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Sense of Mystery Deepens Over Slaying of Family : Murders: Ian Spiro had financial problems and ties to spy agencies. But did he kill his wife and children?


RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. — Since moving to this cloistered upscale community last year, Ian and Gail Spiro and their attractive, redheaded children maintained an active, outgoing and prosperous lifestyle.

Sara, 16, and Adam, 14, rode horses and skateboards. Gail, 41, served on the local Welcome Wagon when she wasn't playing tennis or bridge at a tony country club. And Ian Stuart Spiro, 46, who described himself as an international commodities broker, dropped by the Fairbanks Country Day School most afternoons to pick up precocious Dina, 11, the couple's youngest child.

Long before Spiro's family was brutally slain this month in a confounding case that has rocked San Diego County and resulted in a stream of sensational murder theories, various pressures may have begun eating away at the engaging but shadowy British businessman.

For one thing, Spiro, who leased a sprawling, four-bedroom home for his family, was falling behind on the $5,000-a-month rent, his car payments and the grocery bills.

According to friends and relatives, Spiro had begun voicing ominous concerns in October about a series of vague telephone threats. The calls, they say Spiro told them, stemmed from his murky activities during the past decade in war-torn Lebanon. Telling a friend he wanted to protect his family, Spiro borrowed a .38-caliber revolver.

On Halloween, a Saturday, the Spiros attended an afternoon carnival at Dina's school, where Gail helped run the fifth-grade class booth. Later, they trick-or-treated with Dina, who was dressed in a witch's costume, and ate dinner and played bridge at the home of a Solana Beach couple whom they had first met while living on the French Riviera during the mid-1980s.

At 6 p.m. Sunday, Ian Spiro visited a local video store and rented three family films. Then, or so it seemed, the Spiros vanished.

Four days later, shortly after dark, concerned neighbors walked up the sloping driveway of the family's shake-roofed home and peeked in a bedroom window by the pool. On the bed was Dina's lifeless body, a bullet in her head.

When sheriff's deputies arrived, they also found the bodies of Gail, Adam and Sara in their own bedrooms--each shot in the head. The four had apparently died, forensic tests showed, on Sunday, Nov. 1, or the next day.

Ian Spiro, who was quickly identified as a suspect, was found dead Sunday, Nov. 8, in the front seat of his Ford Explorer in the moonscape setting of Coachwhip Canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, three hours but a veritable world away from sylvan Rancho Santa Fe. The cause of death, authorities said, was cyanide poisoning.

In subsequent weeks, detectives have released few details about the case. But as information dribbles out in daily news accounts, the sense of mystery surrounding the Spiro family slayings deepens.

Web of Intrigue

Mounting evidence indicates that Spiro, as reported shortly after his death in breathy British media accounts, had contacts in the business and intelligence nether worlds of war-torn Lebanon. Some reports suggest that he may have played a role in introducing hostage negotiator, and eventual hostage, Terry Waite to Shiite kidnapers of U.S. and British hostages in Beirut during the mid-1980s.

Sheriff's detectives, who continue to label Spiro a suspect, have called in the FBI to help determine if such connections played a part in the deaths.

"People are talking about terrorists, people are talking about hired assassins, people are talking about political factors that may have influenced this--and we're going to have to explore each and every one of them," said Lt. John Tenwolde, head of the homicide bureau. "This is going to be a long process."

Did Spiro's financial troubles push him over the brink to kill his family and himself, and if so, why did he wait several days to commit suicide? Or could the entire family have been murdered by assailants ranging from angry business partners to international terrorists to Western intelligence agents?

The slim evidence available--coupled with the dearth of details from officials--is ambiguous on several key issues.

The handgun is a good example.

San Diego attorney James W. Street, who described the tall, mustachioed Spiro as a friend and onetime client, told the Sheriff's Department that he lent Spiro a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver two weeks before the family's bodies were discovered. But the reason Spiro said he asked for the weapon, Street said, was to ensure his family's safety.

Sheriff's investigators have refused to clarify the issue by disclosing whether the bullets used in the shootings were of the same caliber as those in the weapon Spiro borrowed.

Uncertainties also abound concerning Spiro's financial situation.

Although real estate sources say Spiro had fallen two months behind in his rent and owed another $5,000 as of Nov. 1, Ken Quarton, Gail Spiro's half-brother, said that Ian had faced serious money problems in the past and never cracked.

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