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JoAnn Goldberg Peterson was a matriarch who ruled her family. So when son-in-law Peter Zeihen got on her bad side, he paid the price.
Zeihen was born in 1951 and grew up in Chewelah, Washington, a small town north of Spokane. His father owned a small farm and his mother was on the city council.
“Pete and I met at Spokane Community College while we were taking industrial electricity. Pete was a good electrician, hard worker, friendly, outgoing, almost bubbly,” friend Rick St. Amand told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
At the age of 35, Zeihen met 30-year-old Orinne Goldberg at a marathon in Spokane. Goldberg was one of three children born to Morris “Mel” and JoAnn Goldberg.
“JoAnn Goldberg as the matriarch and the main head of the family, she made the decisions. She insisted things be done her way,” former Spokane County Sheriff’s Detective Mark Henderson told “Snapped.”
Zeihen and Orinne dated for a year before moving in together. Four months later, she became pregnant and the couple married in 1988, after the birth of their daughter.
While Zeihen loved being a father, the marriage began to falter. Orinne left him and took their daughter to move in with her parents in Newport, Washington, 60 miles away. Zeihen spent weekends traveling to Newport to see his daughter but eventually filed for divorce.
“That of course involved the request for visitation with his daughter and at least partial custody of his daughter and that did not sit well with JoAnn,” former prosecutor Chris Bugbee told “Snapped.”
The divorce soon became contentious. JoAnn found it unacceptable that her granddaughter should have to split time with her father an hour away.
Zeihen was depressed about the end of his marriage but had other reasons to be happy. He had recently begun dating a woman named Helen, later moving into her apartment in Spokane Valley.
On the evening of November 18, 1991, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office received calls about a shooting at a local apartment complex. Residents heard gunfire and saw a man slumped over in his car.
“He had a massive head and face wound. He’d been shot point blank almost,” said Mark Henderson. “He died almost instantly… It reminded me of a mob-style execution.”
Witnesses identified the victim as 40-year-old Peter Zeihen, who had just returned home from work. He was wearing body armor, according to The Spokane Review newspaper.
“It was not common for us to encounter people wearing bulletproof vests at that time. That he had one on was totally unusual. That told me that he was scared and was trying to protect himself,” said Henderson.
The murder weapon, a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun, was left on the ground nearby. Witnesses described seeing a gold or tan truck peeling out of the parking lot after the shooting.
Detectives informed Helen about Zeihen’s murder, and she took the news hard. She also said it wasn’t the first time someone had tried to kill Peter.
Several weeks earlier, Zeihen discovered a flat tire on his car. He drove across the street to a mini-mart and began refilling it with air.
“He notices somebody was standing by him and when he looked up there was a figure that had a Richard Nixon mask on. That person was holding a revolver,” said Bugbee, with Henderson explaining, "They immediately fire a round at him. Pete reacts by jumping up, starts running. This person keeps chasing him, shooting rounds as he runs."
Zeihen escaped his attacker and called 911. Investigators discovered his tire had been intentionally deflated.
Zeihen told police he believed the attempt on his life was orchestrated by his ex-wife’s family due to his ongoing divorce proceedings. The case was still under investigation at the time of his murder.
Detectives contacted Zeihen’s divorce attorney Peter Schweda, who said that while the court had believed Orinne should have primary custody of their daughter, Zeihen should be granted regular visitation on weekends including overnight visits.
“Orinne’s family had sworn that he’s never going to see his daughter. JoAnn could not stand to have her granddaughter be given to Peter, her son-in-law, even on the weekend,” Spokane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Andrew Stockman told “Snapped.”
“[JoAnn] decided she would take care of it and her way of trying to take care of it is she alleged sexual abuse by Mr. Zeihen on his own daughter,” said Bugbee.
A police investigation determined the accusations were unfounded, and court documents allege Orinne and her mother made them up to prevent Zeihen from gaining custody, according to the Associated Press.
With his name cleared, Zeihen petitioned for increased visitation. The final divorce proceedings were on the horizon, which would determine custody, visitation, and alimony payments.
Investigators learned witnesses to the first attempt on Zeihen’s life had described seeing a similar vehicle as the one seen fleeing the murder. Police released the information to the public in hopes it would produce a lead.
The vehicle was later found abandoned on a residential street. The VIN number revealed it had been stolen several weeks prior, and witnesses confirmed it was the car they had seen at the crime scenes.
Investigators interviewed Orinne and her parents the day after the murder. They would only agree to be interviewed as a group and claimed they were having a dinner at the time of the murder, an alibi backed up by Orinne’s sister.
Between the Goldbergs' airtight alibi and the lack of any physical evidence, the investigation soon stalled.
In November 1993, investigators were contacted by the Goldbergs' next door neighbors, Robert Lamm and Marcy Harrington. They claimed that the shotgun used to murder Zeihen had been taken from their home by Orinne’s brother, Theil Goldberg, according to the Associated Press.
“They said, ‘Not for nothing but we are extremely scared of this family and we didn't come forward to cooperate originally with any information because of our extreme fear of them,'" said Stockman.
Several weeks after speaking with police, Lamm and Harrington’s house caught on fire in the middle of the night.
“We were pretty convinced it had been set and it was because of the conversations about them being witnesses where they might be asked to testify,” said Henderson.
The Goldberg family was never connected to the fire. However, Lamm and Harrington subsequently stopped cooperating with the investigation. The case would languish for almost a decade.
Finally, in 1999, a woman named Shirley came forward, saying she was friends with JoAnn Goldberg, who was now using her maiden name, Peterson. She and Mel had gotten divorced and she had moved to Idaho.
The woman claimed JoAnn had bragged to her about killing Zeihen. She even showed the woman where the murder took place in Spokane.
“JoAnn talked about Zeihen looking directly into her eyes moments before he died, realizing that it was her, which was exactly what she wanted to see happen,” Henderson said in court documents, according to the Associated Press.
Surprisingly, just a month later, Theil Goldberg and his sister who had supported the alibi approached the police. She said her parents had requested her to do that, while Theil admitted to supplying the murder weapon.
“Theil confirmed JoAnn was the trigger person and that all of them had been part of the planning, including Orinne,” said Henderson.
JoAnn Peterson was arrested in October 1999 on federal weapons charges, according to the Associated Press. Upon hearing of his ex-wife’s arrest, Mel Goldberg surrendered to police and admitted to driving the stolen getaway vehicle.
“Mel drove up to Mr. Zeihen’s vehicle. Ms. Peterson got out of the passenger side of the vehicle with the shotgun … after she had discharged her firearm, killing him, she dropped the shotgun,” said Bugbee.
Both JoAnn and Mel were charged with aggravated first-degree murder, while Theil was charged with first-degree murder.
Prosecutors declined to press charges against Orinne Goldberg. She died from brain cancer in 2005.
Theil Goldberg pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, according to the Associated Press. He agreed to testify against his parents and was released from prison in 2004.
Mel Goldberg backed out of a plea deal at the last minute and went to trial. He was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to 26 years in prison, according to the newspaper Seattle Weekly. He died in prison in April 2020.
JoAnn Peterson pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, according to The Spokane Review. Two months after her ex-husband’s death, she died in prison as well.
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