Hidden camera found in slain north Fort Worth girl's bedroom

Posted Friday, Dec. 05, 2008  comments  Print Reprints
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A video camera hidden in the bedroom of a 14-year-old fatally shot by her stepfather was on when authorities discovered it, according to a recently released police report.

The footage was apparently being saved to a computer, one in a complex set of electronic equipment and recording devices in the north Fort Worth home where the girl’s body, as well as the bodies of her mother and stepfather, were found Aug. 6, the report said. Each of them had been shot in the head in an apparent double murder-suicide early the previous morning.

Police believe the stepfather, James William Vece, 44, used the technology to watch the teen, Mailen Micaela Vece, undress from another room. A second camera monitored the garage, presumably for incoming cars, according to the report, obtained by The Keller Citizen under the state’s open-records law.

Eliana Danisa Vece, 36, the girl’s mother who married James Vece in late December 2002, also lived at the home, in the 4600 block of Birchbend Lane.

Family members of James Vece did not return phone calls or could not be reached for comment.

It is unclear whether the cameras played a role in the shootings. After an unusually lengthy investigation, police closed the case in October without determining a motive.

"There is nothing that we can say without a doubt was the motive," homicide Detective Sarah Jane Waters said.

Investigators uncovered some "financial difficulties," which Waters described as "typical." The family rarely discussed their private lives, leaving few potential witnesses and little insight into any domestic problems. Eliana and Mailen Vece asked their church pastor for prayers about issues at home, but never offered details, said the pastor, Roland Johnson of Primera Iglesia Bautista of Keller.

As a result, Waters said, "we will probably never really know what happened."

Evidence at the scene suggested that Eliana Vece interrupted an incestuous encounter when she arrived home at about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 5 from her part-time job at Motorola, the report said. Neighbors heard a man and woman arguing inside the house – though they did not hear what was said – followed by four gunshots at about 2 a.m.

Waters said in an interview last month, however, that the girl was not sexually assaulted that evening.

In addition, James Vece had no criminal record, police had never been called to the house for a domestic dispute and the family had not been reported to Texas Child Protective Services.

The family lived in the house since 2003. Eliana and Mailen Vece immigrated from Argentina in 2000 and became U.S. citizens this year.

Eliana Vece, a first-grade bilingual teacher at Brandenburg Elementary School in Irving, worked at the school for about four years; her husband was an equipment maintenance man at Ranger Plastic Extrusions in Arlington for about as long.

When they died, James Vece had sanded some of their home’s exterior wood paneling to prepare it for a fresh coat of white paint, neighbors said. The husband and wife also planned to start a small business in northeast Tarrant County, Eliana Vece said May 7 in an e-mail, sent from her school account and obtained under open-records law. She was also studying to become a principal.

In an April 29 e-mail, James Vece told his wife he loved her and wished her a good day. She replied: "Thanks baby. Go to sleep and relax. Have sweet dreams. Love you."

Still, other aspects of the case raise questions about the stepfather-daughter relationship, as well as what led the man to murder before turning the semi-automatic, 9-millimeter handgun on himself.

Upon entering the house Aug. 6, officers found two half-packed bags, the police report said. One contained women’s clothing and was in the master bedroom, where the shootings took place. The other, in Mailen’s bedroom, contained girls’ clothes.

The man may have "shot both his wife and daughter to prevent them from leaving and/or calling police," according to the report.

About three weeks prior, Eliana Vece told a co-worker that her husband asked her daughter to undress in front of him, the school’s assistant principal, Chris Nester, told police. Nester reported the teacher missing after a two-day absence, which led police to find the bodies.

Whether the electronics – at least four computers and three cameras, monitors, two high-tech cellphones and numerous data storage devices – in the Vece home contained nude images of the 14-year-old is not known. Results of a police search have been requested under the Texas Public Information Act.

In the room with the computers, however, was "an extremely large collection of pornography" and another camera, aimed at a black cloth that covered a window, according to the report. This camera may have photographed Mailen, who is said to have given up her pursuit of modeling because of the associated costs. She planned a photo shoot as recently as May, according to an e-mail her mother wrote to a co-worker.

A woman whose profile on an amateur modeling Web site in September listed the same name, age and city of residence as the co-worker’s is in four photos on the site that appear to have been taken inside the Vece home. She is in various poses backdropped by a large, black cloth.

The co-worker, whose name is withheld for privacy reasons, could not be reached for comment, and the profile has been removed.

Sarah Junek contributed to this report.

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