Two young people found decapitated in Lancaster home; father arrested, officials say
A personal trainer described as “mellow” and “reliable” was arrested Friday in connection with the deaths of his two adolescent children, who were found decapitated in the family home in Lancaster, authorities said.
Maurice Taylor Sr., 34, is being held in lieu of $2-million bond, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials who are investigating the crime.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department was called to a home in the 45000 block of Century Circle just before 8 a.m. Friday on reports of a possible gas leak. Once inside, fire personnel discovered the bodies. The Sheriff’s Department in a statement described the pair as having “lacerations and stab wounds.”
The mayor of Lancaster, R. Rex Parris, confirmed that both victims were decapitated.
“It was pretty brutal,” he said.
Deputies found the children’s bodies in separate bedrooms in the home, Lt. Brandon Dean said. The two children were identified by sheriff’s officials as a 12-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl. It’s unclear how long they had been dead, Dean said.
Both parents were in the home when deputies responded Friday morning; they were detained without a struggle and brought in for questioning. The children’s mother was questioned but has not been arrested, Dean said.
Two other children in the home appeared to be uninjured, but they were taken to a hospital as a precaution and the Sheriff’s Department is working with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services to place them, Dean said. To his knowledge, none of the children were previously involved with DCFS and no deputies had recently been called to the home for complaints about their welfare.
The DCFS did not say whether it had any prior contact with the family. “We mourn with the community over this tragic loss,” the agency said in a statement.
The Fire Department initially responded to the home following a report of a potential gas leak, but Sheriff’s Department officials confirmed there was no leak. The concern about a gas leak stemmed from Taylor’s former and current clients, with whom he had worked at a Santa Monica physical therapy and fitness center. They had been struggling to contact him all week.
Howard Kern, an attorney and writer who saw Taylor for sessions for about seven years, said he called the Los Angeles County Fire Department at 7:34 a.m. Friday, after others trained by Taylor had attempted calling the Sheriff’s Department to relay their worries.
“I said, ‘I’m concerned,’” Kern recalled. “‘We are concerned about a possible gas leak. There are four children and two adults — and we are concerned about their safety.’”
‘The social fabric of the country and the world has been shredded, and we are starting to see the aftermath.’
— Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris
Another client, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Taylor had been working remotely because of the pandemic. The client described him as “so reliable, so responsive” and “mellow.”
The client said she knew something was not right this week, when Taylor did not send out a Zoom link for a scheduled session, then failed to appear during the appointed time. He was not reachable, she said, and she and other clients messaged one another as they wondered whether something was wrong.
“I knew they weren’t out of town. They didn’t have money to travel,” she said.
The client said she called the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday and that the property management company running Taylor’s residence was also contacted.
“We were afraid of carbon monoxide poisoning, or they were all dead from falling asleep,” she said.
Several clients told The Times that Taylor was a diligent and hardworking trainer who patiently worked with each client.
“Think of the nicest person that you know, then multiply that by five,” Kern said. “He worked so hard to support himself. Unfortunately, we don’t know enough to say what happened or what didn’t happen.”
Kern said Taylor had been working and living on his own since he was 18, and he sensed that Taylor “was living under a tremendous amount of pressure.”
Over the years, Kern said, he knew Taylor had faced challenges, including a marriage that could seem “contentious” from the phone calls Taylor received from his wife at the gym. “It was embarrassing — you could hear her yelling at him,” Kern said. “He’d be very apologetic and she’d be yelling at him.”
In Lancaster, early reports of the two dead children were shocking, prompting a nearby property owner to revisit what he observed at Taylor’s home over the years.
The property owner said he started noticing the home about two years ago. The property owner, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of being connected to the incident, said when he visited his property, the house “just looked strange.”
Other neighbors spend time outside or greet one another from time to time. This family was eerily silent, he said.
”I remember that house just seemed weird anytime I was there,” he said. “I never saw anybody come out of that house. It almost seemed like the windows were all blacked out.”
The property owner said he knew of a couple and two young children who lived there but never saw them. He was surprised to learn that two other children may have lived there.
Parris, the mayor, said he was still gathering information about the incident but said it appeared that the economy, the closure of schools and public places, and the tight living quarters in homes amid the pandemic had created a stressful environment.
“The social fabric of the country and the world has been shredded, and we are starting to see the aftermath,” Parris said. “What I’m seeing is more and more people feeling desperate, and that can only have one result.”
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