RIVERSIDE — Hikers in a secluded area south of Mt. San Jacinto have found the body of an aspiring Los Angeles movie-maker who was suspected of killing his estranged wife and daughter last month, sheriff's deputies said Monday.
Based on personal effects and other items found near the body, authorities said they believe that Aziz Ghazal shot and killed himself. Ghazal probably committed suicide within hours of killing his wife, Rebecca Vollstedt Ghazal, 38, and the couple's 13-year-old daughter, Khadijah Ghazal, said Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Lohman. Ghazal's body was discovered by two hikers Sunday afternoon, and authorities found a handgun nearby.
The body was removed from the mountainside Monday afternoon for identification and an autopsy by the Riverside County coroner's office.
Aziz Ghazal, who lived on Los Angeles' Westside, was last seen Dec. 1, running from the family's cabin in the mountain community of Pine Cove after it erupted in flames. Firefighters found the bodies inside the home. Aziz Ghazal's car was found abandoned several hundred yards away. Blood in and around the car indicated that he was injured. His body was found several miles from the car.
After the murders, a number of people involved in the film industry and students and staff at USC where he had worked said they feared for their safety because Aziz Ghazal had displayed volatile behavior.
Aziz Ghazal was fired in October from USC's School of Cinema-Television, reportedly after a dispute over a missing camera. He managed the school's equipment room and controlled the use of cameras, lights and other equipment borrowed by student filmmakers. His nurturing of students wanting to produce low-budget films--and his display of temper for those who abused the equipment--was well-known in the tightknit school.
"He was mercurial--charming and gregarious, supportive and eager for the students, and then quite bitter and volatile and explosive," said USC student Josh Kafka. "If you didn't do something right, he was intolerant. He had a great knowledge of filmmaking and equipment, but I found him personally too difficult to bear."
His wife sued him for divorce last year, and, according to court records, she said he was abusive during most of their 16-year marriage. In one incident last year, witnesses said Ghazal attacked his daughter in front of the school where she had been elected to the cheerleading squad on the same day she was killed.
Rebecca Ghazal had won custody of the couple's three children--including two boys who were away from the cabin at the time of the attack. The couple bought the cabin as a getaway, but his wife and children lived there full time after she won a restraining order against her husband last year.
Ghazal had produced the critically acclaimed alternative film "The Natural History of Parking Lots," and filmed a low-budget horror film, "Zombie High." Most recently he was pitching a film called "The Brave," to Jodi Foster, Oliver Stone and Touchstone Pictures. The script involved an impoverished man who was willing to become the victim in a "snuff film" so his family would reap the financial benefits.