Americas,  Phoebe,  United States

The Yosemite Killer and the Abducted Boy (Part One)

Bit of a gruesome one today, one of a two-part series with a tragic twist.


Sitting in a cell in San Quentin Penitentiary with a death penalty conviction, is 55-year-old Cary Stayner. Stayner was born in August 1961 in Merced, California, one of five children, to Delbert and Kay Stayner. He had three sisters and a younger brother.

In 1999, Stayner was tried and convicted of the murders of Carole Sund, her 15-year-old daughter Juli, a visiting Argentinian friend, 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso and Yosemite Park employee Joie Armstrong. Stayner was employed as a part-time handy-man at the Cedar Lodge Motel. His co-workers described him as a normal, friendly guy. Stayner appeared to enjoy nature and walking up in the Parks. During his childhood, the Stayner family had often gone out camping in the area. Stayner was later to describe how he grew up with fantasies of killing women; once at a very young age, whilst out shopping, imagining shooting all the women in the store, and setting fire to it. Another time fantasizing similar actions with his co-workers at a previous job. Stayner suffered something of a breakdown during this particular employment and following a brief treatment, never returned to his place of work, instead heading out to the Park and securing the position at the Motel.

At some point, possibly early in 1999, Stayner put together a murder kit consisting of rope, tape and a large serrated knife. He had, it seemed, reached the decision to act out his fantasies, and set to work finding a victim. After two abandoned attempts, one of a group of teenaged girls, Stayner noted motel guest Carole Sund, her daughter Juli and guest Silvina staying in one of the rooms. Carole and her daughter had spoken with Carole’s father earlier that day and were said to have been having a great time, going on walks and ice-skating. That evening on or shortly after February 15th (the last time the group were seen alive), Stayner knocked on the motel room door and feigned investigation of a leak from the bathroom of the room above. Carole was reluctant to let him in, telling Stayner there was no leaking in their room, but was eventually persuaded by Stayner to let him in to check.

After occupying himself in the bathroom for a few minutes, whilst the women were in the living area, Stayner went into the room, where the girls were watching a video, armed with a gun. He quickly tied all three up, before leading the teenagers into the bathroom. Going back into the lounge he approached Carole, who presumed the motive was robbery, and strangled her with the rope. Later he would state that the murder took around five minutes, claiming that it was harder to strangle somebody than he expected. He removed Carole’s body to the trunk of her rental Pontiac, and re-entered the motel room.

Gathering the girls into the lounge once again, he stripped the girls, and sexually assaulted both before demanding they commit sex acts on each other. Silvina at this point was sobbing so loud that Stayner then removed her to the bathroom, forcing her to kneel in the bath, where he strangled her also. He then took Juli into a room next door to allow her to use the bathroom, and spent the rest of the evening, into the small hours assaulting her. As time slipped by, he cleaned up the rooms and loaded Juli into the front passenger seat of the Pontiac and drove away. He would later state that at this time, Juli was unaware her mother and Silvina were dead, and their bodies were in the trunk.16729531_413898048952283_8291508048669852552_n

After driving for some time, Stayner pulled off the highway at a point a few miles from the Don Pedro Reservoir. He carried Juli, wrapped in a pink blanket to an overlook of the reservoir where he assaulted her again and then slashed her throat, almost severing her head. He looked away as she died, later stating that he took a hand gesture from her to mean she wanted him to finish her off. When she appeared dead, he hid her body in thick bushes and returned to the Pontiac which he drove back down towards the highway, where he abandoned the car. He made his way along the highway, a couple of miles to nearby Sierra Village, where he phoned for a cab, driven by Jenny Paul who only remembered the incident later when Stayner was arrested. His statement noted that Stayner seemed haggard-looking but friendly enough and talkative. She was somewhat bemused at his request to be driven 90 miles to Yosemite Lodge, a trip costing $125. She recalled an unusual conversation regarding legendary Bigfoot, asking Jenny if she believed the story. Jenny replied that she didn’t, to which Stayner said “You should. Because he’s real.” Stayner’s interest in Bigfoot was well known amongst his colleagues and social circle.

After a search lasting a number of weeks, in March 1999 a hiker stumbled across the burned-out wreck of the Pontiac and notified authorities from the FBI. Stayner had returned to the vehicle a few days after the murders and set fire to it. He had also dumped Carole’s wallet in a street in Modesto, to put investigators off the trail. Upon initial examination of the car, the bodies of Carole and Silvina were discovered in the trunk, and were positively identified by dental records. A week or so later, an anonymous note was delivered to the authorities, containing a map, showing the location of the remains of Juli Sund, which were subsequently recovered. The note stated “we had fun with this one”.

Enquiries drew a blank. There appeared to be few leads; Stayner was interviewed along with all employees and visitors to the motel at the time of the murders. He was disregarded as a suspect because he seemed to be a nice, friendly man, with no previous convictions, save for an incident of possession of marijuana two years previously for which charges had been dropped, and an alleged suicide attempt several years prior in 1991. Forensics drew little information; Stayner was even tasked with showing the federal agents around key sites in the motel in their mostly futile efforts to gather evidence. Later he would state that he cleaned up well, as he “watched discovery channel”, going as far as to sweep his hair off the bedsheets and so forth. The authorities turned their attention to known local vagrants and petty criminals.

The FBI issued a statement to the effect that they had in custody two half-brothers, Michael Larwick and Eugene Dykes who were known drug-users and had previous convictions for a range of crimes. In the days surrounding the murders, both had been involved in run-ins with the local police in the area of Modesta; Larwick was suspected of shooting a police officer, and Dykes of possession of illegal substances and parole violations. It was also stated the Dykes had made certain statements implicating himself in the murders. The FBI would claim there was forensic evidence linking the pair to the crimes.

In July 1999, the urge to kill struck again. This time Stayner headed out to Yosemite Institute. After scouting around for a while he happened across the cabin of Park employee Joie Armstrong and her boyfriend, Michael who was also a ranger, together with another room-mate. Joie was alone for the first time that weekend since moving in with the others, who had both gone on visits out of town. Despite being a vibrant outgoing young 26-year-old, with a keen love of nature, Joie had mentioned to a friend being nervous of staying in the secluded cabin on her own following the murders of Carole Sund and her party, and had made her own arrangements to visit with friend. When she failed to arrive, her friends notified authorities.

On call Yosemite physician Dr Desmond Kidd had just finished a busy 24-hour shift at the Park clinic, and returned to his lodgings when his pager went off. The despatcher notified him of a missing person search being put underway, “with law enforcement implications.” The recent murder of Carole and Juli Lund and Silvina Pelosso in nearby Cedar Lodge were fresh in his mind, so although finding missing hikers was a regular occurrence for Kidd, he knew straight away this search was different. The convoy of searchers arrived initially at Joie’s home where they found her packed pick-up ready for her trip to Sausalito.

The search squad decided to begin in the area of the cabin and split into five squads each containing five or six persons. Dr Kidd made the decision to follow the route of the nearby Crane Creek and the surrounding woods and brush. By now it was midday and quite hot, as the small group bushwhacked their way through the undergrowth. After a short period of time they noticed broken twigs, saplings and trodden grass and foliage, along with footprints. It all indicated somebody very recently running through the bushes so they followed the trail until one of the party noticed something metallic glistening off the sun. He pointed, and asked “What’s that?” Dr Kidd investigated and found something like a keyring in the water of the creek, reflecting the sun. To his horror a few feet away in the creek lay the body of a woman, dressed in jeans and white T-Shirt; She had been decapitated. Her head lay around forty feet away. Gagging, he returned to the Ranger in charge and notified him of the discovery.

Stayner had approached the wary young woman, and drawn her into a conversation about Bigfoot, claiming to have seen him in the area above the cabins. Realising quite quickly she was alone, he pulled out a gun, and ordered her into the cabin. Once inside, he bound her with the rope and gagged her with duct tape before taking her back outside and placing her in the passenger seat of his car, a blue and white International Scout. Stayner drove up the track from her home with his victim, but as he turned near a parking area where the track meets the Foresta road, Joie managed to open the passenger door and flung herself out in a bid to escape. She landed and picked herself up, before starting to run for her life through the trees towards a nearby cabin where a friend lived. She made it 150 yards before Stayner caught up with her, grabbing her from behind; he reached around and sliced across her throat with his knife, repeatedly slashing at her neck until he severed her head.

Stayner panicked now. He hadn’t anticipated his victim attempting to flee, he assumed she would go quietly as in his previous murders. Without a plan, he quickly dumped her headless body in the creek, and abandoned her head some distance away. Climbing back into his car, he drove quickly away, but didn’t get too far, when the Scout broke down on the El Portal road, a few miles away from Cedar Lodge. Ditching the Scout, he walked down the road, before flagging down a passing Ranger, and hitching a lift. The Ranger noted later that he suspected nothing. Stayner was affable, calm and friendly.

Stayner’s luck however had run out. In a matter of days, a Park employee notified investigators that he had seen a blue and white International Scout parked outside Joie’s home the evening she was killed. Tyre prints were recovered near the scene and a BOLO soon located a vehicle matching the description of the suspect car, parked at the side of the California 140. They descended a nearby slope and came across Stayner, sunbathing naked, smoking a joint on the riverbank. He was arrested on suspicion of the murder of Joie Armstrong. When he was taken into custody at Sacramento, he was quickly identified as 38-year-old Cedar Lodge employee Cary Stayner, and then he dropped the bombshell that he also killed Carole and Juli Sund, and Silvina Pelosso.

Digging into his past, investigators found that he had no criminal record, however some years earlier in 1990 had been living with a paternal uncle, who had been found dead from gunshot wounds on the stairs of his home. Stayner had given an alibi for his whereabouts during that investigation, that he had been at work at the time of his Uncle’s murder, but claimed to have seen a vagrant lurking around in the days leading up to his death. The vagrant was never found, but Stayner was never considered as a suspect in the crime; when later questioned following his arrest in 1999, he once again denied involvement however at some point he made a claim that his uncle (various sources name him as Jesse or Jerry Stayner) molested him at age 11. In August 1999, at his trial, and with the aid of his immediate confession, despite pleading not guilty – he was attempting a plea of insanity due to childhood trauma relating to his brother – Stayner was found guilty of four counts of murder and sentenced to be executed in the Prison’s gas chamber facility.

Stayner has been incarcerated on San Quentin’s Death Row for 18 years. Following rejected appeals to have his sentence commuted to life without parole, it was declared in the State of California that the death penalty was unconstitutional on the basis of a “Use it or Lose it” scenario; as executions were rarely carried it, it was argued that they should be repealed as a legitimate sentence. Following over ten years of discussions and efforts to reach a suitable agreement regarding the future of the death penalty, in November 2016 a ballot was held between several Propositions put forward by various teams.

Proposition 66, which argued for refining the death penalty appeals process to allow a maximum of five years for the appeals process of such convicted prisoners – a period confirmed as workable following the appeals process ensuing from the convictions of the DC Sniper and the Oklahoma bombers, which whilst federal rather than state appeals, were still wrapped up successfully during the proposed five year time-frame, as well as other refinements which would “mend it, not end it” as far as the death penalty question is concerned, was successfully balloted and implemented in November but an immediate stay was filed with Supreme Court. As of February, 2017 a further investigation into the legality and implementation of Proposition 66 has been ordered to be finalised by April of this year.

In a bizarre twist, one of the main Petitioners against the implementation of Proposition 66 is former El Dorado county supervisor Ron Briggs who argues that the Proposition is unconstitutional, stating “Proposition 66 violates the constitution by keeping the [state] Supreme Court and the appeals court out of the system.” Ron Briggs’ father John was a main proponent in the successful 1978 Proposition 7, which successfully increased the parameters of the issuing of the death sentence in California. John Briggs was also behind the Proposition 6 bid, which failed ballot, commonly known as the “Briggs initiative” which would have to all intents and purposes, if successful, removed the rights of gays, regarding public service, teaching positions and so forth. Despite his upcoming Presidential election bid, Ronald Reagan threw his weight very publicly behind opposition to Proposition 6, insisting homosexuality could not be caught like measles, nor could it be taught by gay teachers as scientific studies showed homosexuality was apparent from a very early age and as such was outside of the “teaching influence” of gay educators. Briggs rebuffed by blaming opponents of Proposition 6 for the later AIDS epidemic.

Please see Part 2 here: