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
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.
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
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
thing like that," she says. "If I ever did, I wouldn't be
Peppin also remained close to Phyllis' family, including
her brother, Tom, who lived with him briefly after his
Any suspicions Tom Brouillard had were dispelled by
"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
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