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

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages.  For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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Gold panning and bingo help a good cause

Joanne Warner of Green Mountain Prospectors demonstrates how to pan for gold.  Bryce Donahue, who said he's panned for gold dozens of times, looks on.  Photos by Tena Starr

Joanne Warner of Green Mountain Prospectors demonstrates how to pan for gold. Bryce Donahue, who said he’s panned for gold dozens of times, looks on. Photos by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

WESTFIELD — Terrie Davis-Perry has long supported cancer research, maybe more than most people.  She’s regularly donated to the American Cancer Society and fund-raising events, and she sponsors a Relay for Life team member.  But when the disease hit home last winter with her brother-in-law’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, she was inspired to do a little more aggressive fund-raising than she’d done in the past.

So on Saturday, Ms. Davis-Perry and her husband, Mark Perry, put together a special day of events and camping at their Barrewood Campground in Westfield.  Proceeds from the $5 fee ($2 for children) for daytime activities went to Paul Perry for out-of-pocket costs for his treatment: camping fees throughout the weekend — three nights — will go to Relay for Life.

barrewood boy

Five-year-old Ryan Nathan Rice of North Troy was one of the few who decided to go swimming Saturday at Barrewood Campground’s cancer benefit.

Saturday turned out to be a rare sunny day, although the wind was brisk enough to knock over some of the tents that vendors had set up on the big green at the campground to sell jewelry, crafts, baked goods, books, clothing, and other items.  Inside the pavilion, a rousing game of bingo was in progress called by Debbie Lucas, who donated her time, and Mary Lee Daigle was serving a hot lunch.  Pauline Couture of Couture’s Maple was on hand with a variety of maple products, and several members of Green Mountain Prospectors demonstrated how to pan for gold.

There was plenty of interest in that activity — nearly as much as in the bingo game.

The first thing you learn about panning for gold is you’re not likely to get rich.  The second is that it isn’t nearly as easy as it looks when an expert is handling the pans.  My own efforts netted one tiny flake that I might not have recognized were it not for Joanne Warner’s careful eyes, although gold is quite striking and definitely stands out if you know what you’re looking for.

Ms. Warner and Donald and Tracie Cassady were on hand to demonstrate the skill of panning and had small vials of gold, as well as garnets, to show for their own efforts.  Mr. and Ms. Cassady are from New Hampshire and said the river near Littleton is “loaded with garnets,” a deep red, semi-precious gemstone that, like gold, is heavy and settles in the bottom of the pan.

Ms. Warner offered up a small vial of startlingly bright gold flecks that she’d gathered. They were worth about $30 or $40 — not a huge take for a tedious job.

“Most of the gold in Vermont is glacial, you won’t find big nuggets,” Ms. Warner said.  That means glaciers ground the gold down to fine particles, as opposed to out West where actual nuggets are more likely to be found,

These three Green Mountain Prospectors don’t sell the gold they find, although they know some who do.  Foundries will buy it, as well as jewelers and some collectors, they said. The garnets also have some value.

Mark Perry and Terrie Davis-Perry, owners of Barrewood Campground in Westfield, held a special day of activities Saturday to help their brother Paul Perry with out-of-pocket expenses for pancreatic cancer treatment.  Proceeds from camping for three nights went to Relay for Life.

Mark Perry and Terrie Davis-Perry, owners of Barrewood Campground in Westfield, held a special day of activities Saturday to help their brother Paul Perry with out-of-pocket expenses for pancreatic cancer treatment. Proceeds from camping for three nights went to Relay for Life.

At this point, I have to admit that my notes kind of vanished on me because I gave panning a shot under Ms. Warner’s able guidance.  I was decidedly inept and soaked myself and my notebook, ending up with a runny blue blur instead of careful notes.

So — winging it.  We started with a shovel full of material from the bottom of the nearby brook, and Mr. Cassady did a sift to filter out the biggest stones.  Those bigger stones are worth looking at, he said, because there’s lots of quartz among them, and that’s where gold comes from.  But keeping in mind that chunks of gold the size of white quartz aren’t likely to appear in Vermont, the next step is to get to the littler stuff that looks mostly like sand.  And that’s when it gets tricky.

The prospectors used green pans with ridged openings on one side.  The idea is that you mix the sand and its potentially valuable contents with water, then slur it around, constantly dumping off the top layer through the pan’s openings.  You trust that the heavier stuff, the valuable stuff, will stay at the bottom, and what you’re sloughing off is just sand and tiny worthless pebbles.

The equipment is neither complicated nor expensive.  Most any kind of filter works up to a point.  Mr. Cassady said his wife is always telling him to leave her flour sifter alone.

If you’re not too overzealous, or just sloppy, it works.  The heavy stuff does stay in the bottom of the pan, and after a while the dirt changes color.  It darkens as the lighter, and lighter colored, sand goes out the pan’s slots, and what remains is what’s of possible value.  “Tap it, and the gold goes to the bottom,” Ms. Warner advised me.

Pauline Couture of Couture’s Maple in Westfield was on hand at the fund-raiser with a variety of maple products.

Pauline Couture of Couture’s Maple in Westfield was on hand at the fund-raiser with a variety of maple products.

Gold is 19 times heavier than water, someone said as I slopped muddy water all over myself. Trust it.

I sloshed the pan around in the water, then sifted out the sand and did see the color eventually darkening, but it wasn’t easy, and I was clumsy, and I soon appreciated Ms. Warner’s skill.  She said she’d won an award in a panning contest, which didn’t surprise me once I’d tried it myself.  She makes panning look easy.  It isn’t.

At the end, I had one flake of gold.  It didn’t look real, and, nope, I wasn’t going home rich.  Ms. Warner had planted it, and it went back into her vial via a special little bottle that sucked it up and returned it to where it came from.

But there are entirely worse things to do with one’s time than wade around in a brook in the hope of finding gold.

“It’s like fishing,” Ms. Warner said. “You can be out all day and you may not get a fish.  But you enjoy being out there.”

barrewood don

Don Cassady of Green Mountain Prospectors sets up some of the gear used to pan for gold.

Green Mountain Prospectors has members from all over New England, as well as New York State, and many of them are members of a national prospecting club, as well.

Meanwhile, back in the pavilion, my 13-year-old son had settled in with a couple of his great-aunts and was avidly playing bingo.

Bingo used to be a game I understood, but apparently no longer.  There’s still the traditional way of playing, where you win if you get straight hits in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line, but there are “specials” I’ve never heard of, like a check mark.  Colton and his great-aunts were each playing eight cards.

The last game was something I’d never heard of, a coverall.  My aunts, being the experienced bingo players they are, knew just what that meant — the winner would be the first person to fill up an entire card.

Prizes for the bingo winners were donated by local businesses and others and included gift certificates, homemade pies, and jewelry.

Later in the day, there was a potluck dinner at the campground, as well as live music, and a bonfire.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Featuring pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital  editions.

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