In a case with echoes of the Menendez brothers scandal, Dana Ewell, a 23-year-old business graduate, faces three charges of first-degree murder for arranging for his former university room-mate to shoot dead his family while they were on an Easter Day holiday in their beach house.
Mr Ewell offered a $50,000 reward for the capture of the killers and talked of making his father, Dale, 59, proud by taking over his aviation dealership, and running the family farms.
But after a three-year investigation, detectives in Fresno County have concluded that Mr Ewell - reported IQ 180 - masterminded the triple murder. They have arrested three "accomplices" from his Catholic high school.
Mr Ewell, who has denied the charges, could face the death penalty if found guilty.
When his parents and sister Tiffany, 24, were gunned down in 1992, allegedly by an assassin using a semi-automatic assault rifle, Mr Ewell was 200 miles away with his girlfriend and her father, an FBI agent.
His alleged involvement has sickened family friends, not least because his parents appear to have been besotted with him. He is said to have received an allowance of $800 a month, and was given with the best computer and stereo equipment. When he graduated from high school his parents bought him a Mercedes 190. And when he wrecked the new car, his father - anxious no one should know - got him an identical one.
But, according to reports here, when Dana Ewell reached Santa Clara University he became obsessed with money.
The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that he began behaving oddly after the murders, suggesting spy intrigue by saying his mother, Glee, 57, had worked for the CIA in Argentina.
The plot began to unravel when detectives monitored telephone conversations between Mr Ewell and Joel Radnovcich,24, his former university roommate and the alleged hitman.
Perhaps Mr Ewell's worst mistake was a light-hearted view of the case detectives, dubbing them "Mutt and Jeff".