Robert John Peernock (born c. 1937), from
the Los Angeles district of Tarzana, is an American convicted for the
murder of his wife, Claire Laurence Peernock, and for the attempted
murder of his daughter, Natasha Peernock, on July 22, 1987.
Peernock was a former pyrotechnics engineer and
California state employee with the Department of Water Resources who
claimed he was framed because he was about to publish a book exposing
Murder of Claire Peernock
Claire Peernock and her daughter Natasha Peernock
Sims were discovered in the early morning of July 22, 1987 near
Tuxford Street in Los Angeles. Claire had been driving Peernock's car,
a 1971 Cadillac, when the car struck a utility pole. The interior of
the car was found to have been soaked with gasoline, with Claire and
Natasha also covered with the fluid. It was found that an explosive
device had been placed on the gas tank rigged to explode, but that it
had failed to detonate. Claire died from head wounds that were termed
"inconsistent" with a traffic accident and Natasha was severely
injured, but survived.
A family member told authorities that Peernock and
Claire had been in the process of separating and that she had sought
protective custody from Peernock for herself and her two children.
Peernock fled shortly after the death of his wife and a warrant for
his arrest was issued in August 1987; he was apprehended the following
Peernock's girlfriend was charged with accessory to
murder for assisting him with his finances between July 30 and his
arrest on September 4, 1987. The charge against her was later dropped.
The case went to trial in 1991 after Peernock
underwent several psychiatric examinations to establish whether or not
he was competent to stand trial. During the trial, Natasha testified
that her father had restrained her with handcuffs and force-fed her
"large quantities of liquor" 12 hours before the crash. Attorney Craig
R. Richman argued that Peernock had murdered his wife for financial
In the middle of the trial, Peernock attempted to
fire his attorney Donald J. Green, stating that Green was "working to
rig a conviction." On October 23, 1991, Peernock was convicted of the
charges of murder, upon which Peernock told the court he was innocent
and demanded a second trial. Several times during the reading of the
verdict Peernock was removed from the courtroom due to outbursts, with
the judge eventually ordering him to be handcuffed and gagged with
duct tape while in the courtroom.
In October 1991, Judge Howard J. Schwab sentenced
Peernock to life in prison without parole for the murder of his wife.
He was also sentenced for attempting to hire a fellow prison inmate to
murder his daughter and her attorney.
During the trial, he accused Judge Schwab of
conspiring with several others to gain access to Peernock's finances.
An unrelated search of Peernock's jail cell uncovered a list of names
and addresses of jurors. The discovery prompted Los Angeles County
Supervisor Mike Antonovich to request a ban on juror contact.
A later civil trial against Peernock resulted in a
court order that he pay $11 million in damages to his daughter for the
wrongful death of her mother.
In popular culture
He was the subject of the book A Checklist for
Murder by Anthony Flacco, published by Random House.
The murder was also the subject of a 2001 episode
titled "Short Fuse" in the Discovery Channel series "Prosecutors: In
Pursuit of Justice."
Man Convicted of Killing Wife Gets Life Term
Courts: Robert Peernock is bound and gagged after
shouting for a new trial. He was found guilty of staging a fatal car
crash. He also threatened jurors from jail.
Julio Moran - Los Angeles Times
October 24, 1991
A Tarzana man convicted of murdering his wife and
of soliciting a fellow jail inmate to kill his daughter was sentenced
Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole as he
sat bound and gagged after shouting out his innocence in the
Immediately after being brought into the courtroom
at San Fernando Superior Court, Robert J. Peernock, 54--who had
disrupted his murder trial with outbursts that prompted his removal
from court three times--began shouting that he was innocent of the
charges and wanted a new trial.
"I am innocent. I was not given a fair trial,"
After Peernock ignored repeated requests by Judge
Howard J. Schwab to be quiet, Schwab ordered sheriff's deputies to
handcuff and gag him.
Two deputies forcibly removed Peernock from the
courtroom and pushed him into the courtroom holding cell. When he
returned a few minutes later, Peernock's hands were handcuffed behind
his back and cloth tape covered his mouth.
About 10 minutes into the proceedings, Peernock,
his face turning red, began slumping in his chair until he was nearly
under the table. Schwab ordered deputies to attend to Peernock, who
was taken back into the holding cell briefly.
When he was brought back, Peernock remained sitting
up for the rest of the proceedings, although he appeared to be
fidgeting with the handcuffs and attempting to remove the tape with
At the end of the hearing, Peernock refused to
stand and deputies dragged him on his knees back into the holding
In handing down the sentence, Schwab called
Peernock "one of the most dangerous men I have ever dealt with in my
Earlier this month, a prosecutor said Peernock was
attempting to contact the jurors who convicted him to harass or harm
A court-ordered search of his jail cell turned up a
list of names and addresses of jurors, prompting Supervising Judge
David M. Schacter to suggest that the situation, although not illegal,
could have "put the entire jury system at risk" because of the
potential harm Peernock could have caused the jurors.
In his sentence recommendations, Schwab said that
Peernock should be kept imprisoned in a high-security area with "as
little contact with humanity as possible," and that no governor should
ever pardon Peernock.
"It is my steadfast recommendation that Mr.
Peernock never be allowed back into society," Schwab said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig R. Richman, who prosecuted
the case, apologized for not seeking the death penalty to the friends
and family of Peernock's deceased wife, Claire, who were sitting in
the courtroom, many of them with tears streaming down their faces.
Prosecutors agreed with Peernock's attorney to seek
life in prison without parole rather than the death penalty so that
the case could quickly move to trial.
"If there is an afterlife, if there is a heaven and
a hell, I hope that Claire has the opportunity to look down and see
Mr. Peernock fry in hell," Richman said.
Although Peernock tried to fire his attorney,
Donald J. Green, during the trial, Green pleaded unsuccessfully for a
more lenient sentence, saying that Peernock's actions in court were
those of a "desperate man."
"He professes to me his innocence," Green said. "I
still believe in my client."
Peernock was scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 18. But
Schwab moved up sentencing to Wednesday because he said he did not
want Peernock creating any more "mischief."
Peernock had originally been scheduled to be
sentenced on Oct. 3, however sentencing was delayed until an Orange
County judge could rule on a motion filed by Peernock arguing that
Schwab should be removed from the case because he is prejudiced.
Peernock accused Schwab of conspiring with
others--including Peernock's daughter, his deceased wife's lawyer,
police investigators and prosecutors--to convict him so that they
could gain access to his finances.
Orange County Superior Court Judge James L. Smith
ruled this week that Schwab was not prejudiced, clearing the way for
After sentencing, Schwab said that the Peernock
case revealed that two changes should be made in state law.
One would make it a felony for anyone to contact
criminal trial jurors outside the courthouse without court permission
after the case has ended. The second would allow a judge to proceed
with a case while a motion to remove him is being reviewed so that
proceedings are not unnecessarily delayed.
A spokesman for state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Santa
Clarita) said that Davis is considering sponsoring such legislation.
Prosecutors said Peernock, a former pyrotechnical
engineer for a movie studio, killed his estranged wife, Claire, 45,
and attempted to kill his daughter to gain control of community
property and life insurance benefits totaling $1.5 million.
Peernock and his wife were within weeks of
divorcing when she and their then 18-year-old daughter, Natasha
Peernock Sims, were found in a crashed car on July 22, 1987, according
to court records. Police said the two women had been doused with
gasoline and the car rigged to explode when it crashed into a utility
pole in a remote area in Sun Valley.
But the car failed to explode, and passersby found
Sims unconscious. During the trial, a medical examiner testified that
Peernock's wife died prior to the car crash from head wounds.
The same jury that convicted Peernock of murdering
his wife also convicted him of trying to hire a fellow inmate in
County Jail to kill his daughter and her attorney.
Man Goes On Trial in Wife's Fatal Beating
Crimes: Robert J. Peernock is accused of
bludgeoning the woman and their daughter in an elaborate plot to kill
them both for financial gain.
James Quinn - Los Angeles Times
July 9, 1991
A former pyrotechnical engineer for a movie studio
was trying to secure "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in life
insurance proceeds when he killed his wife and tried to kill his
daughter at their home in Saugus, a prosecutor charged Monday.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig R. Richman also told
jurors in San Fernando Superior Court that Robert J. Peernock, 54,
beat his victims, doused them with gasoline and then staged a car
crash in Sun Valley in an elaborate plan to obtain sole title to three
houses and more than $200,000 in cash belonging to the couple, who
Authorities say Peernock, whose murder trial began
Monday, bludgeoned to death his wife, Claire, 45, of Saugus and also
tried to beat to death his daughter Natasha Peernock Sims, then 18.
Richman said Peernock also force-fed them alcohol,
soaked them in gasoline, placed them in his car and somehow caused the
vehicle to crash into a telephone pole about 4:30 a.m. on July 22,
The car's gas tank was rigged to explode in what a
Los Angeles Fire Department investigator, testifying at an earlier
hearing, described as the "most elaborate way I've ever seen."
But the device failed and Sims, who was found by
passersby unconscious from head wounds and alcohol, survived what
Richman termed an "evening of terror at the hands of her father."
At a preliminary hearing in the case in December,
1987, Sims testified that her father had handcuffed her and forced her
to swallow large quantities of liquor about 12 hours before she and
her mother were found in the crashed car in a remote section of Sun
She also testified that she recalled being carried
to the car and placed alongside another person who was breathing
slightly. She said she could not identify that person. Sims said she
had no recollection of being beaten on the head.
A medical examiner testified at the hearing that
Claire Peernock died prior to the car crash from head wounds similar
to those suffered by her daughter.
Contending that "only the wicked flee when no one
pursues," Richman said Monday that after his wife's death, Peernock
fled to Las Vegas, where he lived under an assumed name and had
plastic surgery to change his face.
He was arrested about six weeks after the slaying.
In his opening argument, defense attorney Donald J.
Green steered clear of revealing the full defense strategy.
But he served notice that he plans to challenge
If her father is convicted, "then the money in the
estate of Claire Peernock is not going to go to Mr. Peernock. It is
going to go to others."
He promised jurors that he would introduce evidence
that someone wanted to "make it appear as if Robert Peernock had
killed his wife and bludgeoned his daughter. . . ."
Peernock is charged with murder for financial gain,
attempted murder, kidnaping and arson. He also is charged with two
counts of soliciting murder, based on what Richman said was an attempt
by Peernock, who has been in jail for nearly four years, to hire other
prisoners to kill his daughter and her attorney.
The murder charge against Peernock carries a
mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of
The case has been delayed for more than three years
while Peernock underwent psychiatric examinations to determine if he
was competent to stand trial and while he appealed to higher courts
his failed attempts to represent himself at trial.
On Monday, Peernock sought once again to fire his
attorney, charging that Green "is working to rig a conviction."
But Judge Howard J. Schwab, noting that the issue
has been examined by appeal courts, cut him off and ordered that the
Daughter, 18, Says Father Threatened to Murder
Tracey Kaplan - Los Angeles Times
December 22, 1987
An 18-year-old Saugus woman testified Monday that
her father had threatened to kill her the day before she and her
mother were found in a crashed car doused with gasoline.
Natasha Peernock Sims' testimony came during the
fourth day of a preliminary hearing to determine if her father, Robert
Peernock, 50, will stand trial on one count each of murder, attempted
murder, arson and kidnapping.
In a separate case, Peernock also has been charged
with soliciting the death of Sims and her attorney, Victoria W. Doom,
while in County Jail, where he is being held without bail.
Peernock, arrested Sept. 4, has pleaded not guilty
to all the charges against him.
Sims and the body of Peernock's estranged wife,
Claire Laurence Peernock, 45, were found July 22 at 4:30 a.m. in
Peernock's car in Sun Valley. The auto had struck a utility pole and
had been doused with gasoline in what officials said was a staged
Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Davis-Springer said
Peernock once worked as a pyrotechnical engineer for a movie studio.
An autopsy on Claire Peernock determined that she
died before the crash from head wounds that were inconsistent with
injuries that could have been suffered in a traffic accident, James B.
Wegner, of the county coroner's office, testified.
Sims survived similar injuries, which were probably
inflicted with a blunt instrument, Davis-Springer said.
Sims testified that the incident in which she was
injured and her mother killed began early on the night of July 21 when
her father accused her of wasting electricity. Peernock had not lived
with Sims, her mother and her 11-year-old sister for three years, she
said. But he frequently visited their Catala Street residence, she
The argument escalated, and Peernock choked her by putting his hands
around her neck, Sims testified. She said she was not particularly
alarmed by the assault since "he flipped out like that all the time."
He even apologized to her that evening, she said, before leaving her
on the floor of the family room. But he returned shortly, handcuffed
her and slipped a hood over her head, she testified.
Sims said Peernock took her in her mother's
bedroom, force-fed her alcohol and a white pill, and told her he was
going to "blow her brains out" with a gun unless she and Claire
Peernock signed some papers. She did not elaborate on the nature of
the papers. She testified that she then asked him if he planned to
kill her, and he replied that he did.
After Peernock left the bedroom, Sims, who was
semiconscious, said she could hear voices and "banging around" in the
Sims Placed in Car
Hours later, Peernock put Sims in the back seat of
his car next to her mother, she said. Claire Peernock was breathing at
the time but did not respond to Sims' nudges, she testified.
Sims said the last thing she remembers before
passing out is her father getting out of the car and tinkering with
something at its rear.
A passing motorist discovered Sims unconscious with
Claire Peernock's body in Peernock's car along San Fernando Road near
the intersection of Tuxford Street. The motorist called paramedics.
Clyde Piephoff, a Los Angeles paramedic, testified
that the strong smell of gasoline and the existence of a singed rope
attached to the rear trailer hitch of the car led him to suspect arson
and to call police.
Michael G. Camello, an arson investigator with the
Los Angeles Fire Department, testified that Peernock's vehicle had
been rigged to crash and then burst into flames in "the most elaborate
way I've ever seen."
After the victims were placed in the front seat of
the car, which was doused with gasoline, an L-shaped metal bar was
bolted to the rear axle, he said. The end of the bar facing the car's
gasoline tank had been honed to a sharp point, he said. The bar was
designed to pierce the gasoline tank upon impact, he said.
A rope was tied to the rear trailer hitch of the
car and wrapped around the metal bar, Camello said. Based on evidence
recovered, two fires had been lighted shortly before the car was put
into drive and began rolling down a gentle incline, he said. One was
set in the trunk of the car and one at the rear end of the rope
leading to the metal bar, he said.
The fire along the rope leading to the metal bar
would have ignited the gasoline if the tank had been pierced, Camello
said. The plan was unsuccessful because the front end of the car was
out of alignment, causing it to crash before it picked up enough speed
for its impact to force the metal bar into the tank, he said.
Peernock's girlfriend, Sonia Bianca Siegel, 43, has
been charged with aiding Peernock while he was being sought by
authorities. Siegel pleaded not guilty to one count of being an
accessory after the fact.