A man charged with murdering nine of his children in Fresno last week had been a longtime nuisance in the West Marin town of Marshall, where he lived in two squalid boats crammed with offspring, residents said yesterday.
Marcus Wesson, 57, was a well known but little understood figure in the village, where he kept his ramshackle boats - a 63-foot main boat and a smaller one nearby - moored in Tomales Bay.
Neighbors said his daughters - quiet, compliant and dressed in quasi-religious veils and clothing - would row Wesson in a dinghy when he needed to go to shore and back.
Some residents said Wesson's lifestyle reminded them of Winifred Wright, the Lucas Valley man who lived with his 19 children and four girlfriends until one of the children died of malnutrition, exposing the cult-like household to authorities.
Chris Rainsford, whose deck sits about 150 feet from Wesson's decrepit wood and concrete boats, said, "It's a cave down below, there's no light."
Wesson appeared in a Fresno courtroom yesterday to be arraigned on nine counts of murder, but the proceeding was delayed when he refused the services of a public defender, according to the Associated Press.
"I don't want a public defender, I beg thee," he said. A judge told Wesson to get a private attorney or accept a court-appointed lawyer, and ordered him to return to court today. Wesson is being held in lieu of $9 million bail.
Two of Wesson's sons attended the hearing. One spoke out, saying four times: "I love you, dad." He was then led from the courtroom and could be heard crying outside, the AP reported.
Wesson could face the death penalty if convicted of shooting nine of his children to death Friday and stacking them in a pile at his home in Fresno. Eight children ages 1 to 17 were killed, along with Wesson's 25-year-old daughter.
The nine victims were fathered by Wesson with six women, two of whom where his own daughters, the Fresno Bee reported today, citing "a source close to the police investigation."
The victims have been identified as Sebhrenah April Wesson; Elizabeth Breahi Kina Wesson; Jeva St. Vladens Vspry Wesson; Sedonia Solorio Wesson; Marshey St. Christopher Wesson; Ethan St. Laurent Wesson; Illabella Carrie Wesson; Aviv Dominique Wesson; and Johnathon St. Charles Wesson.
The motive is still being determined. Police said the case might involve incest and polygamy.
The Marin County Sheriff's Department, at the request of police in Fresno, sent a dive team to Tomales Bay yesterday to examine Wesson's boats. Sgt. Doug Pittman, a sheriff's spokesman, declined to comment on what was found there.
In Marshall, with a population of about 50, residents were still coming to grips with Wesson's arrest and the subsequent media attention on the town, where Wesson lived on and off for the past several years.
Some were not surprised by the revelations about Wesson's life in Fresno.
"The guy had a boat full of people," said Terry Sawyer, co-owner of the Hog Island Oyster Company. "They were all women and children. Everybody's always wondered about him. ... They were really not very social."
Rainsford said the people on the boat sometimes came home late at night and left again before dawn. But on other occasions, they would run a noisy gas generator on the boat until 3 a.m.
"At one point there was like four or five pregnant girls on board," he said.
Kathryn Krohn, owner of the Marshall Store, said some of Wesson's daughters worked at the nearby Marconi Convention Center, yet never had much money. The girls would buy small items of food at the general store and pay with pennies and dimes.
Meanwhile, Wesson - who was convicted of welfare fraud in 1990 - would often stockpile food and supplies on the boat, Krohn said.
"Who knows, maybe for Armageddon or something," she said.
Mike Watchorn, another partner at the Hog Island Oyster Company, said he was "totally shocked" when he learned that the man arrested in Fresno was the same man who lived in Marshall.
"I never knew him, I never talked to him," Watchorn said. "I had no idea it was this guy down the street."