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Officers Are Baffled by Murder-Suicide : Say Woman May Have Thought Her 2 Daughters Couldn't Cope

July 16, 1985|DAVID REYES | Times Staff Writer

A bizarre murder-suicide involving an Anaheim mother of three has baffled homicide investigators, but they have discounted theories that Dalene Akemi Ozeki, a third-generation Japanese-American, meant to take her daughters' lives in a ritualistic suicide, police said Monday.

"We know how it happened, where it happened and when. We don't know why," Anaheim Police Sgt. John Haradon said.

Questions surround Sunday's incident in which Ozeki, 38, took the life of her 11-year-old daughter, Kelli, and then attacked the girl's older sister before committing suicide at the family home in the 2800 block of East Dutch Avenue, Haradon said.

Strangled, Stabbed

Autopsies completed Monday revealed that Kelli died of strangulation from a nylon rope and then was stabbed with a knife, Detective Michael Lopez said.

The mother, who was under a psychiatrist's or psychologist's care, then used the same 8-inch kitchen knife to wound the girl's older sister, Alison, 15, before stabbing herself in the chest, Lopez said. Ozeki died later of a single wound to the heart, he said.

Her husband, George, who was sleeping in a downstairs bedroom, was not injured.

Discussions between investigators and coroner's officials Monday centered on whether the incident was culturally linked to a Japanese tradition of oyako-shinju, a parent-child suicide that reportedly occurs at least once a day in Japan, usually committed by a mother.

"We were talking about this in reference to an attempted suicide in Los Angeles but in this case, she (Ozeki) definitely had a mental and emotional problem," Lopez said, ruling out the possibility of a ceremonial suicide.

He said investigators formed their conclusions after interviews with Ozeki's husband, the woman's psychological counselor, the surviving daughter and a teen-age son.

"As far as motive, the only thing we came up with presently is the mother was very concerned about her daughters growing up in this society. She thought her daughters were rather soft and wouldn't be able to cope with this society. She became obsessed with this and constantly worried about potential abuse--that is, the chances of her daughters being taken advantage of," Lopez said.

The Los Angeles incident that Lopez referred to involved a Japanese immigrant, Fumiko Kimura, 32, whose two children died after she allegedly attempted suicide by walking into the ocean in Santa Monica last January.

In that case, suicide was a central theme, reportedly because of marital troubles. Investigators in that case said her husband's Japanese mistress had been threatening suicide for days, and the husband threatened it after his wife's attempt.

While Dalene Ozeki was troubled and obsessed with her daughters' well-being, suicide was not a topic of discussion in the family home, police said.

In Japan, suicide is considered an honorable way of dying. A mother who kills herself with her children is regarded as disturbed but her act is understood.

Haradon said there was no indication that Ozeki was experiencing marital difficulties. As to why she took her child's life, "only she would know that. We would really like to know, but unfortunately she cannot tell us that," Haradon said.

Husband Was Asleep

The tragedy began about 9 a.m. Sunday. While Ozeki's husband slept, she grabbed a knife and went upstairs to her 11-year-old daughter's bedroom where she apparently strangled the girl and stabbed her once in the chest, police said.

Ozeki then entered the other daughter's bedroom. Alison Ozeki told police she was awakened by someone or something hitting her in the chest. She awoke, saw her mother and managed to escape after a short struggle to awaken her father in a master bedroom downstairs.

The father immediately went upstairs to investigate and found his wife stabbed once in the chest. Meanwhile, the older sister had called the paramedics, investigators said.

Police and neighbors say the Ozekis were originally from Southern California. They moved to Denver and lived there for 10 to 12 years before returning to Southern California. The children's grandparents and other relatives live in this area.

For four years, the family has lived in a quiet, upper-middle-class east Anaheim neighborhood dotted with trees and neatly trimmed lawns. Their house was rented, Detective Lopez said, adding that the family was "in a financial strain."

Attractive but Frail

"That was a family problem, but not a problem in (Sunday's) situation," Lopez said.

Described by neighbors as an attractive but frail woman who seemed always ill and in need of rest, Dalene Ozeki was a Sansei, or third-generation Japanese-American, and "very Americanized."

"She knew how to speak Japanese and she would talk with her mother who came to visit every now and then," said next-door neighbor Katherine Isomura, a Nisei, or second-generation Japanese-American. "But the family was very Americanized."

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