A man who dressed as Santa Claus before driving to the home of his former parents-in-law and killing nine people who were seeing in Christmas together planned to escape to Canada, it emerged yesterday.
Bruce Pardo committed suicide shortly after the killings, and was discovered by police at his brother's home in Los Angeles with $17,000 (£11,660) in cash and a plane ticket taped to his body. He had shot himself twice in the head.
Pardo, who was seeking revenge following a hostile divorce, had apparently hoped to kill his ex-wife, Sylvia, and her entire extended family, before leaving the country. But the meticulously planned attack went wrong when he attempted to set fire to the building using a home-made flame-thrower.
Witnesses saw him use a metal device disguised with a Christmas bow to spray high-octane car-racing fuel around the home. Before he could flee, the vapour seems to have been accidentally ignited and exploded.
"Mr Pardo was severely injured during that explosion," said a police spokesman. "He suffered third-degree burns on both arms, and it also appears that the Santa Claus suit he was wearing did melt on to his body."
Police were unable to formally identify the nine charred bodies discovered at the house in the quiet suburb of Covina, 25 miles east of central Los Angeles, but said that Pardo's ex-wife and both her parents were among the missing.
Three further victims were in hospital, including an eight-year-old girl who was shot in the face immediately after opening the door to Pardo at around 11.30pm on Christmas Eve. He had four handguns concealed beneath his costume.
Police yesterday released recordings of emergency service calls made by some of the 30 guests at the annual party.
"He's still shooting out there," said a woman, who appeared to be the mother of the injured eight-year-old. "He's shooting my whole family! My Mom's house is on fire! I have a feeling I know who it is. They're going through a divorce right now."
According to local news reports, Pardo's marriage had ended when his ex-wife discovered that he had fathered a "secret" son from a previous relationship. Their divorce was finalised on 18 December.
Pardo, a 45-year-old churchgoer described as a model citizen, had lost his job as an aerospace engineer in recent months, and also failed to get custody of the couple's dog.
Court papers show that Sylvia had taken out a restraining order against him, and was still owed $10,000 in divorce payments.