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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

A week before Christmas, in a hearing room on the second floor of the Burbank courthouse, the marriage of Bruce Pardo and Sylvia Orza was officially terminated. The cause: irreconcilable differences.

Pardo agreed to pay his ex-wife $10,000. She kept the diamond engagement ring and got the dog, Saki.

The next day, the Friday before Christmas, Pardo walked into a Montrose travel agency to price a plane ticket to visit Erwin's family. He returned to the agency on Monday and paid $650 cash for a round-trip ticket to Moline, Ill., the closest airport to Erwin's home. He would depart at 12:20 a.m. on Christmas Day and return two weeks later. He called Erwin to say he was planning to visit.

In the week before Christmas, he rented a Dodge Caliber from Budget and a silver Toyota Rav-4 from Rent-a-Wreck. He packed the Toyota with maps of the southwestern United States and Mexico, water, food, clothing, a can of gasoline and both a laptop and a desktop computer.

On Christmas Eve, he drove the Toyota to Glendale and parked it near the home of Nord, his ex-wife's attorney. Investigators theorize that Pardo planned to drive the Dodge to Nord's house after the Covina killings, attack Nord and make his escape in the Toyota.

At 6 p.m. Pardo called Erwin and his wife, Michelle. Pardo sounded down, but he said he'd see them the next day. They promised to lend him warm clothes. Investigators aren't sure if he really intended to go to Iowa; it could have been a backup plan or an attempt to throw authorities off his trail.

Sometime that evening, he used cocaine; a trace amount was found in his body.

Later that night, Bong Garcia, Pardo's next-door neighbor, stepped onto his porch with his nephew to smoke a cigarette. Pardo walked by and greeted them, saying he was off to a Christmas party.

"Just the same as always," Garcia said. "He didn't seem like he was mad or anything."

But Garcia noticed something odd: His neighbor left his black Cadillac Escalade and his white Hummer in the driveway and got into a blue Dodge parked on the street.

About 10 p.m., Pardo's younger brother Brad pulled up to the Montrose house. They had arranged to go to a friend's holiday party, but Pardo wasn't home.

Later, Pardo was a no-show at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, where he had signed up to be an usher for midnight Mass.

The first 911 call from Covina was logged at 11:27 p.m.

When firefighters arrived, the house was engulfed in flames. Pardo had sprayed racing fuel, intending to ignite it with a flare. But flames in two fireplaces triggered an explosion. Killed along with Sylvia were her parents, her two brothers and their wives, her sister and her 17-year-old nephew. The 8-year-old niece, shot in the cheek, survived. Thirteen young people were orphaned.

As the house burned, a neighbor saw a blue car drive away with its headlights off. A pair of fake glasses and Santa's cap had been dropped in the frontyard.

Pardo drove 40 miles to his brother's home in Sylmar. He had second- and third-degree burns on his arms, hands and the back of his neck. He also had leg burns; his Santa suit had melted into his skin. A clean getaway was no longer an option.

When Pardo's brother returned home at 3:10 a.m., he found Pardo's body sprawled on the living room couch, two handguns by his side. He had shot himself in the mouth. He was still wearing his wedding ring.

Brad Pardo dialed 911.

--

tami.abdollah@latimes.com

Times staff writer Scott Kraft contributed to this report.

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