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Before they were killed, Newport Beach couple had hired a private eye to track their son

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Camden Nicholson has been charged with three counts of murder in the deaths of his parents and their housekeeper in their home.
(Orange County district attorney’s office)

The Newport Beach couple killed in their home last week had hired a private investigator five days before their deaths to find their son, fearing he would hurt himself, the investigator said.

Richard and Kim Nicholson told Michael Youssef on Feb. 8 that they worried their 27-year-old son was suffering from mental illness, and they wanted the investigator to find evidence their son was incompetent so they could obtain a conservatorship, Youssef said.

During his five-day investigation, Youssef said he found that Camden Nicholson smoked excessive amounts of marijuana, took steroids and was addicted to porn. The private eye scoured laptop and phone records as well as other materials but never located Nicholson during that time.

Nicholson has been charged with three counts of murder in the Feb. 13 deaths of his parents and their housekeeper, Maria Morse. In court last week, Nicholson delayed entering a plea until March 8 and was being held without bail.

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Police have not released details about how his parents and their housekeeper were killed. An autopsy was expected to be completed Thursday, said Larry Esslinger, supervising deputy coroner in Orange County.

Nicholson left his parents’ home in mid-December without notice, said Youssef, who believed they didn’t see him again until the day they were killed.

The investigator had been handling the case as a missing persons investigation and had not found any evidence that Nicholson was violent, he said.

At the time of the slayings, Youssef said, he was preparing to publish “missing” posts with pictures of Nicholson in the hope the public could help find the man.

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“Nobody ever thought they were in danger,” Youssef said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. “It was always about him. They always were worried.”

Kim Nicholson told Youssef that her son was an introverted and kind teenager. But when he went on a Mormon mission in March 2010 at age 19, he changed, Youssef said.

“Before Camden left on his mission, he was one of the most kindest, gentle, easygoing, and functioning young man,” the mother wrote to Youssef. She went on to say that after nine months in the mission field, “the doctor called stating, ‘Camden wanted to commit suicide.’ ”

Nicholson’s mother told Youssef that she suspected her son had been sexually abused at the Mormon retreat, but he denied it when she asked, the investigator said.

During the seven years Nicholson lived in the gated community with his parents, he acted erratically, claimed he had seizures and was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to socialize, Youssef said. He reportedly saw numerous health professionals, including a neurologist and Dr. Suzie Schuder, who was charged in May 2017 with insurance fraud.

Nicholson was also extremely paranoid, Youssef said. When he lived in Denver, he claimed his landlord was watching him and “poisoning him with oyster shells.”

Weeks before the killings, the investigation found that Nicholson had used a credit card belonging to his father during a hotel stay. He charged excessive tips and spent $15,000 on one transaction, Youssef said. The man’s parents paid for all his expenses, according to the report.

On the night of the deaths, Irvine police spoke with a man later identified as Nicholson in the emergency room of Kaiser Permanente’s Irvine Medical Center. Based on that conversation, t​​he Newport Beach Police Department was asked to perform a welfare check at the home on Palazzo, said public information officer Heather Rangel.

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When Newport Beach police arrived at the home, they found the three people dead inside.

“The parents were very nice,” Youssef said, “very, very nice people. It’s very devastating. I pray for them.”

Times staff writer Brittny Mejia and Times Community News contributor Daniel Langhorne contributed to this report.


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