Great Britain

Family of California couple found murdered in abandoned well ‘shocked’ as victims had known suspected killer for years


RELATIVES of an American couple found murdered at the bottom of a well in Mexico are "completely stunned" to learn the suspected killer is someone they've known for years, The Sun can reveal.

Ian Hirschsohn, 78, and Kathy Harvey, 73, from San Diego, were stabbed to death late last year at Hirschsohn’s longtime vacation home in Playa Del Socorro, about 200 miles south of the border, according to prosecutors and the victims' families.

The retirees' slain bodies were found on September 5 at the bottom of an "abandoned well", about 20 miles from where they were killed, three days after they were reported missing, according to authorities.

Five months later, a suspect has been detained, police revealed this week.

Investigators from the Baja California Attorney General’s Office arrested the suspected killer on Tuesday.

He was identified only by his first name and one initial, Emmanuel N., as is customary in Mexican criminal cases.

Investigators originally said they believed the perpetrator entered the couple's home and murdered them in a failed robbery attempt.

But in a stunning twist, Hirschsohn’s daughter, Ava Setzer, 38, told The Sun that the young man was known to her family.

"It was a complete surprise... I was completely stunned," Setzer said of learning of the suspect's name for the first time following his arrest.

According to Setzer, Emmanuel, aged in his 20s, is a member of the family that owned the ranch where her father’s vacation home was located.

She said her father had owned that place for about 35 years and he knew the large family that owned the ranch, including the suspected killer.

Seltzer and her brother spent their childhood visiting the property on family vacations and "playing" with other children from Emmanuel's family.

It had never occurred to anyone in Hirschsohn's family that the attacker could be someone they knew, Setzer said.

"We grew up with his family, I didn't know (Emmanuel) well, but I was close with some (of his immediate relatives)," she continued.

"When people go to Mexico, if they're in the wrong place at the wrong time, they become collateral damage, and that's what I expected happened.

"But now it's even more confusing because I've known this man's family since I was three and there was no reason for him to kill my dad."

Baja prosecutors previously said the suspect entered the vacation home, murdered the couple, then used their Toyota Land Cruiser to transport their bodies to a nearby well where their remains were later discovered.

Setzer told The Sun that the killer had also taken the couple's bedding, along with the bodies, which “were put in this well in the middle of nowhere”.

The car was found abandoned in Ensenada.

The US State Department issued a statement after the remains were uncovered. “The U.S. Department of State's top priority is the safety and security of U.S. citizens. We are aware of reports that local authorities have discovered the remains of two people near San Quintin and are closely monitoring their ongoing investigation.”

But that's not how Setzer wants her "adventurous, highly intelligent" father remembered.

"My dad was a huge advocate for Baja, California his whole life," she told The Sun.

"He never felt unsafe or afraid, and given the chance, anyone who asked - he'd offer positive words.

"H was always super involved and very available to us and encouraged us to pursue our passions."

Setzer said her father was “more active than anybody half his age ... He lived the most full life, probably three times over.”

He would windsurf at Lake Hodges and off the coast of Baja, surf-kayak at Swamis and cycle up to 20 miles a day, even as he approached 80 years old, she said.

Hirschsohn was a mechanical engineer and pilot who was born and raised in South Africa. He earned graduate engineering degrees at Purdue University and Princeton, and was working toward a PhD at UC San Diego when he dropped out to help found the first of several successful companies he helped launch over the years.

He flew model airplanes at the Torrey Pines Glider Port, and actual planes out of Brown Field, his daughter said. He’d spend a month or two each year on safari in his native South Africa and was the self published author of “African Caesar: Warrior Genius,” which Hirschsohn described on his website as a novel based on true events from 200 years ago among southern Africa’s tribes.

Kathy was a native New Yorker, lived in Tierrasanta for more than 35 years and worked for decades as a physical therapist at Sharp Chula Vista until her retirement in 2014, according to her son, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

“She had a bucket list of places she wanted to travel ... and multiple friend groups,” Robert Harvey said, adding that he’d gently pushed his mother toward online dating, where she met Hirschsohn after some previous failed attempts.

“They would go down to Mexico all the time, it was a nice escape for her. “They had all these trips planned.”

Baja officials said they were working with someone who reportedly witnessed the crime.

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