Coroners work shifts to identify California victims

Six coroners, three times the typical weekend staff, worked in shifts to identify the nine victims of a mass killing in California.

Six coroners, three times the typical weekend staff, worked in shifts to identify the nine victims of a mass killing in California.

The victims are believed to be family members of a man who lived a bizarre life of polygamy and incest.

Marcus Wesson, who may have fathered two of the victims with his own daughters, was charged on Saturday with nine counts of murder. Bail was set at $9m (€7.4m).

It is the largest mass killing in Fresno, a city of 440,000 people about 190 miles south east of San Francisco.

Identifying the victims and tracking down next of kin to be notified was a difficult process.

“It’s just very complicated,” Deputy Fresno County Coroner Amy Hance said. “Who do you make notification to if eventually some of the victims are other victims’ relatives?”

Wesson, 57, covered with blood but described by police as ”very calm”, was arrested on Friday when he emerged from his home, where authorities found the nine bodies tangled in a pile of clothing in a back room.

Investigators said the victims were six females and three males, ranging in age from one to 24 – probably all Wesson’s children and grandchildren.

A memorial of stuffed animals, balloons and flowers grew on the pavement in front of the single-storey house yesterday, as a steady flow of people came by with more cards and teddy bears.

Police closed off the block in front of the house to keep onlookers away from the property.

Officers cordoned off the home’s perimeter again yesterday and carried several boxes of material from the home.

No motive had been established, Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.

Police said Wesson had fathered children with at least four women, two of them his own daughters.

“We are exploring the possibility that there were other women he was involved with, either sexually or in some sort of polygamist relationship,” Dyer said.

He said police believed they knew the cause of death but would not release the information.

“I can tell you that there were no mutilations,” Dyer said. “The bodies were intact.”

Dyer added that police “have not ruled out the involvement of any other suspects”.

The grisly tale of polygamy, incest and murder stunned not only police but also Wesson’s 29-year-old son, Dorian.

“He was a good father. He wasn’t abusive at all,” Dorian Wesson told the Los Angeles Times.

“I don’t want to believe it. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. But they’re all dead.”

Dorian Wesson said he had not seen his father in about a year.

Officers were called to the house on Friday for a child custody dispute. After finding the ghastly scene, some officers were put on administrative leave and were being given counselling.

Police also found 10 wooden coffins. Antique store owner Lois Dugovic said Wesson bought the hand-carved, mahogany coffins about five years ago, saying he planned to use the wood to repair a houseboat.

Wesson had once lived with five women and appeared to have a romantic relationship with each, said Frank Muna, an acquaintance. The women seemed to be under Wesson’s control, walking behind him and not speaking when he was present, Muna said.

Neighbours said they knew little about Wesson but noticed that his behaviour had become more bizarre.

More in this section

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox