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Posted on Sun, Mar. 14, 2004
Man accused of killing nine may have fathered grandkids
By David E. Early and Rodney Foo
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
FRESNO - The gruesome scene inside a Fresno building that had been converted into a family home was so horrific that a police official, hardened by nearly three decades of work, was shaken to tears.
"I've been with the Fresno Police Department for 25 years, and I've never experienced anything of this nature," said Chief Jerry Dyer, wiping his eyes while recalling a nightmarish bedroom where stacked corpses, mostly of children, were snared in a mass of clothing.
Charged with responsibility for the worst mass slaying in the city's history was Marcus Wesson, 57. Initially investigators estimated seven bodies, but after hours of untangling the horror, it turned out to be two females, ages 24 and 17, and seven children from ages 1 to 8.
The primary question that authorities could not answer: Was there something that the first officers on the scene could have done to prevent the apparent mass killing?
"We don't know if the deaths occurred before the officers arrived or after the officers arrived," said Dyer, obviously frustrated by the confusion hanging over the incident.
The question results from reports that police were called to a family disturbance shortly after 2 p.m. and were met by two women who said their four children were being held inside by Wesson. The police knocked and spoke with Wesson, who then returned to the house and barricaded himself in a bedroom.
At least one neighbor told the Associated Press he heard two gunshots moments before police arrived, but the officers on the scene didn't hear anything.
The two women warned officers Wesson had weapons, so not wanting to "inflame" a situation where children were at risk, the officers called for a SWAT team and hostage negotiators who came immediately and set up outside the house. An hour passed and suddenly Wesson calmly walked out and surrendered.
This time, unlike the first time officers saw him, Wesson was covered in blood. Inside police found the nine bodies and another oddity: 10 caskets stacked along a wall.
When asked how the victims were killed, the chief would only say, "the cause of death is unique and consistent." Past 10 p.m. Friday, bodies were still being removed. Robert Hensel, Fresno's chief deputy coroner, said his office was having trouble identifying some of the victims "because some of them are so young, we have no fingerprints." He said confirmed identities probably won't be available until Monday.
Authorities said several Fresno-area funeral homes have offered their services free of charge.
Dyer said the investigation was in too early a stage to determine what happened in the house, when it happened and what role the two original officers on the scene could have played in the outcome.
The chief said early indications are that Wesson carried on a maze of complex and unorthodox physical relationships with his family. Dyer said Wesson may have fathered two grandchildren with his daughters -- two of the 1-year-old victims. Police intend to perform myriad DNA tests to clarify such questions, and they will interrogate 10 to 12 relatives and others who might have been at the house before police were summoned. As for the caskets, Dyer said they didn't seem to play any role in the incident and that the officers, whose names were not released, have been put under the care of a police chaplain and psychologist.
Meanwhile, Wesson is expected to be charged with nine counts of first-degree murder. Dyer said that in one night Fresno's homicide rate quadrupled from three to 12.
"We have not ruled out any other suspects in this case," the chief said. "We haven't determined if this is a cult, a sect or a different belief system."
According to neighbors, Wesson lived at 761 Hammond Ave. for about eight months. He was described as aloof, tall and bulky. He wore thick cords of graying dreadlocks so long they dangled below his waist.
"He's a type who could see right through your skin, your body, clothes," said a shaken neighbor, Barbara Alec, 61, about Wesson, who has lived in Fresno, police say, for about three years. Alec said Wesson and his large family, at least twice a week, would burn items in the yard behind the home that would produce an indescribable stench.
"What are they burning?" she wondered all those days.
But on Friday night, she knew exactly why she felt so upset.
"Now I'm very scared," she said. "It's very spooky and weird knowing it was right at my back yard."
Dyer described Wesson as "intelligent, very articulate, very well-spoken." He said Wesson, who has no visible source of income, was calm and cooperative during questioning. The four adult women who live in the house were all employed and gave their money to Wesson to manage. The chief would not comment on what jobs the women held.
Records indicate Wesson was married in 1974 in Santa Clara County. His bride, Elizabeth Solorio, was 15 years old at the time. Wesson lived in East San Jose in the mid-1990s. Neighbors indicated that the house was a Victory Outreach drug and alcohol recovery facility around the same time.
Marcus and Elizabeth Wesson at one point also lived in Watsonville, according to records.
Parked close to the front door of the Wesson home in Fresno is a school bus that had its rear ceiling cut away to resemble a porch.
Neighbors said Wesson and his common-law wife and their two young adult daughters often could be heard at 1 or 2 a.m. drilling, hammering and sawing as they added chrome striping to the bus. The women were always seen wearing large black blouses, long black dresses or loose-fitting slacks.
"He never said 'Hi,'" said Linda Morales, another neighbor. "I'd drive by and he'd make a point to turn his face."