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9 dead, 10 caskets, fresno CA

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Police: Fresno Suspect Was a Polygamist

By BRIAN SKOLOFF

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - A man suspected of killing nine of his family members lived a life characterized by police as bizarre - committing polygamy and incest, even fathering two of his victims with his own daughters.

Marcus Wesson, 57, was arrested Friday after emerging blood-covered from his home, where authorities found nine bodies in a back room tangled and intertwined with clothing. His demeanor was described by officers as ``very calm.''

Wesson was cooperating with authorities, who planned to charge him with nine counts of murder, said police Chief Jerry Dyer.

``If this does not qualify for the death sentence, then there is no case that would,'' Dyer said.

Investigators later determined the victims included six females and three males, ranging in age from 1 to 24 and probably Wesson's children and grandchildren.

Six coroners, triple the typical weekend staff, worked Saturday to determine how the victims died. Police said believe they know the cause of death but would not release that information.

``I can tell you that there were no mutilations,'' the police chief said. ``The bodies were intact.''

Police planned to serve another search warrant but Dyer would not say where, adding, ``We have not ruled out the involvement of any other suspects.''

Officers were called to the home Friday afternoon for a child custody dispute. What they found inside was ghastly: bodies so entangled that it took hours for investigators to reach a final count and 10 wooden caskets lining a wall of a front room. The department's cult expert is helping with the investigation.

Some of the first officers into the house were placed on administrative leave and received counseling Friday night. Six police chaplains were at the house throughout the evening as detectives continued to gather evidence.

``I've been with the Fresno Police Department for 25 years, and I've never experienced anything of this nature,'' said Dyer, who wiped his eyes Friday night as officers carried bodies out of the home, cradling the youngest ones in their arms.

Wesson had children with at least four women, including two of his daughters, and authorities are investigating whether he had other female sexual partners as well.

None of the women with whom Wesson had children had been identified Saturday.

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, he said.

``The neighbors felt there was some weird kind of polygamy commune thing going on,'' said Muna, a defense lawyer who sold the remains of his burned-out house to Wesson and the women in 1999. Wesson moved to a different house about eight months ago, in part because of neighbors' complaints, Muna said.

Dyer said two women who called authorities to the home Friday told officers they had given custody of their children to Wesson two years ago and came to retrieve them.

Neighbors described seeing many women at the house, dressed in long dresses and sometimes with veils covering their faces, Dyer said.

The neighbors themselves said they knew little about Wesson or the single-story house where a large yellow bus was parked in the driveway. On the sidewalk Saturday were stuffed animals, balloons and flowers left by passers-by.

``He never said 'Hi,''' said Linda Morales. ``I'd drive by and he'd make a point to turn his face.''

Wesson's behavior had become more bizarre and his appearance more disheveled in the last three years, said Muna, the acquaintance.

``A lot of what he was saying wasn't relevant to what we were discussing,'' he said. ``He grew that one big, long, nasty dreadlock. It was just caked with dirt and oil.''

Wesson seemed aware people were scared of him and that made him laugh, said Lois Dugovic, who owns the antique store where Wesson bought the coffins about five years ago.

Dugovic herself was at first frightened by Wesson's appearance. ``He sure didn't look the part of a normal person.''

Dyer said police had not determined why the caskets were in the home; Dugovic said Wesson told her that he was going to use the mahogany wood to repair a houseboat.

The nine deaths represent the largest mass killing ever in Fresno, a city of 440,000 about 190 miles southeast of San Francisco. Seven people were killed in rural Fresno in 1993.

``The only thing we can do now is mourn. We mourn for the kids, we mourn for the police,'' said Mayor Alan Autry. ``We will never be the same again.''

Associated Press Writer Brian Melley contributed to this report.

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