Q&A may offer clues to family’s death

The Register-Guard, Dec. 4, 2002
By JEFF WRIGHT, The Register-Guard

NEWPORT – The prospect of seeing his money-strapped family forced out on the streets yet again helped push him over the edge, Christian Michael Longo told detectives in a tearful jailhouse interview last January.

Longo gave the four-hour interview the night he was brought back from Mexico to face charges he had murdered his wife and three young children. A 123-page transcript of the interview was released Monday by Lincoln County Circuit Judge Robert Huckleberry.

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Longo presents himself in the interview as a man who struggled hard to provide for his family, and felt remorse when he couldn’t. But he also shows a man capable of casual deceit and evasion.

Longo never admits to the murders – and, in fact, rebuffs several attempts by detectives Roy Brown of the Oregon State Police and Ralph Turre of the Lincoln County sheriff’s office to draw a confession.

At the same time, however, he makes several references to the crimes and his feelings about them. While on the lam in Mexico, for example, he said he “tried not to go to the beach so often, because I noticed I started to think a lot with the water.”

The bodies of Longo’s 34-year-old wife, MaryJane, and their children – Zachery, 4; Sadie, 3; and Madison, 2 – were discovered in coastal waters in Waldport and Newport last December. Longo, now 28, was captured after a Canadian tourist called the FBI to report seeing him in Cancun.

The transcript released this week details the third of three interviews conducted in the days after Longo’s arrest. Huckleberry has yet to rule on defense motions to suppress statements made by Longo in two earlier interviews: one with FBI agent Daniel Clegg on the flight from Cancun to Houston, shortly after Longo was apprehended Jan. 13 at a Mexican tourist camp, and another with Clegg, Brown and Turre in Houston.

Huckleberry is slated to hear arguments on a defense motion for a change of venue on Jan. 23 or 24. Longo’s trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 18.

In his middle-of-the night interview, given in the Newport jail, Longo describes leaving a trail of bill collectors in Michigan and Ohio and heading west with his family.

He talks about pawning his wife’s $3,500 wedding ring – for $700 – in Portland, driving to the coast in search of work and cheaper housing, stealing crab pots to sell them for rent money, and spending lots of time at McDonald’s so his kids could spend a few hours on the playground equipment.

He rails at the indignities of not having his past earning power, of staying in the “roach motels” he swore he’d never patronize, of repeatedly running out of gas for lack of money, of seeing his week’s paycheck as a Starbuck’s employee stretch only a few days.

“I mean, we could get bread and ramen noodles,” he tells Turre. “Which killed me, too, I mean we are used to eating whatever, going to the grocery store, spending two hundred dollars and not even thinking about it. And now we are trying to figure out how we can do it for five bucks.”

Later, Longo describes scrounging for change in the van. “Used to be we would have fifteen dollars worth of change in the ashtray,” he says. “And now we are pulling pennies out of the ashtray.

“So it just, it never got any better, it never got any better.”

Longo says he became hopeful when he found the “perfect spot” for his family, a room at The Landing on Yaquina Bay that included a kitchen and laundry facilities.

But before long he was $1,200 behind in rent and once again without money for groceries.

Things came to a head Dec. 14 when Longo came home from work late at night.

He says he had his usual wine and cheese – “extra sharp, my favorite” – walked out onto the balcony and broke down in tears.

Asked what he was thinking about at the time, Longo says his family. “I was thinking that they were in that situation too long with me. That they deserved, they deserved much better. I didn’t know if I could give it to them.”

But when pressed to say what happened next, Longo refuses. “This is the point that I promised myself that I would talk to somebody else first,” he says.

A few minutes later, Brown asks Longo if he went first to 2-year-old Madison. Longo says no, and then there’s a sigh and long silence, according to the transcript.

“It is hard to relive it, isn’t it,” Turre says.

“I have been reliving it every night,” Longo responds.

Before arriving in Oregon, Longo had been “disfellowshiped” by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, of which his wife was a member. In the interview, he says he felt his religious lapses could bring down not only himself but his children. “We’re trained that the kids go up or down with the parents,” he says.

Turre at one point suggests that Longo’s is a “classic” case of “familicide” – whereby a father who can’t provide for his loved ones instead kills them in the belief that they’ll be in a better place.

But Longo again rebuffs the invitation to say more. “I don’t know if I can safely comment on that right now,” he says.

He is less restrained when asked to describe his efforts to flee Oregon. He says he decided on Mexico because “I always wanted to learn Spanish” and because Canada “never made that big of an impression on me.”

He describes driving to San Francisco, finding a cheap airfare on the Internet, and feeling extremely afraid he would be caught as he boarded a plane first for Dallas and then Cancun.

Once in Mexico, he took a fancy to exploring local ruins. “I could go there and just try to concentrate on another civilization, another life time, didn’t have to think about anything,” he says.

Longo says he hooked up with a female tourist from Germany, a photographer, and they decided to create some tourist brochures – her photos, his writing – as a way to earn money. He and the German tourist had sex on at least one occasion, he says.

The two of them and other tourists were exploring an underwater cave system when a number of police officers rushed toward them. “Everybody thought it was a drug raid,” Longo says. In fact, they had come to arrest him.

Longo says he briefly felt embarrassment – the German tourist “was there and she didn’t know anything of what was going on” – but then felt “a big weight off my shoulders. … Just kind of in relief, knowing that I was going back to the states and everything was going to be out.”

Near the end of the interview, Turre asks if Longo would ever allow anyone to intentionally hurt his family. “No,” Longo replies. “My family is everything.”


Jailhouse interview between murder defendant Christian Longo and detectives Roy Brown and Ralph Turre on Jan. 15, 2002

On being poor:

Longo: I calculated to the penny what my paycheck was going to be every week, so I knew what we could afford.

Brown: Well, it sure makes a difference, going from 40,000 (dollars), it’s a big, big difference.

Longo: To four thousand.

Brown: To four thousand.

Longo: It was horrible. And I’m, I’m a pretty proud person, too. It was, it was tough to take. Just (inaudible) more because my wife knew what I could do.

On other suspects:

Turre: Let me ask you this, Chris. Is there anyone else we need to be looking for? For the deaths of your family?

Longo: Not that I’m aware of.

Turre: OK, let me ask you this. Could anyone else have killed your family?

Longo: (Sniff.) I’m going to wait on that, I mean, that’s a loaded question. They are all loaded questions, but I’m going to wait.

On words unspoken:

Brown: If your kids and wife were here, what would you say to them?

Longo: I would want to reiterate how much my family meant to me. That they had a biggest bearing on anything that I ever did, every action I ever took, whether honest or dishonest. Because I wanted the best possible life for them … I just love my family. And I hope I can see them again.

– Lincoln County sheriff’s office


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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday December 6, 2002.
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