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Home  >  Topics  >  Investigations

July 11, 2003
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Investigators Track Suspect's Movements Before Bakersfield Slayings

BRIAN SKOLOFF, Associated Press

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) -- Police investigating the shooting deaths of a family of five searched several undisclosed locations in Ohio on Friday, but would not say what they were looking for.

Bakersfield police have said information from Ohio led to the release of their sole suspect in the case -- elementary school vice principal Vincent Brothers, the father of three of the young victims and estranged husband of another.

Brothers turned himself in to North Carolina authorities Wednesday, but was soon released because Bakersfield police said they did not have enough evidence to seek a formal arrest warrant.

Bakersfield police have not elaborated on the Ohio connection and on Friday declined comment. They were still seeking the murder weapons and have searched the Bakersfield apartment and storage unit Brothers used.

"They're not even telling us what they're looking at," Columbus police spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio said. "They showed up and asked to be taken to several locations."

Mercurio said that no search warrants had been issued and that Columbus police were only involved to provide local transportation for the Bakersfield detectives. She offered no further details.

Brothers, 41, is the estranged husband of Joanie Harper and the father of their three children, Marques Harper, 4, Lyndsey Harper, 23 months, and Marshall Harper, 1 1/2 months, all of whom were shot to death. Also fatally shot was Earnestine Harper, Joanie's mother.

An attorney for Brothers said Friday in Elizabeth City, N.C. -- where Brothers had been visiting his mother -- that Brothers was returning to Bakersfield.

"He returns to Bakersfield as a grieving father, husband and son-in-law," attorney Curtis Floyd read from a prepared statement.

"Mr. Brothers' main priority at the current time is to make funeral arrangements for his family and to bid farewell to his loved ones," Floyd said. "Mr. Brothers requests time and space as he goes through this grieving process."

A memorial service for the five victims was scheduled for Friday evening in Bakersfield.

Police have not yet pinpointed when they died -- the family members were last seen at church Sunday morning but their bodies were discovered Tuesday.

Floyd said that Brothers was not in Bakersfield during the span they were killed.

"The police know where he was during that time," Floyd said. "He wasn't there."

Autopsies of the victims showed they died from gunshot wounds, but search warrant said they were also stabbed.

Although police seized a computer from the storage unit and have impounded Brothers' 1994 Chevrolet truck and a 2003 Mercedes, they found neither murder weapons, blood evidence nor clothing linked to the crime scene, the documents said. Authorities were searching for a .22-caliber gun and a "stabbing weapon," according to an affidavit made public Thursday.

The affidavit accompanied a search warrant police obtained Tuesday, less than two hours after they found the five bodies in the Harpers' home. Brothers had been living apart from the family at the time of the killings.

The affidavit also said that after learning of the killings, Brothers contacted his school district, but never called police. Police said that behavior and Brothers' failure to provide an alibi helped lead to his arrest.

He was released hours later, however -- based in part on unspecified information from Ohio, Capt. Neil Mahan said.

Mahan said Brothers is still considered the only "potential suspect." Mahan added that police were investigating whether anyone else had a motive for the killings.

Elizabeth City detective Robin Vanscoy said that while Brothers was voluntarily waiting for Bakersfield police to arrive at the jail on Wednesday, police took a DNA sample from the inside of his mouth. Investigators also gathered evidence from the home of Brothers' mother in Elizabeth City, Vanscoy said.

After a brief marriage, Joanie Harper and Brothers were granted an annulment in September 2001 and Harper was given sole custody of Marques and Lyndsey, court records show. But they remarried Jan. 25 in Las Vegas, according to Clark County, Nev. records.

In an interview with The Bakersfield Californian, Brothers' ex-fiancee and the mother of their 14-year-old daughter described a deteriorating relationship between Brothers and Joanie Harper.

Shann Kern told the paper she visited Harper the day before she was last seen alive -- the two apparently maintained a relationship because their children shared Brothers as a father. Kern said Harper became agitated when she learned that Brothers had lied about his whereabouts in late June, when he was supposed to attend the 14-year-old girl's junior high graduation.

Kern described a man who often deceived family and said she thought Harper had gone to confront him Saturday.

Others described a praiseworthy man and inspirational educator.

Associated PressCopyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

"I only remember great things about him," said Laura O'Neal, 24, who Brothers taught in junior high. "Sure he was stern and a disciplinarian but he just great and upbeat and outgoing, even fun. This whole thing is just disturbing."






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