DANBY — Using new DNA testing technology, Vermont State Police have made an arrest in the 1989 double homicide of George and Catherine Peacock of Danby.
Vermont State Police detectives, with the assistance of New York State Police, served a warrant to arrest Michael Louise, 79, at his Syracuse apartment Thursday morning. Louise was married to one of the Peacocks’ daughters.
Currently still being detained in New York, Louise will be charged with two counts of second-degree murder for the stabbing deaths of his father-in-law and mother-in-law, aged 76 and 73, when he is extradited to Vermont for his arraignment.
Louise emerged as the primary suspect for the killing of the elderly couple 12 days after they were found dead by a concerned neighbor in their home just off U.S. Route 7 in Danby, on Sept. 17, 1989. Police had significant circumstantial evidence tying Louise to the crime, but lacked the physical evidence to make an arrest at the time.
Through the persistence of detectives and cold case specialists, and advances in DNA testing technology, the arrest was finally been made over 33 years later.
According to an affidavit obtained from the Criminal Division of Vermont Superior Court in Rutland, investigators received permission from Louise’s wife, Penelope “Penny” Louise, to process their 1986 Chevy Celebrity for evidence on Oct. 5, 1989. During their search, a small drop of blood was observed on the driver’s side floor mat of the vehicle.
With DNA testing still in its infancy in 1989, forensic experts at the time determined that there was not enough blood to test, but the specimen remained in a permanent storage freezer at the Vermont Forensic Laboratory in Waterbury. Detective Sergeant Samuel Truex of the Vermont State Police Major Crime Unit, listed as the investigating officer, and Detective Sergeant Aron McNeil requested that several items be retested in May of 2020, and received a lab report Oct. 15, 2020 that stated the blood sample from the floormat was a one in a quadrillion match to be George Peacock’s blood.
Louise was first considered a primary suspect in 1989 when police began looking into family members and closer acquaintances, as there had been no sign of forced entry, and the Peacocks had a reputation for being security-conscious. This suggested to investigators that the Peacocks knew the perpetrator.
Danby Select Board Chair Bradley Bender said Thursday he vividly remembers the town’s reaction to the brutal killings. Bender said he wasn’t close with the Peacocks, but knew them well enough to say “hello” out in town, and he was leasing a building across the street from their home.
“There was a lot of rumor going around at the time that it was a family member,” Bender said. “Word on the street was that they didn’t believe in banks, and had a lot of cash on hand, and that someone close to them knew about it.”
The affidavit supports this possible theory for a motive, as the house appeared mostly undisturbed – except George’s wallet, Catherine’s purse and pocket book, and a footlocker in the room where Catherine was found – according to family members who had familiarity with the Peacocks’ home and toured the crime scene with investigators.
Police began to zero their focus on Michael Louise because witnesses described a vehicle matching the description of the Louise’s tan ‘86 Chevy on or around the date of the homicide. Shortly after learning this, and misunderstanding police when they said they would be going through “toll slips” (a common police practice at the time of checking long distance phone records), Louise became upset and was convinced police would be looking for his toll slips in the New York Thruway system, thus discovering he had traveled to Vermont.
Louise left his home and left behind a note indicating that he was going to take his own life. This did not come to pass, and the next day in a private discussion with police that Louise requested, he provided an explanation that on the day the Peacocks were killed, saying he had gone on a long drive, and thought of making the 197-mile trip from his home to the Peacocks’ home to acquire some boards he knew were at the Peacock residence for a construction project.
He said, however, that he only made it as far as Saratoga and turned back. But the time that he had told police he left on this drive and the estimated time the Peacocks were killed was roughly how long it would take to make the trip from Liverpool, N.Y. — his starting point — to Danby.
Louise also had a reputation for wearing work boots everywhere he went, and wasn’t the type to buy himself new boots more than once a year, and this would generally be after a major snowstorm. According to those he worked with at Hertz rental car, however, he wore sneakers to work the week following the deaths of the Peacocks.
Louise has a criminal history prior to the alleged murders. He confessed to the rape of a 4-year old girl in Providence, Rhode Island in 1966.