Crime - Sacto 911

Was 1999 Amador County fire that killed father, children ruled a murder-suicide?

Q: In September 1999, there was a suspected murder-suicide in Amador County that took the lives of Timothy Halstead and his three children, Haven, Jordan and Elijah. All died in a house fire on Sherwood Drive in Pioneer. I can’t find any details as to whether law enforcement concluded it was indeed a murder-suicide. Do you know anything about the disposition of the case?

Scott, Sutter Creek

A: Timothy Halstead, 33, along with his daughter Haven, 8, and sons Jordan, 5, and Elijah, 4, were found Sept. 14, 1999, near one another in the ashes of the home Halstead owned with the children’s mother, Alyse Alexander, in the remote Sherwood Forest subdivision east of Pioneer.

On the day of the predawn fire, Halstead and Alexander, who were not married, were to have appeared in a Jackson court to have a restraining order against him lifted so they could resume working together in the T-shirt printing business they owned, according to stories in The Sacramento Bee.

Alexander earlier had obtained the restraining order in a domestic violence action, submitting affidavits quoting Halstead threatening to kill her. He was convicted of battery and sentenced to 30 days of community service three months before the fire for beating a neighbor with whom Alexander had been intimate, according to court records.

Alexander said she dropped the children off at the house a few hours before the fire and found nothing amiss. The two-story house was several miles from the nearest paved road and was fully involved by the time firefighters reached the scene.

In January 2000, the Amador County Sheriff’s Office reported that investigators had determined the fire was deliberately set, but there was not enough evidence to indicate whether the blaze was part a of murder-suicide, according to a story in The Bee.

An autopsy determined that Timothy Halstead died as a direct result of inhaling smoke or some other product of combustion, a sheriff’s official said, but the cause of the children’s deaths had not been determined. The autopsy determined that the children had not suffered trauma from blunt force or penetration, which would be caused by a knife or a bullet, nor did they die from poison.

Investigators found traces of an unidentified accelerant in a ground floor laundry room, but they did not find the source of ignition, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Stories noted that Alexander was the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Bill Alexander of Arkansas, and her mother, Gwen Mathias, was the wife of former U.S. Rep. Bob Mathias of Fresno.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy