John and Anna Pehota were, in the words of John’s best friend, “the sweetest people.” But age and health was taking its toll. John—or Jack, as his friends knew him—was in such ill health that five years ago he was convinced he was going to die. That was Anna’s biggest fear: that Jack would leave her—that he would die first.
And yet she killed him.
“He kept pushing me mentally,” she told detectives Wednesday evening. She said he’d been mentally abusing her for years, but never physically. Nothing physical had happened Wednesday evening, either. She’d been making dinner, as she has every night for years. He said something that upset her so much that she broke a dish. She couldn’t remember what it was. She thinks Jack continued to provoke her. She went to her bedroom, retrieved her .22-caliber long barrel handgun, and shot Jack three times as he stood near the entrance to the trailer they’d owned and lived in almost as recluses for 22 years.
She’d later tell the 911 operator, in hysterics, that she couldn’t believe how she could do that, though her friends could imagine just how that may have happened.
“I know a lot of Jack’s friends and family, we’ve all talked about it and nobody can understand how it really happened,” said Ken Sipple, 56, who now lives in South Carolina with his wife Cindy. Jack had been Sipple’s best man at his wedding, and he and his wife Cindy were likely the last friends to see Jack alive about three weeks ago, the last time they visited.
“But I know they were having problems,” Sipple continued, “he was really getting up there in age. When I was talking with one of my best friends, we were saying we could picture Jack saying, ‘go ahead, shoot me,’ and if Anne had it in her mind to do something, she would do it. They were nitpicking at each other for years, and I guess Anne couldn’t take it anymore. But from what I understand she’s refused a lawyer and tried to plead guilty already to this, and that’s just like Anne. She gets something in her mind, and that’s the way she’s going to be. We’ve wondered why she didn’t take herself out, because she took herself out anyway. She’s never going to have any time of life. This sounds weird, but I think she was more afraid of Jack leaving her, dying first and leaving her first.”
Anna had been terrified of one thing: that husband Jack would die before her.
There were a lot of guns in the house. Anna had two guns herself, but they were Jack’s passion. He kept many, “all loaded to the hilt,” Sipple remembers. When Sipple’s wife Cindy once asked him why he kept them loaded, he told her: “They aren’t any good if they aren’t loaded.”
Sipple got to know the Pehotas when he was a teen in Sicklerville, N.J., the south Jersey town where he grew up. That was four decades ago. He went to school with the Pehotas’ daughter, Anna: the Pehortas named their daughter after her mother, and their son, John, after their father. (The younger Anna is still in New Jersey, and the younger John is in West Virginia, Sipple said.)
Jack was older, but he and Sipple became best friends. “I used to go deer hunting with him, I fished with him in Falgler on the beach, I fished with him in Delaware Bay, I fished with him in Chesapeake Bay. He was like a father to me. He was always there when you needed somebody. I don’t know how I’d have gotten through my life without having someone like that around. Anne always treated my wife and myself with utmost respect. Never had any problem, so it’s mind-blowing to know what she did.”
There were the times when she’d get upset with Cindy Sipple and Jack, back when Jack and Anna would host barbecues for their friends. It would happen when the bottle of peach schnapps would disappear. That’s what Jack liked to drink, before he gave it up to mind his heart. But he liked to get drunk on schnapps with Cindy. “Whenever the schnapps bottle was missing we were nowhere to be found and they’d spend a good 20 minutes trying to find out what happened with that bottle,” Cindy says.
Until that visit a few weeks ago, it had been five years since the Sipples had visited the Pehotas. It had to do with that call from Jack to Ken five years before, when Jack told him he was going to the hospital, to die. After that, Anna stopped taking Sipple’s calls (he’d always have to call her phone so he could be passed on to Jack).
“I didn’t know whether he died or what happened to him,” Sipple said, “so last month we happened to be in Florida, we had an extra day, so we went over to see Anna because we thought Jack was dead. And lo and behold, there was Jack sitting at the table. It was mind-blowing. It was at dinner-time, Jack was eating dinner, Anne was sitting at the table. Anne offered me a beer.”
Jack had once worked in the school district in South Jersey. Anna had always been into art. When they moved to Florida in the early 1990s, buying their property for $35,000, the Hammock was still free of massive mansions that would eventually start cropping up, getting on Jack’s nerves. He’d chosen that corner of the Hammock for its isolation and simplicity, though Sipple notes that he’d always kept an open mind. “He was extremely open minded to different lifestyles and allowing people to be able to live whatever lifestyle you wanted to live,” Sipple said of Jack. “He was never condemning, racist, judgmental, and he was always there whenever you had a problem. He’d always take my call no matter what time it was and listen to me rant, whatever it was.”
And he was into computers and the internet long before either became second nature to most. He built his own computers, and built a top-of-the-line model for the Sipple’s daughter years ago, making her the envy of her classmates.
The Sipples moved to Florida in 1994—to Hope Sound, just south of Stuart and Port St. Lucie. They’d drive up to see the Pehotas and stay at Palm Villas, when its rooms didn’t have phones. Jack was the best man at their wedding in 1997. They moved out of Florida in 2003, when Jack’s health was already deteriorating. He’d had a severe heart attack. Anna kept him on an extreme-low cholesterol diet and cared for him constantly in that trailer. “Anne had her side of the house, Jack had his,” Sipple said. “Jack had the computers and he had the guns in his room. Anne had—it’s a doublewide—she had her side, which was the dining room with all the art work in it. The dining room and the living room was pretty much hers. It was sparsely furnished, a couple of beds, a couple of chairs.”
Pehota was charged with second degree murder following her recorded interview with investigators Wednesday evening. She is being held at the Flagler County jail without bail.