- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A man suspected of murdering nine of his family members apparently was involved in polygamy and incest, fathering two of the victims with his own daughters, police said yesterday.

The bodies of six females and three males, ages 1 to 24, were found tangled in the back room of Marcus Wesson’s home Friday. Fresno’s largest mass slaying ever quadrupled its homicides for the year in a single night and disturbed some of the first officers into the house so much that some immediately needed counseling and were placed on administrative leave.

Six police chaplains were at the house throughout the evening as detectives continued to gather evidence.

Mr. Wesson, 57, described by police as “very calm,” was arrested Friday after emerging from his home covered in blood. He has fathered children with at least four women, two of whom are his own daughters, said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.

“We are exploring the possibility that there were other women he was involved with, either sexually or in some sort of polygamist relationship,” Chief Dyer said.

Police said they believe all the victims are members of Mr. Wesson’s family, but they declined to release names pending notification of kin.

Mr. Wesson was cooperating with authorities, who planned to charge him with nine counts of murder, Chief Dyer said.

“If this does not qualify for the death sentence, then there is no case that would,” the chief said.

He said police believe they know the cause of death but would not release that information.

“I can tell you that there were no mutilations,” Chief Dyer said. “The bodies were intact.”

Six coroners, triple the typical weekend staff, were working yesterday to identify the victims and determine how they were killed, Deputy Fresno County Coroner Sarah Davis said.

Officers originally were called to the home Friday afternoon for a child custody dispute.

Inside was a discovery so grisly it reduced Chief Dyer to tears. The bodies were so entangled in a pile of clothing that it took hours for investigators to reach a final count, police said.

Police were not sure of a motive, but Chief Dyer said “there may have been some type of ritual” involved. Ten coffins lined a wall inside the home’s front room.

“I’ve been with the Fresno Police Department for 25 years, and I’ve never experienced anything of this nature,” said the chief, who wiped his eyes Friday night as officers carried bodies out of the home, cradling the youngest ones in their arms.

Officers were called to the home by two women who said a man had their children and would not release them.

A neighbor, Chris Tognazzini, said he heard two gunshots moments before police arrived.

Chief Dyer said the women who called authorities told them they had given custody of their children to Mr. Wesson two years ago and now wanted them back.

The slayings shocked authorities in Fresno, a city of 440,000 about 190 miles southeast of San Francisco. Chief Dyer said the city had recorded three murders in the past 2 months, the fewest number for a 10-week period in more than three decades.

The nine deaths represent the largest mass killing in this San Joaquin Valley city since 1993, when seven people were killed in rural Fresno.

“The only thing we can do now is mourn. We mourn for the kids; we mourn for the police,” said Mayor Alan Autry. “We will never be the same again.”

Neighbors who milled around outside said they knew little about Mr. Wesson or the house where a large yellow bus was parked in the driveway.

“He never said, ‘Hi,’” said Linda Morales. “I’d drive by, and he’d make a point to turn his face.”

Another neighbor, Johnny Rios, said that on many nights, he heard loud banging coming from the house, as though the people inside were building something.

“There was something up over there,” Mr. Rios said.

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