Haunting Details About The Tragic Cheshire Murders And Their Aftermath

Prior to July 22, 2007, the Petit family was an average American household. William Petit Jr. was an endocrinologist, and Jennifer Hawke-Petit was a pediatric nurse. They had two daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela. Hayley had recently graduated high school and planned to study medicine at Dartmouth in the fall. Michaela enjoyed gardening and cooking, and she even made dinner for the family that evening.

The Petits lived in the affluent suburb of Cheshire, CT, and had been going about their regular weekend routine before they became front-page news. By the morning of Monday, July 23, three of the Petits were dead, and their killers were in custody. Their home had been set ablaze and would later be torn down due to the horrific events that occurred inside.

Here, we'll break down what took place that night and explain why William Petit Jr., the sole survivor, doesn’t believe justice was actually served.

  • Joshua Komisarjevsky Followed Jennifer Hawke-Petit And Her Daughter Home From The Grocery Store On July 22, 2007

    Cheshire, CT, residents Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her youngest daughter, 11-year-old Michaela, went to the local Stop & Shop for groceries around 7:30 pm on Sunday, July 22, 2007. As they were shopping, 26-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky spotted them and decided to follow them home.

    Komisarjevsky was on parole for drug-related crimes and would reportedly break into and rob the homes of affluent families to help fund his habits. Many also believed he had an inappropriate interest in children and may have targeted the Petits because of Michaela.

    According to a statement Komisarjevsky later made, he thought the Petits had "a very nice house and very nice car and thought it would be nice to be there someday." Komisarjevsky later claimed he only planned to rob the family as they slept during the early hours of July 23.

  • Komisarjevsky Returned To The Petit Home Later That Night With An Accomplice

    Just before 3 am on the morning of July 23, Joshua Komisarjevsky returned to the Petits' Cheshire home with an accomplice, 44-year-old Steven Hayes.

    The two men first attacked William Petit, who had fallen asleep in the home's sun room. Komisarjevsky reportedly grabbed a baseball bat from the front lawn and used it to beat Petit as he slept. The men then took a bloodied Petit down to the basement, where they bound him and tied him to either a pipe or a support beam.

    Once upstairs, Komisarjevsky and Hayes awoke Jennifer, Hayley, and Michaela and placed pillowcases over the heads of the mother and two girls. The two men then spent hours robbing the home but apparently did not find enough valuables to satisfy them - a fact which eventually made the robbery turn deadly.

  • On July 23, Jennifer Hawke-Petit Sought Help From A Bank Teller, Who Called The Police

    As Komisarjevsky and Hayes continued searching the home for valuables, they discovered the family had a checking account with $30,000-$40,000 in it. Around 9 am on July 23, Hayes took Hawke-Petit to a nearby Bank of America so she could withdraw $15,000.

    Since Hayes opted to stay in the car, Hawke-Petit shared her dire situation with the teller when she entered the bank. The teller went to a manager, who called 911, stating, “We have a lady who is in our bank right now who says that her husband and children are being held at their house.” The manager described Hawke-Petit as being “petrified” while she withdrew the cash and asked for help, though others at the bank described her as calm.

    Despite the 911 call, police failed to intercept Hayes as he drove the Petits' SUV back to their home.

  • The Home Invasion Escalated To Assault, Murder, And Arson

    While Hayes took Hawke-Petit to the bank, Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted 11-year-old Michaela and recorded the crime on his phone. Upon their return home, Hayes allegedly raped Hawke-Petit at Komisarjevsky's request in order to “square things up," an apparent referent to Michaela's assault.

    Although the timeline is unclear, sometime between 9:30 and 9:50 am, Hayes strangled Hawke-Petit. Following her murder, Hayes poured gasoline throughout the house, ensuring he doused Hawke-Petit's dead body with the accelerant. He also poured gasoline on Michaela and Hayley, who were both still alive and tied to their beds with pillowcases over their heads.

    With the house and their victims soaked with gasoline, one of the men lit a match and set the home on fire.

  • William Petit Jr. Was The Only Survivor

    Either directly before or after Hawke-Petit's murder, William Petit managed to free himself and escape the home through a basement window. As Komisarjevsky and Hayes set the house on fire and fled the scene, Petit, who was still bound with rope, made his way to a neighbor's house to get help.

    When a neighbor discovered Petit around 9:50 am, he didn't recognize the doctor because of how severely the intruders had beaten him. The neighbor recalled Petit yelling, “The girls are in the house!” The men alerted nearby police officers, but first responders were unable to save Hayley and Michaela, rendering Petit the only survivor of the home invasion.

  • Hayley Petit Attempted To Escape The Fire

    During Steven Hayes's trial, the prosecution called medical examiner Dr. H. Wayn Carver to the stand. Carver performed the autopsies of both Hayley and Michaela Petit and determined they died from smoke inhalation; however, while Michaela was unable to free herself from the bed where her assailants bound her, Hayley managed to untie herself and make her way to the staircase before succumbing to the smoke.

    Carver stated that 75.6% of Michaela's oxygen-carrying capacity of blood was filled with carbon monoxide, adding that even 30% would be lethal. Carver added that “There were no markers to tell me if any of the skin (burn) injuries occurred before or after she died,” regarding Michaela's autopsy. That said, Michaela may have remained alive for several minutes.