Letter From a Mass Murderer
In a four-page letter titled “MY CONFESSION,” convicted killer Michael James Naranjo writes that the knife-slayings of four people in Pico Rivera was “constantly a thought lingering in the back of my mind” and required only “ ‘opportunity of action’ to be fulfilled.”
The confession, which was obtained by The Times, appears to have been written a few months after the July 21, 2000 murders, when Naranjo was 17 and housed in Juvenile Hall.
Crammed with lines of cursive writing, it clinically details the murders: “If people still wonder why no one ever woke up, it was because my first attacks to the victims were directed to the throat and lungs thus enabling [no] sound from them other than deep grunts.”
Naranjo reveals himself to be both ruthless killer and forlorn teenager. He closes his letter with a quotation from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” about the inevitability of a tragic destiny, then he follows it with: “P.S. LONG LIVE GLAZED DOUGHNUTS & DREW BARRYMORE.”
Naranjo and his girlfriend, Monica Diaz, were arrested and charged with four counts of murder and one of attempted murder just days after Diaz’s aunt and uncle, Sylvia and Richard Flores, and three of their children were stabbed in a mass murder that stunned the community, where they were well-known and liked.
Richard Flores, 42; Richard Jr., 17; a daughter, Sylvia, 13; and Matthew, 10; were all killed. Sylvia the mother -- now 41 -- was severely wounded, but survived. Untouched that night were Esperanza Flores, now 22; Diaz, now 19; and her half-sister, Laura Reta, 21. Diaz and Reta were being raised as part of the Flores family.
Authorities contend that Diaz, who faces trial in December, was as complicit in the crimes as Naranjo, who pleaded guilty to the charges last month and was sentenced this week to five consecutive life terms. He was not eligible for the death penalty because he was younger than 18 when he committed the crimes.
Remorseful and suicidal, Naranjo writes, “Since I have already dismissed myself from this world, if people still wish punishment for me, all I can suggest is to pray for my lengthy and well-deserved suffering in the after-life.” In the letter, which begins “To Whom It May Concern,” Naranjo repeatedly insists that Diaz had nothing to do with the murders.
By all accounts, the teenage couple, both students at El Rancho High School, were constantly together. In a jailhouse interview last year, Diaz -- who would not talk about the crimes -- described Naranjo as devoted to her.
In the confession, he berates himself when he thinks he has been stupid and congratulates himself when he thinks he has been clever.
Naranjo says he originally thought of killing the family July 14. He had been invited over by Monica to celebrate the 15-month anniversary of their relationship, he says. “I had planned to assault the family that night,” he says in the letter. “I had arrived at Diaz’s house with knives and other weapons ... “
Naranjo -- an avid knife collector who gave some knives to Diaz -- kept his arsenal from view, he writes. He asked his girlfriend to wait in the bathroom without explanation, then went into the bedroom of the daughter, Sylvia, who was sleeping.
“I had hoped to kill young Sylvia Flores, then return to Diaz and tell her my plan,” explains Naranjo. “If the deceased victim would not convince her to just allow me to finish, then I planned to keep her locked in the bathroom, finish, and then tell her what to do afterwards.”
However, before he could harm the teenage girl, Diaz left the bathroom and the younger girl awakened.
The following Sunday, five days before the murders, Naranjo says, he figured out another way to carry out his plan. During a phone conversation with Diaz, his girlfriend mentioned the idea of the staged robbery, he says. Diaz apparently was upset about what Naranjo says were marital problems between her aunt and her uncle. “Monica wished for something to happen to slap some sense into the entire family and bring them together,” he writes.
“I saw my chance for what I needed to complete my goal,” he continues. “What I needed was a way to get Diaz to let me into the house, then do what I wanted to do, but without her knowing until after. So I began to tell Diaz how her plan wasn’t so bad and that it actually could take place.”
He says that, within an hour, “I was able to convince Diaz to let me in her house to carry out a ‘staged robbery’ in hopes of offsetting the course of the family’s ways.” He says he worked out two plans by Monday morning: “The first which was shared with Monica was the one she believed would take place. It was for me to go to her house and have her wait while I tied up the family and took certain items from the house.” He would also tie up Monica and leave her in the bathroom.
“I told Diaz this plan and she believed it would work so we agreed to it and chose Friday [July] 21, 2000 to go ahead with it. We chose this date because I wouldn’t have Summer School the next day,” he writes.
In reality, he says, he would proceed with a second plan to kill all the family members -- “I would simply start going room to room to quietly slay the family” -- while Diaz was in the bathroom, thinking he was only tying up family members and faking a robbery. Next, he would have to tell Diaz the truth about what he had done and “calm her down.... She would have no choice but to follow my plans and help to make it seem as if men came in and both robbed the house and killed.”
He would leave her in the bathroom and she would later scream. A pile of heavy items left in the living room would make it seem as if the robbers had fled when they heard the screaming. “Pretty smart, huh?” he writes, drawing what looks like a smiley face next to his sentence.
“In about three weeks or so, all the hoopla would die down and Monica and I (As long as she still wanted to be with me after the horrible thing I did) would live happily ever after,” he writes.
During the early hours of July 21, while the Flores family slept, Naranjo met Diaz outside her house, he says in his confession. She helped him cut duct tape. “After a good-luck kiss, I left her in the bathroom.”
Naranjo says he quickly killed the younger Sylvia, then Richard Jr. and Matthew. He says he was on his way to the room of Esperanza and her cousin, Laura Reta, to kill them when he saw the door to the room of the senior Flores couple, Sylvia and Richard, open and decided to kill them first.
Richard put up “a little struggle,” he says, and Sylvia “put up a bigger fight.”
“This was the point when things started to go wrong and eventually led to my current stay at Central Juvenile Hall,” he writes. He began to diverge from his systematic path. Hearing noises down the hall, he left the elder Sylvia Flores still alive and ran into the living room, then to the bathroom where Monica was hiding.
“She saw me covered in blood and that ceased any chance I had to talk to her about what happened,” he writes. “I handed her two knives and told her I needed her help (which was unbelievably stupid and ... ugh ... I just don’t know why ... I did that!) This is when I started to panic,” he writes.
Diaz looked at Naranjo. “Other than a scared ‘What happened?’ she didn’t say anything to me but just left. I stood alone in the bathroom debating whether to finish or flee.”
After he heard Diaz moaning when she saw her stabbed aunt and uncle, Naranjo fled for his home on his bike.
Later, as Diaz and surviving family members dealt with authorities and grieving friends, Naranjo says, he told Diaz “what I did and why I did it ... We were (Monica and I) praying that I wouldn’t get in trouble, Sylvia would recover, and that nothing else would go bad.”
They were arrested within the week.