Slayings of UC Professor, Daughter a Mystery, Police Say
Police on Thursday said they had no suspects or motive in the brutal murders of a noted UC San Diego medical school professor and his teenage daughter outside their home near the exclusive La Jolla Country Club.
“It’s a complete mystery,” said Lt. Glenn Breitenstein.
Tsunao Saitoh, 46, an associate professor of neurosciences, and his daughter, Loullie, 13, were found gunned down outside their $800,000 home on Fairway Road about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday by two skateboarders.
Breitenstein said that the father and daughter were shot multiple times at close range and that their assailant had apparently been waiting for them to return to the home. Saitoh was found slumped over the steering wheel of his BMW and his daughter was found in the driveway shot in the back, an indication that she had tried to flee.
Breitenstein said that detectives have tentatively ruled out robbery or burglary as a motive because the money in Saitoh’s wallet had not been taken and the home had not been touched. The county medical examiner initially delayed the release of the victims’ names while Saitoh’s estranged wife, Shizue, was notified.
Saitoh, a faculty member for 11 years, specialized in basic molecular biology research into Alzheimer’s disease. The UC San Diego medical school is a major center of research into Alzheimer’s, a debilitating condition that strikes about 2.5 million Americans, most over age 65.
Police sealed off Saitoh’s laboratory at UC San Diego’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, where he worked with a dozen researchers.
“He was one of the world’s leading researchers in this area,” said Phyllis Lessin, assistant chief of the center.
“We’re all devastated,” she said. “He was a dedicated, brilliant researcher and a dear, gentle man with a ready smile for everyone.”
Lessin said Saitoh worked closely with microbiologists, geneticists and neurologists to unlock the puzzles of Alzheimer’s disease and find a cure. Some of his recent findings were to be presented at a scientific conference this week at UC San Diego. Saitoh also found time, Lessin said, to translate a home safety guide for Alzheimer’s patients into Japanese.
Saitoh was born in Japan and received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Kyoto. He was a postdoctoral researcher in molecular biology at Columbia University and the Pasteur Institute in Paris before joining the UC San Diego faculty. He remained a Japanese citizen.
Although far from being a public figure, Saitoh was well known in the international scientific community. In 1993 Saitoh identified a protein that disrupts the normal function of neurons in the brain and may trigger Alzheimer’s. He had boldly predicted a cure for Alzheimer’s by 2015.
In 1993 he received the Zenith Award and a $200,000 research grant from the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Assn. He also received funding from the National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies.
Saitoh and his daughter had been at his laboratory at the La Jolla campus until late Tuesday night working on a homework assignment before they left for home. La Jolla residents, not used to the sound of gunfire in their tranquil neighborhood, told police they heard loud noises coming from the driveway of the Saitoh home about 11 p.m.
Breitenstein said he could not explain why neighbors had not called police when they heard such unusual sounds. When she died, Loullie, an eighth-grade student, was wearing one of her father’s white laboratory coats.