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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Call him Ahab, except in Michaela's Garden--Dr. William Petit and the Chesire home invasion rape-arson-murder case

Call him Ahab, except in Michaela's Garden

Going to Michaela’s Garden changed everything for me. 

It was the moment I saw the Three Little Angels.  Les trois petits anges.  Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley and Michaela.  Bill Petit’s girls.  Bill’s Woman and Bill’s Progeny.  His Three Beloved Angels. (See photo of Bill Petit and his Three Beloved Angels, at the end of this blog post.)

The woman and the girls lived, loved, and died in Michaela’s Garden.  That Garden of Eden turned into The Garden of Hell on the morning of July 23, 2007. 

Once I saw the angels, everything about the case became clear.  It had been there before, but I just hadn’t seen it.  I had seen the anger but I hadn’t seen the righteousness.  Until, that is, my visitation with the angels, in Michaela’s Garden. (See three photographs of the garden at the end of this blog post.)


His name is Petit, but he’s anything but small.  In French, he’d still be Bill Petit, but they’d call him Guillaume Le Grand.  Over six feet tall, the first thing you notice is the height, and the hair.  A mix of gray and black, his hair reminds me of the famous men who famously like to wear their hair longish.  Radovan Karadžić, the former Bosnian Serb president, who once had trained as a doctor, just like Bill Petit.  Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois.   Donald Trump.

Now those other men’s hairdos do nothing for me.  But Bill Petit’s is longish, but well-manicured.  Distinguished, but with it.  He’s very good-looking.  Aquiline nose.  A gentle demeanor.  As a guy who’s known Bill Petit since 6th grade told me yesterday, “You’re right, he’d have no trouble getting lots of girlfriends.  He’s very good-looking and now, with all This, he’s a rock star.” (See photograph of Dr. Petit walking into the New Haven Superior Courthouse with his sister and mother for Day 1 of the trial.)

Bill Petit, Guillaume Le Grand, is also a medical doctor, a healer, a man who took an oath, first laid down by Hippocrates in ancient Greece, to “First, Do No Harm.”  But Dr. Petit, odd as it is to call him Doctor in this sentence, is also a man on a mission: to kill, in cold blood, the two men who pillaged his home, raped his wife and daughter, and murdered Bill’s three little angels.  Handsome as he is in the courtroom, and gentle as he must be, somewhere underneath that hit-man’s visage, Dr. William Petit is also a Cold-Blooded Killer.  And that’s all I saw in him when I first saw him in the courtroom, until, that is, I visited Michaela’s Garden, at 300 Sorghum Mill Drive.   


300 Sorghum Mill Drive is now just a garden.  The Petit family home, where the tragic murder happened, has been torn down and replaced with a heart-shaped garden and a kind of rectangular Japanese garden.  I knew I had to see the place where all of “the troubles” began.  So I left the courthouse and headed north on Orange Street.

The New Haven Superior Courthouse is on Orange Street.  On Monday, after court, I drove east on Orange to East Rock Park, turned left onto the northbound road and continued on the serpentine path through the park.  Eventually, I asked a man on a bicycle how to get to Route 10 north, in the direction of Chesire.  

Route 10 goes through the business district of Hamden, past Sleeping Giant Mountain, and finally into Chesire proper.  I stopped at the big old garden center on the west side of Route 10. "Sure, I can tell you where the Petit house was. 'Was' because it's been torn down and replaced with a garden.  It's really hard to see Bill Petit, because my daughters are the same ages as Michaela and Hayley would have been.  I just don't know how he can handle all of this.  Jennifer was SUCH a beautiful, loving, warm, and wonderful person.  Just go to the fourth traffic light, Higgins Road, turn left, and take it to Sorghum Hill Road, which'll be on your right.  Take that right out to 300 and you'll see the property right on the corner," said the man in his late-fifties who was very helpful to me once I explained I needed to see the place where it all happened on July 23, 2007.

"I'll take one of these “michaela's garden” seed packages.  That's ten dollars?"  The Petit Family Foundation sells packets of "Four O'Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa)" flower seeds. Four O'Clock flowers, the information reads, are “a bright and colorful flower that achieves its beauty at the end of the day, and blooms throughout the night.” Following the tragic July 2007 home invasion and fire that took the lives of Jennifer, Hayley, and Michaela, “family members removed flowers from a garden that Michaela and her father, Bill, had lovingly planted and faithfully maintained… .  For the past three summers, Michaela’s Four O’Clocks have been re-planted from the harvested seeds.  Today, each flower blooms as a message of life, hope and spirit, all shared from Michaela’s original garden.” The hope of the Foundation is that people who buy the seeds and plant new Four O’Clocks will harvest the seeds from their own flowers and send them back to the Foundation in Plainville, CT, to “Share the love and help the project grow.” 

Mirabilis in Latin means wonderful and Jalapa is a town in Mexico. Mirabilis jalapa is said to have been exported from the Peruvian Andes in 1540.  From the high mountains of the Andes to the low forest land of Sorghum Mill Drive in Chesire, these ancient Four O'Clocks have born silent witness to the happiest of times and the most horrible of times.  Huius mundi loco miro plenus vitae et mortis.  This world is a wonderful place, full of LIFE, and death.


It’s surprising to finally see him in the flesh as he walks past me in the corridor outside Courtroom 6 B.  His sister is always with him, on the way in in the morning and on the way out when court ends for the evening.

He’s all business, no smile, determined, a man on a mission: AHAB, Melville called him:  to kill the men who raped, and burned, and murdered his Three Angels, the Animals who Destroyed his Life.  His hands were physically tied that night, by the men who entered the Castle through the unlocked basement hatchway and violated his family’s private space.

Why was that door unlocked, at night, in a dark place, in remote Sorghum Mill Drive, and what role, if any, does that little factoid play in what drives Bill Petit?  Is that the sort of FACT which makes Bill Petit an Obsessed Man, Captain Ahab, and not merely a Determined Man?

And now that his hands are not tied up, here in court, Bill Petit cannot kill the men with his own hands, even though one of them, Joshua Komisarjevsky, sits barely 20 feet from the doctor's regular seat on the prosecutor’s side of the audience pews.  For Bill Petit is also Dr. Petit, and a doctor may not do any harm, even to a bad person.  So Dr. Petit can only try to kill the men by indirect means—by due process of the criminal law. 

When I’m walking in Michaela’s Garden, I imagine Bill Petit is simply a determined man, not an obsessed Captain Ahab.  He couldn’t kill them the night of the crime, so now he’s intent on doing what a man’s got to do to avenge his family, through the legal system, by cool, calm, collected, non-violent, means.  Non-violent, that is, until the poisonous chemical brew is released to course through the suckers' unholy veins.  Is the man waiting for, praying for, dedicating his life for, that End, most accurately seen as Ahab, obsessed with killing the White Whale, or Everyman, determined to do now what he was unable to do That Night?  Beats me, if truth be told. 

Some people I talk with about this case say that if it’d happened to their families, they would just walk away from it.  They claim they would not feel like participating in the criminal legal process, exposing themselves to reliving the crime in court and keeping them from getting on with life.  And there’s surface plausibility to this view.  What’s done is done.  There’s no way to bring them back from the dead.  Move on with life, just move on.

When I think of Bill Petit in this way, Melville, and “Moby Dick," comes to mind, insistently.  Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky are Petit’s Great White Whale.  He’s dead serious in his obsession to get these guys, to kill them, without regard to whether what he's mostly achieving is the destruction of  his own life.

I talk to some of the 30 family members who accompany Bill every day of the trial.  My friend and fellow member of the Middlesex County Bar Association, Jerimiah Donovan, Esquire, Komisarjevsky’s lead lawyer calls them the “Petit Posse,” because they all wear a little purple-colored heart-shaped pin with the words “Petit Family Foundation” on it.  I tell the ones I happen to talk with that I hope someday he’ll be able to stop focusing on this case, this quest to kill the men, and find love again in life, the kind of wonderful life he once had with his Three Little Angels, in Michaela's Garden.

No, they tell me, he cannot do that, he’ll never be able to do that.  This case is his whole life, now and in the future. I've only talked with a few of them, so I don't know if they're all that certain that Bill Petit will never have a Job-like Third Act, and get it all back, well, mostly all of it.  Whatever the Petit clan feels now, in the heat and passion of the trial, it is my fervent, daily prayer that Bill Petit one day searches for, and finds, True Love again.  He deserves no less.

I understand the passion with which Bill's family says these things, and I just don’t have it in my heart to remind them that about the story of that guy from Ur, wherever That place is, whom the biblical philosopher called Job.

In the Jewish bible, the story goes, Satan murders two of Job’s children, with God's explicit permission to do such things to Job, in a vain attempt to shake Job’s faith in God, to rock and dislodge Job's love of life.  In the end, once God reminds Job that his problems are not the central focus of all of Life, of Existence, Job moves on, finds love again in his relationship with his wife, and has two more children.  He does not get back his two murdered kids, but he does get two more new children to love, or so the biblical writers tell this arch-typical story.

I hope Bill Petit can reenact the Job story in his own life, once these murder cases are over.


Until I saw the little rectangular granite monument in the garden, Three Angels, it was easy to distance myself from what Bill Petit is doing in the courtroom.  In court, he is almost crazed in the calmness of his facial expression.  Someone claimed he’s on Thorazine or some other mood stabilizer.  I doubt it.  But the memory of Bill's crazed look dissolved in the tears which ran down my face, uncontrollably, once I saw the monument emblazoned with the words “Three Angels,” below the engraving of three flowers, roses, I think.  In front of the stone slab are three little angel figurines, which represent Bill's girls. Jennifer. Hayley. Michaela.  Now returned to dust.

Bill’s next-door neighbor, Tony, saw me standing there, crying.  Tony walked towards me.  “You’re havin’ a hard time of it, aren’t you?”  “Yeah,” I said, the anger in my voice drenching even the tears on my face, “now I understand what Dr. Petit’s doing.  He’s doin’ what a man’s gotta do when a couple son’s a’ bitches like that kill his woman and his girls.  He’s tryin’ to do what he wishes he coulda’ done that night.  Kill the fu—kers.”

“You’re right there, man,” said Tony.  “My wife is still havin’ a real big problem dealing with the fact this happened a hundred feet from our own house.  It’ll never go away.”


On Tuesday afternoon, when I left the courthouse, I walked down the steps to the sidewalk on Orange Street.  There, a gaggle of TV news satellite transmission trucks were lined up like the caravan of a media circus maximus.  ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, Inside Edition, HBO Documentary, Fox 5 New York. The good-looking male and mostly female TV news reporters were waiting for Dr. Petit to emerge from the courhouse, hoping to get some word or statement about how he was holding up under all the pressure of the case, which is, of course, magnified by the massive press interest in the case.

Dr. Petit, his sister on his arm, walks across Orange Street, accompanied by a phalanx of backward-walking news cameramen, with the TV news reporters thrusting their hand-held mikes towards the doctor’s face, hoping he’ll stop and give them an impromptu press conference so they have something new and substantive to put on the evening news casts.  He says nothing, or at most, just that he’s happy that the legal process has finally begun in earnest.  Because I suspect part of him's sick of all of this and wants desperately to get back to getting on with his life.

As he enters a private parking lot across Orange Street with his sister by his side, holding his hand, Bill Petit maintains a passive, expressionless face.  If I did not know he is a doctor, and that he’s the victim in this case, I could easily see him as a sensitive Mafia hit man.  Or as Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, thinking of nothing, focused only on his obsession:  "How can I kill the other great white whale, Joshua Komisarjevsky, now that I've survived the ordeal of getting Stephen Hayes sentenced to die in the lethal injection chamber?"

But having now visited Bill’s Three Little Angels in Michaela’s Garden I cannot rid my mind of the alternative idea that Mr. Petit is not obsessed but rather, merely determined.  Determined to seek out and do unto his girls’ killers what the law would have permitted him to do the night they murdered his girls, but not now.  Kill ‘em.

One can only hope, and pray, that someday Bill Petit will be able to move his focus from these cases, from the wish that these two men die, to recreating his life.  That new life will never be what it was with his three angels, but it will, if he chooses it, be a life and not the living death in which he now exists.  

Here’s are pictures of Michaela’s Garden.

Dr. William Petit Jr. arrived at the New Haven Superior Court Monday morning with his sister, Johanna Chapman, left and mother, Barbara Petit, rt., for Day 1 of Joshua Komisarjevsky's trial in the Cheshire home invasion case where Dr. Petit's wife and two daughters were brutally murdered in 2007.

                           Dr. William Petit Jr., Johanna Chapman, Barbara Petit

                                              ( STEPHEN DUNN, Hartford Courant / September 18, 2011 )
                  Dr. William Petit Jr. arrived at the New Haven Superior Court Monday morning with his sister, Johanna Chapman, left and                              mother, Barbara Petit, rt., for Day 1 of Joshua Komisarjevsky's trial in the Cheshire home invasion case where Dr. Petit's wife and two daughters were brutally murdered in 2007.


  1. Do you really think you are helping anyone with this, sentimental blather? Maybe yourself? You need help.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous, for your interesting perspective on my speculations about what may be driving Dr. Petit in seeking a legal kill of Hayes and Komisarjevsky. My purpose in blathering about the case was not to help anyone other than myself to clarify the thoughts and feelings evoked by witnessing two days of the trial proceedings and viewing the property where the rapes, arson, and murders took place, now merely a garden. I must leave it to others to decide if I need any other assistance.

  3. More blah blah from a self indulgent brat who has lost his way big time. Ever occur that people are laughing at you, not with you. Sad....

  4. Thanks, Anonymous, for your brave, anonymous Comment.

    As for my blah-blah, self-indulgent, sentimental, and brat-istic perspective on the Petit case, I truly would be interested in reading your own more mature and non-sentimental thoughts about it.

    As for people laughing at me, that's probably because I get the Ugly Man's Discount at most establishments and, since I like to do stand-up, I'm hoping that people are laughing at my jokes and not merely at my funny appearance.

    Finally, I should hope you'd be happy, not sad, when you're laughing at me with the other anonymous people. If your sadness becomes truly depressive, I invite you to contact me so I can help you work your way out of such a horrible pit. I truly care about you, Anonymous, and not anonymously. Also, I would certainly recommend you to anyone in need of thinking and writing skills such as you have to offer.

    All best wishes to you, Anonymous, on your own writing career and laugh-full life!

    Bob Dutcher aka Grandude aka The Crazy Dancin' Dude

  5. Hey, Anonymous, I'd really like to meet you and get to know where you're coming from in your "concern" for the way I'm choosing to live my life. I'm assuming you knew me when I was an unhappy and unsatisfied lawyer, at least in the past few years before I retired, and have actually met me, or you probably wouldn't be "sad" about the road I've chosen to take with my life. What do you say, "friend"? What do you have to lose by meeting with me, if you truly care about me? I'm quite serious.

  6. Dear Anonymous,
    Whoever you are, whatever the quality of your own life, you are becoming a muse of sorts for me.
    Your choice of "brat" to describe me intrigues me. Here's why. From age 8 until age 61, I worked at jobs which always paid me money. From age 8 to 25, they were non-legal jobs. From 25 to 61, I was a very successful trial lawyer; I handled some very complex legal matters; for the most part, my clients gave me the impression they respected, admired, and relied upon me to get them justice; I helped make payroll, week after week, for 1,820 weeks (35 years times 52 weeks per year) so that the lawyers and support staff in my firm could feed themselves and their families; I helped my law firm to weather many crises, and the painful transitions involved in losing valued lawyers who decided to leave the firm and go to other practices, or start their own; in 35 years, the longest vacation I took was two weeks in a row; I worked on vacations by calling into the office, even when I was traveling with my wife in Europe, and settled many cases by telephone conference call while on vacation; I was a faithful and contributing member of my white church; I served on non-profit groups and gave freely of my time and legal expertise to help these groups through challenging issues; and I did the best I was able to be a good husband and father, in which pursuits I know I was less than perfect. There are many more things I could say about the sacrifices I made for my career and my family, but you get the idea from the preceding recitation.
    I have decided, in whatever remaining time I have on this wonderful earth, to change directions in life and to be honest on this blog about how I'm living my life.
    What, exactly, is it about the way I'm living my life, in your mind, Anonymous, which leads you to call me a "brat"? I can imagine what your state of mind might be, but I do not know, since I haven't the foggiest idea who you are. I am not in the least offended by your words, since they reflect YOUR struggle, YOUR internal conflicts, and NOT mine. Far be it from me to interfere with your psychological issues, your most intimate concerns about yourself, your perhaps fragile mental state, but I am puzzled by what you have in mind about me and my life, when you call me names. Nonetheless, it's a free country and I shall defend to the end your right to say what you want about me on "Bob's blog."
    I agree with you that I am living a self-indulgent life, in the sense that I am indulging in pleasurable and fun and meaningful (to me) activities which I never thought possible for me to do when I was playing the role of lawyer. The role of lawyer is also self-indulgent, but involves indulging in argumentative and other such activities which active lawyers engage in.
    When you say I've "lost my way," I'm wondering what you mean. I don't feel lost, I know where I am, I know what I'm doing, I don't regret having left the active practice of law and doing the things I've been doing, and I no longer feel much discomfort or other negative emotion when people criticize my lifestyle, as you do.
    So, if you wouldn't mind clearing up some of your puzzling comments, I'd be most appreciative. Thanks.

    All best wishes,

    Bob Dutcher

  7. Praying for you that you may someday realize how disrespectful, selfish, immature, and slanderous you have been by publicizing your own biased negative opinions of a family who did you no harm. I can only hope that you will attempt to differentiate between the internet and a personal diary, and consequently decide to remove your emanating negativity from polluting the public. To use popular internet jargon and reference one of your "Popular Posts" to the right of this page, perhaps your so-called "haters" are upset that your actions classify you as what is colloquially known as, pardon the language, an "attention whore".

    A childhood friend of Michaela Petit

  8. Dear Anonymous (March 11, 2014),
    I don't know which particular opinions of mine you take issue with, but you are entitled to your opinion, as am I. If you don't like what I write, you don't have to read it.
    As for whether I am an "attention whore," perhaps I am. But the entire development of Social Media in this world, from Facebook to Twitter to all the rest puts me in good company, whatever you want to call me or anyone else who writes on the Internet. I wonder if you have a Facebook page yourself? Of course, since you don't identify yourself, I have no way to tell.


    Bob Dutcher

  9. Well do u see Christina in the background the 1st day of the trial... I think its very inappropriate and disrespectful to bring your girlfriend now wife to the trial of your murdered family.. He hadnt even gone through both trials and hes got a girlfriend... Also he doesn't work and she barely works and they travel all the time go to concerts always wearing new outfits and her office she rents cant be cheap....Just saying