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Inmate Hangs Himself 25 Years After Killing Most of Family

May 28, 2000|From Times Wire Services

A former Eagle Scout who killed his parents and sister and paralyzed his brother in a hatchet attack in their San Diego home 25 years ago was found hanged in his cell, authorities said.

Daniel Altstadt was pronounced dead at 4:07 a.m. Friday, Fresno County Deputy Coroner George Pimentel said Saturday.

That was about an hour after guards found him in a cell with a shoelace wrapped around his neck, said Lt. Rick Martinez of Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.

Efforts to revive him failed.

Altstadt, 43, arrived at the prison May 11 after being transferred from the lower-security California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Saturday.

The transfer "was administrative, but there were disciplinary issues," Martinez told the newspaper.

Altstadt was assigned a private cell.

"He had concerns for his well-being, for his own safety," said Martinez, who declined to elaborate.

He was not on suicide watch and had not shown any evidence of being a danger to himself, prison officials said.

"He had no history of this whatever," Martinez said.

Altstadt also had no history of violence before he killed most of his family Feb. 22, 1975, at their home in the San Carlos area of San Diego.

The former Eagle Scout was a football player who got A's and B's at Henry High School.

Altstadt was 18 when he used a hatchet to kill his father, William, 45, mother, Maxine, 41, and sister, Nancy, 19. His brother, Gary, survived but his spinal cord was severed and he was left paralyzed.

After the carnage, Altstadt set the house on fire.

A jury convicted him of the first-degree murder of his parents, the involuntary manslaughter of his sister and arson. He was acquitted of a charge of assault with a deadly weapon against his brother.

In the second phase of his trial, jurors found that he was legally sane when he killed his father--the first victim--but insane when he killed his mother and sister.

Thomas Whelan, a federal judge who tried the case as a San Diego County prosecutor, argued that Altstadt planned the killings to gain insurance money.

Donald Meloche, who defended Altstadt, argued at trial that his client snapped from the pressure of an overbearing and demanding father.

Meloche said the father was so meticulous that he painted markings on the garage to pinpoint where the car should be parked, and demanded that his children store socks toe-forward in a drawer.

However, Meloche said Friday that a domineering father did not fully explain the violence.

"This thing has haunted me ever since then," Meloche said. "It was probably the most difficult case I ever had in the criminal field.

"I just think we never got to the core of what the problem was with Dan."

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