Relatives of a British woman who was found shot to death in Rancho Santa Fe along with her three children have turned to the office of Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent counsel investigating the Iran-Contra case, to air their contention that U.S. government agents were responsible for the family’s murder.
Gail Spiro, 41, and her children--Sara, 16; Adam, 14, and Dina, 11--were found Nov. 4 in their bedrooms, each shot in the head, after neighbors became suspicious about the family’s disappearance. Her husband, British entrepreneur Ian Spiro, was discovered dead of cyanide poisoning four days later in the Anza-Borrego Desert.
Last week, Greg Quarton and his twin brother, Ken Quarton, issued a statement saying they suspect U.S. agents of killing the Spiros. The Quartons are half-brothers of Gail Spiro, and said they speak for the rest of her family.
Allen Stansbury, director of security for Walsh’s office, confirmed that he had spoken at length with Greg Quarton by telephone. “We’re looking into what he had to say, and beyond that, I have no comment,” Stansbury said.
With the family stepping up its campaign, the sense of mystery that has enshrouded the case since the slayings has deepened. Conspiracy theories have surfaced since early news accounts identified Ian Spiro as a shadowy figure at one time involved in negotiations to free Western hostages held in Lebanon.
Detectives for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, nearly 3 1/2 months into their investigation of the deaths, declined to comment on the allegations except to say they were nothing new. But David Christian, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, which the brothers blamed for the deaths, called the statement nonsense.
The Sheriff’s Department had been contacted in recent weeks by British intelligence officials who are also looking into the case after having been approached by the Spiros’ relatives, Homicide Lt. Brian Roberts said.
Ken Quarton said that immediately after the killings, the MI-6, the British equivalent of the CIA, took Ian Spiro’s two daughters from a previous marriage into protective custody as a precaution.
The Quartons, both Canadian businessmen, said they hoped to make their feelings as public as possible because, in the words of Greg Quarton, 46, of Vancouver, “We’re scared. We think other people may die.”
Quarton and his brother, Ken, of Toronto, said they believe San Diego County authorities have leaned too heavily toward thinking that Ian Spiro, 46, murdered his wife and children. Along with others, they described Spiro as a devoted father, doting on the children while struggling to free the family from the weight of mounting debts.
The Quartons said they believe Spiro was silenced by federal agents because he knew too much about U.S. involvement in the Mideast hostage situation and the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s. Spiro reportedly played a role in helping link Western negotiators with contacts in Lebanon to the arms-for-hostages swap that became the focal point of the Iran-Contra investigation.
Greg Quarton said that although many “may consider our views preposterous” the brothers’ theory is “the only logical conclusion we can come to” based on Ian Spiro’s remarks.
He said he called Walsh’s office Wednesday to report his concerns and was interviewed by Stansbury.
Walsh was appointed by a three-judge federal panel in December, 1986, to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. He suffered a major setback Dec. 24, when President Bush chose to pardon former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and five others, including three CIA officials. Bush said the investigation had gone far enough.
The brothers concede that they have no proof for their allegations beyond what Spiro had told relatives about fears that government agents were out to get him because of his knowledge of covert activity in the Iran-Contra affair.
Other acquaintances of the Spiros have said that beginning in October he started speaking of vague telephone threats regarding his former activities in Lebanon, where the Spiros lived for a time.
“He said he felt he’d be safe once the U.S. elections were over and the Iran-Contra pardons went through,” Greg Quarton said, noting that Spiro seemed to expect Bush’s Christmas Eve pardons.
Spiro’s role in aiding negotiations for the release of Western hostages in Lebanon and his work with former White House aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite were documented in a book by BBC journalist Gavin Hewitt.
Hewitt wrote that North put Waite in contact with a man named Spiro. Spiro then reportedly introduced Waite, a hostage negotiator and eventual hostage, to Shiite kidnapers of U.S. and British hostages in Beirut during the mid-1980s.
Greg Quarton said Spiro “had no contacts in Iran but did have a very powerful contact in Lebanon (whom Quarton declined to name) who had powerful contacts in Iran. That contact enabled Ian to get into Iran and start negotiating a deal for the hostages” that may have become an element in the arms-for-hostages scenario that characterized Iran-Contra.
And Ken Quarton said that in May, 1987, he was staying with the Spiros in a villa in southern France when Spiro was flown to Washington on the Concorde at U.S. government expense to “confer on matters related to the hostages.”
Roberts, the investigator with the Sheriff’s Department, said the Spiro case is still being investigated.
“These are all allegations the family has discussed with us on many occasions,” Roberts said. “Some people want to tell us this was a murder-suicide. Others want to say it was a CIA hit. But we’re not going to make any comment until we have a full resolution.”
Ron Orrantia, the spokesman in the FBI’s San Diego office, declined to comment on the case, referring all questions to the Sheriff’s Department.
Greg Quarton said relatives believe the Spiros were killed by agents of the CIA or U.S. Army Intelligence because he had tried to sell a videotape that showed the beating and torture of American hostages in Lebanon after the Reagan Administration reportedly had rejected an offer to have them freed.
Greg Quarton said Spiro knew a lot about the involvement of principals from both the Reagan and Bush administrations in the Iran-Contra scandal.
But he called the videotape “the smoking gun,” saying it was made after the captors received word that a demand for a $30-million ransom had been refused. The tape “would have astonished the American public,” Quarton said, “and would have greatly embarrassed the Administration. It wasn’t just the tape itself. It was symbolic of the great deal that Ian knew of Iran-Contra.”
Spiro had been asked by U.S. government agents to turn over the tape, Quarton said, but had refused and then, desperately in need of money “as he often was,” tried to sell the video to a Hollywood studio two weeks before his death. Quarton, who did not see the tape nor know its exact contents, said he did not know the name of the studio or the status of Spiro’s talks with its executives.
Roberts said investigators had “heard about the videotape” from Spiro’s relatives and friends but they have not “been able to find it. . . . And if it was there (among Spiro’s possessions), we would have found it.”
Investigators have speculated that Spiro may have slain his family and then poisoned himself because he was so deeply in debt and was being badgered almost daily by creditors. Sheriff’s deputies say he was 90 days behind in paying the $5,000-a-month rent on his Rancho Santa Fe home.
Greg Quarton acknowledged his brother-in-law’s financial problems, saying, “The man was no angel. It got to the point where we (Gail Spiro’s family) despised him, but we will not saddle him with this. You will not find one relative or friend who believes Ian capable of killing his family.
“He lived entirely for his family at the expense of everyone else. He didn’t mind screwing people out of everything they had, if it benefited his family,” Greg Quarton said.