Man known for elaborate Christmas display found dead in his home

Posted at 3:51 PM, Dec 23, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-23 15:51:04-05
(CNN) — A man known for his grand 6 million-light Christmas display was found shot and killed in his home on Friday morning.

A family member found John Chakalos, 87, in his home in Windsor, Connecticut, according a Windsor police department press release. The medical examiner’s office ruled that Chakalos died of a gunshot wound to the head.

The police are conducting an active homicide investigation, based on the condition of the body when it was found and because police did not recover a weapon at the scene, Windsor police Capt. Tom Lepore said.

Windsor police were first to arrive on scene, and the department called in the Connecticut State Police major crimes squad to assist, Lepore said.

Detectives are working to piece together events in the weeks leading up to Chakalos’ death, Lepore said.

Chakalos and his wife Rita, who died a week before Thanksgiving, were known in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, and the surrounding area for their elaborate Christmas display at the home they owned there.

The Christmas exhibition takes up approximately half of the couple’s 86-acre property and includes 6 million lights, said Joy Washburn, the property’s caretaker.

Washburn, who has known the Chakalos family for 30 years and worked for them for 25, said she begins working on the display in the second week of August. The display, which has lit up Chesterfield off and on for the past 10 years, is usually completed and ready by Thanksgiving.

For the past five years, the family has invited the public to drive through the estate and requested visitors donate money or nonperishable food for Joan’s Food Pantry.

“Not only do they warm the heart of thousands of people who come through, they warm the hearts of hundreds of people in the community who benefit from food and cash donations,” said Val Starbuck, a Joan’s Food Pantry volunteer.

Visitors come from as far as an hour away to view the Christmas display, Starbuck said. The donations from the display have typically been enough to keep the small pantry filled from January through April, generally the hardest months for people to heat their homes and feed themselves.

The extravagant display includes a lifesize Victorian-style village, complete with houses, a hotel and a general store; a 22-foot Santa to greet visitors when they enter the property; and a Nativity scene, among numerous other decorations.

“There isn’t now in the woods a bush or a tree that doesn’t get lights on it,” Washburn said.

The Christmas display will continue this season, Washburn said, but she did not know if the Chakalos family would continue to light up the neighborhood in the future.

CNN’s attempts to reach Chakalos’ family were unsuccessful.

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