Slain mom was not living at Superior houseA family member of one of the victims says the couple's relationship was strained in recent weeks.
By: Lisa Baumann, John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune, Pine Journal
April Oles and her daughter, who police say were shot to death by the child’s father, were not living at the Superior residence where the killings occurred, a sibling told the News Tribune.
Oles had been sleeping at a relative’s house in Carlton the past few weeks, the sibling said, and had been removing items from the home.
“She wasn’t living with him at the time. She was staying in Carlton,” said the sibling, who asked not to be further identified.
“They had had some kind of problem but I could see they were … trying to work it out, trying to sell guns to downsize. I know she’s not staying there. She was taking stuff out of the house.”
Superior police said Thursday they believe 23-year-old Matthew Magdzas shot Oles, 26, their 13-month-old daughter, Lila, and their three dogs before turning the gun on himself. Police said the murder-suicide probably occurred at the home at 2011 N. 22nd St. on Tuesday, although the bodies were not discovered until Wednesday. Oles was pregnant and scheduled to give birth by Caesarean section on Wednesday afternoon.
The deaths were reported at 12:36 p.m. Wednesday when Oles’ mother called 911 from the home reporting that her daughter, son-in-law and grandchild were in the residence and she believed that “he killed them all.”
Police arrived at the home within two minutes. Emergency workers quickly determined that the three were beyond help, Superior Police Chief Floyd Peters said.
“At this time we are unable to determine the exact time of death, however it is suspected that the three likely died sometime on Tuesday afternoon,” he said.
Investigators recovered a 9-millimeter handgun in the house that they believe Magdzas used. They also discovered what appeared to be a bomb in a backpack in the house, but explosives experts later determined it likely wasn’t a bomb and destroyed it.
Police have not been able to determine a motive for the shootings. To Peters’ knowledge, no note was found. Police said Magdzas had no adult arrests with the department and that they had no prior calls to the residence for any domestic incidents or disturbances.
The Associated Press quoted police Capt. Chad La Lor saying that investigators have found no evidence the couple had money problems or was unduly stressed by the pending birth of another daughter. There was no indication either had been unfaithful.
However, the sibling — who did not say the last time the two had spoken — intimated that Oles and Magdzas may have had difficulties. Much of the sibling’s information came from the couple’s Facebook postings.
“(There were) comments about trust and things like that,” the sibling said.
The sibling asked their father to check on Oles. The father reported that Oles had not been living with Magdzas for about two weeks and was staying in Carlton, the sibling said.
But the couple also may have been trying to work things out.
“Sunday they had gone to the aquarium and had lovey dovey pictures on (Facebook). And I thought, ‘Mmm. They must be still working things out,’” the sibling said.
La Lor said investigators plan to subpoena Magdzas’ military medical records to see if he had complained of or been treated for signs of post traumatic stress disorder.
Magdzas, a 2005 graduate of Superior High School, enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard in 2004 and was assigned to the Superior-based 950th Engineer Company. He volunteered to deploy overseas for a year in 2006-07 with an artillery unit that protected convoys moving between Kuwait and northern Iraq.
He served as a vehicle gunner and was involved in a small-arms battle in Iraq in November 2006, said Wisconsin National Guard Lt. Col. Jackie Guthrie. She did not know exactly where the battle took place. Magdzas received a combat action badge, an award that recognizes participation in combat. His deployment ended in 2007.
Change in personality?
Some time after returning to Wisconsin, Magdzas went to work as a firearms instructor for Better Defense, a shooting school that provides classes in Wisconsin and Minnesota. According to his profile on the school’s website, Magdzas received the Purple Heart, an award given to U.S. military personnel wounded or killed in battle, but Guthrie said there is no record he received the honor.
In a January 2009 post on MySpace he said he had hoped to go to school and join the sheriff’s department after graduating.
His grandmother, Doris Magdzas of Superior, said it seemed to family members that he had been different since he returned from the Middle East, but she wasn’t sure that was the case. “Matthew seemed kind of quiet recently,” she added.
Another family member who declined to be identified said, “We don’t want to say anything right now except that Matthew was the kindest, gentlest, most wonderful person you could know.”
The events of this week couldn’t have been foreseen, the family member said.
There was at least one person Thursday who said Magdzas had a darker side.
Sabrina Bunnell, 20, of Superior dated Magdzas for a short time in 2005, but she said they broke it off because of their age difference — she was 14 and three years behind him in school.
“My family and friends didn’t like him,” she said. “He was really shady the whole time I knew him, but I was really shocked to hear about what happened.”
Bunnell, who graduated from Superior High School in 2008 and is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, said she hadn’t had much contact with Magdzas since 2005 and had tried to avoid him when she did see him. “He just gave me a bad feeling,” she said. “He definitely seemed kind of troubled and had a weird obsession with guns, but I would never have assumed he would kill his family and himself.”
“When he was talking about going overseas when we were dating he was constantly talking about dying and who he was giving his stuff to,” she said, but added that perhaps that was normal anxiety.
According to Oles’ friend and former colleague, 36-year-old Tessa Buscko of Duluth, Oles was due to give birth by C-section on the day her body was found. She said she didn’t know what could have driven Magdzas to end his family’s lives.
“He must have had a flashback or something. I don’t know. That’s crazy. Matt doesn’t seem like that type of person,” Buscko said. “The only thing people can think of is coming back from the war and trying to live a normal life.”
News Tribune reporter Steve Kuchera contributed to this report. Includes material from the Associated Press.
# Police are asking that anyone with information related to the deaths of Matthew, April and Lila Magdzas call the department’s tip line at (715) 395-7468 or the sergeant of investigations at (715) 395-7652.