Before the events of this story took place on Sunday, July 22, 2007, the Petit family was your typical American household. Husband and father, 50-year-old William Petit Jr was an endocrinologist & his wife of 22 years, Jennifer Hawke-Petit was a pediatric nurse and co-director of the health center at a private boarding school. Ther couple met in 1985 while Bill was a third year medical student & Jennifer was a nurse. They had their first daughter Hayley in October of 1989 and then Michaela was born in November of 1995. At the time of this story Hayley was 17 & Michaela was 11.
Hayley had recently graduated from high school with honors and was planning to study medicine at Dartmouth in the fall; this was her dad’s alma mater. Before graduating, she participated in varsity cross country, crew and basketball; she was also captain of the basketball team. Despite all of her activities, she still managed to find time to actively raise funds for multiple sclerosis research; Jennifer was diagnosed with MS in 1998. Hayley wanted to help in any way she could so for 7 years she asked family and friends to sponsor her for the annual Connecticut MS walk, naming her team ‘Hayley’s Hope.’ She ended up raising over 55k for the fight against MS. Despite all of her achievements, you would have never known; Hayley was very modest and never bragged about all that she’d done.
Michaela, even though only 11, loved music, gardening & cooking; she had even made dinner for her family that evening. She had planned to take over the MS fundraising when Hayley left for college & had already chosen a name; ‘Michaela’s Miracle.” She was known for her thoughtful and gentle nature.
The Petits lived in Cheshire, CT & that summer Sunday, was a very typical day for the family. They attended church in the morning & then Bill played golf with his dad while Michaela & Jennifer went to the beach. Hayley planned to go to the beach with her friends and be home in time for dinner.
Around 7:30pm, 48-year-old Jennifer & 11-year-old Michaela headed to the local Stop and Shop to grab some groceries for dinner that night so Michaela could make dinner. Little did they know, someone was watching them & followed them home from the store; 26-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky.
Josh was on parole at the time for drug-related crimes and often broke into the homes of wealthy families to help support his crystal meth addiction. In December of 2002, Josh was sentenced to 9 years in prison but was paroled in April 2007, only 3 months before. He had been arrested for 18 burglaries/home invasions. In his sentencing transcript, he was referred to as a ‘calculated, cold–blooded predator’ with a ‘mental abnormality or psychiatric problem that needs to be addressed.’ Somehow this information never reached the parole board.
At the time of this story, Josh lived with his parents & had full custody of his daughter which had been granted just that spring; his ex-girlfriend was in rehab for drug addiction. Earlier that year he was dating 18-year-old Caroline Mesel; her dad didn’t approve of the relationship and considered Josh to be a peadophile, only interested in his daughter because she looked young for her age.
During his confession on the day of the murders, Josh said that night, he was waiting at the Stop and Shop for a contractor to make a payment. While waiting, he saw a mother and a daughter & chose to follow them & saw they lived in a very nice house & thought it would be nice to be there someday.
Even more sinister, Josh had an inappropriate interest in children & many believe that Michaela may have caught his eye, causing him to target the Petit family, rather than the money. He claimed that his intention that night was only to rob the family as they slept during the early morning hours of Monday, July 23, 2007.
After dinner that night, Hayley and Michaela watched “Army Wives” and then headed to bed. Bill went into the sunroom to read the paper & ended up falling asleep on the couch. When the girl’s show ended around 11pm, they locked up the house and headed up to bed, leaving a light on in the kitchen as they always did for their cats. Michaela headed to her mom’s room where she got into bed & they read the latest Harry Potter book together until they both fell asleep.
Just before 3am that morning, Josh returned to the Petit home with an accomplice, 44-year-old Steven Hayes. The two met in 2006 when they shared a room in a halfway house in Harford, CT. Hayes was a recovering crack addict and a seasoned burglar. At this time, Hayes was living with his mother in Winstead, CT. Steven and Josh talked about starting a contracting business but nothing ever came of it.
The night of the home invasion, the two texted each other at 7:45pm, Hayes saying, “I’m chomping at the bit to get started. Need a margarita soon” After an hour, Josh still hadn’t responded so at 8:45, Hayes wrote, “We still on?” Josh: “Yes.” Hayes: “Soon?” Josh: “I’m putting the kid to bed. Hold your horses.” Hayes: “Dude, the horses want to get loose. LOL.”
Their plan was to tie the family up as they ransacked the house, but otherwise leave them unharmed. Josh said the two wore face masks and rubber gloves as they entered the house.
After breaking into the house, armed with a gun and baseball bat they had found, they discovered Bill asleep on the couch in the sunroom. A baseball bat happened to be near the basement stairs; Josh held the bat and made his way to the sleeping Dr Petit where he struck him four to five times; Bill began to scream as he was hit. Afterwards, they bound him with rope and plastic zip ties around his wrist and ankles.
From there, they headed toward Jennifer, Michaela and Hayley, who were sleeping in their rooms upstairs. They first approached Jennifer; Hayes placed his hand over her mouth & shook her awake. Josh did the same to Michaela. They bound their wrist and ankles to the bedposts & placed pillowcases over their heads. Josh said he was in “KK’s” room; he was referring to Michaela, saying that this is what Jennifer & Hayley called her. He said he sat down and talked with her about summer plans. He got her a glass of water. Throughout the ordeal, they reassured the girls that they weren’t going to hurt them and only wanted money.
They began to search the house for cash, taking a break to move and bind Dr Petit to a support pole in the basement. Josh put pillows and blankets around Bill so he would be more comfortable. What a swell guy. They drank beer from the house as they made their way through. From there, they took a deeper look around the house until they discovered the family had a checking account with 30-40k in it. They had to wait until morning until the bank opened. In the meantime, they found gas cans in the garage & Hayes left the house to fill them at a gas station.
At around 9:10am, Hayes took Jennifer to a local Bank of America and ordered her to withdraw $15,000 from her account, with the threat of further harm to her family. Jennifer entered the bank alone as Hayes waited in the car. She slipped a note to the bank teller, letting her know of her dire situation. The bank teller went to her manager who then called 911 at 9:21am. The call indicated, “We have a lady who is in our bank right now who says that her husband and children are being held at their house. The people are in the car outside the bank, she’s getting $15,000 to bring out to them. If the police are told they will kill her children and the husband. She said they are being very nice and they told her they wouldn’t hurt anybody if she got back there with the money. She believes them.” The manager described Jennifer as being “petrified” as she withdrew the cash & asked for help. Others at the bank thought she looked calm.
Jennifer left the bank and Hayes drove the Petit’s SUV back to their home. Shortly after the call was made, police were dispatched to the Petit home in unmarked cars to set up a perimeter around the house & instructed not to enter the house.
While Jennifer & Hayes were at the bank, Josh was raping young Michaela as she was tied to her bed, taking explicit photos of her on his phone.
After returning to the home from the bank, Josh showed Hayes the pictures he had taken of Michaela & encouraged him to do the same to Jennifer. Hayes pushed Jennifer to the living room floor and began to rape her.
Right around this time, Bill began to use the pole he was tied to to break the zip tie that bound him; standing up & sitting down repeatedly. He was able to escape through cellar-like doors that led to the outside. He had to roll across the yard to get to a neighbor’s house, still bound with rope, in order to get help.
At this point, Josh realized that Bill had escaped & noticed that police cars were outside. When Hayes saw the police car outside, he said he “snapped;” he felt betrayed by Jennifer & made him lose control. He strangled Jennifer to death sometime between 9:30-9:50am. As all of this was happening, Michaela and Hayley were tied to their beds with pillowcases over their heads,
Josh said Hayes poured gasoline throughout the house, on Jennifer’s dead body & onto Michaela and Hayley. During his confession, he said that the burning of the house was on Hayes. He told them he had questioned him, saying, “You can’t seriously be contemplating burning these two girls alive?” But, regardless, he did nothing to stop him. It was never determined which of the two criminals lit the match; they both blamed the other person. 33 minutes after the initial 911 call was made from the bank, all three women were dead.
A neighbor discovered Dr Petit around 9:50am and didn’t even recognize him due to the extent of the beatings he endured from the baseball bat. The neighbor remembers Dr Petit yelling, “The girls are in the house!” Police were called though sadly, it was too late to save Hayley and Michaela. Dr Petit was the only survivor from the home invasion. When the police initially saw him, they were hesitant to cut the bindings still around his ankles, unsure if he was a victim or a suspect.
The criminals fled the blazing home in the Petit’s car at 9:56am; little did they know police cruisers were stationed down the street because of Jennifer’s alert at the bank. Hayes and Josh ended up crashing into a police car & were arrested at 10:01a.m. The home invasion ended up lasting 7 hours. The timeline of when Josh purchased the gasoline indicates that the murders may have been premeditated.
Steven Hayes’s trial began on October 18, 2010. In December of 2010, Hayes apologized to the Petit family for the pain he caused, saying,”Death for me will be a welcome relief and I hope it will bring some peace and comfort to those I have hurt so much.”
During the trial, the prosecution called medical examiner, Dr H Wayn Carver to the stand. Carver had performed the autopsies on both Hayley and Michaela and determined that they had died from smoke inhalation. It had been discovered that Michaela had been unable to free herself from the bed she had been bound to though Hayley managed to untie herself and make her way to the top of the staircase where she succumbed to the smoke. Jennier’s body was burned beyond recognition.
Carver reported that 75.6% of Michaela’s oxygen-carrying capacity of blood was filled with carbon monoxide , saying that even 30% would be lethal. Carver added, “there were no markers to tell me if any of the skin (burn) injuries occurred before or after she died.”
Josh’s trial began on October 13, 2011. During his hearing, Komisarjevsky stood by what he had said in his confession, that he had never planned on killing anyone that night. He added: “I will never find peace within. My life will be a continuation of the hurt I caused. The clock is now ticking and I owe a debt I cannot repay.” During Josh’s trial, the jury learned that he had been adopted when he was 2 weeks old. It was reported that when Josh was 4-6 years old, his foster brother, Scott Reetz, who was 11 years older, forced him to have anal and oral sex with him.
According to the testimony of sexual trauma psychotherapist Leslie Lebowitz, Josh’s foster brother admitted to the assault & in 1993, Reetz became a regular offender. Josh’s adoptive parents were extremely religious and refused to seek any counseling or medication to help him cope with the trauma; they didn’t want anyone outside their faith to know about the abuse he suffered. Lebowitz also stated that Josh had also been raped when he was 14 by “a very close and important friend.”
They were both sentenced to death, but on April 25, 2012, Connecticut abolished the death penalty and their sentences were changed to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Josh’s defense team filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the trial shouldn’t have been held in Cheshire. They also argued that he was unfairly portrayed as the mastermind of the crime, saying that Hayes was the one to strangle Jennifer to death and douse the home in gasoline. This motion was denied as the judge believed both men to be equally complicit in the crimes.
In the aftermath, there was obvious upset about the police’s response to the murders. After the 911 recordings were reviewed, it revealed that police were clearly skeptical of Jennifer. After Jennifer & Steven drove off, Police Lieutenant James Fasano can be heard telling the dispatcher, Donald Miller, “Apparently she came into the bank, she tried to get some money out. One of the accounts was in her husband’s name, and then she says, ‘Well my kids are at home, tied up.’ So we don’t know if they really are or if she was just trying to get money out at this point. She was calm. She didn’t appear upset. She walked into the bank, she got the money, she was by herself. The other person was in the car.”
One police officer was in the neighborhood when the initial 911 call came in at 9:21am actually got to the home before Jennifer & Hayes got back to the house from the bank. He had been ordered not to approach anyone or even make a phone call inside to determine what was going on; he watched as the SUV pulled into the garage. When Bill managed to escape his home, he saw police standing behind trees as he laid in his neighbor’s driveway, having no idea that his wife managed to alert the bank staff who called 911 about 33 minutes earlier.
Police indicated that they were dealing with a hostage situation and couldn’t know how many perpetrators were in the home or what weapons they might have had. They were told not to approach anyone at the house or enter the property. They were instructed to set up a perimeter and observe.
In 2010, during an Oprah interview, Bill indicated that he had been staying at his parent’s house since he was released from the hospital. He said he wouldn’t have been able to get through the pain without his family’s support. While Bill was recovering in the hospital, still out of it from the trauma of the attack, his dad came to see him. That’s when he first realized that his whole family hadn’t made it & he was the sole survivor of the home invasion. On July 28, 2007 five days after the murders, Bill had just been released from the hospital and was able to speak at his family’s memorial service. Bill reminisced about how he and Jennifer met at Children’s Hospital Pittsburgh; Jennifer was a new nurse and Bill was a 3rd year med student. He was cocky & tried to correct her on how to take a BP; it quickly became clear that Jennifer was the expert on care and how to take care of children.
Bill’s hardest times are the night when he’s falling asleep and when he’s waking up in the morning. He didn’t sleep more than two hours a night for 2-3 months after the attack, replaying everything that happened that horrible night, going over the what-ifs; “what if he had been able to get free sooner? What if Jennifer had stayed longer at the bank..”
Since the murders of his entire family, Bill stopped practicing medicine & put his attention to managing the Peit Family Foundation to honor his wife and daughters. A Cheshire resident also created “Cheshire Lights of Hope.” Each year the town’s streets are lined with luminaries; the goal is to bring locals together. In August of 2012 Bill married Christine Plauf who he met while she was volunteering for the Petit Family Foundation. The two have a son together. Bill’s become involved in politics as a Connecticut state representative.
- New York Post: Police errors may have caused victims their lives in CT home-invade horror
- The Lineup: The Vile Murders of Cheshire’s Petit Family
- The Register Citizen: Psychologist: Komisarjevsky repeatedly raped as a small child (with documents)
- Ranker: Haunting Details About The Tragic Cheshire Murders And Their Aftermath
- YouTube: OWN TV – The Man Whose Family Was Murdered in a Brutal Home Invasion
- Time: Heartbreaking Details From the Connecticut Home Invasion
- YouTube: Investigate ONE: The Cheshire Murders – The Documentary
- Talk Murder With Me: The Cheshire Home Invasion Murders
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