Police Puzzled by Deadly Attack on California Family

By all appearances, the Dhanak family was living a quiet life in suburban Orange County before a deadly attack and arson fire that has baffled police.

Authorities were trying Wednesday to determine why the family house was torched, the mother was badly beaten, and the 20-year-old daughter was found dead near another body, believed to be her father, on a hiking trail 20 miles from the family home.

"We have a lot of unanswered questions at this time," police Sgt. Rick Martinez said. "This is a very unusual case."

Leela Dhanak, 53, was hospitalized in serious condition after she was found unconscious outside her Anaheim home, which was ablaze when authorities arrived late Monday.

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Several hours later, authorities responded to a small fire off a bike path near Concordia University in Irvine and found daughter Karishma Dhanak's charred remains.

The other burned body, believed to be Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, was found a few feet away.

Autopsies were scheduled Wednesday on both bodies. Police don't know where the two were killed but believe the assailants wanted the bodies to be discovered.

"At 4 a.m. a fire is pretty visible," said Irvine police Lt. Rick Handfield. "The suspects probably knew the fire would be reported to authorities in minutes."

The Dhanaks had lived in a well-kept neighborhood of tract homes for about a decade after emigrating from India to California.

They were getting their lives back in order after Jayprakash Dhanak finished a 2 1/2-year prison sentence in 2005 for defrauding the U.S. Postal Service out of millions of dollars.

In 2002, he pleaded guilty to mail fraud after he was accused of altering reports at the mailing company where he worked as a production manager.

The company, Master-Sort, presorted mail for other companies and earned refunds based on the amount of metered and permit mail it handled.

Federal prosecutors believe Dhanak made it appear the company was eligible for larger refunds than it had actually earned.

Master-Sort also pleaded guilty in the case. Charges against Dhanak's wife were dropped. The company and Jayprakash Dhanak were ordered to pay restitution totaling more than $5 million.

His former attorney, Rafael Bernardino, said he didn't know Dhanak to "drink or do drugs or know anyone related to someone of an underworld nature."

"I can't see any relationship to the Jay I knew and this crime. It's inconceivable," Bernardino said.

Authorities have revealed little about evidence in the attacks and have not identified any suspects or suggested a possible motive.

"All of us are in mystery trying to figure out why this happened," said Rakesh Patel, 42, who attended the same Hindu temple as the family. "It's very tragic what has happened."

A curious crowd gathered Tuesday in the neighborhood where the family lived as investigators searched the blackened home.

Heaps of damaged items were taken to the front lawn. At one point, Dhanak's unharmed 18-year-old daughter, who did not live with the family, arrived to collect some belongings. She declined to comment.

"This would be the last place I'd expect this to happen," said Francis Dunn, 89, who lived across the street from the Dhanaks. "I'm really surprised."

Leela Dhanak's injuries were not considered life-threatening.

"We haven't been able to interview her yet but we hope she can help us out," Martinez said.

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