Accused mass murderer Marcus Wesson was a loving father who took in kids needing a home and dreamed of sailing with them around the world, a friend said Wednesday.
Bob Jackman, who lived with Wesson and his family for a couple of months about eight years ago, said the man he knows wouldn't have shot two young women and seven children at a west-central Fresno home.
"Somebody has to say that Marcus isn't a demon," Jackman, 52, said from outside his home in Marshall, a tiny coastal town about an hour north of San Francisco. "It is hard to imagine he did what he did."
Authorities plan to search Wesson's 60-foot tugboat, which is floating about 100 feet from shore. Fresno detectives reportedly arrived in Marshall on Wednesday afternoon and took a quick look at the wood and concrete boat. They are expected to do a more thorough search today.
Marin County sheriff's officials have been guarding the boat since Tuesday, making sure no one disturbs it. Deputies who were in the area wouldn't comment late Wednesday.
Wesson bought the boat about eight years ago, said Jackman, who lived on it for about three years before Wesson.
The boat, which used to be called the Sudan, was renamed Sanctuary by Wesson, Jackman said.
"I welcomed them with open arms," Jackman said, adding that Wesson's family had 17 members when he bought the boat.
Jackman said Wesson told him some of the children had no place to live, so he took them in. "They needed a home, and they needed some guidance," he said. The children were home schooled, teaching each other, Jackman said. In the beginning, Jackman spent hours rowing Wesson, his wife, Elizabeth, and their children to and from the boat until Wesson got used to it.
"Marcus had dreams, and one of his dreams was to take Sudan, turn it into a three-mast schooner and sail away with his kids," Jackman said. The friend said Wesson and his wife were affectionate parents. "There was nothing deviant going on," Jackman said.
Other nearby residents said the entire family regularly dressed in black clothing.
Police said Wesson might have fathered some of his grandchildren. Jackman, though, said he saw no evidence of incest or polygamy.
Wesson talked about making a mast out of aluminum light posts. But Jackman said he talked him out of it. Jackman said Wesson liked to take things apart and reuse the pieces.
Police found 12 coffins in Wesson's Fresno home, and a relative said he planned to use the wood to make furniture. Jackman said it sounded like something Wesson might do: "It's not that far of a stretch."
Jackman said Wesson had a keen sense of humor, and the two sometimes talked politics. He said they never talked about religion because Jackman didn't like talking about that.
Jackman said Wesson became upset when someone accused him of child endangerment in January. He figured something that happened in Fresno must have pushed him over the edge.
"I think Marcus was pushed into a corner, and he had taken all he could take," Jackman said as tears welled in his eyes and fell to his cheeks. "You can only push so far, and something has to snap."
Other residents in Marshall said the news didn't surprise them.
Chris Rainsford, whose house is about 100 feet from Wesson's boat, said he found out about the murders Saturday morning from deputies who were checking out the boat. Rainsford said his first reaction was, "I knew it."
Rainsford said he last saw Wesson on March 10, when Wesson was in Marshall checking his boats. Wesson got a strange look in his eye and raised his voice when he learned that a boat he once owned had been wrecked in a recent storm.
Rainsford said Wesson told him he was back to work on his boats after fixing up two of his homes.
Rainsford said Wesson had two other boats: a 60-foot boat in which he kept supplies such as buckets and kerosene for stoves, and a 19-foot boat.
Rainsford and neighbor David Harris called authorities on Wesson several times for being loud. Wesson and his children used to run noisy generators late into the night and paddle ashore in rowboats before sunup.
The neighbors said Wesson was around mostly in the summer. Harris said he asked Wesson several times to keep quiet with no success before he finally called authorities. Neighbors said officials kicked the Wesson family off the boat about two months ago.
The family would row ashore just feet from Harris' kitchen window, then trudge up steps that lead to the shoulder of Highway 1.
Harris said Wesson got angry when Harris threatened to take out the steps and replace them with a fence.
"Marcus said if I did that, he was going to sue me," Harris said, adding that he put in the fence without Wesson taking any legal action.
Rainsford, 47, said he checks the boats for damage after storms. He said he has been on Wesson's boat to check for water leaks.
Inside are several makeshift bunks with mattresses and sheets on plywood planks, Rainsford said. He said he remembers seeing a cutting board and a knife, a woman's undergarment hanging over a shower stall and an old head of cabbage in the kitchen.