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From Broken Home to Real-Estate Riches: The Life of the Las Vegas Shooter

The Wall Street Journal. logoThe Wall Street Journal. 2017-10-06 Valerie Bauerlein, Ian Lovett, Cameron McWhirter


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LAS VEGAS—Stephen Paddock became one of America’s deadliest shooters after firing at thousands of people from a hotel window. It was just a few miles from where his father was captured by police after an armed standoff more than a half century earlier.

His father, Benjamin Paddock, was a psychopath with suicidal tendencies, according to his “Most Wanted” flier signed by longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. He had a loaded gun and a box of ammunition by his side when he surrendered in 1960, after federal agents shot out the window of his car.

Stephen Paddock was 7 years old. It is unclear whether he ever again saw his father, who went to prison for bank robbery and other crimes.

Paddock’s mother moved her four boys to Southern California and, like many before them, began a new life. Paddock, the oldest, played on his high school tennis team in the San Fernando Valley and graduated from a Cal State campus with a business degree. He had steady jobs and later made his fortune in real estate—he was a multimillionaire, one of his brothers said—which afforded him a comfortable retirement as a high-stakes gambler.

His life after that traumatic start was by most appearances a Golden State success, leaving authorities to untangle the confounding profile of a killer responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. in at least 50 years.

At 64 years old, Paddock didn’t have the usual profile of a mass shooter. He left virtually no footprint on social media, had no criminal record and, his youngest brother Eric Paddock said, revealed no particular ideology. Interviews with law-enforcement officials, casino employees he encountered and two of his brothers, reveal an intensely private, self-contained man.

After his father’s arrest, he grew up in Sun Valley, a largely working-class Los Angeles suburb. He was married as a young man and twice divorced. He began buying rental properties around Los Angeles in the 1990s, records show, a decade that sent prices soaring.

Though Paddock had few social ties, he maintained relationships with a small set of people, who described him as loyal and generous. He sent cookies to his 89-year-old mother in Florida, and he treated his youngest brother and nephew to $1,000 dinners in Las Vegas, the brother said.

Yet he moved often, to look-alike houses, one after another, in a string of retirement communities in sunny places. He wore gloves when he drove and kept his window shades drawn.

Nearly 60 years after his father’s arrest, Paddock wired tens of thousands of dollars to his long-term girlfriend, authorities said, and checked into one of his regular haunts, the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, with $20,000 worth of weapons.

A few minutes after 10 p.m. Sunday, he broke through the window of his room and began firing at concertgoers below, killing 58 people and wounding nearly 500 others. Paddock killed himself before police could arrest him, officials say. Leaked crime-scene photos show him laid out with a blast to the forehead.

Law-enforcement officials, family members and his girlfriend have said they are struggling to figure out what drove Paddock to kill, including what, if any role, his father’s life played. Investigators are examining his mental-health history, finances and whether he had any help in the massacre.

Authorities have seized computers from his home in Mesquite, Nev., 90 miles from Las Vegas, and are combing through his communications and travel history.

“This is a horror story in every possible way,” said Eric Paddock, of Orlando, Fla. “How the hell does this happen?”

When Stephen Paddock’s father was arrested in 1960, federal agents raided the family’s new one-story home in a middle-class Tucson, Ariz., neighborhood. Two of his brothers were toddlers; Eric was an infant. Neighbors worried Stephen was old enough to understand, so they took him swimming as a distraction, according to newspaper stories at the time.

Their mother, Irene Hudson, soon moved the family to Southern California, telling her sons their dad died in a car accident. It was a story that two of the brothers said they believed for decades.

By the early 1960s, the family had settled in the east San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, and Ms. Paddock worked as a secretary.

“We were never close as a family,” said Patrick Paddock, the second oldest son. “I wasn’t close to any of my brothers, even growing up.”

© Francis Polytechnic High School

While their mother was at work, the boys fended for themselves. They all grew big, said Patrick Paddock, who is 6’5” and 250 pounds. Their mother gave them chores around the house, including some cooking and cleaning. For fun, he said, the brothers would slide their dogs down a well-waxed hall.

Eric Paddock said his older brother Stephen was “like a dad surrogate,” who sometimes took him camping.

In school, Stephen Paddock showed an aptitude for math and “engineering-type things,” said Richard Alarcon, a classmate at Francis Polytechnic High School in the 1970s, who became a Los Angeles city councilman.

As a high school junior, Paddock played on the varsity tennis team and appears, straight-faced and shaggy-haired, in “The Student,” the school yearbook.

Stewart Kops, 65, who appeared next to Paddock in the yearbook’s team photo, said he didn’t remember him: “He was either not a good tennis player, or very quiet.”

The Paddock brothers for years accepted that their father was dead, said Patrick Paddock. But Benjamin Paddock was alive, all 6’4” of him, escaping from prison before he was recaptured in 1978. Their mother finally told them the truth about him when they were in their 20s, Patrick Paddock said.

It was a jarring revelation. Their father died years later, in 1998, after eventually serving his time and starting a new life in Texas. His sons still fume at the mention of his name.

“I hate my dad,” Eric Paddock said. Patrick Paddock said he never spoke with his father: “I was angry. I wanted nothing to do with him.” Bruce Paddock, the third-oldest brother, couldn’t be reached for comment. Patrick and Eric Paddock said they haven’t heard from Bruce in years.

Patrick said he hadn’t spoken to Stephen Paddock for about 20 years: “I had no reason to keep in touch. I’m not particularly social.”

Of all the brothers, Stephen Paddock seemed to get off to a fast start. He graduated from high school in 1971 and then from California State University, Northridge. He worked at the U.S. Postal Service, and in the 1980s, he worked as an agent for the Internal Revenue Service. He later audited defense contracts for Lockheed Corp., which became Lockheed Martin Corp.

Paddock married twice, first in 1977, the year he graduated from college, and a second time in 1985, when he wed Peggy Okamoto, a high-school classmate. Neither one lasted.

In the early 1990s, Paddock began investing in California real estate, according to property records and his brothers. Paddock purchased rental properties and arranged some purchases through a trust set up in his mother’s name, including a Temecula, Calif., ranch house where she lived from the early ‘90s to mid-2000s.

It wasn’t clear how much money Paddock netted from real estate, or how much accrued to his partners, which included his youngest brother. Eric Paddock said his brother moved their mother into a comfortable Florida home.

“Steve took care of the people he loved,” Eric Paddock said, sobbing outside his home this week. “The people he loved, he took care of.”

In 2014, Paddock and his partners sold a Dallas apartment complex for more than $8 million, according to the buyer, in what appeared his largest real-estate deal.

Paddock began gambling at the Wynn casino not long after it opened in 2005, according to a person familiar with his gambling. He also frequented The Cosmopolitan, as well as casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp., the Atlantis in Reno and others, according to people familiar with the matter.

He mostly played video poker. “It was like a job for him,” said his brother Eric. “He did it mathematically.”

Paddock gambled enough that casinos provided him complimentary suites, sushi and poolside services. At least one casinos later cut back on the perks after his playing skills seemed to protect him from losing enough money to compensate for the freebies, several people familiar with the matter said.

He met Marilou Danley, a Filipina immigrant with Australian citizenship, around five years ago, and they soon became a couple. She was working as a hostess in the high-limit gambling room at the Atlantis in Reno.

Ms. Danley and Paddock moved from Reno to Florida, near his brother Eric and his mother in Orlando, then to a retirement community in Mesquite, Nev. “It was fun to hang out with Steve because he was a rich guy,” Eric Paddock said. “I’d get to partake of a bunch of thousands of dollars of comps on the hotel, but Steve would say, ‘Could you go get me a sandwich?’”

In Reno, Nev., Paddock liked to gamble late at night and off to the side, so as to avoid smokers. His hotel room at the casino would sometimes be outfitted with special air purifiers, a former casino employee says. He told people he moved to Mesquite because the dry weather was good for his health; he told his brother Eric he was leaving Florida in 2015 because of the humidity.

In June, a doctor prescribed Paddock the antianxiety medication diazepam—better known by the brand name Valium—according to a report published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which cited records obtained from Nevada’s prescription monitoring program. The state pharmaceutical board said it couldn’t confirm the news report.

For the past several years, Paddock split time between a home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Mesquite and hotels in Las Vegas, about a 90-minute drive. He went to karaoke night some Tuesdays at Peggy Sue’s diner. His neighbors say they hardly knew him. His home backed up to a golf course, but he wasn’t known there, either.

In late 2016, Paddock began buying dozens of weapons that were later found in his homes and at the shooting scene, law-enforcement officials said. He never used them at the only shooting range within 20 miles of his home.

“It’s almost like he was trying to avoid people,” said Jason Shaw, part-owner of the nearby Smokin Gun Club shooting range.

Ms. Danley said in a statement through her lawyer that Paddock never “took any action that I was aware of, that I understood in any way to be a warning that something horrible like this was going to happen.”

Eric Paddock said he was in regular touch with Paddock, who had sent a text asking about his mother after Hurricane Irma hit Florida last month. The brothers, though, hadn’t spoken in about six months, he said.

“If I’d just called him back instead of texting, would I have heard something in his voice?” he said. “Would he have given up something?”


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