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Saturday, September 1, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boyfriend arrested in Iowa slayings; Sioux City 'scared to death' after family killed

Chicago Tribune

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Police yesterday arrested a 23-year-old man they suspect of killing seven people, including his girlfriend and her five children, in a gruesome crime that has shocked this city.

Adam Matthew Moss was found hiding behind a retaining wall outside a friend's home just before noon. He was arrested without resistance.

Police had been a step behind Moss throughout Thursday night and yesterday morning. They barely missed him at a downtown motel — the television was on when police searched the room.

Police Chief Joe Frisbie had cautioned residents that Moss was extremely dangerous and, from evidence at the crime scene, could make a weapon out of almost anything. Even after the arrest, Frisbie said, "This community, as you can imagine, is scared to death."

Moss has been charged with seven counts of murder, police said last night.

The victims were identified as Leticia Aguilar, 31, and her children — Claudia, 12, Zach, 11, Larry, 9, Lisa, 7, and Michael, 6. Also slain was Ronald Fish, 58.

Three young, severely beaten bodies were found at the top of the stairs in one home on the west side of town, and had been there a few days, authorities said. Three more bodies were in a bedroom.

Across town in a modest, single-level house atop a hill was the body of Fish, identified as Moss' former boss.

Detectives think Moss killed Fish and then fled in his car. A coworker discovered Fish's body Thursday after going to his home to see why he had not come to work that day.

Less than half an hour later, a baby-sitter who was supposed to watch Aguilar's children walked into the family's home and climbed the stairs to the second floor, where she made the grisly discovery.

"It was bad," said Donna Stabile, the baby-sitter. "You just can't imagine. I can't even describe it."

Police offered no motive for the slayings.

"I can't even begin to tell you why it happened," police Lt. Terry Kern said. "I can't go into what he might have said."

Frisbie said officers would be offered stress counseling.

Police said they had recovered a weapon they think was used in the slayings, but they refused to elaborate.

The slayings left many in this town in shock. Nestled amid a patchwork of corn and soybean fields in northwest Iowa, Sioux City never has had much crime. Law-enforcement officials say the city, population 85,000, had one slaying in each of the past two years, and never had more than three in one year — a triple homicide 26 years ago.

"It woke a lot of people up," said Kathy Baxter, a lifelong resident.

Police say Moss met Aguilar at a box company where the two had worked. They started dating several months ago, and Moss had moved in with Aguilar and her family in their modest home in a working-class neighborhood.

Moss, arrested eight times since 1994 on charges ranging from speeding to assault, was supposed to appear in court last week after his brother, Jason, requested a restraining order. Moss did not show for the hearing.

Stabile, the baby-sitter, described Aguilar as a caring mother who worked hard to provide for her family. "Her life was her kids."

Stabile said she knows Moss as a nice man who got along well with the children.

Investigators say Fish did not know the Aguilars, but had been Moss' boss at Ben Fish Tire, a family business.

Neighbors say Fish had divorced several years ago and lived in relative solitude for years in a middle-class area of town.

"The only way I knew he was there is he'd come home and turn on the air conditioning," said Richard Hartnett, who lives next door.

"It's just a shocker," said Karl Van Cura, who moved to Sioux City eight years ago, in part to escape the headaches of big-city life. "I can't understand why you'd want to take the life of a family."

Information from the Omaha World-Herald is included in this report.

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