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On Quiet Street, Tragedy Leaves Only Questions

Violence: Four lives are snuffed out in a murder-suicide, leaving neighbors and police to grope for answers.

April 06, 2002|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Out along the tidy lawns of Santa Clara's Madrone Avenue, most neighbors hardly knew the Schiefer family, except to say hello.

That quiet seclusion in the heart of Silicon Valley came to a tragic end, Santa Clara police said Friday, with a murder-suicide that left all four members of the family dead and detectives scrambling to answer why.

Police suspect that Tae Young Schiefer, a 41-year-old native of South Korea, used a .38-caliber pistol to kill her estranged husband, Ulrich, and her two children, Elsa, 12, and Jessica, 5. She then apparently turned the gun, purchased a few weeks earlier, on herself, investigators said.

"No one knew them too well, but they seemed like a normal family, well adjusted," said Albert Orozco, a neighbor who lives two doors down.

"If they were having problems, they sure kept it to themselves."

Detectives suspect the killings occurred Monday evening.

Police say the Schiefers had been having marital difficulties. Ulrich, a 38-year-old native of Germany, had moved out two months ago, taking the youngest daughter. Tae Young had remained in the family home with Elsa, her eldest daughter from a previous marriage.

The couple met in Germany and had been married for eight years.

When Ulrich Schiefer did not show up for work for three days, his boss at a Mountain View software firm drove to the house about noon Thursday, peeked through a glass door and saw a body.

Police later entered the house to find Ulrich Schiefer sprawled on the floor inside the front door, dead of multiple gunshot wounds. Elsa, also dead of a gunshot wound, was on a couch.

The mother and 5-year-old Jessica were discovered upstairs. Tae Young Schiefer still held the pistol, detectives said. The girl's tiny body was in a bed next to her, wrapped in a blanket.

"It's a very disturbing crime scene for me," said Det. Kurt Clarke. "I have kids. There's a lot of blood."

Police say that, judging from the number of rounds fired, they believe Tae Young reloaded the weapon during the shootings. While it appeared that a struggle had taken place inside the home, there were no signs of forced entry, police said.

Investigators on Friday were trying to contact relatives in Germany and South Korea to get more information about the Schiefers' relationship, police said.

A spokeswoman at Peregrin Systems, the Mountain View software firm where Ulrich Schiefer worked, declined to discuss anything about him, other than to confirm that he worked for the company and to offer condolences to surviving family and friends.

Neighbors said the family members attended the annual block party on the street, but otherwise mostly kept to themselves. Jessica, the 5-year-old, played soccer, and Elsa was active in the Girl Scouts and ran track at school.

Nora Love, 80, would exchange greetings with Tae Young Schiefer when the mother took walks with her younger daughter.

"Their youngest was a cutie, and her mother seemed to take such pride in her," Love said. "The mother was very friendly, nice looking. She seemed to enjoy her children.

"I can't imagine what brought them to this," she said.

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