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    Husband charged in 7-year-old killing

    Tampa detectives tirelessly pursued a suspect in the case of a pregnant would-be artist who was killed in 1995. Now they have charged him with murder.

    By AMY HERDY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 26, 2002


    TAMPA -- Ever since finding Jennifer Peck's body in the trunk of her Pontiac nearly seven years ago in Tampa, detectives suspected her husband of six months, Joseph Peck, was responsible for her death.

    The 25-year-old aspiring artist from Bradenton was four months pregnant when she was killed, and friends told police Joseph Peck was angry his wife would not get an abortion.

    Yet the 1995 case was tough. There was no eyewitness and little evidence, and Joseph Peck claimed to be out of town when Jennifer was killed.

    Now investigators say they have proof. They announced Tuesday they have charged Joseph Peck with first-degree murder. His arrest last week happened two days before his scheduled release from prison on an unrelated crime.

    Officials attribute the break in the case to the tenacity of the detectives who worked it over the years, and to Joseph Peck's family, who came through with crucial evidence.

    "We just didn't give up," said Tampa Detective Greg Stout, who inherited the case last fall after homicide Detective Kevin Durkin was elected police union president. Durkin, in turn, took over the case after the death of homicide Detective Ricky Childers, who was killed in the line of duty in May 1998.

    From the start, Stout said, "Joseph Peck's story did not hold water with us."

    Peck, a convicted felon since age 15, met Jennifer Montroy when he came to work at one of her father's restaurants in Oklahoma. A night manager, Jennifer worked her way through college, and after graduation moved to Florida to pursue her dream of drawing for Disney.

    Peck followed her, and in 1995, when she was 24 and he was 29, they married. She began working for a grocery store, and he worked as a carpenter.

    In early October, Stout said, Jennifer began telling friends she was afraid of her husband.

    Peck told investigators he last saw his wife when she dropped him off at Tampa International Airport on Oct. 26, 1995, for a trip to visit family in Oklahoma.

    Peck said when he failed to reach his wife by phone after he arrived in Oklahoma, he reported her missing to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and then returned to the couple's Pelican Pointe apartment near Bradenton.

    Jennifer Peck's body was found Oct. 29 after someone noticed that her 1988 Pontiac Bonneville had been parked in the same spot at the Clique club in the 900 block of N Dale Mabry for a couple of days, Stout said. The car windows were down, the key was in the ignition and Peck's purse was on the front seat, police said.

    Over the years, Stout said, the case slowly developed. In 1999, items belonging to Jennifer were found in a barn belonging to Peck's family.

    More evidence was found in 2000, and earlier this year, Stout and Hillsborough State Attorney's investigator Doug Bieniek traveled to Oklahoma, where Joseph Peck was imprisoned on charges he kidnapped and sodomized a 16-year-old girl.

    In Peck's cell, the investigators found extensive diaries that linked him to Jennifer's death, as well as a book, Living Easy in Mexico.

    Realizing their suspect was due to be released from prison, Stout and Bieniek doubled their efforts, they said. Last week, the case went before a grand jury, and Joseph Peck was indicted.

    At the time, Bieniek was testifying in a trial related to homicide detective Childers' murder.

    "I'm testifying, and I'm thinking about what's going on across the street," he said, and about how Childers had begun the work that was now coming full circle.

    Jennifer's mother, Marilyn Montroy, told the Times on Tuesday from her home in Oklahoma that she was glad there was finally justice for her daughter, an outgoing, happy young woman who never treated anyone like a stranger. Montroy said she knew all along Joseph Peck had killed her daughter, but had given up hope that he would be charged.

    "I was afraid he'd committed the perfect crime," Montroy said.

    -- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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