Incest claim in Fresno slayings
Investigators shocked by grim scene where 9 bodies found
Jim Herron Zamora, Ryan Kim, Chronicle Staff Writers
Sunday, March 14, 2004
Fresno -- The man accused of killing nine people may have fathered two of the victims with his own daughters, police said Saturday as their investigation of the multiple slayings broadened to include evidence of incest and polygamy.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Marcus Wesson, 57, the sole suspect in the probe, appears to be both father and grandfather of two of the victims. He also said that the children were confined to the house for most of the eight months they lived there, emerging so rarely that neighbors never saw them.
Dyer said DNA evidence would be needed to sort out the familial relationships. He said the possibility of incest arose during police interrogations of women with whom Wesson was intimate.
"In my 25-year law enforcement career, this is by far the most shocking thing I've even seen," Dyer said. "We've been told that suspect Wesson is the father of at least two of his grandchildren."
Without elaborating Saturday, Dyer described an apparently incestuous family arrangement in which Wesson fathered children with at least four women, two of whom were apparently his daughters.
Police said Wesson moved to Fresno in early 1999 from the Salinas- Watsonville area, after having lived in the San Jose area for many years. A man identifying himself to reporters as Wesson's son, Dorian Wesson, 29, of Santa Cruz, appeared at the Fresno house Saturday, describing Marcus Wesson as a good father who was born in Kansas. The man left before he could be positively identified.
Marcus Wesson was arrested after a two-hour standoff with police on Friday. Authorities said he would be charged in connection with the deaths of all nine victims and arraigned early this week.
All of the victims are believed to be his children, authorities said.
When officers looked inside the house that evening, they found a twisted heap of bodies. They have been identified as a 24-year-old woman, a 17-year- old female, an 8-year-old girl, a 7-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy, a 4-year- old boy, a 1-year-old boy and two 1-year-old girls.
Officers also found 10 empty caskets. Police said they are unclear on their significance.
Officers were initially called to the house in central Fresno at 2:30 p.m. by two women who told officers they had given custody of their children to Wesson but had changed their minds. Two other mothers of Wesson's children were at the house at the time but fled when police arrived, police said. Neighbors reported hearing gunshots in the house prior to the police arriving.
Wesson surrendered after two hours and emerged with blood on his shirt. Law enforcement officials worked into the night removing the bodies. The scene was so grim that some officers sought counseling.
Police do not have a motive in the killings, nor could they confirm the cause of death for the victims. They are investigating a cult angle among their theories.
"It is possible the suspect and the individual at this location had a different belief system, and we are exploring that," Dyer said.
Neighbors and acquaintances shared stories Saturday of Wesson -- whom they called a mysterious and menacing figure whose bizarre behavior often confounded them.
Frank Muna, a Fresno real estate attorney, met Wesson in 1999 when Muna sold his historic home to five women who were being represented by Wesson. Muna sold the 4,000-square-foot home for just $100,000 after much of it was gutted in a fire. He identified the women on the title as Ruby Sanchez, Sorfina Solorio, Rosa Solorio, Kiana Wesson and Sebreneh Wesson.
Wesson and the women, who were planning to renovate the home and move in, stayed in a 500-square-foot storage shed in the backyard, Muna said. They quickly fell behind on payments and made little progress on the reconstruction.
During his many unannounced visits to the house, Muna said it was clear Wesson was in charge and exhibited enormous control over the women. Whenever he visited, the women would stand silently behind Wesson in what Muna called a show of submission and would literally jump up when he gave a command.
Although neighbors had complained of cultlike habits and apparent polygamy, Muna preferred to think of the arrangement as an odd patriarchal mini-commune.
"Over time, it became clear that they would jump whenever he spoke," said Muna. "I never saw any signs of physical abuse or intimidation, but he had this strange, powerful control over all these women."
He said he first saw the 10 coffins at the house more than two years ago.
"I thought that was very odd and disturbing," said Muna. "His behavior became more and more bizarre over the last two to three years."
He recalls receiving long, rambling letters from Wesson with quasi- religious themes that didn't seem tied to any established religions. Muna eventually took back the house and sold it to a third party.
Current neighbors said he moved into the West Hammond Avenue home eight months ago with three women, one in her 40s and two younger women in their late teens or early 20s. Several neighbors never noticed any children at the home before Friday.
"I never saw a single kid there. I never heard a kid laughing or crying," said neighbor Tony Collazo, 44. "There was no reason to believe there was ever a kid there since these people moved in."
Another neighbor, Barbara Alec, 61, said she didn't know what to make of Wesson and his household. She said the women's habit of always dressing in black when they ventured out and traveling only as a group struck her as odd.
On Friday, a couple hours before the standoff, she remembers hearing an argument in front of Wesson's home and seeing the older woman screaming along with two men and a woman she had never seen before.
"The woman was screaming and crying and saying, 'I didn't think it was going to be this way. It wasn't supposed to be this way,' '' Alec said.
Wesson, who wore his hair in dreadlocks and whose weight approached 300 pounds, was often seen wearing a T-shirt and jeans and didn't appear to have a job, neighbors said. He kept to himself and never engaged his neighbors, projecting an air of intimidation, several neighbors said.
Tognazzini described Wesson as a heavy-set man who wore his hair in dreadlocks. Wesson had lived at the house for the past several months and entertained many women there, he said. Tognazzini said he never saw any children but would occasionally spot Wesson at his home "working late at night'' on some unknown project. The Fresno neighborhood is plagued by street crime, including prostitution, Tognazzini said.
The three women Wesson lived with almost always wore black skirts and blouses and high heels, even when they worked outside, neighbors said. When they took out the trash, they could be seen walking together.
Just before Christmas, a large yellow school bus appeared on the front driveway of the small home. Wesson and the three women took to working on the bus sometimes late into the night. Witnesses said the modified bus, with the back opened up, contained a hot tub, a captain's steering wheel and at least four more coffins.
Alec recalls not long ago nearly running into Wesson near the back of her house, which runs up very close to his.
"He looked up like he was startled," said Alec. "The look he gave me was the scariest thing I'd ever seen. It made me feel creepy, like the hairs on my necks were standing up."
Neighbor Linda Morales, 44, said Wesson appeared to exert a powerful hold on the women. She recalls one night two weeks ago when the oldest woman knocked on her door, telling her she was scared of Wesson and wanted to use the phone. While the woman used the cordless phone inside the house, Wesson approached the house and demanded to be let in.
"He said, 'C'mon, c'mon, let me in there. You're making a big mistake,' '' said Morales. "He looked at me real scary, like maybe he was going to go off and hit me, but he held back."
The woman later returned home that night and acted as if nothing was wrong, Morales said.
Maria Elena Leyva forbade her two children from playing around Wesson's home because she feared what was going on there. She said everyone in the neighborhood was scared of Wesson and intrigued by the constant tinkering he and the women did on the bus.
"I always thought they were crazy," said Leyva. "The way he controlled those women seemed very strange."
On Saturday, a steady procession of strangers paraded through the neighborhood, which sits along noisy railroad tracks, to pray, grieve and leave behind flowers and candles. Many expressed outrage at the killings and wondered aloud how anyone could be capable of such bloodshed.
"I just can't believe someone would kill little children." said Irene Villan of Fresno, who brought along her 5-year-old granddaughter Alezay Porras. "I don't know what they were thinking. Were they crazy, were they in a cult? Why would you kill little children? It makes no sense."
E-mail the writers at jzamora@sfchronicle
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