FRESNO, Calif. -- A man suspected of murdering nine of his family members apparently was involved in polygamy and incest, fathering two of the victims with his own daughters, police said Saturday.
The bodies of six females and three males, ages 1 to 24, were found tangled in the back room of in Marcus Wesson's home Friday. Fresno's largest mass murder ever quadrupled its homicides for the year in a single night and disturbed officers so much that some immediately needed counseling.
Wesson, described by police as "very calm," was arrested Friday after emerging from his home covered in blood.
Wesson, 57, has fathered children with at least four women, two of whom are his own daughters, said Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer.
"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.
Police said they believe all the victims are members of Wesson's family, but they declined to release names pending notification of kin.
Wesson was cooperating with police, who planned to charge him with nine counts of murder, Dyer said.
"If this does not qualify for the death sentence, then there is no case that would," Dyer said.
Dyer said police think they know the cause of death, but would not release information.
"I can tell you that there were no mutilations," Dyer said. "The bodies were intact."
Six coroners, triple the typical weekend staff, were working Saturday to identify the victims and determine how they were killed, Fresno County deputy coroner Sarah Davis said.
Officers were originally called to the home Friday afternoon for a child custody dispute.
Inside was a discovery so grisly it reduced Dyer to tears. The bodies were so entangled in a pile of clothing that it took hours for investigators to reach a final count, police said. Ten coffins lined a wall inside the home's front room.
"What's making it so difficult is the bodies are not only intertwined, but stacked on top of each other," Dyer told reporters Friday night. Police were not sure of a motive, but Dyer said "there may have been some type of ritual" involved.
"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.
The scene was so gruesome 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.
Officers were called to the home Friday afternoon by two women who said a man had their children and would not release them.
The man initially ignored orders to come out, running into a back bedroom as two other women fled the house. They were unharmed.
A neighbor, Chris Tognazzini, said he heard two gunshots moments before police arrived.
Dyer said the women who called authorities told them they had given custody of their children to Wesson two years ago and now wanted them back.
The slayings shocked authorities in Fresno, a city of 440,000 about 190 miles southeast of San Francisco. Dyer said the city had seen three murders in the last 2 1/2 months, the fewest number for a 10-week period in more than three decades.
The nine deaths represent the largest mass killing ever in this San Joaquin Valley city. 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."
Wesson had a strong influence on his sons, said Florian Tan, who in 2001 took over the martial arts school where three of the sons attended classes.
Each boy had to earn a black belt in aikido in order to leave home when he reached manhood, Tan said.
"They said they had to go through his program," which included martial arts training, Tan said. He added that two of the sons, now in their twenties, earned black belts and a teenage boy is still enrolled at the school.
Neighbors who milled around outside said they knew little about Wesson or the house where a large yellow bus was parked in the driveway.
"He never said 'Hi,"' said Linda Morales. "I'd drive by and he'd make a point to turn his face."
Another neighbor, Johnny Rios, said that on many nights he heard loud banging coming from the house, as though the people inside were building something.
"There was something up over there," Rios said.