FBI agents will assist sheriff's homicide investigators to determine whether five members of a Rancho Santa Fe family were killed by international terrorists, or if Ian Stuart Spiro killed his wife and three children and later committed suicide by swallowing cyanide.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department announced the FBI's involvement in a brief statement released Tuesday. Local authorities insisted that the announcement does not suggest that the high-profile case has taken a new or dramatic twist.
Ron Orrantia, FBI spokesman in San Diego, said his agency's role will be strictly "supportive." He said FBI agents have been involved in the investigation from the beginning in "an informal fashion." The sheriff's statement says the FBI was formally asked to join the investigation Monday afternoon.
In addition to assisting sheriff's investigators in analyzing forensic evidence, FBI agents will also be used to investigate leads "across the United States and abroad," the statement said.
Gail Spiro, 40, and the couple's children--Sara, 16; Dina, 10, and Adam, 14--were found shot to death Nov. 5 in separate bedrooms of the four-bedroom house they rented in the wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe. Each had been shot in the head.
Sheriff's homicide Lt. John Tenwolde said the murder weapon has not been recovered.
Ian Spiro, 46, a British businessman, was found dead Nov. 8 inside his leased 1992 Ford Explorer in a canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, about 70 miles northeast of Rancho Santa Fe. An autopsy revealed that Spiro died from cyanide poisoning.
British press reports have identified Spiro as a spy with connections to the CIA and British intelligence services. Several newspapers in England have reported that he was involved with Oliver North and Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite in seeking the release of hostages held in Lebanon by Muslim fundamentalist groups.
These press reports have also alleged that Spiro and his family may have been killed by international terrorists. San Diego sheriff's officials, however, say their investigation has failed to produce any evidence that the family was killed as part of an international conspiracy.
"We have no evidence to date that leads us to believe that any of that is true, or that any of this had anything to with the deaths of the Spiro family," Tenwolde said. "But these allegations are so serious we can't discount them. To that end, we have enlisted the support of the FBI to assist us in probing them."
Meanwhile, Spiro's brother-in-law says Spiro feared for his life because he was named in a recently published book about the kidnaping of Terry Waite and the release of Western hostages in Lebanon.
According to the book, "Terry Waite & Ollie North; The Untold Story of the Kidnaping and the Release," by Gavin Hewitt, Spiro had contact with Shiite Muslims and worked with Waite in his attempts to secure the release of the hostages.
The book alleges that Waite was introduced to Spiro by North in 1987, and details Spiro's alleged role in the effort to free the hostages. Ken Quarton, Spiro's brother-in-law, said Spiro called him in England from his Rancho Santa Fe home two weeks before the family's deaths.
According to Quarton, Spiro said that "he was very worried" about his name appearing in the book and that he "was getting very disturbing phone calls." However, Quarton said Spiro did not elaborate.
He also said it was "totally inconceivable" that Spiro would kill his family and then commit suicide.
Tenwolde said the only indisputable facts in the case are that Gail Spiro and the three children were killed in their home and that Spiro died from cyanide poisoning.
"He died of cyanide poisoning, but we have yet to conclude that he committed suicide," Tenwolde said. "We're investigating both sets of killings as if they were both murder cases."
Homicide investigators identified Spiro as a suspect in the killings Nov. 7, the day before his body was found in the desert. A housekeeper has told investigators she saw Spiro dressed in a robe on the morning of Nov. 2, when she reported for work. The woman said Spiro sent her home before she had a chance to begin cleaning.
Investigators believe the family was killed late Nov. 1 or early Nov. 2.
It was also revealed Tuesday that the search warrant and a supporting affidavit filed by the sheriff's investigators and used as the basis to search the Spiro home were ordered sealed by Municipal Judge Patricia Cowett on Friday. Sheriff's investigators requested that the documents be sealed, Cowett said.
"They had good, solid reasons that related to what they found (in the search) and how it affected the ongoing investigation," she said.
Sheriff's spokesman Dan Greenblat called the request to seal the court documents routine. He said the request is normal in high-profile cases to keep "the investigation orderly."