$90K theft preceded Colts Neck mansion massacre, lawsuit says

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The New Jersey man accused of slaughtering his brother’s family before setting their home on fire had allegedly been stealing their kids’ college funds, according to reports.

Paul Caneiro, who faces trial next year for the horrific slayings of his younger brother Keith, sister-in-law Jennifer and their two young kids, had been appointed trustee of the children’s college accounts but instead stole $90,000, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by relatives this week in New Jersey.

The gruesome killings, in which Keith Caneiro, 50, was found on his front lawn shot five times, including four times in the head, while Jennifer, 45, was discovered shot and stabbed and the children, Jesse, 11, and Sophia, 8, were stabbed, rocked the wealthy and leafy enclave of Colts Neck Township on the Jersey Shore, 45 miles south of New York City.

Paul Caneiro, 53, who has pleaded not guilty, is expected to face trial next year. He’s next due in court Dec. 2.

Jennifer Caneiro told her older sister, Bonnie, about Paul’s alleged thieving in April 2018, months before the November 2018 bloodbath, according to the lawsuit filed in Monmouth County Superior Court by Jennifer’s father, Vlassis Karidis.

“In the spring of 2018, Bonnie learned from both Jennifer and Keith that Paul stopped paying for his daughter Marissa’s college tuition and that Keith wound up paying it — at a cost of approximately $60,000,” the suit said.

Court papers also revealed gut-wrenching details of Sophia’s death.

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Brothers Keith Caneiro (left) and Paul Caneiro (center)

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Booking photo of Paul Caneiro

Ocean Township Police Department via AP

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The child, whose body was found on a landing in the home, was the last of the family members to die. Stabbed multiple times, she was still clinging to life as a fire ripped through the home, according to details of an autopsy cited in the lawsuit.

“Because the fire that caused the victims’ smoke-related injuries was first reported at 12:38 p.m. — more than nine hours after gunshots were heard — the crime scene evidence establishes that Sophia survived her parents, albeit with multiple stab wounds, for an unimaginable period of time, but demonstrably long enough to experience breathing difficulty and onset of high-degree stress,” according to court documents.

“Sophia was the only family member to sustain ‘radiant thermal burns,’ ‘searing of the hair and eyebrows’ and to display ‘soot on the tongue and on the mucosa (mucous membrane) of the upper airway,’ ” the lawsuit said.

About 18 hours before he was killed, Keith emailed his brother Corey Caneiro and two other business associates alleging that money was missing from their family-run tech business, according to reports. In the emails, Keith said he was preparing to cut off his brother’s $225,000 salary.

Monmouth County prosecutors have said the motive in the killings and arson was financial, connected to Paul and Keith Caneiro’s joint business holdings.

Paul Caneiro, who had been put in charge of his brother’s estate, has also been accused of setting fire to his own home on the same morning as the killings, with his own wife and daughter inside, to make it seem as if the Caneiro family was being targeted, officials have said.

A lawyer for the family who filed the lawsuit declined to comment.

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