John Litchfield, Suspected In Murder-For-Hire Cold Case, Dies Of Mad Cow Disease

John Litchfield was long suspected of killing the husband of his mistress but will never face justice after dying of mad cow disease in a nursing home.

The 70-year-old was suspected to be responsible for the 1988 killing of Harold “Skeeter” Lyerla, who was stabbed to death by a landscaper named Victor Perea. As the Houston Chronicle reported, police had long suspected that Litchfield was responsible for the slaying and even kept the case open while investigating both Litchfield and his lover, Cynthia Knox, but he was never charged.

Litchfield had died in July after falling ill at a nursing home, the report noted. A medical examiner this week confirmed that he had been suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, commonly referred to as mad cow.

For Lyerla’s family members, it was a disappointing end.

“I wanted him in prison,” Lyerla’s sister, Linda Pickarts, told the Houston Chronicle. “He escaped justice here on Earth, but he’s getting his justice now.”

The case of Lyerla’s death has not been closed. Police said they still have suspicions about Knox, who is in prison for identity theft.

“Up until his death he was a suspect in a murder-for-hire and Cynthia is still a suspect in that investigation,” said Lompoc police Sgt. Kevin Martin. “We are still working that.”

John Litchfield had maintained his innocence, and his lawyer continued to deny involvement even after John’s death.

“There was no proof whatsoever that he was a killer,” said Matt Alford. “Absolutely he was not guilty of that crime.”


Lyerla’s killing had generated national attention, especially after federal agents in 2017 arrested Knox for living under the identity of a baby that had died after one day. There was also plenty of media interest around Perea’s trial, with Knox and Litchfield getting married beforehand and divorcing weeks later. As the Houston Chronicle reported, this led to suspicion that they had only married to avoid having to testify against each other.

There were more twists in later years, with the 13-month-old daughter Knox and Lyerla shared drowning in a shallow pond. Lyerla’s mother later accused Knox and Litchfield of conspiring to kill the children for a life insurance payout.

Knox could still face charges for the murder after her expected release from prison in 2020, Kevin Martin told KSBY.

“I don’t know why the prosecutor at the time declined to file charges, it seems obvious to me (that Knox was involved in the murder),” he said.