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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

2 Bodies Found After Home Fire Doused

Tragedy: Victims are believed to be the estranged couple who had lived in the house. Investigators are trying to determine if it was a murder-suicide.

November 30, 2000|TIMOTHY HUGHES and HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEWBURY PARK — A married couple, onetime high school sweethearts who had been torn apart by domestic violence in recent months, were believed to have been found dead in their home after an early morning fire Wednesday.

Sheriff's Department and county arson investigators worked late into the night Wednesday trying to determine the cause of the fire and to positively identify the victims, believed to be Lee Walter Edson, 39, and his wife, Lenore Marie Edson, 38.

Burned beyond recognition, the bodies were found in an office converted from part of the garage in the home in the 3900 block of Elkwood Avenue. Officials began the identification process using the couple's dental records.

After the bodies were found, authorities immediately picked up the couple's three children from Newbury Park High and a local elementary school.

Authorities had not determined the fire's source but were certain it had started in the garage. Sheriff's spokesman Eric Nishimoto said detectives were investigating whether the couple had accidentally burned to death or if it was a murder-suicide.

"We're pretty much actively investigating this through tomorrow," Nishimoto said. "It's a methodical investigation and we will be here awhile."

Officials said they are treating the fire as both an arson and a homicide scene.

Arson investigators used a specially trained dog to narrow down the point of origin in the large garage and look for evidence. A source close to the investigation said it appeared an accelerant, such as gasoline, had been used to start the fire.

Neighbors, expressing shock over the tragedy, said the couple fell in love while students at nearby Newbury Park High School in the 1970s.

"You just never believe this is going to happen," said Russell Williams, who has lived next door to the family for the last six years and spoke with them often.

Around the corner from the house, on Blackwood Street, friends and family of the couple huddled in the living room of a home owned by Lenore Edson's parents, consoling each other while getting regular updates from sheriff's investigators.

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Lenore Edson's parents also owned the home where Lenore had lived off and on with her husband and children for more than a decade, neighbors said.

About 75 sheriff's and fire investigators combed the property for clues. Hours after the fire was reported, firefighters remained on the roof stamping out hot spots.

Interviews with neighbors and a check of court records revealed a family that had lurched from crisis to crisis in recent months.

Lee Edson, court records showed, was arrested in August on a domestic assault charge involving his wife. He also was charged with attempting to prevent her from notifying the police after the incident.

On Nov. 14, a judge in Ventura ordered Lee Edson to serve 15 days in Ventura County Jail and three years' probation. He also was ordered to pay a $300 fine, enroll in a domestic violence class and participate in a work-release program. Jail officials would not comment on whether he had recently been jailed there.

Fighting and arguing at the home were familiar sights, neighbors said.

Next-door neighbor Kim Fry, who called herself a close friend of Lenore Edson, said the couple's relationship had deteriorated in recent months. She said the couple had separated this year and shared residency of the house with their three children. When he wasn't at the house, Lee Edson was staying at a Ventura motel, Fry said.

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Lenore Edson said her husband had threatened her life on several occasions in recent weeks and left her a suicide note last month, Fry said. "Lenore used to tell me that he was going to kill her. He had assaulted her twice," Fry said. "She kept saying she just wanted to get away from it all."

Shortly after the bodies were discovered, sheriff's officials put out a bulletin searching for Lenore and Lee Edson. After finding Lee Edson's abandoned gray Camaro in a cul de sac a few blocks away later in the day, investigators scaled back their search.

County fire crews were called to the house about 8:35 a.m. Wednesday after a 911 caller reported wisps of smoke coming from the roof. When firefighters doused the small fire about an hour later, they discovered the bodies.

Wednesday afternoon, the couple's three children were staying with relatives nearby.

Since August, Lee Edson had worked for a Camarillo-based telecommunications company, JT Communications. He had been assigned to Verizon Communications in Thousand Oaks, where he tested equipment for digital subscriber lines. Before that, he worked as a shipping supervisor at Light & Sound Design, a Newbury Park company specializing in stage lighting for concerts and corporate events.

Lenore Edson worked as a courier for Conejo Courier & Cartage in Newbury Park. An employee at the company, who declined to give his name, said people at the office grew suspicious "because we hadn't heard from her today."

Lee Edson's love of lighting and music had for years been on display every Fourth of July when he and his family provided the lighting and music for the neighborhood block party, friends said.

In a 1995 Times interview, the couple said they looked forward each year to the block party on Elkwood Street. That year, the couple helped set up stage equipment for live music that was performed on their lawn during the holiday weekend.

"The neighborhood is very family-oriented," Lenore Edson said in a July 2, 1995, interview. "Almost everyone stays in town and goes to the block party."

Times staff writer Tracy Wilson and Times Community News reporters Katie Cooper and Jenifer Ragland contributed to this report. Hughes is a Times staff writer and Wolcott is a Times Community News reporter.

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