Homicide on the Homestead
By: Robert Crain, writing for the Associated Press
VALENCIA, California—Two people were found dead this Saturday when authorities responded to a 9-1-1 call from a farm thirty minutes outside of the city, and are suspected to be victims of homicide. The deceased couple was identified as Mr. and Mrs. John Presser, the dual owners of Valencia Vintage, one of the largest vineyards in the Central Valley which has supplied much of the San Fernando Valley with wine for over forty years. They leave behind their six-year-old son Timmy and their two-year-old daughter Samantha, who will both be cared for by neighbors until relatives arrive from out-of-state to claim guardianship.
The bodies were discovered when Timmy ventured over to the neighbor’s house and told them his parents wouldn’t wake up; the neighbors called the police immediately after they rushed over and found the pair unconscious at the dinner table. Emergency medical services responded within fifteen minutes, but they were pronounced dead on arrival, with the estimated time of death being around 45 minutes earlier. The neighbors declined to comment, and asked that their names be kept out of all press surrounding the deaths.
The coroner’s office repeatedly declined to comment on the nature of the deaths until their investigation concluded Monday evening; speaking with reporters the next day, the chief of police stated that the cause of death for both victims was determined to be a severe allergic reaction caused by the presence of sesame seeds in the couple’s last meal. The police chief specified that the amount of seeds present in the victims’ stomachs is the reason why the case has been classified as a homicide, as suicide has been ruled out and the number was too great for any highly-allergic person to consciously consume. The police are interviewing the limited number of available witnesses to try to discover who may have had access to the victims’ food supply within the last 24 hours, but report few promising leads.
Anyone who may have seen or heard anything is asked to call the Valencia County Sheriff ’s Department, and may find their phone number on sheriff.valcounty.ca.gov.
UPDATE, 4/23—The story of a double homicide in Valencia County continues to unfold as investigators discover evidence of physical and emotional child abuse in the Presser household. A witness has come forward (who requested to remain anonymous) and claimed that during a rare visit to Valencia Vintage, they witnessed Grace Presser “harshly scolding” Timmy over what seemed to be “practically nothing—a small mistake, forgetting to introduce himself to me when I arrived.” The witness went on to say that Mrs. Presser excused his behavior as “intolerable” and apologized several times for his “extremely rude” behavior. To their credit, the witness contacted Child Protective Services that afternoon, and although an investigation was conducted, no verifiable evidence of abuse was discovered at that time.
The police have refused to elaborate on the information revealed by their investigation into possible abuse in the Presser home, but have said there is enough evidence to “start considering anyone with close ties to the family as possible suspects.”
The Associated Press will continue to keep our readers updated as this story develops.