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Bob kept his love for Gene secret until tragic end

Authorities say a note left by a killer sheds more light on one man's desire for his co-worker.

By GINA PACE
Published March 16, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - Bob Peterson fell in love the first time he saw Gene Thurnau.

But he kept it a secret for years, and no one saw the signs.

Not when Peterson followed Thurnau to Florida shortly after his job transfer. And not just hours before he murdered Thurnau, when he gave him and his wife a photo collection he had secretly made of the couple's new home in various stages of construction.

"I feel like I've been living a lie all these years, and I just can't do it anymore," Peterson wrote in a note found after the killing.

Recently released investigative files shed more light on what happened.

Peterson, 48, and the Thurnaus - Gene, 47, and his wife Juanita, 48, - had been casual friends at the St. Pete/Clearwater Airport, where all three worked in air traffic control. Juanita Thurnau thought it was strange that Peterson followed her husband around but figured he was just lonely.

On Nov. 1, the Thurnaus invited Peterson to see their new Land O'Lakes house. They ordered pizza and then Juanita Thurnau left with her adult daughter to pick up a truck in New Port Richey.

She arrived home about 7:30 p.m. to find a blood trail in the driveway. Her husband's clothes lay in a bloody pile on the floor. When she called his cell phone, she heard it ring in his discarded pants. She found a typed note on an end table addressed to Gene, who's full name is Gailen Eugene Thurnau.

Peterson wrote that he didn't want to come between him and Juanita, but that he had to tell the truth. He wanted to tell Thurnau in person, but he always "chickened out." He propositioned him for oral sex.

"I have already asked God's forgiveness," Peterson wrote.

Peterson's note said he wasn't sure if he was gay, but he knew he loved Thurnau. But the letter turned threatening, with Peterson stating that he would not leave the house until they had sex.

The men were found two days later in the master bedroom of Peterson's rented house in Safety Harbor. Authorities said Peterson dragged Thurnau's body into the room and cut off his genitals with a razor blade. With the same .22-caliber handgun he used to kill Thurnau, Peterson killed himself.

At first, officials released few details, only that the two men were missing, and later that the crime was a murder-suicide.

Detectives don't know how Peterson's profession of love turned violent.

"It's hard to tell what happened there after he gave him the note," said Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll. "We just know what the aftermath was."

Juanita Thurnau said Thursday that she imagined her husband was repulsed by Peterson's proposition.

"I'm sure Bob's feelings were extremely hurt," she said. "Gene would not hold back on how he felt about that."

Looking back now over the four years she knew Peterson, she recalled details that now seem strange. Peterson, for instance, bought the furnished home Thurnau owned before he married and then was upset it didn't come with Thurnau's linens.

She said Peterson was a little odd, but that she tries to think the best of people.

"I don't hate Bob," she said. "How can you hate someone who is mentally disturbed?"

She said that they were not close with Peterson and knew little about him, let alone of his feelings for Thurnau or his sexual orientation.

Anthony Peterson, a brother who lives in Miami, said his brother did not hide the fact that he was gay and that he spoke of Thurnau often but did not indicate whether they had a relationship.

He said the killing shocked him.

"I didn't even think he had a gun," he said. "I didn't think he was capable of doing it ... he might have snapped."

Juanita Thurnau, who has tried to spare relatives the details of the murder, has relied on the faith in God that she and her husband shared to make sense of the ordeal.

"I miss him terribly," she said. "Where else do you turn? I have to hang on to the fact that my God is a good God."

Gina Pace can be reached at 352 521-6518 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6518. Her e-mail address is gpace@sptimes.com.