A violent string of domestic murders marked a year of increasing homicides in Palm Beach County in 2010, and the baffling discovery of a body stuffed in a barrel ended the year with a gruesome twist.
Depression and divorce fueled much of the bloodshed, and led several killers to turn guns on their children and themselves.
The county had 97 homicides in 2010, compared to 93 in 2009, according to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office. Before that, the county saw three consecutive years with at least 100 homicides.
In one case, a Riviera Beach man shot and killed his estranged wife, their four stepchildren and then himself.
In another, a Wellington man shot his wife and twin sons to death, hours before the boys' birthday party.
Many of last year's domestic homicide cases involved victims who tried to leave abusive relationships. That's the most dangerous time for the families, according to social workers.
"For the abusers, it's all about power and control," said Mary Cauthen, director of domestic abuse programs at the YWCA in West Palm Beach. "If they lose that control, it becomes a desperate situation and spirals downward."
Natasha Whyte-Dell had been trying to get away from her violent husband the morning he murdered her and four of her children.
The 36-year-old woman had filed a restraining order against him after a series of threats.
But Patrick Dell, 41, still had a key to the house and walked in on Sept. 27 and started shooting.
When Dell was finished, Whyte-Dell and four of her children were dead, according to Riviera Beach police. A fifth child lay bleeding from a gunshot wound to the neck, but survived. Later, as a police officer approached him, Dell shot himself dead.
The two remaining children, a 1-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl Dell had fathered with his wife, were left unharmed.
The surviving children, who now live with relatives, still are recovering from the shock, police spokeswoman Rose Anne Brown said. Police and firefighters continue to reach out to them, she said, and in December they delivered toys to them on a fire truck.
"There's been an outpouring of support," Brown said.
The county started the year with two dramatic domestic homicides in January, one in an upscale Wellington subdivision and the other in suburban West Palm Beach apartment.
On Jan. 23, Neal Jacobson, 49, crashed his SUV west of Delray Beach and allegedly told paramedics he had just killed his family.
At their home in gated Isles of Wellington subdivision, responders found Jacobson's wife and 7-year-old twin sons dead from gunshot wounds, officials said. The boys' birthday party had been planned for later that day.
A family friend said at the time that Jacobson left a successful mortgage business in New Jersey to care for his sick father. But his Florida business attempts flopped and Jacobson became despondent.
After confessing to the shooting, Jacobson also reportedly said that his life had been going downhill ever since his father died.
Jacobson was arrested on first-degree murder charges. Authorities said neither spouse had a history of domestic violence.
Four days later, Gary Jean Pierre, 36, shot his estranged wife to death in a suburban West Palm Beach apartment and then killed himself in front of his 18-year-old sister-in-law, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office
The apparent murder-suicide orphaned a 7-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl.
More recently, on Oct. 7, a senior community west of Delray Beach turned into a grisly murder scene when a retired New York City lawyer allegedly beat his 77-year-old girlfriend to death with a flashlight battery.
Alfred Infosino, 82, was later charged with the murder of Rita Chirel, his girlfriend of more than 20 years. Although his motive is unclear, Chirel's son said at the time that his mother told him Infosino was stressed about money and growing increasingly unstable.
Domestic homicides have been on the rise in Palm Beach County, reaching 19 cases in 2009, compared to 13 in 2008, according to state records. At least 15 were reported in 2010, according to the county's Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse organization.
Money woes often fuel family abuse, and in 2010 led hundreds of victims to call crisis lines, the agency said.
It's common to see abusive people grow more violent after loosing a job, which is happening a lot, service providers said.
Nevertheless, one of the most baffling cases of the year was the discovery of a body stuffed in a barrel in downtown Delray Beach. Police still label the Oct. 26 unsolved case a suspicious death, and not a homicide.
Officers found Doris Lopez, 48, of West Palm Beach, tucked into a carboard barrel in the backseat of her 2006 Kia Spectra. A customer parked nearby, at Mellow Mushroom off of East Atlantic Avenue, called police after noticing flies swarming around the car and blood dripping from it.
Her body was severely decomposed, Lopez's younger sister said, but police couldn't explain how she died. Daisy Collazo