Couple in Wilmington murder-suicide fired for alleged fraud

Vigil for Wilmington deaths
Maria Bautista leads a prayer during a vigil in front of the Wilmington home where the Lupoe family was found dead Tuesday. More photos >>>
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The man believed to be responsible for killing his wife, five children and himself in Wilmington had been fired from his hospital job along with his wife for allegedly forging a supervisor’s signature on a child care application, according to Kaiser Permanente officials.

Diana Bonta, vice president for public affairs at Kaiser Permanente, said the couple falsified income records so they could qualify for a child care program run by Crystal Stairs, a nonprofit child development agency located near the West Los Angeles medical center where they worked.

“They were terminated because in the healthcare field, records are an important part of the process and people trust us with their health,” she said.

Several police sources familiar with the investigation told The Times that Ervin and Ana Lupoe made upward of $40 an hour each in their work as radiological technicians for the hospital. But the couple made it appear that they were earning between $7 and $10 an hour, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

The disparity was discovered when the child care agency called Kaiser to inquire about the couple’s income. Bonta would say only that Kaiser launched their investigation in December after being informed of the alleged fraud.

A day after police discovered the bodies of the seven family members at their Wilmington home, police said they were still trying to find out what could have triggered Lupoe to kill.

The couple’s financial situation, though pressing in recent months, did not appear to be especially dire. The Lupoes were behind one month in their mortgage, investigators said. They found notices of two bounced checks -- one for about $15,000, the other for almost $2,000 -- to pay for property taxes and penalties, according to the police sources. Investigators said it did not appear they were behind on their credit card payments.

In the last two years, the couple had finished a home remodel that included the master bedroom and bathroom, and purchased new kitchen appliances including an industrial-grade refrigerator, the sources said.

The day before the Tuesday slayings, Lupoe made an 8 a.m. phone call to his brother-in-law, Cesar Ramirez, the police sources said. Lupoe told him he was in the car with his wife and five children and that they were on their way to Garden City, Kansas. Lupoe’s tone did not indicate there were any problems, the sources said.

The next day, Ramirez’s phone rang at 6:30 a.m. Lupoe was on the other end and asked Ramirez to do several favors for him, including paying his lawyer and putting the family’s possessions into storage. Lupoe also asked Ramirez to mail several letters to family members, the sources said.

Then came the words that left Ramirez stunned. Lupoe said, “Your sister and the kids are dead,” a source familiar with the case said. Lupoe asked Ramirez to leave the keys to the house in one of the family cars so the police wouldn’t break down the door. “Then he said, ‘I’m sorry, I had to do it. We love you and I’m next,’ ” and he hung up, sources said.

Ramirez immediately dialed the emergency operator in Garden City, where he thought the family was headed. Kansas authorities called the Los Angeles Police Department as an emergency call came in from KABC-TV Channel 7 reporting that they had been faxed a copy of Lupoe’s two-page suicide letter. It was later learned that the letters Lupoe asked Ramirez to mail were copies of the suicide note, which he intended to send to about a half-dozen family members.

Lupoe served in the Marines for several years after graduating from high school in Northern California. There was nothing in his military record indicating any problems.

After his discharge from the Marines, investigators said he paid his way through the Rio Hondo Community College law enforcement academy in hopes of becoming a police officer. After completing the program, he applied but was rejected from several local police agencies.

He became a security guard before transitioning into a career as an X-ray tech at Kaiser.


Times staff writer Ari B. Bloomekatz contributed to this report.