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Leonardo MORITA





Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: May 29, 1995
Date of birth: 1949
Victims profile: His wife, Lucy, 45, their three children, Clint, 10, Krishna, 14, and Rama, 15, and the family's 25-year-old housekeeper
Method of murder: Fire (set his home ablaze)
Location: Los Angeles County, California, USA
Status: Suffered extensive burns in the May 29 explosion and fire. Died on July 6, 1995

Leonardo Morita, a 46-year-old electrician, wanted to collect on the insurance policies he took out on each member of his family. To expedite matters, in May, 1995, he set his San Marino, California, home ablaze killing his wife, three children and housekeeper.

He poured so much gasoline on the stairs to make sure no one got out alive, it leaked to the basement igniting the water heater's pilot flame and sparking a massive explosion. Greedy Leonardo died two months later from injuries suffered during the blaze.


5 Killed in Arson Fire at California House

The New York Times

Wednesday, May 31, 1995

An explosion and fire attributed to arson destroyed a house in this wealthy Los Angeles suburb early Monday, killing five people and critically injuring a sixth.

"We have overwhelming and compelling evidence that it was arson," Fire Chief Frank Wills said. "We're calling it a multiple homicide at this point."

Five bodies were recovered from the ranch-style house. The only survivor, Leonardo Morita, 46, was hospitalized in critical condition with second- and third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body. Mr. Morita was found just outside a back door, Chief Wills said.

"He was able to tell us there were children upstairs," Chief Wills said, "but the heat was so intense, there were flames coming from every window, we could not make entry."

Frederick George, a University of Southern California professor who lives across the street, said he had heard a loud "kaboom" and then a series of smaller explosions.

Records show the home is owned by Leonardo and Lusje Morita. Neighbors said a married couple with that name and their three sons and a housekeeper lived at the house.

KTLA-TV reported today that the victims were identified as Mrs. Morita, the children and the housekeeper. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department would not confirm those identities.

A neighbor, Kitty Reynolds, said Mr. Morita recently obscured the house number on the curb with spray paint.


Survivor Is Murder Suspect in Arson Fire That Killed 5

Crime: San Marino man is too badly burned to be questioned in the deaths of his wife, children and housekeeper.

By Richard Winton and Renee Tawa - Los Angeles Times

July 04, 1995

Authorities said Monday that they have sufficient evidence to file murder charges against the only survivor of a San Marino arson fire in connection with a scheme to kill his wife, three children and a housekeeper and then collect on a life insurance policy.

Leonardo Morita, 46, suffered extensive burns in the May 29 explosion and fire that gutted the family's two-story home. Relatives will decide Wednesday whether to take him off life support at County-USC Medical Center, where he shows minimal brain activity, San Marino Mayor Bernie Le Sage said.

Police Chief Frank J. Wills, who is also San Marino's fire chief, said authorities are ready to charge Morita with five counts of murder, but that "would be purposeless. He is not able to appear in court. Nobody expects him to live."

Nancy Chen, whose family lived next door to Moritas, said the arson deaths were bad enough, but the fact the father could have been responsible was even more stunning.

"It's completely beyond my imagination," she said. "They were such a happy family; everybody was always laughing. It's real hard for our family to take it that he could do something like this. I hope they find out something different. I won't believe it until I hear it from his own lips."

Overwhelming physical evidence, however, points to Morita as the suspect, San Marino and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department arson investigators said.

Morita recently had purchased a life insurance policy that would pay $500,000 at his wife's death, authorities said. Other indications of Morita's guilt were that investigators found no forced entry to the burned-out home and discovered fuel cans at the scene from Morita's workplace, the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant in Los Angeles, where he worked as a city electrician.

When firefighters arrived on the scene, a severely burned Morita staggered out to his driveway with the smell of gasoline on his clothes, deputies said.

Morita apparently tried to start the fire about 5 a.m. by pouring several gallons of gasoline on the house's staircase to prevent his sleeping family from escaping, Le Sage said. He poured out so much of the fuel, investigators said, that it leaked into the basement and was ignited by a water heater pilot flame, sparking a tremendous fireball.

The blaze was so intense that authorities could not immediately determine the sexes of the victims or whether they were children or adults. Later, the dead were identified as Morita's wife, Lucy, 45, and their three children, 10-year-old Clint, 14-year-old Krishna and 15-year-old Rama, and the family's 25-year-old housekeeper.

Investigators had hoped Morita's condition would improve so they could interview him. But he has contracted severe pneumonia and other complications and has been unable to be questioned.

The Moritas had lived in the United States for years but had retained Indonesian citizenship. They frequently attended functions at the Indonesian Consulate in Los Angeles and were members of the San Marino Community Church.


Suspect in San Marino Fire Dies of Injuries

Arson: Man's family perished in the blaze. Authorities believe he set it to collect on life insurance.

By Richard Winton and Renee Tawa - Los Angeles Times

July 08, 1995

The lone survivor of a San Marino arson fire that killed his wife, three children and a housekeeper died of his injuries Friday, thwarting authorities' plans to charge him with murder.

Leonardo Morita, 46--who authorities believe was engaged in a plot to collect on his family's new life insurance policy--was severely burned in the May 29 explosion and fire that gutted the family's two-story home in a wealthy neighborhood.

Doctors at County-USC Medical Center removed him from life support after determining that his brain activity had ceased, said hospital spokesman Harvey Kern. Morita's condition deteriorated after he contracted pneumonia and other complications from his burns, Kern said.

Overwhelming evidence links Morita to the crime, authorities said, but the district attorney's office delayed filing five counts of murder against him when it became clear that he would die, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Pat Dixon.

"There's no doubt he did this horrendous act," said San Marino Mayor Bernie Le Sage. "But certainly we would have liked to have gotten a statement from him about his motive for what is an incomprehensible crime.

"There is a bit of poetic justice in [his death], but in terms of satisfying the community needs for answers, we'll never know what happened."

Meanwhile, authorities revealed new details about the blaze.

Minutes after firefighters arrived on the scene at 5:15 a.m., it became clear that Morita was the only suspect, said Police Chief Frank J. Wills, who is also San Marino's fire chief.

Investigators, who found no forced entry, believe that Morita tried to make the incident look like part of a botched robbery attempt by breaking a kitchen window before he set the house on fire. But in the process, he accidentally cut himself on the right hand, leaving a deep gash.

Morita had staggered out of the house with second-degree burns and lung damage, and with the smell of gasoline on his clothes. In his pockets, investigators found items including a book of matches and a paper towel.

Apparently, Morita had planned to douse the house with gasoline before escaping and toss a lighted paper towel to ignite the blaze. But he had poured so much gas on the staircase to prevent his sleeping family from escaping that it leaked into the basement. The fuel was ignited by the water heater's pilot flame, sparking an explosion.

None of the victims were found in their beds, indicating that they had survived the initial explosion and tried to flee, Wills said.

In the house's rubble, authorities found plastic buckets and five-gallon gas cans from Morita's place of employment, the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant in Playa del Rey, where he worked as a city electrician. Also, investigators noted, Morita's station wagon smelled of gasoline.

In January, Morita had taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy on his wife, Lucy, 45, and a $20,000 policy on each child: Clint, 10, Krishna, 14, and Rama, 15. But he bought no policy for himself.

"This was a clear motive," Wills said. "Certainly this was a good family, but Mr. Morita himself had some personal problems, some psychological stresses in his life."

Days before the fire, neighbors noted that the street address on the Moritas' curb had been blacked out. Investigators speculated that Morita did that in an attempt to delay an investigation.



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