A bakery worker on disability leave shot and killed his two young sons early Thursday and then killed himself as his wife, the daughter of former California Angels' baseball manager John McNamara, looked on.
Police said Monroe Watkins, 35, went on his killing rampage after his wife told him she planned to seek a divorce.
Margaret McNamara Watkins, 40, suffered cuts and bruises on her face and neck in scuffling with her husband as she tried to dial 911. The children were identified as Torrance and Tyler Watkins, ages 6 and 4.
"She confronted him, saying she wanted a divorce, and then he said he was going to kill the children," said Sacramento Sgt. John Parker. "That's exactly what he proceeded to do."
Margaret Watkins managed to call 911, but her husband hung up the phone. A 911 dispatcher immediately called back and heard the sound of screaming and shots after Margaret Watkins picked up the phone.
The children were each shot once in the head with a .45-caliber handgun and appeared to have died instantly. Both bodies were found on the floor of the master bedroom. Monroe Watkins used the third of four bullets in the gun to kill himself.
Parker said the couple had a history of domestic violence. Police said Monroe Watkins was arrested in 1986 for spousal abuse, though details of the episode were not available.
In recent days, Margaret Watkins, who works as a court reporter, had talked with friends about her marital problems and decided Wednesday night to seek a divorce, Parker said.
Police spokesman Michael Heenan said Watkins came home early Thursday after staying out very late the night before. When his wife told him she was leaving him, he replied that "she had ruined his life" since the birth of their sons and that she would have to watch as he killed them.
Watkins was on disability leave from his job at Rainbo Bakery in Sacramento because of a back injury he suffered about two years ago.
The family lived in a rented home on a tree-shrouded street not far from the state Capitol. Their backyard contains the trappings of a happy family--two tricycles, a portable swimming pool and a Radio Flyer wagon--and neighbors said they never suspected anything was amiss.
Sarah Zelvin, an elderly woman who lived next door to the family for eight years, described them as the "perfect, perfect couple," and called them "caring" and "lovable with each other and with their children."
"She would bring me cookies at Christmas," Zelvin said. "He put my exercise bike together. He took my garbage cans out and put them back."
Patricia Coffron returned Thursday afternoon from a trip to Newport Beach and broke down in tears when she learned of the killings. A few weeks ago, she said, the Watkinses had given a birthday party for Tyler and invited all the neighbors.
Two days ago, she saw the couple kiss one another goodbye. Coffron said she occasionally heard arguments and doors slamming, but nothing serious.
"I just can't believe that anything like this could have happened," Coffron said.
Another neighbor said the family recently took a trip to Orange County, where they went to Disneyland and saw an Angels baseball game. On their return, Margaret Watkins told the neighbor what a good time they had. While they were gone, the neighbor took care of their dog, Prince.
"I can't find him, but I want to," the neighbor said. "It's all she has left."
Parker said the killings were particularly upsetting to police officers because many of them know Margaret Watkins through her work as a court reporter.
"Many officers and judges are close friends with her," Parker said. "It's just a terrible tragedy."
John McNamara, 64, was named the Angels' interim manager Aug. 6, replacing Marcel Lachemann, who had resigned. His return to the team was interrupted after he was hospitalized Aug. 21 for a blood clot in his calf. McNamara did not return to the Angels until Sept. 12.
He previously spent 18 seasons as a manager in Oakland, San Diego, Cincinnati and Boston, as well as with the Angels in 1983 and 1984. He was the American League manager of the year in 1986 when he was with the Boston Red Sox.
Times staff writers Max Vanzi and Dan Morain in Sacramento and Chris Foster in Orange County contributed to this story.