FRESNO, Calif. (SMW) – At a small home where authorities found a stack of nine bodies in one room and 10 caskets in another, Fresno police on Friday arrested a man suspected of fathering some of the victims and murdering them all.
Police arrested Marcus Wesson, 57, on suspicion of homicide after a two-hour standoff.
Authorities relayed a twisted scene of death at the house, with the bodies of young women and small children intertwined with clothing and stacked together in a back bedroom.
The bodies were so entangled that it took hours for police to confirm the number of dead. Police Chief Jerry Dyer said: “There may have been some kind of ritual involved, but we have to make that determination.”
In a scene that began shortly after 10 p.m. PST and was expected to continue into the early morning, authorities began removing the bodies of two women and seven children, including infants. Some bodies were so small that they were carried out in white body bags, cradled in the arms of officials.
The majority of victims were female – one in her 20s, one about 17 and children ranging from 1 to 8. Authorities did not release the identities of the victims or causes of death. They did not know whether they were killed in the house or elsewhere. Police believed Wesson had blood on his shirt when he surrendered.
A man who identified himself only as Mike and who said he was Wesson’s brother-in-law said Wesson “thought he was God.”
Police acknowledged that they were investigating a possible cult angle.
Several neighbors reported hearing gunshots. One police officer said some of the victims appeared to have been shot. Police responded to a child-custody dispute at the home at about 2:30 p.m. PST. Two women told officers they had given custody of their children to Wesson and wanted them back. Wesson allegedly refused.
Other women have said they left their children in Wesson’s custody, authorities said.
Neighbor Linda Morales, 44, said she heard two to three gunshots, followed by screaming, between 2:30 and 3 p.m. Friday.
“I started shaking because I have two girls at home with me,” she said. “I just got a jingling in me. It could have been my girls. It’s just too close.”
When police arrived, Wesson ran into the house and locked himself inside. Authorities called in the SWAT team and, after about two hours, Wesson walked outside and surrendered.
Distraught at the news, some relatives of the dead collapsed near the house. At least one woman was taken away by ambulance. Dyer said later that four women who gathered outside the house were the mothers of some of the victims and Wesson was the father.
Dozens of people gathered outside the house during the afternoon and into the evening. A young man who identified himself only as a relative of a victim leaned against a brick wall, not far from the police tape blocking the house. Head bowed and crying, he ignored questions and attempted to get into a parked, green Chevrolet Cavalier. Another man had to help him into the car. They did not drive away, but sat in the car.
Another man, standing about 15 feet from the young man, also identified himself only as a family member of the victims. He said: “Nobody is going to be talking about this. Right now, everybody is pretty upset.”
He cried as he spoke.
The bodies were found in a roughly 1,000-square-foot, one-story home built in 1966. State property records show the house was sold to Rosa Solorio last September for $100,000. Neighbors said Wesson moved in about six to eight months ago.
Police said they found 10 unused caskets in a front room of the house. A friend of Wesson’s children said they had been in the home for a long time; a relative said Wesson intended to use the wood for furniture. Lawyer Frank Muna said he saw the caskets in an antique shop several years ago. They were unique, he said, hand-carved in rich wood and larger than normal. The shop owner told Muna he sold them to Wesson, who had purchased property from Muna a few years ago.
Muna said he always saw several women with Wesson, but the relationships were unclear. He also didn’t know what Wesson did for a living, but he said the man had the same school bus at the time he knew him. That school bus was parked alongside the Hammond house Friday evening. Neighbors said they saw and heard Wesson in the bus only after sunset and well past midnight. Sometimes children would hold a flashlight so that he could work; one neighbor said he thought there was a whirlpool spa in the bus.
Neighbor Christina Morales, 22, said she saw three adult women who wore black dresses working on the bus with Wesson. If they walked away, she said, he would pull them back by their shoulders or hair.
Mike, the man who identified himself as Wesson’s brother-in-law, said Wesson was a Vietnam veteran originally from San Jose.
Kenny Isaac, 35, who has lived in the neighborhood for 13 years, described the home’s residents – including up to six women – as “weird.”
“I only saw the older women,” he said. “They would drive by, and they would glance down. They did not want to look at you.”
One neighbor said the women typically wore black skirts, white or gray blouses and black, high-heeled shoes.
Lupa Montejano, 38, and Laticia Juarez, 24, live on the same street. Juarez said: “They were quiet people. You wouldn’t expect this to happen.”
Barbara Alec, 61, who lives near the house, said she noticed people arriving for what seemed to be a gathering at the house Friday afternoon. She then heard a woman yell from the direction of the house: “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”
She also said residents of the home cooked something with a particularly foul odor two or three times a week: “It smelled real ugly. Everybody complained, but we never thought anything about it.”
Alec said she was shaken by the killings: “I’m so scared now.”
After 9 p.m., police were beginning a search of the home and also were planning to search the school bus. At 10:30 p.m., coroners began to wheel bodies out on gurneys.
Investigators waited several hours before beginning a close examination of the house and the bus. The delay allowed authorities to get the proper search warrants.
Police closed off about a square quarter-mile around the house during the standoff, snarling traffic. The area was sealed off until about 6:30 p.m.
After the streets reopened, people started gathering and milling on the street. Yellow police tape circled roughly 200 feet around the house.
Mayor Alan Autry arrived just before 11:30 p.m., telling reporters: “This is obviously a terrible, horrific tragedy. It appears we have the perpetrator in custody. The only thing we can do now is mourn. We mourn for the kids. We mourn for the police who had to be out here. We mourn for the community.”
The nine deaths represent the largest mass killing in Fresno since 1993, when seven people were killed in the Carrillo’s Club murders in rural Fresno.
Staff writers Donald E. Coleman, Matt Leedy, Jim Davis, Felicia Cousart Matlosz, Louis Galvan and Kerri Ginis contributed to this report.