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CALIFORNIA ALBUM : Slaying of Family Remains a Mystery : Fresno police have mostly discounted possible ties of wealthy businessman to drug dealing or disgruntled Filipino investors. They now focus on the lone surviving son.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dale and Glee Ewell were not like the other new rich. They did not announce their wealth with a 10,000-square-foot home on the bluffs of the San Joaquin River.

Dale ran his farms and airplane dealership and Glee did volunteer work and served on a state commission to evaluate judicial nominees. They lived with little fanfare, careful to guard their privacy.

So when their bodies and that of a 24-year-old daughter, Tiffany, were found inside their ranch house in April, shot to death in a manner that suggested murder-for-hire, tongues here started wagging.

Did you know Glee worked for the CIA? Did you know Dale was smuggling drugs via aircraft from Mexico? Did you know the Filipino mob, angry over business dealings with the Ewells, mutilated the bodies?

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Investigators quickly scotched the early speculation. Now, nearly a year after the Easter Sunday killings, detectives are focusing on the Ewells’ only surviving child--Dana, 21, a college student with high-roller tastes and a fascination for Joe Hunt and his Billionaire Boys Club.

“To be hit with all these rumors and then to read in the newspaper that Dana is now a suspect . . . it’s been a damn trauma,” said a family friend.

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Easter weekend. Glee, 57, and Tiffany, a graduate student at Cal State Fresno, drove to the family beach house near Watsonville. Dale, 59, an expert pilot, insisted on flying there alone--his one fear being that a plane or car crash would kill the whole family.

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That Saturday, the Ewells entertained son Dana, a finance major at Santa Clara University, his girlfriend and her parents. Glee and Tiffany drove back to Fresno early Sunday.

Sheriff’s investigators are refusing to reveal details of the shooting and have not determined whether more than one gunman was involved. There was no sign of forced entry at the Ewell house in the upper-middle-class Sunnyside neighborhood. Mother and daughter may have been confronted before they walked in the door.

Glee was gunned down in the den, Tiffany in the kitchen. Dale Ewell, a tall beefy man, arrived a short time later clutching the newspaper. He was shot from behind. It is likely he never knew the fate of his wife and daughter.

“It was quick and it was clean,” said Fresno County Sheriff’s Detective Ernie Burk.

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But the investigation has been anything but quick and clean. Sheriff’s detectives spent four days combing the house and trying to re-enact the slayings, a job made daunting by a killer who had taken care to pick up each bullet casing.

Detectives quickly discounted Glee’s stint in the CIA in the late 1950s. She had been stationed in Argentina as a Spanish-language translator for the intelligence agency, a few years before she met Dale.

Searching court records, detectives learned that Dale Ewell had sold planes for aircraft dealer Frank Lambe, who in 1971 oversaw a large Mexico-to-Fresno drug smuggling venture. Lambe was jailed and Ewell took over his dealership. Investigators pursued the theory that bad blood still existed between Lambe and Ewell. They also speculated that Ewell might have been involved in the ring and more recent drug smuggling.

“We’ve pretty much ruled out any fallout from the old Lambe ring,” said Detective John Souza. “And as far as we can tell, Ewell’s fortune came from hard work and shrewd investments in farming. He didn’t need drug smuggling.”

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But wealth did not stop Ewell from occasionally crossing the line to make a quick buck. Court records show he once lied about the sale price of a plane to pocket an extra $2,500 from the owners. Court files here are thick with lawsuits involving his business ventures.

In particular, detectives wonder what role Ewell may have played in a residential and golf course development headed by his younger brother Ben. The project, plagued by problems, has absorbed millions of dollars in overseas cash--much of it raised by Filipinos once tied to the corrupt Ferdinand Marcos regime.

“If something did go sour between the Filipinos and the Ewells, why kill Glee and Tiffany?” Souza asks. “It doesn’t add up.”

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That leaves burglary-gone-bad or a theory involving Dana Ewell, the sole heir to an $8-million estate.

The day of the murder, Dana was in the Bay Area with his girlfriend, her mother and her father, who is an FBI agent in San Jose. The Ewells’ housekeeper discovered the bodies two days later, after Dana called a neighbor in Fresno saying he had been unable to reach the family by phone.

He contributed half of the $50,000 reward fund and then, sensing he was a target, hired a criminal attorney. Lawyer Richard Berman said he and his client are not discussing the case with reporters. In a letter to sheriff’s officials, Berman said Dana “adamantly denies any participation in this heinous crime.”

Investigators are also being tight-lipped, publicly saying only that the son has not been ruled out as a suspect. And yet it is clear that Dana Ewell has become the main focus in recent months.

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Detectives traveled to Southern California and Utah and spent a week at Santa Clara University trying to glean information about Ewell and a college buddy, Joel P. Radovcich, a San Fernando Valley native who dropped out of sight after being questioned. Investigators said they are trying to find Radovcich to question him again.

Family and friends say they hope that authorities clear Dana, but even they have been confounded by his behavior in recent years. They say he grew enamored of Hunt and the Billionaire Boys Club after watching a TV movie about the young Southern Californians whose efforts to make a fortune in the commodities market ended in two murders.

Eighteen months before the Fresno murders, the San Jose Mercury News printed a front-page feature on Dana Ewell headlined: “Teen Mogul Tries For Normal College Life.” The article depicted a young tycoon dressed in elegant suits, selling mutual funds and building a bankrupt airplane dealership into a $4-million windfall.

The article and a similar one that appeared in the 1990 Santa Clara University yearbook were near-complete fabrications, friends and family say. Dana Ewell had credited himself with his father’s lengthy accomplishments, but in truth he had no role in the family business.

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“It’s like his father didn’t exist,” said a former business associate.


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