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Mystery envelops California family's fatal end

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. — The expanse of blue ocean seen from the living room of this coastal home seems almost endless. Sometimes, as day gives way to evening, a line of pink stretches like a crayon scrawl in the sky.

Margrit Ucar fell instantly for the panorama. Even before her husband, Manas, had a chance to see the house, she knew it was where they would raise their two young daughters, twins Margo and Grace.

Twenty years later, the home with the breathtaking view is where investigators say father, mother, daughters and a grandmother killed themselves.

Late in 2008, after a six-month investigation, detectives closed the case. Sometime in early May, the exact date unknown, Margo and Grace, both 21; Fransuhi Kesisoglu, 72; and Manas, 58, committed suicide with Vicodin, sleeping pills and antidepressants, they said. Only Margrit did not have drugs in her system. As Manas lay unconscious from the overdose, she shot him in the chest. Then she put the gun into her mouth and fired.

Investigators are at a loss as to why. So are friends and family. There were no indications of marital troubles or psychological problems. No one was in financial straits, and detectives found no evidence of bad health.

"There's just nothing there," said Orange County sheriff's Detective Dan Salcedo, who has been trying to decipher the case since late May. "I'd like to find something, have something, some possible reason to give the family some closure.

"If there were any problems," he said, "they certainly kept it to themselves."

Manas came to the United States in the 1970s from Istanbul, where he was part of a tight-knit community of Armenians who had migrated from Zara, a small town in central Turkey.

Everyone knew of one another. They knew Manas' father, a tailor who could not find work in the big city, and his brothers. They knew of Manas' successes as a student. But they knew little else about him, said Antranik Zorayan, a leader of a small community of Zara immigrants who now live in Southern California.

Most years, Manas was busy studying. He earned a degree in engineering before moving to the United States for graduate study. Soon after completing his studies, he took a job teaching in the engineering department at Syracuse University in New York.

"He was a very, very calm person," recalled Bruce Pounder, a former student. "He was very smart and very generous with his time and willingness to help students like me."

Margrit joined him in Syracuse. She had been raised in Turkey by Kesisoglu, who family members said was her mother. Margrit told friends that Kesisoglu was actually an older sister who raised her from a very young age, a claim family members deny.

Margrit was a doctor but couldn't practice in the United States because she lacked the proper credentials. In 1986, Margo and Grace were born.

The family bought the hilltop estate in San Clemente, about 60 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, where they would be near Margrit's and Manas' brothers, and settled into their new lives.

Through Manas' work as an accident investigator, a lucrative profession that relied on his engineering background, they became close to a nearby couple, attorney Glenn Rosen and wife, Peggy, but seemed to have few other acquaintances.

Margrit's daughters were her life, the Rosens said. Starting in 1992, she operated a jewelry shop named Margaux Grace after the girls at a high-end mall in Newport Beach.

When the twins graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of California, San Diego, Manas and Margrit followed, renting a house where they all lived together for much of the time during the years the girls were in school. Margrit told friends that she wanted to tutor the girls as they prepared for medical school.

The girls distinguished themselves as premed students. They continued doing everything together; they took the same classes, wore the same kind of clothing — dark shirts and pants, large gold crosses around their necks — worked as teaching assistants in the same class and interned together at a psychiatric center.

Margo and Grace finished their degrees in biology a year ago, one semester ahead of schedule. In mid April, the family, accompanied by Kesisoglu, went on a cruise to Mexico. After they returned, the girls went back to their internship at the psychiatric center and Manas returned to work.

On May 3, someone used the family's transponder to access their community vehicle gate. That was the last sign of them.

The home provides no clues to what happened in their final hours. There was no food on the table, no dishes in the sink. Everything was clean and put away. The girls and Kesisoglu apparently washed the pills down with water — half-empty glasses were found nearby. The twins lay side by side on a bed in the master bedroom; Kesisoglu was next to them, on a chaise.

Investigators believe Margo, Grace and their grandmother were dead by the time Margrit, using a gun she bought years ago, shot Manas. Then she turned the gun on herself. His death was ruled a homicide, but investigators believe he took so much Vicodin he would have died anyway.

It was weeks before anyone found them. On May 25, after trying repeatedly to reach the family, the brothers arrived at the house. It was Margrit's birthday. By then, the five bodies were badly decomposed. Detectives say the family had been dead three weeks.

Manas' and Margrit's will was not updated, although they often are in cases of suicide. There was no paperwork indicating the couple was heading toward divorce. There were no unusual phone calls or notes, "no indication that somebody was going to do something," Salcedo said.

"Everybody seemed to be content with their lives."

Mystery envelops California family's fatal end 01/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 24, 2009 10:30pm]
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