Rita and John Chakalos (submitted photo)
Rita and John Chakalos (submitted photo)
CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- The unexpected death of John Chakalos, the owner of the Pond Brook Road residence known for its grand holiday lights display, is being treated as a homicide after he was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in his Connecticut home Friday.

According to Windsor (Conn.) Police Capt. Tom LePore, his department began investigating the suspicious death of the 87-year-old man immediately after being called to his home on Overlook Drive in Windsor at 8:25 a.m. Friday. He said Chakalos' body was discovered by a family member. Joy Washburn, the caretaker of Chakalos' property at 140 Pond Brook Road in Chesterfield, told the Reformer a private investigator called her around 3 p.m. to inform her Chakalos was found deceased by one of his daughters.

"We have been investigating nonstop since then to unravel the story," LaPore said, adding that suicide has been all but ruled out.

Anyone with information relevant to the case is asked to contact the Windsor Police Department at 860-688-5273, ext. 571.

Chakalos had been a wealthy investor and was mourning the death of his wife, Rita, who died of cancer the week before Thanksgiving. The couple had split their time between their homes in Connecticut and New Hampshire. The two had made a tradition of decorating their 82-acre Chesterfield property with holiday lights for public enjoyment. For several years, guests have been invited to drive through the estate during December if they bring a monetary donation or non-perishable food item for Joan's Food Pantry, an organization of Asbury United Methodist Church. The lights were lit for guests from 6 to 9 p.m. starting Friday, Dec. 13, and ending Sunday, Dec. 22. Washburn said, however, buses from nursing homes were set to be allowed in Monday night and she was expecting some members of the public as well.

Val Starbuck, who volunteers for Joan's Food Pantry, told the Reformer the lights display was not canceled due to the news of John Chakalos' death.

"We knew the family wanted it and we knew John and Rita wanted it. They were so happy the lights were as popular as they were," she said.

This year's display, she said, was dedicated to Rita and there is a sign outside the property's front gate to memorialize her. Starbuck said she added John's name to the sign after learning of his death on Friday.

"Both of them are now our angels," Starbuck said. "We're all so thankful for their generosity, but we are reeling from their deaths at this time. Our hearts go out to the family. I can't fathom how much they are going through right now."

She said there is no memorial service or vigil planned for the John and Rita at this time because most people are busy traveling or planning their Christmases. She said, however, the lights display saw 693 vehicles drive through Saturday night and 689 on Sunday.

Washburn said there will be some sort of memorial in the future.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.