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Murder on Halloween: The 'Trick-or-Treat Slaying'

The outline of a face can be seen on the other side of a frosted glass door

It was 11pm on Halloween night of 1957 when the doorbell rang at 35-year-old Peter Fabiano’s front door. Peter lived on Community Street in Sun Valley, California, with his wife, Betty and his stepdaughter, Judy.

The couple had been married for around three years, and Peter was a prosperous beauty salon owner and Marine Corps veteran of World War II. They had met while Peter was working at a bar in downtown Los Angeles. At the time, Betty was running a beauty shop, and she suggested Peter come work with her. They became partners, and their success allowed them to open up a branch store.

That night, the couple lay in bed contemplating opening up the door to what they presumed was trick-or-treaters. It was Halloween, after all, and the couple had spent much of the evening handing out candy to the local children. Betty turned to her husband and said they had no candy left, but Peter was sure they did. Betty later recalled: “Peter insisted that we have a lot. He got a kick out of Halloween."

Peter got up out of bed and pulled on his dressing gown and slippers. He approached the front door and swung it open. Betty remained upstairs in bed. She heard her husband laugh and say: “Isn’t it a little late for this?” She then heard somebody respond emphatically: “No.” Seconds later, the distinctive sound of a gunshot emanated through the family’s home.

Betty bolted down the stairs and found Peter lying on his back just inside the front door. There was blood seeping through his dressing gown and he was clutching his chest. She immediately called for Judy who ran two doors down to the home of Valley Division Police Officer Bud Alper.

Peter was immediately rushed to Sun Valley Receiving Hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. He had been killed by a small calibre bullet wound that had penetrated his heart.

Investigators descended on the couple’s home to begin their inquiry. They speculated that the killer must have been dressed up in a Halloween outfit because of the comments Peter made before he was fatally shot.

One of the first points of action for investigators was to try and establish a motive. They were perplexed by the seemingly random nature of the shooting; by all accounts, Peter was a well-rounded and well-liked man. Homicide Det. Sgt. Charles Stewart commented in the media: “We’re doing a lot of leg work and checking into background principles.”

The case became known as the 'Trick-or-Treat Slaying' in the media and it gripped the nation, even more so when an arrest was made on 12th November. Joan Rabel was a 40-year-old Hollywood divorcee and native of Lithuania. She was a freelance photographer and had once worked part-time for Peter at his beauty salon.

Investigators connected Rabel to the murder during routine interviews. She described Peter and Betty as “two of my close friends” but provided an alibi for the night of the murder that turned out to be false. While Rabel claimed to be at home when the murder was being carried out, investigators learned that she borrowed a friend’s car that night, and the car matched the description of one seen near Peter and Betty’s home.

When queried about this, Rabel admitted to borrowing the car. She claimed she had only driven around four miles in the car, but according to the speedometer, she had driven 37 miles. The inconsistencies led to Rabel being arrested and charged with Peter’s murder.

When Betty was informed of the arrest, she didn’t seem too surprised. She informed investigators that she and Peter had gone through a rough patch in their marriage. During this tricky time, Betty had become close friends with Rabel. When they reconciled, one ultimatum Peter had given her was that she needed to sever her friendship with Rabel. Peter was never too fond of Rabel, and as Betty recalled: “Pete was the only one who had Joan figured out for what she is. We separated because of my friendship with her. Finally, we reconciled when I realized that my husband was right.”

After being charged with the murder, Rabel pleaded not guilty. She was ordered to stand trial. Just days later, however, there was another shocking twist in the case when a woman in her 40s came forward to confess to her role in the murder. Goldyne Pizer informed investigators that she had been persuaded to kill Peter, whom she had never met, by Rabel, her good friend.

As Pizer recalled: “Joan told me he was an evil man, that he was mean to his wife, and that he’d threatened Joan. I’ve always been the kind of person who’s faithful to her friends, Joan was my friend. I’d known her for four years. I was so worried about her. She kept telling me about Peter Fabiano – how much he hated her. I couldn’t think anymore. She almost had me under a hypnotic spell. I’ve never hurt anyone. But I’d do anything for a friend.”

Rabel had confided in Pizer that she wanted to have Peter killed. The two women spoke of various ways the murder could be carried out – poison or a knife – but ultimately, they decided on using a gun. They also settled on Halloween because they could wear a disguise without arousing any suspicion. On 21st September 1957, Pizer purchased a .32-calibre revolver, and the two women began plotting their gruesome plan.

On Halloween night, Rabel borrowed a friend’s car and picked Pizer up at her home. The two women drove over to Peter’s home. Rabel stayed inside the parked car as Pizer approached the front door and rang the doorbell. She was carrying the murder weapon in a brown paper bag and was donning a disguise of men’s clothing and grotesque makeup on her face, as well as a fat-cheeked mask. She exchanged a few words with Peter before shooting him once in the chest.

Following Pizer’s arrest, she came to learn that Rabel had been feeding her lies about Peter. There was no evidence that Peter was abusive; it was simply a ruse to get Pizer to carry out the murder. After Pizer made a full and detailed confession, she said: “I wish I’d called the police. So many times, I tried to get her to go to the police and tell them about Fabiano. I didn’t know what kind of woman she really is. I didn’t know how cold she could be until today.”

Pizer also pleaded not guilty to the murder and was ordered to stand trial alongside Rabel. However, on 11th March 1958, both Rabel and Pizer changed their pleas and instead pled guilty to second-degree murder. They were both sentenced to five years to life in prison.

In 1998, Goldyne passed away in Los Angeles after serving her time. What became of Rabel following her release from prison remains a mystery.