Murder Most Fowl

Whodunit? The melancholy mating cries of a peacock brought out a killer in Victoria Park

The plastering contractor, the telecommunications consultant, and the retired couple all remember that balmy evening in early March when fireworks punctured the quiet night air of their quaint Victoria Park neighborhood. Robert Barcia was walking his 10-year-old Pekinese, "Tiny Dancer," when he heard them. Startled by the sound, the dog turned toward home.

Barcia's wife, Lenora, noted the sound while she crocheted in the couple's upstairs bedroom.

Retirees Lou and Dianne Weiss were smoking a couple of cigarettes, lolling on lounge chairs beside the kidney-shaped swimming pool in their apartment complex, which borders the Barcias' to the south.

James Cinnamon, a consultant for a large telecommunications firm, was cracking open beers for a group of friends from the neighborhood who had gathered on the back patio of his townhouse, located just west of the Barcias. Inside their home, his fiancee, Julia, fixed chicken marsala for the group.

They all heard the firecrackers. An annoyance, but nothing to get excited about. Even in a palmy, well-to-do community like Fort Lauderdale's Victoria Park, kids will be kids.

But at 8:30 on that March 3rd evening, there was a different noise. A sudden pop-pop, followed by an eerie, high-pitched, and anguished squawk.

Robert Barcia, a 50-year-old construction subcontractor, had just walked in the front door, when the phone rang. Lou Weiss was on the other end of the line. Lou and Robert hadn't spoken for almost two years -- something about a parking space. But a crisis has a way of sweeping away petty differences.

"I think your bird's been shot," Lou said.

Barcia cringed. Not Big Bird. Not his beloved peacock, the magnificent creature that strutted around his tiny backyard like a pharaoh.

Lenora, his wife, was already outside aiming a flashlight into the big black olive tree where Big Bird liked to perch, looking for the peacock's distinctive outline, for the five-foot plume of tail feathers that usually hung luxuriantly from the branch. She didn't see him. Robert finally spotted the bird, high up in the 70-foot-tall tree's massive canopy.

The Weisses were out there, too, talking breathlessly over the fence. Dianne Weiss had actually witnessed the crime -- at least, she thought she had. When she heard the shots, she had seen two men in Cinnamon's yard, illuminated by backyard spotlights. They were leaning over the fence that separates the Cinnamons' property from the Barcias'. One of the men held his arm out as if he was holding a pistol, she said. But she didn't actually see a gun.

It wasn't until two days later that the Barcias discovered how bad it had really been. That was when Big Bird plopped into a neighbor's yard like a dead branch falling from a tree. The right side of his body was covered in blood. Maggots had eaten at his flesh. Barcia could see where a bullet had entered Big Bird's body on the inside of the wing and exited through the shoulder area. A big hole, says Barcia, a former hunter. Probably shot from a 9mm handgun.

Big Bird was still alive, but barely. A few hours later, veterinarians from the Wildlife Care Center, who had tried to save the bird, euthanized him.

Robert Barcia still gets emotional about it. "I don't think I have ever been that mad about anything in my life," he said the other day. "Not friends dying, not family dying."

The official cause of death may have been a lethal injection humanely administered by a veterinarian. But Barcia knows the real cause: mob-style execution.

Peacocks are not for everybody. Big, clumsy birds, they can be noisy and obstreperous. Despite the beauty of the male's grandiose display, being around them during mating season is tough. The males summon the females all night with long, melancholy calls (variously described as sounding like honnnk, ahhhh or hellllp). They destroy prized flowers as they hunt for bugs. And they defecate a lot -- big, pasty gobs of the stuff.

Big Bird was one of a muster of peafowls descended from a pair brought to Victoria Park around 20 years ago by a local woman, Barcia says. The flock, now wild and numbering about half a dozen birds, roams the area roughly between Ninth and Tenth Avenues between Sixth and Second streets.

Not everybody is happy about that. Even before Big Bird's death, there were angry letters in the Victoria Park News. As the mating season approached earlier this year, tensions threatened to spill into the open.

Barcia didn't find Big Bird; Big Bird found him, about a year and a half ago. A couple of peahens jumped up onto his neighbor's garage and hopped into Barcia's lush backyard. They seemed to like what they found. The water fountain. The 70-foot-tall black olive tree. The ivy covering the ground. After a couple of days, the hens brought in Big Bird. "I think they brought him here to retire," Barcia speculates. "I think he was infertile." Big Bird would hang out in the yard during the day and roost on a branch of the black olive tree at night.

Barcia began feeding the peacock -- phenomenal amounts. Five pounds of dog food per week, ten pounds of sunflower seeds, and ample helpings of Lenora's meatloaf. "He became my pet," Barcia says. "I never thought I would like anything like that, but I kind of fell in love with the guy."

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