spcaLA in the News
LOS ANGELES — In a metropolis that has known the Night Stalker, Skid Row Slasher and other mass murderers, a manhunt is underway for a new drive-by killer ... of peacocks.
And the middle-aged suspect seen in aviator-style sunglasses is no ordinary criminal. He drives a fancy, silver Mercedes-Benz.
The crimes have been taking place south of Los Angeles on the tony Palos Verdes Peninsula where peacocks — or peafowl, as they are also known — have taken up residence for decades.
Some residents love them for the beauty and bountiful feathers. Others hate them for their high-pitched wailing — some compare it to the screams of a woman — and the mess they leave behind. They wander streets, driveways and flutter between rooftops in a laid-back community of mostly older, ranch-style homes.
But one by one, peacocks have been turning up dead. In the past two years, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, which has law-enforcement powers, has found 52 dead or injured peafowl — some killed accidentally, but many due to slingshots, rifles or crossbows.
Then, finally, came a break. On July 9, a witness saw a man between 50 and 60 years old pull up in his Mercedes in the 27000 block of Eastvale Road. Without getting out of the driver's seat, the man fired a pellet gun at a peacock in a driveway, killing it.
Since a composite sketch was released based on the witness account, the suspect has apparently gone underground. No more murdered birds have turned up, says Lt. Cesar Perea, director of spcaLA's Animal Protection Services. Though peacocks roam free, he says, killing one is clearly a crime.
And a quiet has descended on the community, broken only occasionally by the cry of a peacock.
By Chris Woodyard
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."
By Gloria Hillard
Los Angeles Times | | Saturday, June 21st, 2014
The residents of Rolling Hills Estates have always had a difficult relationship with its exotic Indian blue peafowl neighbors.
For some, the peacocks — which were imported to the Palos Verdes Peninsula a century ago — bring charm and a rustic feel to the upscale suburb. But other say that the peacocks are noisy and can be aggressive, and that their pecking has been known to scratch cars.
For decades, the city and surrounding peninsula communities have tried to keep the peace through regulations, education programs and behavior modification for the birds.
But over the last two years, the situation has turned violent.
During that time, 50 peacocks have been killed by arrows, bullets, pellets, poison or suspicious means, sparking outcry and an investigation involving multiple agencies.
Some peacocks were killed accidentally, but a "significant number" of the birds were killed intentionally, said Lt. Cesar Perea, an investigator with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles.
Nearly 20 peacocks have been killed in the last seven months alone. There are no suspects, but authorities believe the culprits are people annoyed by birds or new residents who are not aware of the long history of peacocks in the area.
Three organizations are involved in the investigation — the Sheriff's Department, animal control services and the local SPCA. The penalty for the animal cruelty charge associated with killing each peafowl is up to three years in prison or a $20,000 fine.
Many of the killings have occurred along or near Dapplegray Lane, the only Rolling Hills neighborhood where peacocks may not be trapped or removed without a permit.
"This is animal cruelty," resident Linda Retz said. "It's frightening for the people who live here."
The biggest complaints about the birds are that they peck at reflections on cars and scratch paint when perched on top of the hoods. Their calls can be loud and sharp, and droppings are common nuisance.
It doesn't help, detractors contend, that residents feed the peacocks, discouraging the birds from leaving the area to forage for food.
Back in the 1990s, Rolling Hills Estates thought the key to solving the dispute involved training the peacocks to avoid annoying residents.
City officials flew out Dennis Fett, director and founder of the Peacock Information Center, from Iowa in 1992 for help. His advice at the time: Build feeding stations and roosting barns away from homes to modify the birds' behavior.
"My plan was not easy, it required work on their part," he said in an email. "The residents who both loved the peacocks and hated the peacocks had to do their part to make the plan work. Neither side did their part."
But Andy Clark, Rolling Hills Estates community services director, said Fett's plan probably wasn't followed because it didn't work.
In 2005, the city implemented an ordinance prohibiting anyone from shooting, taking, trapping or injuring any wild bird in the city. Officials also created a trap and removal program for peafowl, but the process requires homeowners to get a $55 permit. In that time, just 13 permits have been pulled, and of those, only one peacock has been trapped, Clark said.
City officials, meanwhile, advise residents to spray the birds with water or get a dog as a deterrent.
And for some residents like 94-year-old Louise Pierson, that should be enough before resorting to lethal measures.
"I know the birds can be kind of loud, but people that don't like them shouldn't live here," she said.
By VERONICA ROCHA, RUBEN VIVES
Authorities have launched an investigation into the deaths of roughly 50 peacocks that have been killed with arrows, bullets and poison over the last two years in Rolling Hills Estates.
The birds -- hard to miss with their large, colorful displays, loud calls and droppings -- have claimed the Rolling Hills Estates area as home for more than 100 years.
“The cruelty is horrendous,” resident Linda Retz said. “I think whoever is doing this is rather disturbed.”
Some peacocks were killed accidentally, but a “significant number” of birds were killed intentionally, said Lt. Cesar Perea, an investigator with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles.
Perea said he believes the birds are being killed by someone who dislikes them or thinks the peacocks shouldn’t be wandering the area.
The killings, many of them along or near Dapplegray Lane, have prompted an investigation by the society and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Animal Control.
“We are investigating this as a serious felony,” Perea said.
The penalty for the animal cruelty charge associated with killing each peafowl is up to three years in prison or a $20,000 fine.
At least 15 of the peacocks deaths were caused by vehicles, another 12 by pellets or BBs, and additional five from an unknown poison. Others were killed with a crossbow or gun shot would, while some other deaths remain under investigation.
Nearly 20 birds have been killed in the past six to seven months alone, Perea said.
Retz remembers one of the deaths vividly. Her neighbor called her for help after finding an injured peacock, and as she held the bird, it died in her arms.
She suspects the bird was poisoned.
Other neighbors, Retz said, have found injured birds and promptly transported them to a local veterinary hospital.
Retz said Rolling Hills Estates has been long known as an animal community with “kind and caring people who help out any animal in distress.”
The birds, however, have long been the subject of dispute among residents, with some expressing disdain for the animals' sharp calls and droppings.
In 1985, residents got into shouting matches over the peacocks in nearby Palos Verdes Estates. Years later in Rolling Hills Estates, residents urged city officials to “do something” about the birds, while others still wanted the peacocks to be protected.
Rolling Hills Estates has a Wild Bird Protection Ordinance, which prohibits anyone from shooting, taking, trapping or injuring any wild bird in the city.
City officials could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Whatever the longstanding rift, Retz said it shouldn't matter. What’s important is that someone is intentionally killing the peacocks, she said.
“This is animal cruelty,” Retz said. “It’s frightening for the people who live here.”
By Veronica Rocha