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Confession solves 27-year-old murder

Confession solves 27-year-old murder

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LINO LAKES, Minn. -- Nearly 30 years had passed, but

Gilbert Peppin knew the rumors would not die, the talk

would not fade away and he might never clear his name -- and

prove he did not kill his wife.

No one dared accuse him to his face. But every now and

then, friends would tell him they had heard others

gossiping about how Gib, the barber, had gotten away with


Phyllis Peppin was killed in June 1972 at age 26. There

was no sign of forced entry, nothing was taken from her

home. So even her husband understood how at first, the

cloud of suspicion would hang over him.

Police questioned him. They watched his barbershop. They

played good cop-bad cop, with one investigator befriending

him and the other needling him to come clean and confess,

because they were on to him.

Peppin protested his innocence. And since police had no

evidence, he was never charged. But he was never cleared,


Peppin married again, had two children and resigned

himself to believing Phyllis' murder would remain unsolved

and doubts about him would linger.

"I had given up hope," he says. "After 10, 15 years, I

never thought they'd find anyone."

Then last spring, Peppin got a call while cutting hair

in the same barbershop he was working in when his wife was


"Are you the same Gilbert Peppin who lived in Arden Hills

27 years ago?" the police officer asked.

"Yes," he said warily. Then came the thunderbolt of news:

"We've got new information that may solve your wife's


"Cold case" warms up

Sgt. Lucienne Mann had never worked a "cold case"


Tenacious and methodical, the Ramsey County sheriff's

investigator knew unsolved murders were puzzles and now,

all of a sudden, there was a new piece:

An unidentified person wanted to talk to police about a

1972 homicide.

That person was represented by Deborah Ellis, a lawyer,

who told Mann and the county attorney's office that her

client had been 17 at the time and the victim was Phyllis

Peppin. Ellis wanted to talk about a deal.

As the talks plodded along, Mann and her colleague, Dave

Watson, began trying to identify the anonymous person.

Assuming the mystery suspect was in prison, the

investigators searched records for inmates between ages 40

and 45 who had committed heinous crimes and lived in the


Because police reports had been lost, Mann also met with

Charles Zacharias, one of the first investigators on the

scene that day -- and someone who always believed in Peppin's


By early July, authorities had zeroed in on a promising

suspect: Charles LaTourelle, in prison for raping and

murdering a college student in St. Cloud in 1980. In 1972,

he was 17, living two blocks away from Gilbert and Phyllis


Peppin had met Phyllis Brouillard while he was attending

barber school; she was studying to be a beautician. They

settled in Arden Hills, near Minneapolis. She worked at an

insurance firm; he at his dad's barbershop.

Life-changing day

On June 14, 1972, after a car-shopping expedition,

Phyllis went home and Peppin returned to work.

Shortly before 7 p.m., Peppin arrived home, saw the

front door open and hollered Phyllis' name. Walking to the

back bedroom, he discovered her lying on the floor, fully


When police arrived, Peppin agreed to a test to

determine if there was gunpowder residue on his hands.

There was none. A lie detector test was inconclusive.

Eventually the investigation cooled, but the whispers

never died.

About a dozen years ago, Peppin spent a night behind

bars after a fistfight with another barber who had been

spreading stories he had killed his wife.

By then, Peppin had remarried. His wife, Adrienne, says

he told her about his wife's death.

"I never thought for a second he would have been capable

of some-

thing like that," she says. "If I ever did, I wouldn't be

sitting here."

Peppin also remained close to Phyllis' family, including

her brother, Tom, who lived with him briefly after his

sister's death.

Any suspicions Tom Brouillard had were dispelled by

Peppin's behavior.

"He came around our family for years and still does

today," he says. "That just led me to believe he was

innocent. One disappears after a while. He's never done


Over the years, Peppin exchanged hundreds of letters

with Phyllis' father, Don Brouillard, who never stopped


Though Peppin moved on, he remained haunted by the same


"Who could have hated me so much to do this to me? Who

could have hated my wife so much? I just couldn't come up

with any enemies."

On an October day, Sgt. Mann sat in a prison visiting

room in Still-

water, interviewing a man she had been waiting to meet for

months. Her hunch about his identity had been confirmed by

his lawyer just days before the meeting.

Meeting the murderer

Charles LaTourelle's hairline had receded, but his face,

almost cherubic, was familiar from his high school photos.

"He looked kind of mousy," Mann says. "I expected someone

to be more aggressive. He was very calm, very soft-spoken,

very deliberate." For more than an hour, LaTourelle,

speaking in a monotone, described the events of June 14,

1972: He had been stalking Phyllis and that day he came to

rape her, wearing gloves and carrying a .22-caliber handgun

in a brown paper bag.

He entered an unlocked screen door and as she tried to

flee down the hallway, he shot her four times, continuing

to fire while she lay dying.

LaTourelle knew details only the killer would know: The

keys were in the door, the Peppins' Lhasa apso puppy,

Tuffy, scurried out of the house, Phyllis' hair was in

pigtails, there was a "for sale" sign on her car.

Ellis, the lawyer, says LaTourelle confessed because "he

had sort of a religious experience where he felt this

(secret) was some-

thing he needed to let go of. He had buried it a long time

within himself." It turned out LaTourelle delivered the

Sunday St. Paul Pioneer Press and collected the money from

Phyllis Peppin, knowing she came home at 4 p.m., two hours

before her husband.

Mann dialed Peppin's number with the news: "Gib," she

said, "it's the paperboy."

Father learns the truth

Weeks earlier, Peppin had driven to a Minneapolis

nursing home to visit Phyllis' father.

The two men and two nurses pored over the old photos as

Peppin broached the subject.

"Don," he said gently, "I got a very important call ..."

Then he told him about the impending confession.

"This is what we waited for and prayed for," Peppin said,

comforting the elderly man and wrapping his arm around his


Brouillard gasped for a moment, then began sobbing.

On Nov. 4, Peppin stood in a St. Paul courtroom with

Charles LaTourelle just six feet away.

Peppin barely glanced at him. He avoids using his name.

Peppin could hardly sleep the night before, wondering

how to sum up the decades of anguish: Phyllis' mother, who

died heartbroken; his parents, who died not seeing their

son cleared; a father and brother who lived with grief for

27 years.

Delayed justice

A plainspoken man, Peppin, now 55, decided to keep his

speech short and simple.

"As happy as I am this came about . . . I just hope this

person is in prison for the rest of his life," he said, his

right hand trembling in his wife's grasp.

LaTourelle was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison as

part of a plea bargain for his cooperation; he will serve

the time concurrently with his life term for the 1980


Afterward, Tom Brouillard hugged Peppin. "I'm just glad

it was finished for him and us," he says.

"The cloud has been lifted," Zacharias says. "He's been

truly vindicated. Now everyone knows."

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