Missing Man Is Accused of Murdering Wife

Times Staff Writer

Detectives have obtained a warrant charging a Tarzana man with murdering his estranged wife, found dead last month in what appeared to be a staged traffic accident, Los Angeles police said Friday.

Police have been seeking Robert Peernock, 50, who disappeared shortly after his wife, Claire Laurence Peernock, 45, and their daughter Natasha, 18, were found about 4:30 a.m. July 22 in his 1971 Cadillac, Lt. Bernard D. Conine said. The car had struck a utility pole off San Fernando Road near Tuxford Street.

Natasha Peernock was injured severely but is recovering, police said. She, her mother and the interior of the car were soaked with gasoline, apparently in an attempt to rig the car to burst into flames, Conine said.

An autopsy on Claire Peernock found that she died before the crash, from head wounds that were "inconsistent" with a traffic accident, Conine said. Her daughter had similar wounds, he said.

Robert Peernock, who police described as a former pyrotechnics engineer, had worked at Networks Electronic Corp., a Chatsworth company that manufactures firing devices used in missiles, a company spokeswoman said. He left the company in late 1985, she said.

The couple had been married 16 years before Claire Peernock filed for divorce in 1983, according to Los Angeles County court records.

The records show that Claire Peernock sought joint custody of Natasha and another daughter, now 11, who police said has been in protective custody. She also sought to keep her husband from contacting her and to have him stay at least 100 yards from their Saugus home, according to the file.

The records contain no response from Robert Peernock.

Records also show that he has filed eight lawsuits in Los Angeles County since 1980. Most stemmed from a dispute in the early 1970s with a former employer, the state Department of Water Resources.

In one suit, which was dismissed at Peernock's request in 1982, and may have been settled out of court, Peernock described himself as a "whistle-blower."

The suit alleged that Peernock was harassed, threatened and injured by other department employees. He said the problems occurred because he resisted pressure from superiors to overlook corruption in the awarding of contracts.

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