He was a software engineer who liked SUVs and went to Mass on Sundays. She was a secretary with a quick mind and an infectious laugh. When Bruce Pardo married Sylvia Orza three years ago, the match seemed ideal -- right down to the housing arrangements: He lived alone in a sparsely furnished house and she had three children and plenty of furniture.
But the marriage splintered nearly a year ago when she discovered that, years earlier, he had abandoned a brain-damaged son but continued to claim him as a tax write-off.
Sylvia Pardo was appalled, according to a source close to the police investigation.
A week before Bruce Pardo's Christmas Eve rampage left nine dead, including his ex-wife, the couple had reached a "full settlement" in their divorce. Police, while still seeking clues to his motives, believe he may have been enraged over the demise of his marriage when he stormed a party in Covina dressed in a Santa suit.
The couple's relationship had begun four years earlier when they were introduced by one Sylvia Pardo's brothers, who had been a work colleague of Bruce Pardo. Pardo did not mention that he had a son, then about 5, who was confined to a wheelchair. The couple were married Jan. 29, 2006.
Sylvia Pardo and her youngest child moved into Pardo's small house on Sunset Avenue in Montrose. The house, valued at $546,000, was heavily mortgaged and in need of renovation, according to court records, but the couple were earning decent money.
Bruce Pardo's annual salary as a software engineer at the Van Nuys defense contractor ITT was about $122,000, while Sylvia Pardo brought in $31,000 as an administrative assistant.
Their happiness was short-lived. Two years after they wed, Sylvia Pardo asked for a divorce. In court papers, she offered no explanation for their breakup in February 2008 beyond checking a box for irreconcilable differences. "The situation had become untenable and continuing the marriage was not an option," she wrote.
The split became nasty before the papers were even filed. According to Sylvia Pardo, when she told her husband that she wanted a divorce, he told her that she would have to move out because the deed to the house was in his name. She asked to stay until her daughter could finish the last few months of kindergarten with her class in Glendale, promising that she would pay for groceries and the utility bills and spend each weekend at her parents' house.
Pardo refused. While she attended a family birthday party, he moved her furniture and belongings into the driveway, she wrote in court papers. Pardo denied evicting her, writing in court papers that he was only trying to rearrange the living room. Sylvia Pardo moved into a spare room in her married sister's home nearby.
The couple began sparring over money. Sylvia Pardo, who was earning $19 an hour, told a judge that she was stretched to the breaking point. In July, a judge ordered Bruce Pardo to pay her $3,166 a month in spousal support. But a month later, he was fired from his job without severance and denied unemployment benefits. He couldn't find tenants for his house, he wrote, because it was in such disrepair. Bruce Pardo had his own engineering business on the side, but tax records show the business was flagging. He recorded a loss of more than $7,000 last year.
He told a judge that he couldn't afford to pay his own expenses, let alone those of his wife. "I am desperately seeking work and have since applied to many companies, resulting in several job interviews," he wrote in a court filing.
Bruce Pardo asked the judge to order his wife to start supporting him. Her lifestyle, he alleged, was proof that she had money to spare.
"Since the date of separation, she bought a new 2009 luxury car, has gone several days gambling in Las Vegas, has frequently been out dining at finer restaurants . . . took a trip to Primm Casino-Resort . . . purchased golf school lessons, has taken a recent vacation to Magic Mountain Amusement Park and visited massage parlors," he wrote in court filings earlier this month.
One week before his rampage, the couple appeared before a judge to finalize an agreement. He would keep the house. She would get a $10,000 payment and the family Akita, Saki. In the divorce decree, the judge wrote, "The Court finds that no counseling or delay can help restore this marriage."