Rites for Bludgeon Victims : Mourners Given No Reasons Why 2 Died

Times Staff Writer

Two little girls sat on a hard wooden bench Wednesday, oblivious to the mood of grief within the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Ana, while a minister spoke of two untimely deaths.

“The way that they died, so unexpectedly, so unexplainedly, so unnecessarily and so tragically has touched us all, whether we knew (them) or not,” said the Rev. Mike Pulsifer, pastor of the church. “Why this happened, I do not know.”

The girls’ mother, Helen Lynch, 35, and their 13-month-old sister, Natalie, were buried in a private ceremony Wednesday morning, and about 60 friends and neighbors gathered at the church just after noon for a memorial service.

Across town, less than a mile away, the girls’ father, Joseph Peter Lynch, 43, sat in a jail cell on suspicion of fatally bludgeoning the mother and infant with a champagne bottle.


In his sermon, Pulsifer spoke to the anguished quest for answers in the aftermath of a horrible event. He talked of the virtues of mother and daughter, two innocents in a family tragedy. Only near the end did he acknowledge Joseph Lynch:

“Grant him peace, oh God, and keep us from passing judgment.”

For now, there are questions, raised by Lynch’s attorney and psychiatrist, about Lynch’s history of mental problems and what role they will play in his defense.

And there are questions about what will become of the fragments of the family left behind.

Like many of Orange County’s residents, the Lynches were transplants. He is Scottish, and Helen was Australian. They had lived in Santa Ana 4 years. But in that short time, say neighbors and friends, they became well-entrenched in the community.

Work had brought them here. An engineer for an international company, Joseph Lynch had transplanted his family to Canada, Mexico and Italy before California.

Helen Lynch devoted herself to her children. Their daughters Holly, 9, and Angela, 4, were in Girl Scouts and Brownies. One daughter played on a soccer team.

“They were a very loving family,” said Stan Taylor, president of the homeowners association in the apartment complex where they lived. “A lot of times, we’ve said that we wish other kids in the complex were as well-behaved as the Lynch kids were.”

Taylor remembers Lynch as the model of stability.

“If I had to pick 100 people who I thought would do something terrible, he would not even make the list,” Taylor said.

‘Very Brutal Attack’

But in the early hours of Jan. 17, Joseph Lynch called Santa Ana police to report a homicide.

Police found Helen Lynch battered and lifeless on the floor of the family’s condominium. Her daughter lay in her arms, suffering from blows to her head.

A police spokeswoman called it a “very brutal attack.”

Initially, Lynch said someone else had been responsible, police reported. Then, he changed his story and said he had been responsible.

Police found the other two girls in their room, under a cover, apparently unharmed.

Friends, family and Lynch’s psychiatrist say Joseph Lynch suffered from manic depression. Two years ago, said his psychiatrist, Dr. Richard S. Rose, he was hospitalized for the condition.

“He had some problems and his wife recognized the problems and suggested to him that he seek help, and he did,” Rose said.

He had been on the medication lithium since that time, Rose said, and “he had done beautifully on the medication.”

But Rose said that Lynch apparently had stopped taking his medicine, and his wife noticed changes in his behavior. On the day before she died, Helen Lynch had called Rose’s office to make an appointment for him.

“There was no urgency about the call,” Rose said.

Dr. Lawrence Greene, a psychiatrist who oversees quality assurance for the county’s mental health system, said about 0.5% to 1.2% of the U.S. population suffers from manic depression.

Those who suffer from the illness, he said, experience manic episodes characterized by a decreased need for sleep, increased talkativeness, racing thoughts and increased irrational activity that may include overspending.

Sometimes, he said, the manic episodes are short, and other times they can last for months. The episodes might also trigger delusions, and in that case, “it is possible for the person to become violent.”

The episodes can be controlled with medication, namely lithium. Uncontrolled, the disease will cause more frequent, and sometimes more intense, episodes, Greene said.

Brian Ducker, a public defender who is serving as Lynch’s attorney, is ordering a psychological evaluation for his client and said an insanity plea is a possibility. He said Lynch is being monitored closely in a medical unit at a county jail ward.

Lynch is scheduled to be arraigned on two charges of murder Friday, but Ducker said he will ask for a continuance until Lynch undergoes the testing.

“Given his present mental state, I don’t think even his friends ought to talk to him about this case,” Ducker said.

Those close to Lynch were aware of his condition, but said his behavior never frightened them.

Helen Lynch’s mother, Joan Stuart, had visited the family several times, and stayed with them several weeks last year, when Natalie was born. Nothing about Joseph Lynch’s behavior worried her, she said. “Not at all, because he was treated for that and he was going along well, as far as I knew,” she said.

Unusual Behavior

Said Pulsifer, pastor of First Presbyterian: “Helen must not have been that afraid, or she would not have let the kids stay there, because I know how much she cared for those kids.”

Rose said it is highly unusual for a person who suffers from manic depression to act in a way that is radically different from his behavior during other manic episodes.

“Sudden, unpredictable behavior is Hollywood, Class B stuff,” he said. “We don’t see people who are unpredictable that way.

“There is an element of unpredictability about this illness, but what is usual is the predictability of the bizarreness of behavior,” he said.

The incident has left the family in a tangle of legal questions regarding the surviving children and Joseph Lynch’s case.

The family had no relatives in the United States, so their guardianship is a matter that will have to be determined by a juvenile court.

The two girls were living in the Orangewood Children’s Home until late last week, when a juvenile court granted Stuart temporary custody. No permanent arrangement has been determined.

The British consul in Los Angeles is monitoring Lynch’s case to make sure his rights as a non-citizen are respected, but consulate spokesman Angus Mackay said Lynch will have to go through the system “just as anyone here does.”

This weekend, Stuart met her son-in-law’s family for the first time. Lynch’s brother, John, from West Germany, and his sister, Mary, from Scotland, arrived in Santa Ana on Sunday.

‘We’re Just Managing’

“It was a very awkward meeting for all of us,” Stuart said. “We really just talked in a very general way about the children.

“We’re just living one day at a time,” Stuart said. “We’re just managing.”

In the church’s library Wednesday afternoon, Stuart accepted condolences from many people she had never met. Sitting next to her was Sharon Portman, a neighbor who has been close to the Lynch family. Stuart and the two girls are staying with Portman and husband Michael Fults.

Holly and Angela ran about with other children, sharing books, secure in the company of friends of a few years.

Lynch’s brother and sister sat in a corner of the library, apart from the crowd of neighbors and friends. They were asked about their brother.

“Perhaps it’s best to wait on this thing,” John Lynch said, as his sister dabbed at tears.