NEWPORT, Ore. – By the time Christian Longo reached the Oregon coast last fall with his wife and three children, he had left a trail of bad checks, fraud and theft charges stretching clear back to Michigan. But all those troubles never seemed to bother him.
Though his job brewing lattes at the local Starbucks couldn't begin to pay the rent on his luxury waterfront condo or the big sport utility vehicles he liked to drive, he came off as a nice-looking guy who was charming, a good dresser, sweet with his wife and kids, and possessed of plenty of money.
By the time Longo left town around Christmas, it was clear that things were not as they seemed: Longo, 27, was at best a con man with a taste for the good things in life, at worst a murderer.
Over the weekend, Longo was captured in Mexico and brought back to the United States to face charges he murdered his wife and children and dumped their bodies in Oregon's coastal waters. Investigators have not said how they were killed or why.
Sheri Johansen, who used to trade jokes with Longo when he worked at the espresso stand, said she is not ready to believe any of the bad stuff until she hears him confess.
"He just seemed so happy-go-lucky," Johansen said. "He seemed like he had a lot of money. And oh, God, cute kids. Adorable kids."
The bodies of Zachary Michael, 5, and Sadie Ann, 3, were found days before Christmas in an Oregon backwater. Then, two days after the holiday, police divers found the body of his wife, Mary Jane, and youngest daughter, 2-year-old Madison, stuffed under a dock behind his condo.
By the time authorities identified the youngsters and began searching for Longo, he was gone, like so many other times in his life.
The Longos were married in 1993 and lived in Ypsilanti, Mich. They took regular vacations to nice places, particularly Mexico, said Mary Jane's sister, Penny Dupuie of South Boardman, Mich. Dupuie said she always kind of wondered where the money came from.
"He always liked the best," Dupuie said. "They drove nice cars. Liked nice things. One of those guys who goes out and gets a $30 haircut. I just think he wanted to live beyond his means, but didn't want to work for it."
James Baker, Mary Jane's father, a janitor in Traverse City, Mich., said people liked Longo instantly: "I thought it was a natural charm, a sincere honest charm that he had. At some point, apparently, he took this charm and used it to defraud people."
Baker said the financial problems began in 1998. The Longos couldn't make their mortgage payments. Longo ran up credit card debts and was prone to mood swings. Once he came home with two snowmobiles, telling his wife he won them in a raffle. There was a boat in the yard.
Longo started a construction cleaning business in 2000 but it wasn't paying the bills. He pleaded guilty to using his laptop computer to print counterfeit checks worth nearly $30,000. He was sentenced to three months' probation and ordered to pay $32,000, but soon fell behind in the payments.
After his conviction, the Jehovah's Witnesses elders excluded Longo from the church, though his wife and children continued to attend.
"A person isn't excluded from fellowship simply because they do something wrong," said Chad Onufer, a minister in the church. "They have to be unrepentant"
Changing his ways wasn't Longo's way.
The Ann Arbor News fired him from his job dropping off bundles of newspapers last summer after he apparently cashed two counterfeit checks for more than $800 each, said circulation manager Fred Jahnke.
State police were investigating claims Longo wrote bad checks to pay employees of his cleaning company when the family left town. Over the summer, the Longos surfaced in Toledo, Ohio. Longo was gone again before police there charged him with receiving stolen construction equipment and passing bad checks.
In Oregon, Longo rented a $1,500-a-month condo with a view of sailboats and cabin cruisers. He claimed to work for a telephone company and told condo staff members he would pay them as soon as his check came through.
Then on Dec. 17, he told people his family was flying home to Michigan for a visit. Two days later, the bodies started showing up, and Longo was gone again. He flew to Mexico on stolen ID.
Tourists in Tulum, Mexico, where he was arrested while living in a beach shack, said he told them he was a travel writer for The New York Times working on a story, and had divorced his wife because she cheated on him.
Baker said his son-in-law was never abusive toward his wife. And Dupuie said she, too, is at a loss to explain it all.
"I could only think that Mary Jane possibly wanted to leave him, or Chris was sick enough that he thought his family couldn't live without him and he thought he was doing them a favor," she said.