pulled from the wreckage, the scene left no doubt in his mind that it revealed arson for the purpose of murder.
Somebody had gone to a great deal of trouble to turn this car into an elaborate, self-destructing death machine.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Checklist for Murder"
Copyright © 2015 Anthony Flacco.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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