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Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Revenge - Retired sheriff deputy
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: March 25, 2002
Date of birth: 1954
Victims profile: His daughter Michelle Hogan, 5, and three stepchildren, Melanie Willis, 17; Stanley Willis, 15, and Stuart Willis, 14
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Merced, California, USA
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself the same day
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A retired Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy in Merced, California, shot and killed his 17-year-old daughter and three stepchildren while his estranged wife was out for a walk.

Then he committed suicide with the body of his daughter in his arms.

Apparently entered the house after his estranged wife, Christine McFadden, had set out at 6 a.m. on her morning walk.

A little later than 7 a.m. she returned to the house and found her 17-year-old daughter dead in the hallway outside her bedroom. McFadden then went to a neighbor's house and called police. When she returned home with deputies, she found the bodies of the three other children and Hogan.

The three older children were identified as Melanie Willis, 17; Stanley Willis, 15, and Stuart Willis, 14.


Merced massacre -- dad kills 4 kids, self

Ex-wife finds grisly scene on return from walk

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Merced -- A retired Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy, distraught over the breakup of his marriage, fatally shot his young daughter and three stepchildren yesterday in their Merced home before turning the gun on himself, authorities said.

The killings of the four children stunned Merced, a suburban Central Valley town where schoolmates remembered the victims as fun-loving siblings who excelled in school and sports.

Early yesterday morning, John P. Hogan, 49, entered his former home while his ex-wife, veterinarian Dr. Christine McFadden, was taking her daily walk with a neighbor through their upscale neighborhood, according to investigators.

McFadden returned home shortly after 7 a.m. to find her ex-husband's truck in the driveway and her elder daughter, 17-year-old Melanie Willis, lying dead in a hallway of the sprawling gray ranch house. She ran to a neighbor's house to call police.

Within minutes, police found Stanley Willis, 15, and Stuart Willis, 14, dead in their beds with gunshot wounds to the head.

Hogan was found in the master bedroom with his daughter, 5-year-old Michelle Hogan, on his lap. Both were dead.

"Who knows what goes through people's minds when they kill their own offspring? I can't even begin to speculate what thoughts were going through his demented head," said Mark Pazin, area commander with the Merced County Sheriff's Department.

McFadden, described by friends as a devoted mother who always found time for her children's activities, emerged from her neighbor's home later in the morning, sat down on the edge of the sidewalk outside her home and cried inconsolably, rocking back and forth.

"That poor woman -- she was just devastated," said a neighbor, who declined to give her name.

Pazin said Hogan had left an eight-to-10-page typed letter in the master bathroom. The letter expressed his distress the end of his marriage to McFadden, Pazin said.

The couple had married in late 1995, but McFadden filed for divorce and a restraining order less than three years later, claiming that her husband was verbally abusive and used foul language around the children, according to papers filed in Merced Family Law Court.

"My husband has a very bad temper, and when he gets angry, he explodes," McFadden wrote in her application for a restraining order in June 1998, three months after filing for divorce. The divorce was granted last year.

Friends of the teenage children said Hogan was "extremely moody." They said he did not have a close relationship with his stepchildren but doted on his own young daughter.

However, friends added, the three older children had remained close to their father, Dr. Tom Willis, a Bakersfield veterinarian, who arrived at the crime scene yesterday afternoon.

Hogan had worked as a deputy for the Santa Clara County sheriff's office from 1983 to 1993, when he retired for an undisclosed medical reason. In recent years, he had worked as a private investigator.

The killings shocked Our Lady of Mercy School, a close-knit Roman Catholic school where Stuart was in eighth grade and Michelle was in preschool. The older children also had graduated from the school, which they attended from age 3.

Yesterday afternoon, former students joined current ones and community members in a memorial Mass for the children, where Stuart's class sang "Amazing Grace."

"I've cried so much I have no more tears left," said Coby LaMattina, Melanie's friend.

"They were fun children, well-liked by everybody," said Principal Brenda Feehan. "The three older ones had great senses of humor and a dry wit. They had great spirits of adventure."

Melanie, a junior at Golden Valley High School, was ranked second in her class of 467 students with an unusually high 4.5 GPA and was involved in speech and student government, said Principal Ralf Swenson.

She was running for vice president of next year's senior class in an election scheduled for Friday.

Monday night, Melanie was at school hanging campaign posters. Yesterday, her friends took them down and instead hung a banner filled with classmates' messages of love and grief.

A ballet dancer who loved to shop and dress up, Melanie wanted to attend Stanford University and become a geneticist.

Her younger brother, Stanley, was a freshman who played on both the high school football and baseball teams. A lanky boy, he liked to dress in camouflage and play paint ball.

Stuart, most valuable player on his school soccer team this year, also dabbled in acting and last week played a knight in a school dinner show.

Friends said the children all loved their little sister, Michelle, who always wore bows in her hair. She would spend afternoons at her mother's veterinary office, pretending to care for "sick" stuffed animals.

McFadden opened her own veterinary practice two years ago. She reportedly met Hogan several years ago when he brought a sick animal to her. The family had nine cats and dogs and numerous exotic birds.

Officials with the Santa Clara Sheriff's Department had little recollection of Hogan, who had worked in the patrol, parks, courts and jail division during his decade there.

A retirement resolution from the county Board of Supervisors said, "He was admired by his peers . . . . His judgment was usually sound, and his decisions were logical and appropriate."

Yesterday's quadruple slaying is the third in a string of high-profile crimes involving children in Merced County.

In the summer of 2000, a Delhi teenager beheaded his mother and was found sitting naked in her blood, reading the Bible.

Three weeks earlier, an intruder with a pitchfork broke into a rural farm house and stabbed three children, killing a boy and girl and injuring one of their older sisters. The attacker was gunned down as he lunged at sheriff's deputies.


Violence Leaves Merced County at a Loss, Again

MERCED Wednesday afternoon was the kind of glorious spring day made for baseball practice. The Hoover Middle School seventh-grade team was on the field. The thwack of ball on bat rose in a gentle breeze along with the encouraging words of Coach Les Nordman. "Good drive," he told a player called Boomer.

It has been a week of nightmare and normalcy in Merced County. On Tuesday, a former sheriff's deputy took terrible vengeance on his ex-wife by shooting her four children to death and killing himself.

Nordman said he watched four people cry as they read newspaper accounts of the murders. He choked up when he got to the description of how the man was holding the body of the youngest, 5-year-old Michelle, when he turned the gun on himself.

"I'm at a loss," said Nordman, a fifth-generation farmer in the county. "I don't know if there is an answer. If you're religious or not, educated or not, this happens."

Merced County has in recent years experienced a series of multiple murders that could have been lifted from a Stephen King novel. There were the pitchfork murders, the Delhi decapitation, the Henson killings, and now this.

The string of grisly murders cannot be blamed on gangs or drugs or wanton greed. The carnage has for the most part been wreaked by family member on family member, perhaps once more proving that there can be no greater hatred than that born of love.

John P. Hogan, a private investigator and former Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy, apparently wanted more than anything to hurt his ex-wife, Christine McFadden, a well-known veterinarian who had three teenage children from her first marriage, as well as Michelle from her recent marriage to Hogan.

While McFadden was out on her usual morning walk with a friend before work Tuesday, authorities say, Hogan pulled up to her house in a quiet, well-to-do neighborhood just outside of town. He entered through the garage, and with his .40-caliber Glock pistol, went from bedroom to bedroom, shooting Stanley, 15, and Stuart, 14, as they slept.

He then encountered Melanie, 17, in the hallway, apparently struggling with her briefly before killing her. His last stop was the master bedroom, where he left a letter and some biblical passages in the bathroom, shot his own daughter and then, while clutching her body, himself.

"How else would you be able to forever hurt your ex-wife than by taking away four of her most cherished items, her children?" said Merced County Sheriff's Cmdr. Mark Pazin.

He could barely stand to listen to the 911 tape of McFadden's anguished phone call to police after she discovered her oldest daughter's body. "My ex-husband has killed my children," McFadden screamed to the dispatcher, gasping and sobbing.

The letter Hogan left in the bathroom relates his unhappiness over the divorce and his inability to reconcile with McFadden. Just before the shootings, he called a friend--a deputy in the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department where he worked a decade ago--and said he was spent and "emotionally bankrupt."

Hogan and McFadden, who married in 1995, had been divorced about a year. Although McFadden complained of verbal abuse and obtained a temporary restraining order against Hogan in 1998, Pazin said investigators were not aware of any threats of violence.

"He just snapped," said Pazin, describing Hogan as a loner who was not well known in town.

A local vet for nearly two decades, McFadden is the opposite.

"I feel like it was my family," said Nordman, who has taken dogs and cats to McFadden and likes her sensitive manner with animals. "When she grabs something, the animal just seems to relax."

Merced, he added, "is a very small community" where people seem to know everybody's first name.

Actually it isn't that small. Between Fresno and Modesto on California 99, Merced is a growing Central Valley city of 64,000, soon to be home to a new UC campus. But it still feels like a small town, where murders do not go unnoticed, particularly the sort that have been committed in the last few years.

"We've had a couple of incidents already that shocked us," said Craig Campos, a Pacific Bell technician, as he sipped coffee at a cafe in Merced's waiting-to-be-revived downtown.

In August 2000, an intruder broke into a rural Merced home and attacked three children with a garden pitchfork, killing two and injuring a third. Sheriff's deputies fatally shot him when he went after them. Authorities never discerned a motive.

A month later, a young man decapitated his mother in their family home in Delhi, about 20 miles north of here. Police discovered him naked, sitting in her blood. He was recently found competent to stand trial.

In 1998, a teenage boy killed his father, sister, half-brother and his father's girlfriend in a ranch house east of Merced. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 176 years in prison.

"These last 48 hours have been very difficult for the department," Pazin said, sitting in a Sheriff's Department office Thursday morning. "In law enforcement we usually have a reason for despicable acts--gang violence or carjacking. But these murders.



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