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Popeye the peacock's death shocked his town. Months later, the community still wonders who shot their beloved mascot

Allison Steele, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

CLARKSBORO, N.J. -- Tina Finocchiaro likes thinking back to the day last summer when Popeye the peacock stopped traffic. She heard honking outside her home in Clarksboro, Gloucester County, N.J., and saw cars gridlocked in both directions along the normally empty West Cohawkin Road.

Then a bright flash of blue, and iridescent feathers flickering between bumpers.

"There was Popeye, just walking straight down the center yellow line," she said. "Not walking, sauntering. But that's the way he was. He was a renegade."

More than that, Popeye was the mascot of Finocchiaro's small community. He lived on Finocchiaro's property, but it seemed there was no one who hadn't seen the wild peacock prancing through a yard, tapping on a patio door with his beak, or perching on a car.

Then the unthinkable happened: Someone shot Popeye in August, and days later the beloved bird was put to sleep. Police launched an investigation, but no suspects emerged.

Meanwhile, the outpouring of grief surprised even Finocchiaro, who found herself consoling kids and adults.

 

"I saw how sad the children were," said Finocchiaro, 68.

So she decided to do something about it.

Clarksboro is a mostly rural town of about 2,600 people, sitting 10 minutes from the Delaware River and about 15 miles south of Camden. Finocchiaro's family has lived in the area for generations, with Finocchiaro and her husband, Philip, raising three children. The community remains a mix of farms, forest, and modest family homes.

When Finocchiaro's parents lived on the property, they were often visited by a flock of wild peacocks that came out of the woods to wreak havoc. Eventually, neighbors got fed up and called animal control.

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