SAN DIEGO – A man suspected of abducting a 16-year-old family friend after killing her mother and younger brother died in a shootout with FBI agents exactly 15 years after his father committed suicide, a family spokesman said Monday.
James Lee DiMaggio, 40, appears to have followed in his father's footsteps in a carefully laid plan, said Andrew Spanswick, a friend who runs a behavioral treatment center in West Hollywood.
"He clearly had a death wish," Spanswick said.
DiMaggio is suspected of killing 44-year-old Christina Anderson and 8-year-old Ethan Anderson and leaving their bodies in his burning home near San Diego on Aug. 4. He triggered a massive search in much of the western United States and parts of Canada and Mexico for Hannah Anderson, who was rescued in Saturday's shootout.
Spanswick said DiMaggio's father disappeared exactly 15 years before the house was set on fire.
James Everet DiMaggio was addicted to methamphetamine and had a troubled life marred by criminal activity, Spanswick said. His cause of death was listed as dehydration, but he consumed a large amount of methamphetamine intravenously and "walked into the desert," he said.
The elder DiMaggio was arrested in 1988 after breaking into the home of his ex-girlfriend, wearing a ski mask and a carrying a sawed-off shotgun and handcuffs, Spanswick said. The former girlfriend wasn't home, but DiMaggio held her 16-year daughter and her boyfriend at gunpoint. The girl escaped after asking to use the bathroom.
The elder DiMaggio later spent time in prison after pleading guilty to assault with a deadly weapon for a 1989 beating of two people with a baseball bat at a motel in El Cajon, east of San Diego.
The Evening Tribune of San Diego described him as a 35-year-old transient, former car salesman and divorced father of two. He died in 1998.
Spanswick said he confirmed details of the elder DiMaggio's criminal history and death with Lora Robinson, James Lee DiMaggio's sister and only surviving family member. Robinson, who did not respond to phone messages, asked Spanswick to serve as a family spokesman.
The victim of the elder DiMaggio's kidnapping attempt — now an adult — told KFMB-TV that her attacker professed his love after breaking up with her mother and announced he was taking her away to "give me a good life." She pleaded with him not to kill her, her boyfriend and her brother.
"Don't worry, it'll be over quick," the woman remembered the elder DiMaggio saying.
The woman, who was not identified by the television station and whose face was blurred on camera, attended El Cajon High School, near San Diego, with James Lee DiMaggio. After the episode, KFMB said, she changed her name and moved.
The younger DiMaggio was like an uncle to the Anderson children and close friends with their parents for many years. Spanswick, who often went hiking with him and his brother-in-law, said neither he nor the Anderson family noticed anything strange about his behavior.
Spanwick said he alerted authorities Friday when Robinson told him the date of her father's death.
"There's too much coincidence for this not to be directly associated with that," he said.
Spanswick said the siblings made a pact not to follow in their father's footsteps.
"Her brother broke that trust and he never called her," he said.