Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Children of Thunder: The Helzer Brothers

"Normal" kids

No one who knew the Helzer boys as children suspected they'd grow up to be such callous killers. Raised by devout Mormon parents in Martinez, a cozy town 50 minutes' drive northeast of San Francisco, the Helzers had a relatively normal childhood, according to family, friends and co-workers interviewed by the Contra Costa Times.

Martinez locator on California map
Martinez locator on California map
Glenn Helzer - who went by his middle name, Taylor - was the charming and gregarious older brother. Justin was more introverted, but he was a member of his high school wrestling team and youth group leader at his church.

Glenn Helzer in custody
Glenn Helzer in custody

Justin looked up to his older brother and actively sought his approval, said those who knew them well. Taylor encouraged these feelings in him, frequently telling him, "I'm No. 1, and you're No. 2."

After graduating high school, the boys fulfilled the Mormon requirement of completing two years in the mission field - Taylor went to Brazil and Justin to Texas. When they returned to California, Justin got work as a cable installer and Taylor as a stockbroker at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in San Francisco.

At about the same time, Taylor started dating the woman who became his wife in 1993. The couple had two daughters, but separated three years later after Taylor decided he was tired of being a good husband and Mormon.

"He wanted to expand his life outside the church," his ex-wife, Ann Helzer, testified at Taylor's murder trial. "He began feeling the confines of his religion and wanted to try the normal life."

The "normal life" meant drinking, smoking and having sex with other women, she said, describing how Taylor started wearing black clothes and showering with less frequency. The church eventually excommunicated him for his profane behavior.

Heather Helzer told the court that her big brother started formulating his own belief system and argued with anyone who disagreed with him, according to the Tri-Valley Herald.

A cousin of the Helzers, Chi Hoffman, 30, told the court Taylor discussed his philosophy that good and evil do not exist when they were both high on drugs.

Taylor believed that "the majority of society was stuck in this primitive belief system that there's right and wrong, and good and evil," Hoffman testified, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Hoffman had been interned in a mental hospital on several occasions and Taylor wanted to know about his stays, he said.

"There was a few times where [Taylor] would act out really crazy, and then stop and ask, 'Was that how the people in the hospital acted?'" Hoffman testified.

Taylor eventually got a disability leave from his job after he reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown. With time, his belief system became more and more erratic. He believed he was a prophet and could receive messages directly from God.

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