East Palo Alto police investigating murder-suicide | News | Palo Alto Online |


East Palo Alto police investigating murder-suicide

Colleague: Women who died were computer scientists, partners in life

Two women found dead from gunshot wounds on Wednesday morning at an East Palo Alto home, in what police have determined was a murder-suicide, have been named by the San Mateo County Coroner's Office.

They were identified on Thursday as East Palo Alto residents Heather Lauren Downs, 50, and Selene Kallista Makarios, 57.

The police department received a call at approximately 9:26 a.m. Wednesday and arrived at the 2200 block of Tuscany Court. Upon entering the two-story home, officers found two people with gunshots wounds. Both were examined by rescue personnel from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and determined to be dead, according to a police press release.

Police confirmed on Thursday the shootings were a murder-suicide. Cmdr. Jeff Liu said Makarios killed Downs and then herself.

"We don't know the motive yet and had no prior calls of domestic disturbances," Liu said.

Makarios was a research associate at Stanford University's Computer Science Department between January 2003 and December 2008, according to her resume posted on the university's Formal Reasoning Group website. Since 2009, she was self-employed, managing an "experimental micro-fund" for statistical and artificial intelligence-based automated trading strategies.

Makarios and Downs held U.S. patents together that were applied for in 1999 and were granted in the early 2000s on methods for sharing data between multiple computer processors. Makarios also held a number of other patents, according to government documents.

Robert Fitzwilson, president and director at private wealth management company The Portola Group, Inc., who was also a joint holder on some of the women's patents, said he met both while they worked at Kairos Software, and he brought them to work with The Portola Group, starting a software arm. Makarios was the chief technical officer and Downs was her cohort. They worked together until Portola Group stopped doing software work, he said.

"Both were brilliant computer scientist(s) and great people. They were true geniuses, both of them," he said.

"This is a total tragedy," he said, noting they were not only business partners but that they were also partners in life.

Fitzwilson said Makarios had worked with artificial intelligence pioneer John McCarthy. She went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked with McCarthy there and later when she was at Stanford in his Formal Reasoning Group.

Richard Fikes, research professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford, hired Makarios in the Knowledge Systems Laboratory at Stanford, which he headed. Makarios had been a senior research associate, he said. She was a major player in his lab while it worked on a large research project for the CIA after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"She was an extremely smart person with a deep understanding of formal logic (related to computers)," he said. "She was a delightful person. She had a great antenna for B.S. She really cut through it."

He recalled early on when she came into his office and he asked how she was doing. She said she knew that socially people were supposed to say "fine" as a formality, but she didn't want to buy into false and meaningless niceties.

"You're not really interested in how I'm doing, are you?" he recalled that she said, and he had to admit that he wasn't.

They both laughed.

"We very quickly shared humor. She was the one pulling off the covers. I felt she was a very independent person," he said. Fikes didn't have a Wikipedia page, she'd noticed, so Makarios added one for him. "She just put it out there," he said.

Fikes said he last heard from Makarios on Nov. 7. She was about to apply for a job at a place where he had been consulting, and she asked for a referral.

Downs was a member of both the Palo Alto Adult Soccer League and the Menlo Atherton Adult Women's Soccer League. She was on the Menlo Atherton league's board of directors and was in charge of the equipment, Nancy Nuckolls, Menlo Atherton league president, said.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Nuckolls said Downs was a quiet person who kept to herself about personal matters.

"She was well-loved. We'd see each other every week. I played with her last Saturday," Nuckolls said.

"She was just a very kind person. She's going to be deeply missed."

Downs' and Makarios' deaths mark the first homicides in East Palo Alto in more than a year. The city had zero homicides in 2017 until Wednesday. The last homicide was on Nov. 27, 2016, and involved the death of an infant in a domestic violence situation.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Richard Fikes headed the Formal Reasoning Group.


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24 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2017 at 12:28 pm

This is just so sad. Suicide of any type is sad and when it involves another victim it is more than just sad but very hard to understand.

I hope we hear more about what happened here because it sounds as if this could have been anyone's neighbor or friend.

4 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2017 at 1:37 pm

So Makarios is the murderer. Why such a focus on a murderer, painting a portrait of her supposed brilliance and humor and accomplishments, rather than the victim? It's unseemly.

5 people like this
Posted by John E, Chingas
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2017 at 5:43 am

I wonder how many people were SHOCKED that it wasn't GANG related ?...but, instead.. SHOCKED that the victims were Anglo-Saxon's instead ?
ZERO Homicides since 11/27/16 ?....just to show you that it's not only gang banger's that kill.... don't be SHOCKED people.

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