In Westfield: Police have suspect in homicide

Peter Lavalette.

Peter Lavalette.

by Paul Lefebvre 

WESTFIELD — A movie set carpenter for major films and a part-time resident here is believed to be the victim of a recent homicide in this town of roughly 500 people.

State Police are not releasing the name of the deceased, but neighbors say he is George Kouzoujian, who has lived off and on in town for the last two or three years, and reportedly kept an apartment in New York City.

Next-door neighbor Randall Brenner said in an interview that a State Trooper came to his house around 5:30 Tuesday morning to tell him “George was deceased.”

However, when Mr. Brenner raised a question about safety, the trooper told him security was not a concern.

Police are releasing few details except to say that a suspect, Peter Lavalette, 49, of Derby is being held in custody after he was stopped for a traffic violation in Indiana shortly after midnight Tuesday.

According to a State Police press release, a call from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department alerted Vermont authorities at 12:49 Tuesday morning that they had arrested Mr. Lavalette after he allegedly “indicated he was involved in a homicide in Vermont.”

The release goes on to say that he is being held on a “felony warrant for homicide, pending extradition back to Vermont.”

The state’s chief medical examiner was expected to perform an autopsy Tuesday to determine the cause of death.

Mr. Kouzoujian lived at the end of Fuller Road, a dirt road, in a small, two-story blue house that at one o’clock Tuesdayafternoon appeared to be an active crime scene with a mobile State Police laboratory parked in the yard, its swinging back doors open to the house.

Two State Police cruisers were parked nearby along with a silver crew club pickup.  A trooper standing in the road just beyond the neighbor’s driveway stopped traffic from proceeding any further.  Four or more people in white forensic-type clothing were seen walking on the grounds.

Although police are withholding the deceased’s identity until the autopsy is completed and the next-of-kin have been contacted, neighbors and store clerks in town expressed shock and surprise over the death of the man that most knew by the name of George.

“He was very friendly but not close,” said Mary Brenner, who along with her husband, Randy, moved from Washington D.C. to Westfield 16 years ago.

“That’s why we like it back here, to have peace of mind,” she said, while sitting on the back porch with her husband watching the ongoing investigation up the road.

She said Mr. Kouzoujian had spent most of the winter away and had only returned to Westfield in May.

“He said he had been working his butt off so he could have his summer off,” she recalled, as she continued to praise him as a good neighbor and someone who was always busy with projects around the house.

At the Westfield General Store, Mr. Kouzoujian was evidently a familiar and friendly face.

“We’re still in shock,” said the store owner, who declined to give her name.

“He was a quirky little fellow, you know what I mean?” offered Sue Dunne, a clerk at the store.

On the Internet, Mr. Kouzoujian is listed as a union carpenter in the New York Production Guide.  According to a listing posted in the New York Times, he was a carpenter in several films and a construction foreman in the movie Crocodile Dundee.

Ms. Dunne noted that he used to come into the store and show off the carpenter work he had been doing on movie sets, including a recent job he had done for Russell Crowe’s new movie, Noah.

Mr. Kouzoujian had recently been in the store, and Ms. Dunne was still struggling to come to terms with his tragic and untimely demise.

“Things don’t happen like this around here,” she said, before catching herself falling into a cliché.  “Isn’t that what they always say?”

People Tuesday characterized Mr. Kouzoujian as friendly and a nice guy.  Ms. Brenner recalled how he had bought a rototiller from her, although he didn’t really need it.  And then there was the time he fastened a relay to his house that enabled the Brenners to get a better Internet connection.

Still, Ms. Brenner saw her neighbor as something of a loner.  She said he “didn’t look to be the marrying type,” and that he seldom brought friends to his house.

There was one man, though, who was often seen in the company of Mr. Kouzoujian.  Around town Peter Lavalette was considered Mr. Kouzoujian’s handyman.  He reportedly did odds and ends for the deceased, and Ms. Dunne recalled seeing the two of them together a few times.

So did Andy Hass, who runs the hardware store in town.  While he agreed with the other folks in town — in describing Mr. Kouzoujian as a nice guy — he saw another side of him as well.

“He could look like a half-eaten sandwich,” he said, describing a time when Mr. Kouzoujian came into the store, leaving Mr. Lavalette waiting in a parked vehicle.

Apparently, those were the roles each assumed when Mr. Kouzoujian came into town to shop.  Unless called into the hardware store for advice, Mr. Lavalette stayed in the car while Mr. Kouzoujian carried on his business inside.

Ms. Brenner said Mr. Lavalette worked for her neighbor as a laborer, and that he was “in and out all the time.”

Mr. Hass described Mr. Kouzoujian as a “super friendly” customer who was easy to work with in sizing up a job.

He said that when he heard about the death Tuesday morning, it caught him by surprise.  He only knew him by his first name, as Mr. Kouzoujian didn’t keep a slip, preferring instead to pay cash.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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