San Jose house fire deemed suspicious

October 21, 2009 6:39:39 PM PDT
In the South Bay, investigators are looking into a mysterious house fire with several bizarre elements including a body, graffiti and a bit of San Jose history. In this case, before the fire was out, police were already investigating.

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The early morning fire in San Jose was somewhat ordinary until firefighters made a gruesome discovery.

"I was tremendously shocked to hear they had a body. I thought the building was empty and nobody lived up there," said neighbor Rita Hawley.

In addition to the body inside the house, there was graffiti on an outside wall. The angry words were directed at San Jose police. The author said he would kill himself before police could ever get him and that would haunt police. Investigators haven't yet established a connection between the graffiti and the body, but the death is suspicious.

"It could mean an accident, it could mean a suicide, it could mean a homicide, it's just virtually too early for us to tell," said San Jose police Sgt. Ronnie Lopez.

It also turns out there is a bit of history in this bizarre case.

When the Almaden Valley was just acres and acres of orchards, the land was owned by Albert Athenour. For decades he and his wife lived in the house on the hill. They helped develop entire neighborhoods and even had an elementary school named after them. The preschool still bears their name.

"They were really, really, great people and my kids, when they were little, could go visit them," said neighbor Patricia Hurt.

Albert died in 2001 at age 92, his wife passed away a few years later. Neighbors say the house has been largely vacant ever since, but it's the past mixed with today's odd developments that has shaken people.

"That whole scenario really bothers us because it has been one of the most peaceful neighborhoods in San Jose," said neighbor Elias Chamorro.

"Looked like a haven for somebody to hang out and maybe drug activity, it's hard to say," said Hawley.

When police determine who died in the house and how, questions about the fire and graffiti could be answered as well.

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