Courts & Crime

Wife knew intruder who killed California couple, then self

ROSEVILLE, Calif. — During four recorded minutes of panic, a 16-year-old boy calmed himself long enough to ask a Roseville police dispatcher a terrifying question.

"How am I going to live if my parents die?" he asked, his voice low. "What am I going to do?"

It was just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, and police and paramedics were on their way to the teen's home on Alnwick Drive. He had called 911 to frantically report that he thought an intruder had broken in and shot his parents.

Hours later, after determining there was not a live gunman still inside, police would enter the home to find three bodies: those of 52-year-old Edward Durkin Helms; his wife, 49-year-old Marilyn Elaine Helms; and their alleged killer, 35-year-old Jason Christopher Lambert.

Police say Lambert shot the couple before fatally shooting himself.

The Helmses leave behind two boys: the 16-year-old and his older brother, a college student in the Bay Area.

Details emerged Thursday about the gunman's troubled past and the close relationship he shared with Marilyn Helms — a relationship that friends of the victims said unraveled into an obsession they suspect is at the root of the Alnwick Drive killings.

The exact nature of the bond between Lambert and Marilyn Helms remains unclear, and police would not confirm whether that was a motive.

"Obviously, they had a complicated relationship," said Detective Sgt. Darin DeFreece. "As to the extent of their involvement with each other, we don't know. And we don't know if we are ever going to know."

DeFreece said detectives have some "working theories" but it's "too soon to put it into a box." He acknowledged, however, that police are looking into the possibility that Lambert had been stalking Marilyn Helms. Some of the victims' friends told The Bee that Lambert had become obsessed with her in recent months.

Detectives have executed search warrants at three locations, including a former residence of Lambert's, DeFreece said. Investigators also are reviewing records from computers and cell phones owned by Lambert and Marilyn Helms.

Co-workers of Marilyn Helms said she became friendly with Lambert after a girlfriend introduced them a few years ago. Helms tried to console Lambert as he weathered troubles in his marriage, the co-workers said.

Placer Superior Court records show Tracy Lambert filed for divorce from Jason Lambert in January 2008. She said in the paperwork that the couple had separated in November 2006, 3 1/2 years into the marriage.

Court records indicate that Tracy Lambert dropped the petition this summer. Her divorce attorney could not be reached for comment.

Reached at her Lincoln home, Tracy Lambert's mother said her daughter was staying with her and did not want to talk to the media.

A former neighbor of the Lamberts in Roseville said Jason's relationship with Marilyn Helms seemed to begin just as he was in the greatest need.

Kelsey Bowman, 20, said Jason Lambert was a "funny and generous" neighbor during the five or so years they lived next door.

When his business was doing well – records show Lambert used to have a contractor's license and once owned a pool business – Bowman said he would pay her younger brother generously to help him tend his garden and fix his motorcycle.

But Bowman said "everything crashed" after Lambert's father died of cancer and his business faltered.

Bowman said she ran into Marilyn Helms often and that Helms brought Lambert groceries "because he didn't have any money." She even bought him a pickup truck, Bowman said.

When Lambert was facing foreclosure six months ago, Bowman said, her father considered ways their family could help him stay in his home. He later moved out.

"He was honestly the sweetest person," Bowman said. She said she couldn't comprehend the allegations: "He wasn't like that."

In addition to his financial woes, Lambert also struggled with the law. His criminal record dates back to at least 1998, when he pleaded no contest to a felony battery charge in Sacramento County, according to Superior Court records.

His other convictions in Sacramento County include misdemeanor domestic violence and illegal dumping, records show.

Lambert's rap sheet extended into Placer County in 2000, when he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor drug charge. In 2003, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless driving, and in 2005 to hit-and-run driving and inducing false testimony, according to records.

His most recent conviction came in 2008, when he pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct while under the influence of a drug, records show.

The first time she met Lambert, said Maria Miller, 66, he struck her as a "charmer."

Once, when she was working at what was then a Longs Drugs on Combie Road in Auburn, where Marilyn Helms was a pharmacist, Miller said Lambert brought take-out lunch from the Cheesecake Factory for everyone.

"But then, as time went on, it was a whole different story," Miller said.

In recent months, Lambert began calling Marilyn Helms incessantly, at home and at work, according to friends and co-workers. When he was told she wasn't available, he'd call back, hoping someone else would answer, the co-workers said.

When he didn't call, he'd visit the pharmacy in person. He did so almost daily, Miller said.

Marilyn Helms didn't seem scared, co-workers said, but she was trying to distance herself from Lambert. She changed her number multiple times, but he still found a way to reach her, Miller said.

Miller said her friend was a "giving soul" who was "very book-smart, but not very people-smart."

"It's just making me so sad that such a beautiful woman should have gone so violently," she said.

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