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Murder in Calaveras County

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As the sun climbed higher that hot summer morning in June 2002, Peter Jordan Chiesa walked from his ranch house and climbed into his pickup truck. He drove the short distance from his house to the archway over the green gate that opened onto the roadway. Chiesa stepped from his truck and, with a bandoleer loaded with live ammunition swung across his shoulder, walked angrily toward the two women and the young boy busily clearing tree clippings from the roadway. He carried a rifle in one hand and a .357 Magnum in the other. Only minutes before he had sat on the edge of his bed and dialed 911, informing the dispatcher he was going to kill his neighbors for cutting his trees.

Chiesa had earlier contracted with a professional tree trimmer to cut the Eucalyptus branches hanging over the roadway but he had not cleared the clippings and branches, making two‑way traffic impossible.

Leslie Hannameyer, Annette Truman and their sons, Brian and Ben, had risen early on that Saturday morning. They planned to haul the branches and clippings away in order to avoid a confrontation with Chiesa. They took their all terrain vehicles pulling a trailer and stopped near their neighbor’s gate.

When Truman saw Chiesa walking toward them armed with the weapons, she told Ben to run and call 911. Chiesa raised his arm and pulled the trigger of the .357 Magnum. Hannameyer, mortally wounded, fell, struck by a gunshot once in the neck.

Truman’s eleven year old son stopped and looked back and watched helplessly as Chiesa raised the handgun and fired at his mother. She grabbed her shoulder with her hand and screamed to her son to run. “Call 911,” she shouted again as she attempted to flee. Another shot rang out and she fell, shot in the back. As Ben ran down the road he felt bullets whizzing past him, scarcely missing their target. He ran to Brian and told him their mothers had been shot. They went into Brian’s house and telephoned 911.

Chiesa’s wife, Donna, was in San Jose on the morning of June 25. When she was away it was her practice to call her husband and wake him up. He was required to take certain medication before bedtime. Occasionally he forgot to take the medicine until the early morning hours making it difficult for him to wake up. On this Saturday morning Donna talked to Chiesa three times. She called him at 8:30 and again at 9:00. The third time they talked, it was her husband who called. She testified at his trial that when he called he was screaming and crying. He said “Donna, I screwed up, I screwed up. I killed them. I killed them, Donna.” And then he said, “It’s all over.”

At first Donna did not understand what he was talking about. She thought he meant the ducks. Sometimes Chiesa would forget to put them away at night. She thought maybe the coyotes or raccoons had killed the ducks, or maybe it was the chickens he was talking about.

Following the shootings, he barricaded himself in his house. The 911 dispatcher called him back and he told her that he had just shot two people. He threatened suicide and threatened to shoot the deputies. Negotiators, working from the Calaveras County Sheriff’s substation in Valley Springs, worked for several hours trying to get Chiesa to surrender. During that time, and in conversations with the deputy, he said that the women were cutting his trees and taking his fire wood. He wasn’t sure if the women were dead but he knew if they were dead he would face a murder charge, and if they had survived he would be charged with attempted murder. He told the deputies he was concerned about going to prison.

After Donna was contacted and learned the horrible truth she hurried home. She was intercepted at the county line west of Wallace and taken to the Valley Springs substation where she spoke with her husband by telephone. She was finally able to persuade Peter to surrender to the deputies. He walked from his home for the last time without incident.

Peter and Donna Chiesa, Ron and Annette Truman and Bill and Leslie Hannameyer were neighbors along Highway 12 in Wallace, California, a small town located in Calaveras County in the foothills of the Central Sierra Mountains. The Chiesa ranch consisted of approximately 14 acres. Chiesa and his wife owned two of the four parcels of property along the roadway. Ron and Annette Truman owned the parcel adjacent to the Chiesas’ and Bill and Leslie Hannameyer owned the fourth parcel. A tree lined roadway was shared by the three families. They had been feuding for more than ten years over a common easement and the driveway.

The Hannameyers and Trumans had no access from Highway 12 to their property. The private driveway accessing the properties, which crossed the railroad property, was owned by the Chiesas. The driveway went directly onto their property. An easement had been recorded giving the Hannameyers and the Trumans access to the common roadway running parallel to Highway 12.

In September 2000 the Chiesas were able to acquire the railroad property for the sum of $10. That small piece of land played a major role in a feud among neighbors that eventually led to the shooting deaths of two women.

In early 2002 the Chiesas installed iron posts along the sides of the common roadway that directly accessed Highway 12. The Chiesas claimed that an 18 foot width across the roadway was in compliance with the local regulations. The Hannameyers and Trumans wanted a 25 foot wide roadway. The wider driveway would allow them a more convenient access to their private driveways.

Among other things the families quarreled over was drainage along the easement; the trees the Chiesas had planted making the roadway difficult to maneuver; the logs, cuttings and other debris they left on the roadway making access practically impossible.

It was said that the Chiesas also harassed friends of the two families when they traveled the roadway from Highway 12 to the private driveways of the Hannameyers and the Trumans. The sheriff’s office was called many times to resolve disputes between the three families.

It was claimed that the Chiesas, in an effort to prevent the children of the two families from using the easement, startled and frightened them as they rode their ATV’s and bikes or walked along the roadway. They complained about trespassers on their property and about vandalism.

Over the years, Donna wrote many letters to the sheriff complaining about the deeds of the Hannameyers and the Trumans. She testified in court that once while mowing their pasture the blades of the tractor were jammed several times with arrows that had been shot into the grass. Donna said that she had seen the Trumans target shooting with arrows. She accused them of throwing wood over her fence.

There were a myriad of complaints and accusations between the three families. Eventually a civil lawsuit was filed by the Hannameyers and the Trumans asking the court to order the Chiesas to remove the iron posts.

That lawsuit progressed over time and a trial was set to begin in December 2002. Now this matter could not be heard by the court until after the murder trial.

After the murders, the Hannameyers and Trumans filed a wrongful death suit against the Chiesas and they were subsequently awarded $1,000,000. They refused to contribute to the award. Eventually the suit was settled by their insurance company.

Doctors would later say that Chiesa was bullied in school and had always felt uncomfortable. He sometimes felt as if he were demeaned and overlooked and that he was always confrontational and not easy to work with. He was also characterized as being intelligent, able to function well and skillful.

In 1993 Chiesa suffered a stroke and three years later he had heart bypass surgery. A neuropsychologist testified at trial that he told her that after all the health problems his life fell apart. His anger would turn to rage. One doctor testified he possibly had suffered brain damage from being connected to the heart-lung machine for more than two hours during the heart surgery that took place following his stroke.

Land feuds are common today but rarely deadly. Law enforcement agencies around the country are continuously called upon to referee disputes between neighbors. Many times they are settled by the courts but the hostility and hatred lingers. Webster defines the word “feud” as “a bitter, long‑continued and deadly quarrel.” Legend has it that the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud started when Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing one of his hogs. In truth this feud, which lasted for approximately 30 years, can be linked to land and power. The feud between the Chiesas and their neighbors caused by the dispute over a piece of land valued at $10 lasted ten years.

One friend who knew Leslie as a young girl described her as “bright eyed and bushy tailed.” Another friend said Leslie had taught her about friendship, love, loyalty and trust and was still teaching her about strength and courage.

A close friend of Annette’s said “Annette was so funny and full of laughter – screaming with her friends at bunco games, laughing at herself or whooping it up while riding her horse, always laughing – always shining. I don’t believe heaven was ready for Annette, but it will sure have its hands full now!”

 A friend of Chiesa’s told how she had seen him cry when he had to put one of his animals down. “How do you get from there to shooting a human being?”

 A verdict was rendered by the jury on March 17, 2004. Chiesa was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 80 years to life in prison. The sentence included two 15 year terms for second degree murder and two 25 year enhancements because a firearm was used to commit the crimes. Under California law, he cannot be considered for parole until he has served 80 percent of his sentence.

 Ironically, almost two years after their deaths at the hand of their neighbor and after Chiesa had been convicted of murder and sentenced to prison, the civil dispute ended. Mrs. Chiesa was ordered by the court to construct a 30‑foot driveway/easement at the west end of her property providing access to the Hannameyer and Truman homes.

At the end of the trial Bill Hannameyer said, “Leslie and Annette are dead because Pete and Donna didn’t want to do something so simple just to get along.”

Chiesa is incarcerated in California State Prison  located in Vacaville, California. The 3rd District Court of Appeals re-affirmed the sentence of 80 years to life in prison handed down by the Calaveras County Superior Court in 2004.

 It has been over fourteen years now since that fateful morning. A stranger driving along the highway would never know anything unusual had happened in that peaceful community, but I know. I know that two mothers were taken from their children and two wives were taken from their husbands. I know that one wife sits alone at home while her husband will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Today a new driveway can be seen from the highway that allows Bill Hannameyer and Ron Truman access to their property. That was all Leslie and Annette wanted, access to their homes.

  . . Love thy neighbor as thyself . . .

Prison photo of Peter Jordan Chiesa after conviction
Credit: Public Domain
Driveway
Credit: Jane Winstead

View of driveway where murders occurred

View of Driveway
Credit: Jane Winstead

View of driveway where murders occurred

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