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Robert John PEERNOCK





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Financial gain
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 22, 1987
Date of arrest: September 4, 1987
Date of birth: 1937
Victim profile: Claire Laurence Peernock, 45 (his wife)
Method of murder: Beating with a blunt instrument
Location: Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole on October 24, 1991
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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 state corruption.

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 month.

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 gain.

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 courtroom.

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," Peernock shouted.

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 his mouth.

At the end of the hearing, Peernock refused to stand and deputies dragged him on his knees back into the holding cell.

In handing down the sentence, Schwab called Peernock "one of the most dangerous men I have ever dealt with in my career."

Earlier this month, a prosecutor said Peernock was attempting to contact the jurors who convicted him to harass or harm them.

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 Wednesday's sentencing.

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 were divorcing.

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, 1987.

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 Valley.

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 Sims' credibility.

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 parole.

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 trial begin.


Daughter, 18, Says Father Threatened to Murder Her

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 accident.

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.

Blunt Instrument

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 said.

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 living room.

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.

Rigged Elaborately

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.



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