A BROTHER’S DEADLY PLOT?
Keith, Jennifer, Jesse and Sophia Caneiro were murdered in their New Jersey home before it was set ablaze. Now, police say their killer is a member of the family
Just days before Thanksgiving, Keith and Jennifer Caneiro were making holiday plans, looking forward to hosting extended family for their traditional celebration at their Colts Neck, New Jersey home. The couple and their kids – athletic 8-year-old Sophia, a Girl Scout who loved baking with her grandmother, and Jesse, a history buff who’d recently celebrated his 11th birthday – were well known and liked on upscale Willow Brook Road, where they’d lived for more than a decade. Neighbours would stop to talk to Keith, 50, about the peach trees he tended in the front yard and Jennifer, 45, was active in the elementary school parent-teacher organisation.
But on Nov. 20, 2018, neighbours noted that Jesse and Sophia hadn’t made their usual sprint to the school bus stop and then saw a dark cloud filling the sky above the Caneiro home. “I opened the door, and there is smoke coming out,” neighbour Boris Volshteyn told the emergency dispatcher. After a pause his shock reverberated down the line: “There is a person laying down on the property in front of the house. My God … there’s blood here.”
Minutes later authorities were horrified to discover the dead bodies of all four members of the Caneiro family at the $1.8 million home: Keith was outside with multiple gunshot wounds, Jennifer had been shot and stabbed, and Jesse and Sophia were both stabbed. And in an odd twist, they realised that a 911 call had come in earlier that morning from the home of Keith’s brother and business partner Paul, 51, about 20 kilometres away. That home too had
been set ablaze – although Paul and his wife, Susan, 51, as well as daughters Marissa, 23, and Katelyn, 26, had all escaped unharmed.
But what looked on the surface to be either a tragic coincidence or a targeted attack of the extended Caneiro family was actually an insidious murder plot, authorities say. On Nov. 29 police charged Paul with four counts of murder as well as aggravated arson. Investigators allege that Paul killed Keith and then murdered the rest of the family, set fire to their home and then set fire to his own to destroy evidence as a “ruse designed to make it appear as if the overall Caneiro family was somehow targeted,” says Monmouth County prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni. “We believe the defendant’s motive was financial in nature, stemming from his and the victim’s joint business ventures.” Paul has entered not guilty pleas on all the charges. “He would never hurt any member of his family,” his attorneys Robert A Honecker Jr and Mitchell J Ansell said in a statement.
By all accounts Keith and Paul were close. Raised in Brooklyn and Staten Island, the brothers moved to New Jersey during the late 1980s. Keith, a computer savvy, hard-working entrepreneur – as a teen he cleaned the shelves at a computer store for free just for access to the computer manuals – launched his own computer and technology consulting business in 1989, landing premier clients like Citibank. His first official hire was his brother Paul, whom he named director of technical services. In five short years the business was generating nearly $9 million a year in revenue, and the brothers were living lavishly, with multiple luxury cars and international
vacations. “They were wild,” recalls Michael Schwartz, a retired Porsche salesman who sold cars to the brothers. “They’d run rampant around the showroom, going from car to car. Keith was definitely the nicer one … Paul was more abrasive.”
By 2012 the brothers had also taken over a local pest-control business, with both businesses operating out of Asbury Park, New Jersey. “Keith is one of the brightest people I’ve ever known,” says Connie Thanasoulis, who had worked with the brothers. “He was the linchpin of that family.”
He was also always looking ahead and evaluating how technology – and his companies – were evolving, she says. After enrolling in Columbia University to complete an undergraduate degree in 2014, he earned a Master of Science in Technology Management there in 2018. “He’d said, ‘My business is changing and the landscape is changing – I need to be able to provide for my family,’ ” says Thanasoulis, a life coach. “I was helping him do that.”
Some close to the family say that Paul’s prospects did not seem as bright as his brother’s. A serious car wreck in November 2012 left him with chronic pain – he had filed lawsuits against the driver of the other vehicle and his own insurance company. And authorities are conducting an extensive financial investigation into the Caneiro brothers’ joint ventures to further assess motive, according to prosecutor Gramiccioni.
Whatever happens next – Paul will remain in Monmouth County jail until his as-yet-unscheduled trial – the Caneiros’ neighbourhood will never be quite the same. The chainlink fence around the boarded-up, fire-scarred home at 15 Willow Brook Road, Colts Neck, carries homemade tributes to the family, with children’s handwritten
“They were a lovely family. What happened to them was pure evil” — neighbour Frances Purdy
scrawls, and cut-out pink hearts bearing witness to the vibrant lives lost. “Jesse liked to ride his Segway. Sophia loved mac and cheese from the box,” says a family friend. “Keith knew where all the best pizza places were, he was like our guide. [Jennifer] was active, spent a lot of time with their kids. Those kids were their pride and joy. I miss them a lot. I think about them every single day. I just want people to know who they were … very loving.”
SOPHIA CANEIRO, 8 JESSE CANEIRO, 11 JENNIFER CANEIRO, 45 KEITH CANEIRO, 50
Paul Caneiro (right) is charged with killing his brother Keith, sister-in-law Jennifer, niece Sophia and nephew Jesse in their Colts Neck, New Jersey, mansion (left) before setting it on fire. He has entered not guilty pleas on all charges.