As a homicide investigation continued Tuesday, June 28, into the deaths of two women and a teenage girl found in a Rancho Santa Fe home on Monday, June 27, friends and neighbors speculated about the victims. (This newspaper went to press on Tuesday, June 28.)
Their names were not released, but the man who sold the house to Michael Ayra about 18 months ago said Ayra recently died, and his girlfriend was worried about being turned out of the house.
James Zolin, of Rancho Santa Fe, said Ayra’s teenage daughter and sister may have been at the house, along with his girlfriend.
Autopsies were being conducted Tuesday. Sheriff’s investigators have not said how the three died. Zolin said Ayra once mentioned owning a handgun.
Zolin said he and Ayra, of Iranian descent, “struck up a friendship” through the process of the house sale. Zolin visited him often, and saw how the girlfriend, Marina Ryzhkova, 29, from Russia, tended to Ayra, who contracted lung cancer.
“She took good care of him,” Zolin said. “He never mentioned to me that he’d made any provision for her.”
Zolin said Ayra, 59, passed away in April. At a memorial service for him at the Rancho Santa Fe Country Club, Ryzhkova talked to Zolin and his sister, Jo Zolin.
“She said she was distraught. She said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, they want me out ‘of the house,” Zolin recalled. “I asked if she was going to go back to Russia and she said, ‘Maybe.’”
He said Ayra had a teenage daughter from a previous marriage, but he had never seen the girl at Ayra’s home. Zolin said he met the girl and Ayra’s sister at the memorial service.
Ayra was a real estate broker and Ryzhkova sold real estate, Jo Zolin said. “He was such a nice man, easy to talk to. He was really big in real estate. ... He made deals, renovated homes and sold them. She helped him in that respect.”
Jo Zolin said when her brother sold his house to Ayra, Ryzhkova oversaw the remodeling, including taking down walls.
“I got to know her better,” she said. “I don’t think she and the daughter had much of a relationship. At the memorial, Marina seemed all alone.”
The homicide investigation began with a phone call to the Sheriff’s Department shortly before noon on Monday from a friend of one of the victims reporting possible child abuse, homicide Lt. Kenn Nelson said.
No one answered the door, but a deputy looked into a kitchen window and saw a woman lying on the floor. Deputies forced open a door and found that woman dead, and two other bodies in other parts of the house.
Detectives and crime scene technicians spent nearly 15 hours at the Ayra house, collecting evidence, taking photos and video, making measurements and interviewing neighbors, Nelson said.
He said they wrapped up about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday. Autopsies were begun, but might not be completed until Wednesday, June 29. The names of the deceased would likely be released after that, he said.
“We are still trying to confirm relationships and motives,” Nelson said.
One neighbor said she and her husband were entertaining guests outside until about 9 p.m. Sunday, but they heard nothing from the Ayra house. She said investigators questioned them but revealed nothing about the case.
Rancho Santa Fe, distinguished by its mansions, horse farms and winding, tree-lined roads, has been the setting of several mysterious homicide cases in recent years.
Radiologist Kenneth H. Gerber was found dead in front of his million-dollar home in 2012. Investigators have never released much about the case, but said that an autopsy determined his injuries were caused by a homicide.
And in 2011, a prominent veterinarian, Robert Stonebreaker, was found dead in the driveway of a Paseo Delicias home some distance from his crashed Porsche Carrera. The case was termed a homicide based on an injury to the back of his head, not believed caused in the crash.
The cases are still open.
Back in 1992, the shooting deaths of Ian Spiro’s wife and three children sparked endless speculation among friends, neighbors and colleagues. Spiro was missing from the house, but was found in the desert a few days later, dead of cyanide poisoning. Investigators concluded he’d killed his family, then himself.
Pauline Repard is a writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune.