Three Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide
A child actress whose credits included the film “Jaws IV: The Revenge” was believed to have died with her mother Wednesday in an apparent murder-suicide initiated by her father, who set fire to the family’s San Fernando Valley home before taking his own life, authorities said.
The bodies were found in the heavily damaged West Hills home of Jozsef and Maria Barsi, whose only child, Judith, 11, had also appeared in numerous television shows and about 50 commercials, officials said.
The coroner’s office said the dead man was Jozsef Barsi, 55. But officials withheld the names of the woman and child pending notification of relatives.
Investigators said Jozsef Barsi, a plumber, apparently shot and killed his 48-year-old wife and his daughter in the house, doused their bodies with gasoline and set them on fire before going to the garage and shooting himself in the head with a .32-caliber pistol.
The fire destroyed the interior of the house, in the 22100 block of Michale Street.
The child’s body was found in her bed and the woman’s in a hallway, Police Lt. Warren Knowles said. Both had been shot once in the head.
“It appears a flammable liquid was poured on the child, or on the child’s bed,” Knowles said. “It looks to me as if the male found in the garage caused the death of the other adult and child and then apparently killed himself.”
Police said the pistol was found in the father’s hand and a gas can lay about 4 feet from his body.
Judith Barsi made her film debut in 1987 in “Jaws IV: The Revenge,” in which she played the role of Thea. Her television appearances included roles in “St. Elsewhere,” “Cagney and Lacey” and “Growing Pains,” said Bonnie Gold, a spokeswoman for a Studio City acting agency that managed her career.
“She was very successful, with every door open to her,” Gold said. “There’s no telling how far she would have gone.”
Next-door neighbor Eunice Daly said Maria Barsi told her on Friday that her husband became abusive and threatening when he drank. Daly said the woman told her she was thinking about filing for divorce and moving to an apartment she was using as a daytime refuge.
Daly said she had encouraged Maria several times to move out. But she said the woman would reply that she had worked too hard helping her daughter’s acting career to give up her family and home. On Friday, Daly said, there appeared to be a more pressing reason not to leave.
“She said, ‘I can’t, because he’ll come after us and kill us, and he’s threatened to burn the house down,’ ” Daly said.
Maria Barsi also said she planned to cash her daughter’s $12,000 federal tax refund check that day, before her husband could get it, Daly said.
About 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Daly was watering her garden when she heard a loud bang next door.
“I heard an explosion and I saw smoke rising from the house,” Daly said. “My first thought, as I ran in to call 911, was, ‘He’s done it. He’s killed them and set a fire in the house, just like he said he would.’ ”
Another neighbor, Michael Cutt, said he took Daly’s garden hose and opened a rear sliding door, but could not get through the smoke to fight the flames.
Judith Barsi’s busy acting schedule allowed her little time for friendships and regular school attendance, said Lisa Williams, 10, one of her former classmates at Nevada Avenue Elementary School. Lisa said the young actress “missed being in school, because she missed her friends a lot.”
Judith often came over to swim in their pool, said Lisa’s mother, Linda Williams.
“Her mother had taught her to be so polite,” Williams said.
“The child was not allowed to go anywhere, very few places alone,” the neighbor added.
“She was adorable . . . quite precocious, blonde and blue-eyed,” Adrienne Conway, a former neighbor, said of the young actress. “I can’t believe (the father) would do this.”