The Murders of George and Catherine Peacock (Vermont)

When an elderly couple was found murdered inside their Danby, Vermont home in the fall of 1989, it had residents of the small town looking over their shoulders and double-checking their door locks at night.

State Police identified a suspect early on in the investigation, but the evidence they had against this person was largely circumstantial and the physical evidence, a single drop of blood, wasn’t enough to point to a suspect. And so the double murder sat unsolved for over thirty years until 2020, when the case was reopened with the hope that new forensic DNA analysis could finally shine a light on long-concealed answers.

This episode is released in collaboration with Season of Justice in recognition of National DNA Day. You can Text DARK to 53555 to support Season of Justice today. Together, we can solve cold cases.

September 17, 1989

Every day without fail, 76-year old George Peacock picked up a copy of the Rutland Herald newspaper at a store near his house in Danby, Vermont. It was such a routine of his that people noticed when George didn’t show up at the store on Wednesday, September 13, 1989, or the next day, or the next day.

It was also unusual when on Sunday, September 17, George didn’t clock in for his shift at the Rutland Travel Lodge. He worked part time three days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and was fastidious about his schedule. He did not miss work or appointments, period. The desk clerk at the Lodge was a little concerned so they talked to a friend of the Peacocks, a woman from out of town named Lorraine, who happened to be staying at the Travel Lodge that day. Lorraine said she hadn’t seen George or his wife 73-year old Catherine recently either, but she and her husband would stop by their house later to check in.

When they pulled into the yard of George and Catherine’s red one and a half story house just off Route 7 in Danby, Lorraine could see that their car was in the yard and there was a light on in the living room, but all the doors were locked. The Peacocks were known to be extremely security conscious and safety obsessed, so it wasn’t a surprise to find the house locked up tight even if they were home, but no one responded when she knocked.

Lorraine knew the neighbors, Jay and Faith, so she went next door to see if they knew where George was, but they hadn’t seen him either, not since he mowed his lawn on September 13. That was days ago now. Together, they all returned to George and Catherine’s house for a closer look, peering through windows and calling out to the couple who lived there, but as Jay looked through the windows on the front door, he could see George inside laying at the foot of the stairs.

Jay ran to the Peacock’s car in the driveway and that was unlocked so he was able to get the garage door opener. From there, it was possible to get in the house through a basement access door. It doesn’t seem like this door was locked or even had a lock to begin with. So, Jay was ahead of Lorraine as they made their way to the foot of the stairs to George. It was obvious to Jay that George was deceased.

Jay knew that Catherine hadn’t been well lately, so he bounded up the stairs to see if he could find her, too. When Jay saw Catherine laying on the floor of one of the bedrooms, also deceased, he hollered down to Lorraine not to come any further. They both left the house through the kitchen door and went to call the police.

Early Investigation

Vermont State Police arrived at the Peacock residence around 9:40 that morning. Detective Sgt. Robert Jalbert noted that George and Catherine’s home had several exterior doors, which, again, were locked except for the kitchen door that Jay unlocked to get out of the house that morning, and there was no sign of forced entry anywhere either.

Detective Sergeant Jalbert found George lying almost face down slightly on his right side with his legs curled up in a semi-fetal position at the foot of the stairs. Beneath him was a large pool of dried blood and it was clear that George had multiple stab wounds to his chest. Looking around the immediate scene, it appeared George had a violent struggle with his attacker starting at the top of the stairs and then continued to fight back all the way down the stairs before he was killed.

The back pocket of George’s pants where he presumably kept his wallet had been slashed open. The wallet was found on the floor near his body and it looked like it had been rifled through. Investigators located Catherine’s purse elsewhere in the house, and it looked like someone had emptied that out, too. Other than that though, it didn’t look like anyone had gone through the house or torn it apart in search of valuables. Jewelry was right where it should have been, closets were untouched, and dresser drawers were unopened.

Crime scene technicians noted a bloody footprint on the carpeted stairs leading up to the second floor and blood spatters on the stairwell walls. They also found blood on both sides of a door that led into the bedroom where Catherine was found. The room appeared to be used for storage with a collection of random items all around, including a few plastic bags of clothing and a pile of particle board planks stacked over on one side.

Catherine had also sustained apparent stab wounds to her chest, but there was no visible blood on or around her body and no sign of a struggle. None of the clothing she was wearing had knife marks either, not her bra, sweater, or cardigan. These details are really odd to me, because I’m not sure how someone can have obvious stab wounds to their chest, but the articles of clothing that typically cover your chest are undamaged and there’s no blood anywhere…But according to the 30 page affidavit I have which summarizes the facts of the case, the detective surmised Catherine had been overpowered by her attacker, was subdued and then repeatedly stabbed.

After the scene was fully processed and secured, George and Catherine’s bodies were transported for autopsy. The medical examiner determined their deaths to be homicides with Catherine’s death being the result of multiple stab/incised wounds of anterior precordium, or the area of her chest over her heart, multiple stab wounds directly to her heart, and to her liver and diaphragm. She had bruising on her temple, the bridge of her nose and near her left kidney. George, too, died of multiple stab wounds, with seven to his chest which damaged his ribs, sternum, lungs, diaphragm, liver and other internal organs, as well as injuries to his scalp, hands, back, and more.

The medical examiner concluded that the murder weapon was likely a single blade knife with a thin narrow blade, or a double edged bladed knife approximately five-eighths of an inch wide and slightly longer than four inches. He believed the killer stabbed Catherine and George while standing behind them.

Also worth noting from George’s autopsy was the presence of hairs in both of his hands. Additional strands of hair were found on the carpet beneath George’s body before he was removed from the house. The hairs were collected as evidence.

The autopsy determined that the Peacocks had been dead for several days, which lined up with the last reported sighting of George mowing his lawn on September 13th and the most recent copy of the Rutland Herald found in the house for the same date. On further investigation, police also learned that George had missed a doctor’s appointment at 3 p.m. on September 13.

When news of the double-homicide began to make its way around Danby and greater Vermont, the details were scarce but alarming. Diane Derby reports for the Burlington Free Press that there had been a string of break-ins in the area recently, and so neighbors were locking their doors up tight fearing that the murders of George and Catherine were the result of a burglary gone wrong. Jay, the neighbor who found their bodies, said he had stepped up his own security measures. He told the paper, “Everybody’s packing iron.”

Police weren’t saying either way if burglary was the motive. Rutland County State’s Attorney James Mongeon said they weren’t closing the doors on any possibilities. But behind the scenes, the investigation had already started to develop a strong theory of the case, and there wasn’t anything random about it.

A Suspect Emerges

George and Catherine had three adult daughters, and all three of their daughters traveled to Vermont with their husbands to meet with investigators on September 18, the day after the bodies of their mother and father were discovered. That’s when police told them that they were considering every one of them to have knowledge of the homicides.

Now, police knew that there were some friends and other people who had access to the Peacock’s house, but those individuals were apparently ruled out as having anything to do with the murders. But since there was no sign of forced entry, investigators believed George and Catherine let their attacker inside…Because it was likely someone who didn’t seem like a threat when they came knocking at the door that day.

Police interviewed all of the daughters and their spouses and learned that the last time any of them visited Catherine and George was about a month prior to their deaths. Their middle daughter, Penelope, who went by Penny, and her husband Michael Louise drove up from their home in Liverpool, New York for a week-long visit. According to statements by Penny, she and Michael took their 1986 tan Chevy Celebrity for the three and a half hour drive.

Detectives noted that when Penny and Michael drove to Vermont to meet with them about the murders on September 18, though, they were driving a rental vehicle. Michael worked at a car rental company inside an airport and sometimes when they went to Vermont for a visit with Penny’s parents they rented a bigger vehicle so they had enough room for Penny’s children, but this time Michael said he wanted to drive a rental car not because of the kids but because he was worried that their personal vehicle might break down. Something about an issue with the struts.

About two weeks into the investigation, police received some tips about vehicles spotted in the Peacock’s driveway around the time of the murders. Yvonne Daley reports for the Rutland Herald that police were looking for a light-colored square-backed vehicle…A description that kind of sounds like a 1896 tan Chevy Celebrity like the Louise’s drove.

Investigators stayed in touch with the Peacock’s daughters during those first few weeks of the case, and called Penny on September 28 to let her know what they were working on. Detective Sergeant Brian Abbey told her they were looking for a tan car that had been seen at her parent’s house on or about September 13 and the next thing on their list was to obtain toll slips to see if that got them anywhere. Now, when you hear toll slips, especially in the United States, your first thought might be tolls for highways and interstates. That’s what Penny’s mind assumed, too. She didn’t realize, and the detective didn’t clarify, that he was referring to toll records for long distance phone calls.

According to court records, Penny and her husband Michael Louise had an extremely close relationship. A witness statement says they had all the same friends, always knew what the other one was doing and when, and talked about everything. So, Penny told Michael what she’d just heard from the detective about the tan car and toll slips. Immediately, Penny could tell that her husband was nervous.

The next day, Michael Louise took off, leaving an alarming note behind for Penny to find.

The story of George and Catherine Peacock continues on Dark Downeast. Press play to hear the full story wherever you get your podcasts.

Season of Justice & National DNA Day

Time is a tricky thing when it comes to cold cases. Though everything laid out in the affidavit of probable cause was convincing enough to secure the arrest of Michael Louise, many of the statements referenced in the document came from witnesses who are now deceased. The original lead detective on the case is also now deceased. Among those who are still alive, memory has simply faded. Though we wait to see how those statements, the DNA evidence and everything else will play out at a trial, it’s still awe inspiring to witness how the hands of justice, assisted by years and years of advancements in DNA analysis, were able to stretch through decades to finally bring this case closer to closure.

It’s happening more and more these days. Advancements in DNA testing and access to this type of forensic analysis are leading to answers in long-standing cold cases. Though in this case, the Vermont State Police had access to testing and apparently the funds to do so, that’s definitely not the standard. With agencies taxed for time, funding, and technology in New England and across the country, a non-profit organization called Season of Justice is helping to bridge the gap between limited resources and finally finding answers, even decades later.

Take for example another Vermont case, that of Rita Curran. 24-year old Rita Curran and her family waited over 50 years for closure in her unsolved homicide, but as part of a renewed investigation beginning in 2019, detectives turned to advanced DNA analysis called Forensic Genetic Genealogy to find the answers that had been waiting in evidence storage for half a century. Season of Justice funded a grant for that advanced testing and research in Rita Curran’s case, which helped to identify the suspect in her murder more than five decades later. I covered her story in two parts on Dark Downeast and I’ll link those episodes in the show notes for you if you want to hear about the full investigation from 1971 all the way to the day it was finally closed.

Thanks to dedicated supporters like you, Season of Justice has awarded 180 grants in support of cold cases, which have resulted in 13 “SOJ Solves” like Rita Curran’s in Vermont. But there is more work to do, so today April 25, 2024 on National DNA Day, when we remember and honor the work of dedicated scientists throughout history, I invite you to support Season of Justice with a donation that will allow them to continue awarding grants to investigative agencies and families on their journey toward justice.

You can Text DARK to 53555 to support Season of Justice today. Together, we can solve cold cases.

Episode Source Material

  • Superior Court Rutland Unit, State of Vermont v. Michael Louise, filed 10/11/2022
  • State of Vermont v. Michael Louise, Case No. 23-AP-113, Entry Order, Associate Justice Nancy J. Waples
  • Middletowner gets 6 years, Newport Daily News, 02 Jul 1966
  • Elderly couple found dead in Rutland, Burlington Free Press, 18 Sep 1989
  • Danby deaths ruled homicide by Diane Derby, Burlington Free Press, 19 Sep 1989
  • Police scour Danby homicide scene by Diane Derby, Burlington Free Press, 20 Sep 1989
  • Investigators seek leads in murder of elderly couple, AP/Brattleboro Reformer, 21 Sep 1989
  • Danby couple died from knife wounds by Yvonne Daley, Rutland Daily Herald, 03 Oct 1989
  • Police seek New York man in Danby murder probe by Jamie Heller, Rutland Daily Herald, 11 Oct 1989
  • Man might be linked to killings by Jamie Heller, Rutland Daily Herald, 12 Oct 1989
  • Missing man located for information by Yvonne Daley, Rutland Daily Herald, 14 Oct 1989
  • Police probe of murders continuing by Yvonne Daley, Rutland Daily Herald, 06 Jan 1990
  • Inquest slated in murder probe by Jamie Heller, Rutland Daily Herald, 25 Apr 1990
  • Case closed? Not yet – police still hope for leads in Rutland County’s unsolved mysteries by Damian Pagano, Rutland Herald, 01 Jul 2001
  • Police unable to resolve Danby double murder by Alan J. Keays, Rutland Daily Herald, 23 Jan 2005
  • Louise pleads not guilty by Tory Rich, Bennington Banner, 21 Oct 2022
  • Suspect in Vermont double murder returned to face charges in 1989 crime by Jack Thurston, NECN, 27 Oct 2022
  • Double-murder suspect returned to Vermont, Staff Report by Rutland Daily Herald, 27 Oct 2022
  • Louise hearing delayed until today by Tory Rich, Brattleboro Reformer, 28 Oct 2022
  • Danby murders will be tried by Gordon Dritschilo, Rutland Daily Herald, 28 Oct 2022
  • Michael Louise, suspect in 1989 double murder, appears in court by Tory Rich, Bennington Banner, 03 Feb 2023
  • Time complicates Danby cold case by Gordon Dritschilo, Rutland Daily Herald, 04 Feb 2023
  • Defendant in 1989 Danby double-murder case allowed to leave jail on $200,000 bail by Tiffany Tan, VT Digger, 03 May 2023
  • Suspect in double murder wants case dropped, cites ‘unhinged desperation’ of investigation by Alan J. Keays, VT Digger, 10 Aug 2023
  • Attorney seeks lower bail for 80-year-old double murder suspect battling health issues by Alan J. Keays, VT Digger, 18 Oct 2023
  • Judge reduces bail for ailing 80-year-old suspect in double murder from $200,000 to $20,000 by Alan J. Keays, VT Digger, 20 Nov 2023
  • Michael Louise, suspect in 33-year old Danby double murder, allowed home detention by Michael Albans, Bennington Banner, 02 Jan 2024