Covina's 'Santa Claus' gunman was described by acquaintances as smart and generous but 'quirky'

Bruce Jeffrey Pardo stopped by the Montrose Bakery and Cafe about noon on Christmas Eve, said Henry Baeza, the cafe's owner.

Pardo, who lived in the neighborhood just around the corner from Baeza, was a regular customer who liked to sit at a table by the window so he could see his dog waiting outside. "He always ordered coffee and cheesecake for dessert," Baeza said.

As Pardo left that day, the two men shook hands. Pardo wished Baeza a merry Christmas and said he would see him soon.

"You, too," Baeza said. "You're doing OK."

Baeza said he did not learn until late the next day that Pardo killed his ex-wife and several of her family members at her parents' home in Covina in a barrage of gunfire on Christmas Eve. Pardo later took his own life.

Baeza said he knew Pardo was having a hard time. He said over the last year Pardo would often talk about losing his job and about his divorce, saying "his ex-wife was taking him to the cleaners."

"I wonder how much a person can handle," Baeza said. "At what point do you go crazy? . . . He saw a future without family or kids. Maybe that was too much for him."

Pardo's trail of death continued to haunt police late Saturday when they discovered a second getaway car in Glendale that he had rented, authorities said. The sport utillity vehicle was parked along the shoulder of Glenoaks Boulevard in Scholl Canyon east of the Glendale Freeway.

Police cleared the roadway and brought in a robot to check the vehicle for possible explosives, authorities said. Pardo had boobytrapped another rental car that he drove on Christmas Eve but police were able to disarm the trigger mechanism before it could set off 200 rounds of ammunition inside the vehicle.

Meanwhile, a fuller portrait of Bruce Pardo began to emerge Saturday through interviews with acquaintances and friends, who described him as bookishly smart and overly generous with his money. Some also described him as irresponsible, a big kid who loved his toys -- his Hummer and Miata, for example.

"He was quirky and different, but a super-nice guy," said Rachelle Maxheimer, 40, a former roommate.

She described him as something of a ladies' man, preferring younger women and dating several at once. But three years ago, she remembered, she met Pardo's then-girlfriend Sylvia, who would later become his wife.

"She had a few children. I thought, 'Maybe this is good for him, to go out with someone closer to his age with some children,' " Maxheimer said. "He loved kids, so I thought it was a good thing."

Maxheimer said she lost contact with Pardo a few years ago.

"It sounds like in this case he planned the whole thing, that's what's so disturbing to me," Maxheimer said of the shootings. "Not in a million years could I imagine he'd do something like that."

Steve Erwin, a high school friend, said Pardo had called him Tuesday to tell him he would be visiting him in Iowa for two weeks, starting Christmas morning. But he never showed up.

The last time Pardo visited was in October, upset because he was going through a divorce, Erwin said. "It sounded like his wife was taking him for whatever she could," he said.

Erwin said he talked to Pardo the day after the Dec. 18 divorce settlement hearing.

"I told him it's great it's over with now," Erwin said. "He said he told the judge he would have still went to counseling with [Sylvia] and worked it out. He still loved her."

Jeri Deiotte, owner of Jeri's Costumes down the street from Pardo's house, said he had purchased his Santa Claus suit at her shop Sept. 9. She said that he wanted it to be extra-large and that she even made a vest to go under the coat to allow for more stuffing.

He told her the suit was for a Nov. 8 children's party and called later to tell her it was a big hit. After hearing about the shootings, Deiotte remembered the suit.

"I thought, 'Oh, my God, he wanted it big to hide stuff,' " she said, adding that she immediately called police.

Scott Nord, Sylvia Pardo's divorce attorney, said she never expressed fear of Bruce Pardo. Clients who fear that their husbands may hurt them usually tell their attorneys and seek a restraining order before filing divorce papers, Nord said.

"The issue of domestic violence or fear for her safety never came up," he said. "In fact, she never said Bruce even owned a gun."

Nord said that compared to a lot of divorces, the financial stakes were not huge. Sylvia Pardo didn't get much more than a $10,000 settlement and a dog that Nord insisted her ex-husband didn't want.

"I've had divorces that seemed 10 times worse," he said. "And this one was very routine, very routine."

Nord said he last spoke to Sylvia Pardo in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. He called her to ask whether her ex-husband had delivered the check he owed. He hadn't, she said.

The next day, Nord learned about the shootings.

"There's no rationalization for such an irrational act," he said. "What he did was so full of hate."

Pardo had seemed so normal, Nord said.

"Clearly," he said, "it turns out Bruce is the sickest person I've ever had to deal with."

alicia.lozano@latimes.com

tami.abdollah@latimes.com

Times staff writer Hector Becerra contributed to this report.

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