6 Months Later, Spiro Murder Case Remains a Baffler : Mystery: A team of investigators continues to sift evidence in deaths of British businessman, his wife and three children. Despite a flood of sensational theories, there are no answers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than six months after discovering the bodies of shadowy British businessman Ian Stuart Spiro, his wife and their three children, San Diego County detectives say they are still far from solving the highly publicized but confounding case.

"One of our first priorities in any murder case is to determine a motive for the crime," San Diego County Sheriff's Capt. James Marmack said. "In this case, we are still trying to determine whether the motive was a murder-suicide, a robbery, an organized crime hit or a possible hit from foreign agents."

On Nov. 5, authorities summoned by neighbors found the bodies of Gail Spiro, 41, and children Sara, 16, Adam, 14, and Dina, 11, in the family's $5,000-a-month rental home in the cloistered suburb of Rancho Santa Fe. Each victim had been shot in the head.

Three days later, Ian Spiro, 46, was found dead in the front seat of his Ford Explorer in a remote canyon of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, three hours from the community where the family had lived since 1991. The cause of death, authorities said, was cyanide poisoning.

Fueled by tales of Spiro's spy-world connections, the homicides were followed by a flood of sensational theories pinning the deaths on alleged assailants ranging from international terrorists to Western intelligence agents to bilked business associates.

During much of the 1970s and '80s, Spiro had resided in war-torn Beirut, where he apparently maintained contacts in the business and intelligence communities.

Friends and relatives say that in the weeks before the deaths, Spiro, who apparently had significant financial problems, told them of vague telephone threats stemming from his murky activities in Lebanon.

Those activities, according to several British authors, included his playing a role in introducing hostage negotiator--and subsequent hostage--Terry Waite to Shiite kidnapers of U.S. and British hostages in Beirut during the mid-1980s.

Marmack said Friday that investigators are proceeding painstakingly before issuing any findings or theories.

"We're not planning on releasing anything soon," he said. "We've gotten materials on a wide variety of leads and we're just tracking them down."

Marmack said county and FBI crime labs are analyzing ballistics data, blood samples and more than 5,000 fingerprints taken from the family's four-bedroom home on a hillside next to a lemon grove near the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.

A team of sheriff's investigators--pared down to two full-time and two part-time from more than 20 detectives initially assigned to the case--are also continuing to pore over a rambling cassette audiotape recorded by Spiro that was found along with other documents about three miles from where his body was discovered, Marmack said.

Investigators are also undertaking a computer-assisted review of the steady stream of phone calls--more than 500 a month--made by Spiro from his home and car phone in the period before the deaths of his family.

"He made an unusual amount of phone calls a month--many more than the normal person would make--virtually to all over the United States and all over the world," Marmack said.

"We're trying to systemize it and as part of our analysis of the calls we're trying to determine where he was during the time when the (family's) bodies were discovered in Rancho Santa Fe to when his was discovered in Borrego."

Among the more intriguing of the theories has been that Spiro's death was somehow related to a web of conspiracies centering around alleged U.S. Justice Department misuse during the Ronald Reagan Administration of a private firm's sophisticated computer software designed to help track criminals.

A lawyer for Michael Riconosciuto, a key accuser in the software case known as the Inslaw Affair, has claimed that he had frequent phone conversations with Spiro shortly before the November deaths.

Because Riconosciuto was being held in a federal prison in Chicago at the time, extensive records would have been kept of calls in and out of the institution. But Marmack said no records of any calls between the pair have turned up.

"During the course of this investigation, we have not been able to tie Mr. Riconosciuto in with Mr. Spiro other than what some members of the media insinuate," Marmack said.

With the murder weapon still missing, and no conclusive evidence to tie others to the execution-style slayings, authorities say Ian Spiro remains a suspect.

"We haven't come across any evidence to the contrary at this point, even though we're still continuing our investigation," Marmack said.

But relatives of Gail Spiro remain convinced that the family was killed by either U.S. or foreign intelligence agents. They continue to describe Ian Spiro as a slavishly devoted husband and father.

"The whole family is still convinced it was absolutely impossible for Ian to have done it," Ken Quarton, Gail Spiro's half brother, said Friday.

Quarton said he has no criticism of the length or scope of the investigation being conducted by the Sheriff's Department. He believes the case may never be solved.

"It's very murky and I have a feeling the (intelligence community is) closing ranks and we'll never hear the truth," Quarton said.

Marmack said his officers are continuing to look "at the allegations the family has made."

"It's just a laborious task," he added. "And (at this point), we haven't uncovered anything exciting."

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