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Puzzles Persist in Mass Slaying

Fresno police say identities of the nine victims remain uncertain in the case, which may involve incest and polygamy.

March 16, 2004|Mark Arax | Times Staff Writer

Authorities are still trying to confirm the identities of nine victims, including seven children, who were allegedly shot to death by their father in a case that may involve polygamy and incest.

All of the victims are believed to be the children of murder suspect Marcus Wesson, 57, but their identities are still a matter of confusion, police said, mostly because some of their mothers have been reluctant to come forward since the Friday killings.

Neighbors and acquaintances described the mothers, who may number as many as six, as a commune of women who worked to support Wesson, bore his children and adhered to a strict lifestyle that he dictated. That lifestyle included home schooling, modest clothing and a rejection of America's mainstream culture, they said.

"We are not certain what the family structure was," said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer at a Monday afternoon news conference. "We do believe suspect Wesson fathered most, if not all, of the children."

Dyer said Wesson had been cooperating with police, describing him as "calm and articulate." The chief said his investigators were looking into the possibility that Wesson, who renovated and sold houses, was a member of a religious sect.

"In terms of any type of ritual [in the slayings], that is being explored by our investigators," Dyer said.

But several of Wesson's surviving children, including four adult sons, said that they were raised as Seventh-day Adventists and that their father wasn't a cultist.

Police believe that at least two of the dead were Wesson's grandchildren that he had fathered with at least one of his daughters. Whether he was married to the women who followed him from one housing renovation project to another isn't known, Dyer said.

The chief said an earlier account that one of the female victims may have had gunpowder residue on her hand -- indicating that she fired a weapon -- was premature. The test results were still pending, he said.

Wesson has been charged with nine counts of murder and is being held on $9-million bond. He is expected to be arraigned Wednesday.

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