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December 28, 2008

Santa Killer Massacre: I’m afraid that something like this could happen here


You’re probably familiar with the horrific case from Southern California involving Bruce Pardo. He's the 45-year-old laid-off aerospace engineer, who dressed in a Santa suit, broke up a Christmas Eve party being held at the suburban home of his former in-laws, and shot and killed nine guests before setting the house on fire and later killing himself.
The victims are believed to include: his ex-wife wife, Sylvia Pardo; her parents, Joseph and Alicia Ortega' Sylvia Pardo’s two brothers and their wives; her sister; and a 17-year-old nephew.

Among the many things that are disturbing about this case is how Bruce and Sylvia Pardo were trying to live out their own version of the American suburban dream. News reports chronicle their short marriage and their upwardly mobile aspirations, highlighted by a half-million-dollar house in a quiet suburban cul-de-sac, SUVs parked in the driveway, a combined income of $150,000, and a beloved family dog.
Reports then describe an unraveling marriage, complete with revelations about Pardo’s painful, guilty secret—a 9-year-old son who was left severely handicapped in a drowning accident while in Pardo’s care (and whom Pardo later abandoned). Finally, reports show Pardo’s downward financial spiral, which was accompanied by an increasingly acrimonious divorce and a summer lay-off from a $120,000-a year aerospace engineering job.

Don’t we all know someone involved in a bitter divorce, or coping with a family left in turmoil by marital break-up, mental instability, job loss, foreclosure, or other financial crisis? I wonder if we'll be seeing more of this sort of family turmoil and outbreaks of violence in these tough economic times. Nonprofit groups, including the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County, whose executive director I interviewed earlier, all worry that financial stress in families will increase incidents of domestic violence.

With regard to Bruce and Sylvia Pardo: are they all that different from a lot of our neighbors here in the East Bay suburbs—at least on the surface? Obviously, Bruce Pardo was seething with rage, despair, and perhaps delusional, pathological thinking. Apparently, he managed to keep that side hidden to many, including those at his local church, where he said he planned to serve as an usher on Christmas Eve, or to friends, who described him as an “easy-going, friendly guy.”
It’s likely, though, that he didn’t keep that side of himself hidden from Sylvia Pardo or her three kids, the youngest of whom she moved into his house after her January 2006 marriage to him.

The slaughter took place just six days after Bruce and Sylvia Pardo appeared in court to finalize their divorce, according to an Associated Press report. “Divorce documents paint a bitter picture of Bruce Pardo's increasing desperation as he lost first his wife, then his job and finally the dog. By fall 2008, Pardo was asking a judge to have his ex-wife pay him support and cover his attorney's fees.”

But it turns out that Pardo’s life was in turmoil long before he met and married Sylvia. In January 2001, his toddler son with a former girlfriend fell into a swimming pool while in Pardo’s care. Medical costs reached $340,000. The boy’s mother sued Pardo to obtain money from his $100,000 homeowners policy. Pardo never contributed any more money to the boy’s care and stopped seeing him.

Some news reports suggest that Pardo kept his son a secret from Sylvia, and that she made up her mind to file for divorce this past year after learning about the boy and that Pardo reportedly continue to claim him as a dependent for tax purposes.

The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times offer more details of the financial and emotional unraveling of the Pardo marriage:

Sylvia Pardo didn't bring much money to the marriage — just $31,000 a year from a job at a flower-breeding company in El Monte — but she brought a 5-year-old daughter from a previous relationship and almost all the furniture. By all accounts, Pardo was close to his wife's daughter. Sylvia Pardo also had two other children from a previous marriage.

Bruce Pardo was making $122,000 a year as an electrical engineer at ITT Electronic Systems Radar Systems in Van Nuys, and together the couple built a nest egg of $88,500 in two years. He often puttered around the house or walked Saki, the couple's big, brown Akita, in a local park.

But by December 2007, Sylvia Pardo was sleeping in another room and spending weekends with her parents, according to court papers. Two months later she told him she wanted a divorce.

She filed court papers asking for attorney's fees and $3,166 in monthly spousal support. She claimed her husband had drawn down their $88,500 savings to $17,000 in two months and was transferring funds to a private account.

"The situation has become untenable, and continuing the marriage was not an option," she said in court documents.

In July, Pardo lost his job at ITT and soon was drowning in debt while scrambling to find work. He begged the court to grant him spousal support until he could find employment. He complained in a filing that he had monthly expenses of $8,900 and ran a monthly deficit of $2,678. He also had $31,000 in credit card debt and a $2,700 monthly mortgage payment.

"I was not given a severance package from my last employer at termination and I am not receiving any other income," wrote Pardo, who also was denied unemployment benefits. "I am desperately seeking work."

In his argument that his wife should start supporting him, he alleged that her lifestyle was proof that she had money to spare.

"Since the date of separation, she bought a new 2009 luxury car, has gone several days gambling in Las Vegas, has frequently been out dining at finer restaurants . . . took a trip to Primm Casino-Resort . . . purchased golf school lessons, has taken a recent vacation to Magic Mountain Amusement Park and visited massage parlors," he wrote in court filings earlier this month.

In the end, the divorce was settled with the order that Pardo pay his ex-wife 10,000, return her valuable diamond wedding ring and give her custody of the dog.

Two days before the killings, he told his attorney he still was trying to come up with the money.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was an extreme case, but I've got a friend who has left her husband because he has a temper. To everyone else, he's nice, easygoing on the outside. She's left him and is trying to not fight too much about the finances. She's worried that it will set him off.

Anonymous said...

"I've got a friend who has left her husband because he has a temper. To everyone else, he's nice, easygoing on the outside."

I think that is more common than we think.

Anonymous said...

My husband was a typical nice guy. Liked by his friends and colleagues, or so I thought. I later found out he was stealing money from work and was being verbally abusive to employees. All that because he admitted that he was mentally ill. His nice guy cover was his way of coping in the world. I guess he's still essentially a nice guy, if his illness didn't get in the way.

Anonymous said...

This story should make us think about our values. It sounds like it was a lot about money between these two, not to justify what this man did. And i'm sure much more will come out about his background. But warring divorcing couples, sparring about money, and who gets custody of a dog, and people facing lay-offs, and huge health care costs. There's something fundamentally sick about our whole society, and this Santa shooter guy was just a symptom of that.

Soccer Mom said...

New York Times has a story in today's paper about how declining home values, and the rest of the economic downturn, are increasing tensions and making it even more difficult for couples to amicably and easily divide assets.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/us/30divorce.html?_r=1

Anonymous said...

If your female you say gee what went wrong? was a man involved? Yep, thought so.

If your a man, you see people going what went wrong?

Then you go, was a woman involved?
Yep... Hmmm