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A solitary man with murder in his heart

Bruce Pardo methodically amassed an arsenal, prepared a Santa Claus disguise and plotted his escape. Then he killed his former wife and eight other people at a Christmas Eve party.

July 11, 2009|Tami Abdollah

They were married Jan. 29, 2006, and Pardo bought a three-bedroom, $565,000 home in Montrose, taking on a $452,000 mortgage. They also bought an Akita, which they named Saki, and seemed to live happily with Sylvia's 4-year-old daughter. Pardo was a regular usher for Sunday Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, a few blocks away.

At first, Pardo was drawn to his wife's warm and welcoming family. But after the first year of their marriage, she told friends, he had become cold, miserly and distant. They often argued about money.

At the same time, Pardo's mother had grown quite fond of Sylvia and her children. In late 2007, police say, she confided to her daughter-in-law that Pardo had a severely disabled son whom he claimed as a tax deduction but didn't support.

The couple separated March 7, 2008. Sylvia asked Pardo if she could stay in the home while her daughter finished the last few months of kindergarten, but Pardo moved her belongings onto the driveway while she was at a niece's birthday party. She filed for divorce and moved in with her sister in Glendale.

In April, Pardo hired Stanley Silver, a San Fernando attorney, and said he was hoping for a reconciliation. Silver called Sylvia's attorney, Scott Nord, but was told her mind was made up.

Although Pardo's brother thought he seemed depressed, others thought he had accepted the breakup. Silver said Pardo "was never upset. He was always congenial."

Pardo had left JPL and was working as an engineer for ITT Radar Systems, a Van Nuys defense contractor, earning $122,000 a year. Sylvia was making about $31,000 as an administrative assistant for an El Monte flower company. On June 18, 2008, a Burbank judge ordered Pardo to pay $1,785 a month in spousal support. Pardo's first check bounced and he stopped payment on the second, Sylvia's attorney told the court.

By then, Pardo had launched his plan.

On June 13, he had driven to Burbank and walked into Gun World, a small shop under a blue awning, and paid $999.95 cash for a Sig Sauer 9-millimeter handgun.

On July 31, Pardo was fired for billing fraudulent hours. He applied for unemployment compensation, but workers fired for cause are not eligible and his application was denied.

On Aug. 8, Pardo was back at Gun World to buy another Sig Sauer 9-millimeter handgun. California law limits sales of concealable firearms to one per customer every 30 days. A month later, on Sept. 8, Pardo bought a third from the same store. He returned for a fourth on Oct. 11 and a fifth on Nov. 13.

While lawyers for Pardo and Sylvia exchanged briefs in the fall, Pardo spent most of his time at home in Montrose. He ate lunch a few times a week at the Montrose Bakery & Cafe, ordering a turkey or pastrami sandwich and, for dessert, a raspberry danish. He usually occupied a booth near the window, keeping an eye on Saki on the sidewalk.

On Sept. 8, he called a neighbor, Jeri Deiotte, owner of Jeri's Costumes. He ordered a Santa Claus outfit, saying it was for a children's party. He dropped off a $200 deposit and promised to return in November.

During August and September, Pardo applied for jobs in the high-tech industry, but few companies were hiring. Because of Pardo's financial difficulties, the judge hearing their divorce case agreed to suspend his support payments.

About that time, Steve Erwin, an old high school friend, telephoned. Erwin, his wife and six children lived in Iowa, and he and Pardo hadn't been in touch for several years. Erwin invited Pardo to Iowa in October to help celebrate Erwin's 45th birthday.

When Pardo arrived, he told Erwin about the divorce and said he had "been sitting at home and thinking about everything."

Pardo seemed embarrassed that his personal life, including his firing and finances, was on public display in divorce court, Erwin recalled. Pardo told him that he and his mother were barely speaking and that she sat with Sylvia's family at divorce hearings.

Pardo seemed to enjoy Erwin's children. He helped them with their algebra homework and gave them change from his pockets. When he left town, he left seven $1 bills under Erwin's 9-year-old son's pillow.

Pardo also stopped by a gun shop in Iowa and bought 16 handgun magazines, each of which holds 18 bullets, eight more than allowed in magazines sold in California.

He returned to California and went to pick up his Santa outfit from Deiotte. Most of her customers rented costumes, but Pardo, at 6 feet 4 and 275 pounds, had wanted his made to order. And he specifically asked that it have extra room.

When he picked up the suit, he paid the $100 remaining on his bill and tipped her $20.

His plan was coming together. He had five handguns in a room at home and a DeWalt compressor, a 50-foot hose and a tank of high-octane fuel in a backyard shed.

Days before Thanksgiving, he set up his Christmas lights.

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