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Tue July 15, 2014

A Peacock Murder Mystery: (Pea)Fowl Play In California

Originally published on Wed July 16, 2014 10:29 am

Someone is killing the peacocks in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.

The boisterous and colorful birds have been a part of this upscale community near Los Angeles for more than a century. In recent years, the birds have become a source of contention among neighbors — but the conflict has taken a dark turn.

The string of peacock killings is now at 50 over the past two years or so — 20 in the past six months alone — by pellet guns, shotguns, arrows and poison.

Detective James Dondis of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Lt. Cesar Perea of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are investigating the attacks. "The violent manner in which some of the birds are being killed is a big concern," Dondis says. Investigators have some suspects, he says.

It's nearly impossible to avoid seeing — or hearing — the peacocks in Rolling Hills Estates, often perched in trees or on fences, or walking on driveways or lawns in this equestrian neighborhood. The birds seem to know the houses that are peafowl friendly — like Eunice Berman's. Two stroll in her backyard. One is on her roof. Another is lounging in a tree.

"Right now is probably the loudest season we have of them, because it's mating season, and they're calling around to each other," she says.

Berman says car alarms, gardeners, vacuum cleaners and earthquakes can set the birds off. She loves the peacocks but admits not everyone feels the same way. "They're slow crossing the street. They tend to be a little bit messy, and they eat vegetable gardens and certain plants," she says.

The mysterious killings has cast a pall over the neighborhood. "I can't even imagine one of my neighbors doing something like that," Berman says.

The investigators recently followed up with Debbie Taymour, a homeowner who contacted them after finding a severely injured bird in her backyard. The investigators would not disclose the nature of its injury, but it was consistent with those suffered by birds in the other attacks.

Taymour is relieved when she learns the peacock survived the attack. "They're just part of the neighborhood, and I feel if you don't like them, don't buy a house here. It's that simple. They're beautiful animals," she says.

Longtime residents acknowledge the neighborhood is changing. Homes with backyard barns and tall trees where peafowls roost are making way for pools and tennis courts.

Perea says investigators knock on a lot of doors and are tracking down every lead. "We're investigating it as a felony crime. Intentional cruelty on any animal can be prosecuted as a felony," he says.

Dondis says he's confident they'll find the person or persons responsible for the killings. "Somebody's going to brag about it," he says. "Somebody's going to do something."

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Transcript

AUSIE CORNISH, HOST:

Here's a story about crime and peacocks. Someone has been killing the peacocks of Palos Verdes, California. The boisterous and colorful birds have been a part of the upscale community for more than a century. But in recent years, they've become a source of contention among neighbors. And now, as Gloria Hillard reports, the conflict has taken a dark turn.

GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: There's nothing that suggests crime-ridden in this equestrian neighborhood of Rolling Hills Estates in Southern California. White, ranch-style fences border deep-set lawns. And at the foot of each driveway is an etched plaque with the name of the family that lives there.

JAMES DONDIS: We just turned on to Buckskin Lane. This will dead-end up here at some horse trails. Actually, the streets where most of them have been found - either here or on Dapplegray.

HILLARD: L.A. County Sheriff Detective James Dondis and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Lieutenant Cesar Perea are investigating a string of peacock killings - 50 all told, 20 in the last six months alone by pellet guns, shotguns, arrows and poison.

CESAR PEREA: The violent manner in which some of the birds are being killed is a big concern.

HILLARD: So do you have suspects?

PEREA: We do.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEACOCK)

HILLARD: The birds seem to know the houses that are peafowl friendly, like Eunice Berman's. Two stroll in her backyard. One is perched on the roof. Another is lounging in her tree.

EUNICE BERMAN: Like right now is probably the loudest season that we have of them because it's mating season. And they're calling around to each other. And they're probably telling each other that you're here, but... (laughing)

HILLARD: Berman says car alarms, gardeners, vacuum cleaners and earthquakes can set the birds off. She loves the peacocks, but admits not everyone feels the same way.

BERMAN: They're slow crossing the street. They tend to be a little bit messy. And they eat vegetable gardens and certain plants.

HILLARD: The mysterious killing of the peafowl has cast appall on Buckskin Lane.

BERMAN: But I can't even imagine one of my neighbors doing something like that - can't even imagine it.

DONDIS: That's 48 right there.

PEREA: Yeah. It's right here.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR BEEPING)

HILLARD: The investigators are following up with a homeowner who recently contacted them after finding a severely injured bird in her backyard.

DONDIS: Hello.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

DEBBIE TAYMOUR: How you doing today?

DONDIS: Good.

DEBBIE TAYMOUR: Did he live? Did my bird live?

DONDIS: Yes, he did.

HILLARD: Debbie Taymour steps down from her truck, relieved that the peacock that had befriended her horse survived the attack.

TAYMOUR: They're just part of the neighborhood and you either - I feel like if you don't like them, don't buy a house here. It's that simple, you know. I mean, they're beautiful animals.

HILLARD: Longtime residents acknowledged the neighborhood is changing. Homes with backyard barns and tall trees, where peafowl roost, are making way for pools and tennis courts. Lieutenant Perea says they knock on a lot of doors and are tracking down every lead.

PEREA: What we're investigating is a felony crime. Intentional cruelty on any animal can be prosecuted as a felony.

HILLARD: Detective Dondis says he's confident they'll find the person or persons responsible for the killings.

DONDIS: Somebody's going to brag about it. Somebody's going to do something.

HILLARD: In the meantime, there are still signs of spring here. A car stops for a slow moving peahen with her chick. In a driveway, a peacock turns in a half-circle, iridescent blue and green tail feathers shimmering in the afternoon sun. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

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(SOUNBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Our colleague Melissa Block is at @nprmelissablock. And I'm Robert Siegel at @rsiegel47. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.