The Vampire King of Fresno
During 2004 and 2005, Americans were fixated on Scott Peterson’s murder of his wife and unborn son. News channels reported breathlessly on the smallest developments in the investigation and trial, and scrutinized Mr. Peterson, his mistress Amber Frey, and the lawyers’ performances.
But the national media had virtually ignored another case that was even stranger and more shocking.
March 12, 2004: Officers were called to a scene on West Hammond Ave in Fresno, California, where a heated argument over custody was breaking out. Once there, officers spoke to Ruby Ortiz and Sofina Solorio, along with some family members who were with them. They are worried to the point of panic, claiming their children are being held captive inside the run-down office building. They are adamant that the man inside — their uncle, Marcus Wesson — is going to hurt their children.
So the police knock on the door to speak with Wesson and try to resolve the issue. A titanic man with greying dreadlocks down to his waist answered. Unlike the clearly upset women outside, Wesson was calm and cooperative. He agreed to turn over the children, but he wanted to tell them goodbye first. He asked the officers to wait and returned inside, closing the door.
Neighbors would later say they heard gunshots. The police denied hearing any. Without a warrant or any indication that there was a safety issue (despite Ortiz and Solorio’s claims), the police didn’t have any authority to enter the Wesson house.
So they waited.
After nearly an hour and a half, Wesson walks out the front door. His clothes covered in blood.
As he surrendered to the arresting officers, other officers rushed inside. Despite the sunny afternoon, the building was dark and silent. Against one wall, several coffins were stacked up. While this unnerved the officers it didn’t stop them from pushing forward.
What the officers found in the back room was so horrific that some of them went on administrative leave or into counseling. Inside, covered in blood, was a pile of bodies — some of which were children. Each had been shot through the eye.
Because they were all in such a tangle, it would take many hours before the police could even determine how many victims there were and it would be several days before they were all identified.
Sebhrenah, age 25, Elizabeth age 17, Illabelle age 8, Aviv age 7, Johnathon age 7, Sedonia age 2, Marshey age 2, Ethen age 4 and Jeva age 1
In trying to determine next of kin, the coroner had DNA teasing done on the victims. When the results came back, the true extent of Marcus Wesson’s depravity was finally revealed.
Marcus Wesson, it seemed, always wanted to be a spiritual leader. He was born in 1946, the oldest of 4 children, into what could only be called a dysfunctional family. His father, Benjamin, was an abusive alcoholic who never held down a steady job.
It is alleged that Wesson’s father had molested him, and his siblings. On the witness stand, Wesson’s sister didn’t come right out and confirm this, but she did state that when their father was drinking, he was much more inclined to hug and kiss them. The children knew the best way to avoid unwanted physical affection, when their father Benjamin was drunk, was to hide until he sobered up. In fact, a childhood friend of Wesson’s testified that Benjamin had once offered to pay him $50 in exchange for oral sex.
Wesson’s father would eventually run off with a male cousin, with whom he was having a homosexual affair. That incestuous affair seems to have gone on for a decade before Wesson’s father then reappeared to take on his paternal duties once again, as if nothing happened. Perhaps this is where Wesson got the idea that it was somehow okay to carry on sexual relations within your own family and that fathers had special ways of “loving” their children.
It is unknown just how much Wesson’s mother, Carrie, knew about the abuse and incest her husband perpetrated upon his children. She was a strict Seventh-Day Adventist who led the family in daily bible studies and would whip the children with an electrical cord.
Despite all this, as a child, Wesson was remembered by relatives as kind and a good singer. His favorite game was “playing preacher.”
Wesson dropped out of high school at 17 and joined the military, where he was a medic or ambulance driver (sources differ). He was discharged from the Army in 1968, and quickly took up with a married woman named Rosemary Maytorena. Nearly a decade and a half older, Rosemary already had several children of her own. It wasn’t long, however, before she had a son with Wesson, whom she named Adair. Wesson might have been happy with the new role of proud papa, but instead he was far happier spending time with Rosemary’s eight-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
Wesson’s interest in Elizabeth soon became physical. He claimed that God had told him that Elizabeth was his wife, and he held a home “marriage ceremony” to the child. He then took her out of school to begin personally “teaching her. When Elizabeth was 12, he began sexually assaulting her.
At 14, Elizabeth became pregnant with Wesson’s baby, and the two were wed as soon as she was of legal age to marry. Wesson would go on to father 10 more children with her before she reached age 26.
Wesson didn’t stop growing his family. He would go on to “marry” and have children with three of his nieces: Ruby Ortiz, Rosa and Sofina, sometimes called Sofia. These marriages were in addition to those with two of his own daughters.
I’m sure at this point you’re wondering how these women would be ok with the incestuous relationship they were in with Wesson. Like most abusers Wesson used profound fear and brainwashing to get what he wanted.
Wesson was fascinated by, and felt a kinship with, fellow cult leader David Koresh. During the 1993 siege of the compound in Waco, Wesson was glued to the TV. He told his family, “This man is just like me. He is making children for the lord.” And like Koresh, Wesson had a deep hatred of law enforcement. He even mandated a suicide pact: if any government official ever tired to take the children away or split up the family, the mothers were to kill their children and then themselves. He held monthly meetings to discuss the details of this plan.
It is hard to express how completely Wesson controlled every aspect of his family’s lives. The women and girls were especially subjugated. They had to dress in long skirts and headscarves, walk behind him, and remain silent in public. They were forbidden to talk with anyone, under punishment of beating. Even their own brothers and cousins were segregated away from them, lest they “develop sexual feelings” for other men.
Their lives were filled with unending labor: they were responsible for taking care of the children, as well as all the cleaning and cooking — even when there was no running water or electricity. They were also expected to wait on Wesson hand and foot — washing his massive dreadlocks and even scratching his armpits.
Wesson was a brutal abuser, beating the women and children with electrical cords, baseball bats, and his fists for the slightest transgression. One son, Serafino, recounted being beaten for 30 days straight for the crime of stealing a spoonful of peanut butter. Sofina recalled Wesson beating their 1-month-old infant, Johnathon, until his legs bled because he wouldn’t stop crying.
As soon as the girls in his family — including his nieces and daughters — reached the age of about 8, Wesson began what he called “loving.” He would begin by fondling them in their beds at night, them move up to outright sexual assault, in order to “teach [them] to be better women.”
Wesson never enrolled any of his children or nieces in school. Instead HE homeschooled the children, supplementing general course studies with hours of preaching his own bizarre beliefs. However, the truth of the matter was, the children received little, if any, homeschooling education. Sometimes the older girls would play “teacher” to the younger children; schooling seemed to consist of drawing pictures and coloring.
As for Wesson, he refused to work and instead drew on welfare benefits. Although thought of as fairly intelligent, and without any physical disability that would prevent him from working, Wesson adhered to the belief that the head of the household did not work. The children said they often had only rice to eat and would dig in dumpsters for food. Meanwhile, Wesson dined on fast food enough that, by the time he was arrested he weighed nearly 300 pounds and was so wide they needed three sets of handcuffs.
Living arrangements varied frequently, including: a shack without running water and electricity, on a tugboat, and even times their home was an Army tent in the woods. Another example of Wesson’s eccentricity; although the family was camping in a second-hand tent without electricity or running water, he carpeted the floor of the tent.
Clearly Wesson had issues, but there is no proof anyone from child and family services ever investigated the children’s living environment, or their health and safety. These weren’t children taken regularly to the pediatrician for wellness visits. They didn’t go to public school, where a concerned teacher might have noticed signs of abuse. They were intentionally kept segregated from the outside world by their father. He knew the world would not accept his philosophies and teachings. Only after the deaths in 2004, would DNA testing provide proof that Wesson had fathered children he knew would be taken away, if the truth of their parentage were made known.
For most of the members of the Wesson family, this way of life was all they had ever known. But two of his nieces, Ruby and Sofina wanted out (their sister Rosa remained loyal to Wesson). Wesson eventually agreed that they could go, but only if they left their children, Johnathon and Aviv behind. Desperate to escape, the two agreed.
But as they adjusted to the world outside of Wesson’s tight control, they started to understand that what he did to them he was still doing to the rest of the family. So on March 12, 2004 they gathered several relatives for support and went back to the Wesson home to rescue their children, now both 7 years old. This was when the horrors unfolded.
The case was considered the worst mass murder in Fresno history.
Before the trial even began Wesson was still fighting for control. He delayed his arraignment twice insisting that he did not want a public defender, but wanted to hire his own lawyers — David Mugridge and Gary Harvey. It wasn’t clear if Wesson could afford his own lawyers and ultimately Wesson was represented by public defenders Peter Jones and Ralph Torres. On March 3, 2005 Wesson’s trial finally started.
He was charged with 9 counts of first-degree murder and 14 counts of molestations and rape. As members of his family testified — many of who were still loyal to him — the jury came to learn of the horrors Wesson had inflicted on his family.
Wessons’ defense was to claim that he didn’t kill anyone — that Sebhrena has actually pulled the trigger, murdering the children and then herself. The evidence was inconclusive — there were no prints on the gun, but her DNA was. Her body was on top of all the others, and the murder weapon, a .22 Ruger MK II, was found underneath her. However, it’s not known if she lay where she fell or was placed there — and the same could be said about the gun. The gunshot wound in her head was inconclusive as well: while consistent with a self-inflicted wound, a shot at close range couldn’t be ruled out, either.
Ruby and Sofina’s testimony showed that Wesson had complete control over the family, and that he had commanded them to commit this act if the police ever tried to interfere. Having Sebhrenah kill the children, then herself, would fit with his pattern of having a woman do the hard work while he walks away. On the other hand, family annihilators usually kill their families, then attempt to blame the crime on the mother.
In the end it didn’t matter to the jury who actually pulled the trigger. Marcus Wesson was found guilty on all counts, and on June 27, 2005, he was sentenced to 102 years for the rape and molestation charges. For the murder of his children and grandchildren, her received the death penalty. He was sent to San Quentin prison, the nation’s largest death row. There he would be in the company of such infamous murderers as Rodney Alcala, Charles Ng, Richard Davis, and Scott Peterson.
In March of 2019 California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a moratorium on executions in the state sparing Wesson’s life. Thankfully, he will never be eligible for parole.
If you were to google this case one notable title is attached to Wesson’s name and that is Vampire King. This is because he believed that he was Jesus and that Jesus was a Vampire. And, because Jesus drank blood to become immortal, so must he. This explains the coffins found when police entered building and shows how delusional Wesson was. But this shouldn’t take away the fact that Wesson committed incestuous crimes and murder.
For Elizabeth, Wesson’s only legal marriage, and the surviving children, have seen how brainwashed they had been, and how delusional, psychotic, and narcissistic Wesson was. In 2010 they broke their media silence and spoke to reporters at ABC new. They have all tired to heal and move on with their lives as best as they can. They no longer have any contact with Wesson.
Since the tragedy, people have often asked why Elizabeth didn’t try to put a stop to the incest and abuse. We can’t, in good conscious, excuse Elizabeth’s inaction or failure to protect the children she had given birth to, nor the nieces and nephews in her care. We can’t be sure how much Elizabeth was aware of, although it seems she must have known more than she is willing to admit, and quite possibly was in deep denial about what took place during the years she was married to Wesson.
Elizabeth had been taken in by Wesson at such a young age and kept so isolated that she really only knew the life he had shown her. Although Wesson and Elizabeth each listed themselves as “student” on their marriage license, Elizabeth stopped attending school during eighth grade. Her lack of education served Wesson well, keeping her dependent upon him. One of Elizabeth and Wesson’s sons would testify at the murder trial that if his mother didn’t know about the things taking place in the house, as she professed, she would have to be pretty dumb.
While I agree Elizabeth at one point was in deep denial about what took place during the years she was married too Wesson, I feel very little blame should be put on her. Remember, Wesson committed the crimes and brainwashed his “family”, Elizabeth was just a victim.
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