FRESNO — The man accused of killing nine of his children and grandchildren in a mass murder involving polygamy and incest grew up in a sheltered world shaped by two hard-working parents and the strict ways of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
People searching for clues to Marcus Wesson's alleged crimes need not look at his childhood, his elderly mother said Thursday.
"The Marcus Wesson on TV I don't recognize. That's not my son," Carrie Wesson told The Times from her home in Washington state. "The Marcus Wesson I raised was a brilliant, loving, God-fearing child."
One week after the worst mass murder in Fresno's history, as the image of the stout man with a face full of bushy hair and dreadlocks to his knees found its way across the globe, members of his family tried to fathom what forces might have pushed him over the edge.
His mother said he had called her two days before last Friday's killings to inquire about his father, who is fighting cancer. He sounded upbeat, she recalled, saying he was hard at work converting another school bus into a gleaming motor home so his younger children could see the country.
"He was so concerned about his father. He ended every conversation with 'I love you, Dad. I love you, Mom.' He never forgot our birthdays. Never forgot Mother's Day. And he felt the same way about those kids.
"To make him do this, there must have been some big trauma. Something that pushed him over," she said. "This is a Christian family. This is not a cult."
Relatives said they remained baffled over a possible motive. Wesson never told them he felt cornered, that he was facing eviction from yet another house or that the estranged mothers of his young children were demanding custody.
"If Marcus is guilty, I would really feel disappointed in my country if it didn't make him face the penalty," his mother said. "But I'm a biblical person too, and I don't believe in capital punishment.
"What I would like for Marcus to do is sit in prison and think about what he's done and read the Bible. I think he will come back. Spiritually he will come back. Because I want to see my son in heaven someday," she said, sobbing.
Members of his family recalled the boy born in Kansas who could put together intricate puzzles that confounded adults, who constructed go-carts and electric cars out of parts picked up at flea markets and passed on this love of building to his children.
"My dad wanted his children to make something out of nothing," said his oldest son, Dorian Wesson, 29. "If I wanted a toy, he'd buy the wood and supplies and tell me to use my imagination and create what I wanted.
"He didn't trust the outside world. Public schools, kids taking drugs, gangbanging, computers and TV. That was considered corrupt. He wanted something better for us. I grew up feeling free."
Marcus Wesson lived an odd life, they acknowledged, fathering two sets of children -- 16 altogether -- in different parts of California. There was Dorian and an older group of sons and daughters who ranged in age from 17 to 29 and were raised by one mother. They grew up following their father as he moved from one renovation project to another, houses in San Jose, Santa Cruz and Fresno and boats in Marin County.
And there was a second group of children ages 8 and younger who were born to different mothers and lived with Wesson in a small house in a working-class neighborhood of central Fresno. Those children are now all dead.
His mother and oldest son said they were never aware that Wesson had a sexual relationship with two of his own daughters and that two of the deceased children were products of incest.
"I thought it was strange that my sisters had these babies and they never said who the fathers were," Dorian Wesson recalled. "They told me the kids came from artificial insemination, and I believed them."
As perverse as the family dynamic became, they said, Wesson held on to some of the core values he grew up with. He loved his children and tried to safeguard them from the more negatives aspects of American culture. Despite media speculation, they said, he wasn't a member of any fringe sect.
"Our family is a good family," Carrie Wesson said. "This is a Christian family. This is not a cult."
From the earliest age, she said, her son exhibited a nimble mind for building things and a big heart for rescuing animals. He was their first child -- an earlier pregnancy ended in a still birth -- and she and her husband, Benjamin Franklin Wesson, doted on him. They had a tall stack of gospel records, and she'd tell him she wanted to hear one song in particular and he knew exactly where to find it.
"He was only 2 years old and I'd say I'm in the mood to hear 'I Don't Possess Houses of Gold,' and that little Marcus would hunt through those albums in nothing flat and put it on the old-fashioned turntable."