Image: Woman talking with police officers
Jeff Willhelm  /  Charlotte Observer
Police talk to Tiffany Saephan, a relative of the mother and three children killed Thursday in Conover, N.C.
updated 3/13/2009 6:03:02 PM ET 2009-03-13T22:03:02

Puzzled investigators scoured a North Carolina neighborhood Friday, searching for clues in the slayings of four family members and trying to identify a suspicious man seen at their home before the killings.

Authorities found the bodies of Lisa Saephan and her three children — 20-year-old Melanie, 18-year-old Pauline and 3-year-old Cody — Thursday in their home in a subdivision near Conover, about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. Each had been stabbed or shot to death.

Brian Tzeo, Saephan's husband and the children's father, has been holed up in a hotel since, refusing to eat and saying he has no reason to live, according to family friend Mai Cai, who lives next door. Tzeo is not a suspect in the slayings. The rest of his family lives on the other side of the country in California.

"Right now, he's trying to cope," Cai said. "He hasn't eaten anything. I told him you have to eat. You have to fight. Please keep fighting. But he said to me, 'I don't need to be alive anymore. I don't need to live.'"

A friend of Pauline's told authorities she'd noticed a suspicious man when she picked the teen up for school Thursday morning. The two decided to return to the home and the friend, whom police did not identify, said Pauline opened the front door and was pulled into the house by the man. The friend called 911 as she drove away.

Cai said he left for work at 6:15 a.m. Thursday and Brian Tzeo always left 15 minutes later for his job at a machine factory. The friend picked up Pauline for school around 7 a.m.

'Knew the family's routine'
"Whoever did this knew the family's routine," Cai said. "They knew that Brian went to work the same time every morning."

Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman said that was probably correct.

"They did not arbitrarily pick that house," he said. "They knew who lived there and what the situation was because the father had gone to work in another county, apparently. The person apparently knew the pattern, if you will, that the three women and the little child would be there."

The sheriff's office held a debriefing Friday morning to divvy up assignments among the 30 investigators digging for clues in the case. Some spoke with witnesses and relatives. Others took to the streets, stopping drivers in the neighborhood and hoping for some clue about the mysterious man that will help narrow their focus.

Gun found nearby
Authorities were examining a gun found in the bushes nearby. Huffman also said authorities found two stolen vehicles still running Thursday, one near the home and one near one of the victims' schools. He wasn't sure if the vehicles were connected to the killings.

"We're just grabbing at straws right now, but the information is coming in very good — both materially and verbally," Huffman said.

News of the deaths shocked many people in the subdivision in unincorporated Catawba County, tucked amid rolling hills and farmland, where word of the crime spread quickly, said Jim Williams, a truck driver who was walking near the home Friday.

"How could somebody do something like this?" he asked. "To kill a whole family. It's sick. We're all shaken up."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments