St-Petersburg. Florida – Gailen Eugene (Gene) Thurnau, a popular, attractive air traffic controller, had moved to Florida to start his life over after a difficult divorce from his wife of 20 years. In fact, he requested the transfer after all hope of reconciliation between him and his wife was lost. Robert Dean Peterson, also known as Bob, was the overweight, unobtrusive controller who worked in the cubicle beside Thurnau. Thurnau and Peterson were polar opposites. Thurnau was an extrovert, charming and chatty with everyone in the office. Peterson was quiet and introverted. However, Peterson wasn’t unpopular. He was well-liked, just not someone who fit in easily.
Since Thurnau and Peterson sat beside each other the two became friends. Thurnau showed Peterson a picture of his “family” – 3 pet dogs. “I love that breed!” Peterson lied. He had no dogs of his own but eventually he would purchase one just like Thurnau’s. When Thurnau requested a transfer to Florida, Peterson tried to be happy for him. But he wasn’t.
Months later, Thurnau had settled into his new life in Florida at the St-Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. He soon met a woman named Juanita, known as Jaye-Jaye. She too was divorcing after 20 years of marriage to her spouse. Although the two were obviously attracted to one another it would be two more years before they became romantically involved. During that time Thurnau became a born-again Christian. His faith meant a great deal to him and as a result, his relationship with Jaye-Jaye suffered: she wanted to become sexually involved but he believed that sex before marriage was sinful. Finally, one night Thurnau proposed marriage to Jaye-Jaye and that problem was solved.
At work, everyone was thrilled for the couple. Well, everyone except Peterson. Didn’t I mention? Peterson too had requested a transfer to Florida after Thurnau left, and now he worked in the same office as his former “best” friend. Weird, I know.
Jaye-Jaye and Thurnau began custom-building their dream home in sunny, beautiful Florida. They lived in a gorgeous gated community on a spacious lot. Peterson congratulated them as heartily as everyone else. Then he did something odd: he bought the couple a wedding gift, even before they were married. It was a gorgeous, expensive crystal vase from an exclusive line of crystal ware. The couple was speechless. Although they found it rather strange, the couple was touched by Peterson’s considerateness.
Months went by. Finally, the dream home was built. Peterson asked if he could come over for dinner one night. He had a gift he wanted to give the couple and they he thought they would really like it. Again, they thought this was strange, but Peterson was Peterson. And they didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Why not?
The promised night arrived and Peterson arrived early for dinner. Thurnau and Jaye-Jaye had other business later in the evening and they didn’t want Peterson staying long. However, every time Peterson emptied his plate he insisted he wasn’t full and he wanted more. Jaye-Jaye offered him seconds of salad, entrée, dessert. She and Gene looked at one another often. When was this man going to leave? “I have a house-warming gift for you!” Peterson told them. They opened a beautifully wrapped box. Inside was a beautiful, leather-bound photo album. On each page was a large, glossy picture of their home as it was being constructed, week by week, from the ground up.
“You’ve been at our house watching it being built?” Jaye-Jaye asked in astonishment. “Oh yes! I’ve been at everyone’s houses from work!” Peterson gushed. He didn’t seem to register the odd look that passed between Thurnau and his wife. Decidedly uncomfortable, the couple was about to ask Peterson to leave when Jaye-Jaye’s daughter arrived. Mother and daughter left to run errands and Peterson and Thurnau were alone together. “I have another gift for you!” Peterson stated excitedly, and went out to his car.
He returned with a 3-page homo-erotic love letter written for Gene. It explained that he was in love with Gene but had always “chickened out” when he tried to tell him.
“I have already asked God’s forgiveness….I have had sex with 25 men in my life…I want to have sex with you…I am not leaving until you place your manhood in my mouth.” From this point on, only speculation can re-create the scene. Shocked, Gene probably stood up and threw the letter on the floor. “Get out of my house!” he roared. Peterson simply replied, “no.” Hours later, Jaye-Jaye returned without her daughter. She was annoyed and confused to find Peterson’s car still in the driveway. Her confusion increased when she saw what appeared to be red paint all over the front steps of the house. Thinking Thurnau had decided to finish working on the porch, she stepped inside then noticed a long, thick line of paint that went from the doorway into the foyer. Confusion turned to fear. She ran up to the bedroom calling Thurnau’s name. No one was in the house. Jaye-Jaye called police who were also unable to locate the missing man. Or Peterson for that matter.
The men were found two days later in the master bedroom of Peterson’s rented house in Safety Harbor. Peterson was lying dead on the bed in the master bedroom wearing only his t-shirt and underwear. He had shot himself in the face. On the floor beside the bed was Jaye-Jaye’s nude, dead husband. There was more: Gene’s genitalia were missing. Authorities surmised that Peterson dragged Thurnau’s body into the room and cut off his genitals with a razor blade. With the same .22-caliber handgun he used to kill Thurnau, Peterson killed himself. Of course there could be no charges filed against the killer. He’d already convicted and executed himself.
Detectives don’t know how Peterson’s profession of love to Thurnau turned violent. “It’s hard to tell what happened there after he gave him the note,” said Pasco sheriff’s spokesman Kevin Doll. “We just know what the aftermath was.” Jaye-Jaye imagined her husband was repulsed by Peterson’s proposition. “I’m sure Bob’s feelings were extremely hurt. Gene would not hold back on how he felt about that….I don’t hate Bob. How can you hate someone who is mentally disturbed?”
It was discovered that Peterson had a brother, Anthony Peterson, who lived in Miami. He stated his brother did not hide the fact that he was gay. He spoke of Thurnau often but he didn’t indicate that they had a relationship. Peterson said the killing shocked him. “I didn’t even think he had a gun,” he said. “I didn’t think he was capable of doing it … he might have snapped.”
As for Jaye-Jaye, her life was again in turmoil. And this time there was no kind-hearted work colleague to help her get through it.