RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Answers to what led to the slayings of a mother and her three children in a western North Carolina home might have died along with the suspect, who killed himself as police closed in on him along a stretch of Utah highway, investigators said Wednesday.
For almost a week, Conover police detectives were trying to find the man witnesses said was lurking outside the home and grabbed one of the victims, yanking her inside. As sheriff’s deputies in southwestern Utah Tuesday night chased that suspect, alleged opium trafficker Chiew Chan Saevang of Wisconsin, he killed his girlfriend, Yer Yang, then himself, police said.
With no chance to question him in the shooting and stabbing deaths of Lisa Saephan and her three children — 20-year-old Melanie, 18-year-old Pauline and 4-year-old Cody — what exactly happened on March 12 in the quiet subdivision remains a mystery.
“It’s like trying to put together a big puzzle,” said Coy Reid, chief deputy with North Carolina’s Catawba County Sheriff’s Office. “They could’ve finished the rest of the pieces. We still have a lot to tie up and finish in the investigation.”
Authorities said that investigation could ultimately end with Saephan’s husband facing charges of trafficking drugs. Although he is not implicated in his family’s slayings, detectives suggested that Brian Tzeo‘s involvement in a trafficking ring with the suspects may have been behind the attacks.
“The information we have suggests the father was a drug distributor,” Reid said. “He has cooperated with us. And we’re not at liberty to talk about that right now. It’s an ongoing investigation.”
Tzeo hung up when reached by phone.
Seven minutes after North Carolina authorities put out a national alert with Saevang’s license plate, Utah deputies in Washington County spotted his car on Interstate 15 near the southwestern border with Arizona headed west. As deputies gave chase, Saevang’s BMW hit another car, went up an embankment, stopped on a hillside and caught fire. Saevang had fatally shot himself and the 40-year-old Yang, who authorities said was an accomplice in selling drugs and the killings.
Detectives in North Carolina learned of the deaths as they prepared arrest warrants for Saevang for murder and for Yang for accessory after the fact to murder. Reid said days of poring over notes and taking in tips, including those generated by the case’s appearance on “America’s Most Wanted,” led them to the couple. Both were also expected to have been charged with conspiracy to sell opium.
Authorities said Tzeo would receive opium through the mail from Thailand, convert it to heroin and give it to Yang who lived in Long View, in Catawba County. She would take the heroin to Saevang in Wisconsin, where he would sell it, they said.
Kelly ODriscoll, spokeswoman for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, told the Wisconsin State Journal that Saevang had ties to the Schofield, Wis., area, about 130 miles north of Madison.
“There was some drug distribution that came out of that house,” N.C. State Bureau of Investigation spokesman Dave Call said about the North Carolina home.
Investigators would not discuss details about what led Saevang to kill Tzeo’s family in the community about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. They have said Tzeo was at work when his family was killed. Cody was found shot to death at the kitchen table, his fingers still inside his cereal bowl.
Funerals were held Wednesday afternoon for the victims in nearby Newton. Tzeo has said he wants to take his family back to California for burial, but authorities have not said whether they would allow him to leave the state.
Authorities found the victims after a friend of Pauline’s called 911, screaming and sobbing as she told the operator Pauline had just been pulled into her home and stabbed by a man. The friend had picked up Pauline for school that morning, but they went back after the friend said she had seen a suspicious man outside the house.
Tzeo has said he and his wife had separated and that he had an affair but they were still living together and trying to work things out.
Yang’s criminal history showed convictions for forgery and larceny and several charges related to obtaining property by false pretense. Saevang faced several charges of trafficking in opium in Catawba County over the last six years.
Associated Press writer Elizabeth White contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.