Man held for murder of his nine children

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A Californian man was in custody last night after allegedly killing his nine children - seven of them less than eight years old - and stacking up their bodies in what may have been a ritual slaughter.

Fifty-seven-year-old Marcus Wesson - dripping with blood - gave himself up to police on Friday night after a two-hour stand-off at a house in Fresno, about 200 miles south-east of San Francisco. Police said they discovered the nine bodies stacked and intertwined in a pile of clothes; 10 coffins were stacked up elsewhere inside the house. Alongside the young children were a 17-year-old girl and a 20-year-old woman. All are thought to have been his children.

The scene was so gruesome some officers were immediately placed on leave. "I've been with the Police Department for 25 years, and I've never experienced anything of this nature," said Chief Jerry Dyer, wiping away tears as officers carried the bodies from the home. "There may have been some type of ritual involved."

Officers were called to the home on Friday afternoon by two women who said a man had their children and would not release them. The man initially ignored orders to come out, running into a back bedroom as two other women fled the house. Police believe the four were the mothers of the victims.

A neighbour, Johnny Rios, said that on many nights he heard loud noises coming from the house, as though the people inside were building something. "I thought there was prostitution going on because there was always a bunch of women there."