Girl, 8, suffered most in Colts Neck family’s greed-fueled killing: Lawsuit
A lawsuit against a New Jersey man accused of killing his younger brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece before setting their Monmouth County house on fire reveals harrowing details about the youngest child's last moments of life, as well as a months-long fight over thousands of dollars in missing funds leading up to the killings.
Filed nearly two years after the Caneiro family was slain at their sprawling Colts Neck home, the children’s maternal grandfather, Vlassis Karidis, has sued Paul Caneiro, who faces a host of criminal charges including four counts of first-degree murder.
The bodies of Jennifer, 11-year-old Jesse and 8-year-old Sophia were recovered from the house’s wreckage while Keith Caneiro’s body was discovered on the front lawn by a landscaper two days before Thanksgiving in 2018.
Keith Caneiro was shot four times in the head and once in the torso. His wife was shot in the head and stabbed in the torso, her body found near the stairs to the basement. Their son was found in the kitchen, stabbed in the torso and arm, the lawsuit cites investigative findings as saying.
According to the lawsuit, based on a medical examiner’s findings, Sophia was the last to die and was still alive while the house was engulfed in flames, leading to lung damage and smoke inhalation that factored into her death.
She was found on the stairs leading to the second floor with stab wounds. The autopsy suggests that she suffered before she died based on an increase in white blood cells.
"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," the lawsuit says.
Attributing statements and messages shared with attorneys, the lawsuit said Keith and Jennifer Caneiro accused Paul Caneiro of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from them and the businesses that the brothers worked at together.
The lawsuit says that the night before he was killed, Keith Caneiro forwarded a company email stating that Paul Caneiro would no longer be paid his $225,000 salary, citing money missing from the business’ accounts.
In separate emails and messages cited by the lawsuit, Keith had said he was working to sell his companies and pursue a new position in order to be done dealing with his older brother.
According to the lawsuit, in April 2018, Jennifer Caneiro told her sister that her brother-in-law Caneiro had stolen thousands intended for her children’s trust and education funds, some of which he deposited into his own children’s education funds or used to pay down student loans.
The suit also says that around the same time, Paul Caneiro did not pay for his own daughter’s college tuition, at which point Keith Caneiro paid the $60,000 for his niece.
Additionally, the lawsuit says the Caneiros had voiced concerns to other family and friends about Paul Caneiro charging “excessive and improper personal expenses” to credit cards held by the businesses that he worked at with his brother.
Keith Caneiro had started an IT consulting firm in 1989 and brought in his older brother with a 10% ownership interest, according to the lawsuit, which also says the brothers took over a pest control company in 2011 in which they shared equal ownership.
Paul Caneiro also is accused of setting his own Ocean Township home on fire, with his own immediate family inside. He has maintained his innocence, including at his arraignment in March 2019.
Though the Colts Neck fire was reported hours after the Ocean Township fire, investigators believe Caneiro first killed his relatives and set the fire in Colts Neck before returning to his home about 5 a.m. Prosecutors say the fire at Caneiro's own house was both a "ruse" and in an effort to destroy evidence that he had taken from the Colts Neck home.
In December 2018, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office had already said that a trial might not get underway until 2020. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on typical court proceedings.