Cary A. Stayner


Cary A. Stayner

A.K.A.: "The Yosemite Killer"

Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Beheading
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: February/July 1999
Date of arrest: July 24, 1999
Date of birth: August 13, 1961
Victims profile: Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, and their Argentine friend, Silvina Pelosso, 16 / Joie Ruth Armstrong, 26
Method of murder: Strangulation - Cutting her throat
Location: Mariposa County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on December 12, 2002

Cary A. Stayner (born August 13, 1961) is an American serial killer currently on death row for the 1999 murders of four women in Mariposa County near Yosemite, California.

Early life

Stayner was born and raised in Merced, California. His younger brother, Steven, was kidnapped by child molester Kenneth Parnell in 1972 and held captive for more than seven years before escaping and being reunited with his family. Cary Stayner would later say he felt neglected as his parents grieved over the loss of Steven. He would also later claim that, when he was 11, he was molested by an uncle.

When Steven escaped from Parnell and returned home in 1980, he received massive media attention; a true crime book and TV movie, both titled I Know My First Name is Steven, were made about the ordeal. Steven died in a motorcycle accident in 1989. The following year, Cary Stayner's uncle, with whom Cary was living at the time, was murdered.

Stayner attempted suicide in 1991 and was arrested in 1997 for possession of marijuana and methamphetamine, although the charges were eventually dropped.


In 1997, Stayner was hired as a handyman at the Cedar Lodge motel in El Portal, just outside the Highway 140 Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite National Park. Between February and July 1999, he murdered four women: Carole Sund, her daughter Juli Sund, their travel companion Argentinian exchange student Silvina Pelosso, and Yosemite National Institute employee Joie Armstrong.

The first two victims, Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso, were found in the trunk of the charred remains of Carole's Pontiac rental car. Both bodies were burned beyond recognition, but were identified using dental records. A note was sent to police with a hand-drawn map indicating the location of the third victim, Juli Sund. The top of the note read, "we had fun with this one." Investigators went to the location depicted on the map and found the remains of Juli, whose throat had been cut.

Detectives began interviewing employees of the Cedar Lodge motel where the first three victims had been staying just prior to their deaths. One of those employees was Cary Stayner, but he was not considered a suspect at that point because he had no criminal history and remained calm during the police interview.

When the decapitated body of the fourth victim Joie Armstrong was found, eyewitnesses said they saw a blue 1979 International Scout parked outside the cabin where Armstrong was staying. Detectives traced this vehicle to its owner, who turned out to be Cary Stayner. This caused Stayner to become the prime suspect in the case.

FBI Agents John Boles and Jeff Rinek found Stayner staying at Laguna del Sol nudist resort in Wilton, where he was arrested. His vehicle yielded evidence linking him to the victim of Joie Armstrong. During interrogation, Stayner confessed to the four murders as well as sending the map for finding Juli Sund's body.

Stayner claimed after his arrest that he had fantasized about murdering women since he was seven years old, long before the abduction of his brother.


Stayner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers claimed that the Stayner family had a history of sexual abuse and mental illness, manifesting itself not only in the murders but also in Stayner's request for child pornography (in return for his confession) and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was nevertheless found sane and convicted of four counts of first degree murder by a jury in 2001.

In 2002, during the penalty phase of his trial, he was sentenced to death. An appeal is pending. Stayner is housed in the Adjustment Center on death row at San Quentin Penitentiary in California.

In the media

The investigation and arrest of Cary Stayner was featured in an episode of FBI: Criminal Pursuit, entitled "Trail of Terror", airing on the Investigation Discovery channel.

Cary Stayner

On 26 july 1999, motel handyman and recreational nudist, Cary Stayner, confessed to killing the three Yosemite sightseers Carole Sund, her daughter Juli and family friend Silvina Pelosso, whose bodies were found earlier this year.

Stayner, who already confessed to the beheading of naturalist Joie Ruth Armstrong, provided details about the killing that only police knew about. Stayner had been questioned months ago in the death of the sightseers but was ruled out as a suspect. But two days after the naturalist was found beheaded near her park residence, Stayner was arrested at a nudist colony and confessed to her murder and the three others.

Stayner, known by the media as the Yosemite Serial Killer, told San Francisco's KBWB-TV in an off-camera jailhouse interview how the Motel handyman told San Francisco's KBWB-TV in an off-camera jailhouse interview that he had dreamed of killing women for 30 years. He added that, "none of the women were sexually abused in any way." Though authorities thought they already had the killers of the three sightseers behind bars, Stayner's admissions became a source of embarrassment for all involved in the investigation. He said that he thought he had gotten away with the triple murder of the tourist until he struck a chance conversation with Ms. Armstrong and was unable to resist killing her.

Stayner was carrying a copy of a novel about a crazed serial killer in his backpack when questioned about the slaying of naturalist Joie Ruth Armstrong. The book, "Black Lightning" by horror novelist John Saul, was among a number of seemingly innocuous items FBI agents found in Stayner's dark green pack on July 23, a day after Armstrong's beheaded body was found near her home in the park. Other items include a camera, a Corona beer bottle, sunflower seeds, a harmonica and tanning lotion.

Carole Sund and the two teenagers vanished from the Cedar Lodge on February 15, 1999, during a sightseeing trip to Yosemite. A widespread search began after they failed to show up in San Francisco for a flight home to Eureka. Investigators soon found the trio's mutilated bodies and focused on a group of ex-cons and drug abusers. By early spring they assured the public they probably had the potential killers in custody.

In a taped confession made in the Sacramento FBI office soon after he was detained on July 24, 1999, Stayner described how he had planned to rape and kill his girlfriend and her 8- and 11-year-old daughters a year before he settled upon the Sunds and Silvina. He chickened out because a male caretaker was on his girlfriend's 10-acre property.

Then on February 14, 1999 -- Valentine's Day -- he stalked four young girls staying at Cedar Lodge, the motel outside Yosemite's south entrance where he worked off and on doing maintenance. He again backed off because they were accompanied by a man. The next night, Stayner decided on Carole Sund and her two teenage charges after spying them through their window at the lodge.

Stayner told investigators he entered their motel room where the mother was reading a book and the two teenage girls were "Jerry Maguire," saying he had to fix the fan in the bathroom. Once inside, he pulled a .22-caliber pistol, told them he was "desperate," and ordered Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli, 15, and Silvina Pelosso, 16, to lie face down on their beds. After binding their hands with duct tape and gagging them, he took the two girls into the bathroom.

He first strangled Sund with a 3-foot piece of rope, taking five minutes. "I didn't realize how hard it is to strangle a person," Stayner said on the taped confession. "It's not easy. I had very little feeling. It was like performing a task." After stuffing Sund into the trunk of her rented Pontiac Grand Prix, Stayner ripped and cut the clothes off the two girls. He tried to get them to perform sex acts on each other, but he became so irritated by Silvina's sobbing that he led her into the bathroom and strangled her as she knelt in the bathtub.

He then sexually assaulted Juli in the family's motel room and in the room next door -- where he took her to use the bathroom, not wanting her to see Silvina's body. Finally he left Juli on a bed, tied up and watching TV, while he cleaned up the crime scene and dumped Silvina in the car trunk with Sund, and arranged the room so it appeared that the women had checked out and left. "It felt like I was in control for the first time in my life," Stayner said on the tape.

The accused killer's cleaning of the room was so complete he even wiped his hairs off the bedsheet. An FBI agent asked on the tape why he did that, and he replied: "I watch the Discovery Channel."

At about 4 a.m. Stayner wrapped Juli, naked, in a pink, motel blanket and drove away in their rental car with her bound in the passenger seat. "I didn't know where I was going or what I was doing," he said on the tape. "I just kept driving and driving."

Along the way, he came to like Juli, who told Stayner her name was Sarah. "She was a very likable girl," he said, crying, on the tape. "She was very calm." With dawn approaching, Stayner turned off at Lake Don Pedro and carried Juli up a worn dirt path to a small clearing overlooking the water. "I told her I wished I could keep her," he said.

Then he sexually assaulted her again. Finally, he brushed her hair and fanned it out on the ground beneath her head. "I told her I loved her," he said, and cut her throat. She made a hand gesture to him, which he interpreted as her asking him to finish her off, and he looked away while she died over the next 15 to 20 seconds. "I didn't want her to suffer the way the other two did," Stayner said.

After hiding her body in the thicket he drove the car -- with the bodies of Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso in the trunk -- as far as he could into the forest. Then he caught a cab back to Yosemite Valley, paying the fare with $150 he'd stolen from Mrs. Sund's purse.

Two days later he returned to the car with a can of gasoline. After scratching "We have Sarah" on the hood with a pocket knife, Stayner lit the car on fire. Then drove two hours west and dumped Mrs. Sund's billfold insert on a Modesto street corner to fool police.

More than a month later, the remains of Carole Sund and Pelosso were found in the burned-out rental car, abandoned along a logging road. Juli Sund's body was found a week later near the reservoir with the help of a map Stayner admitted sending anonymously to the FBI.

A lawyer for the family of of Silvina Pelosso adeed that he was preparing a wrongful-death lawsuit holding Cary Stayner and the Cedar Lodge in El Portal responsible for the Argentine teen-ager's death. "Hotel security is the basic issue," said Steven Fabbro of San Francisco. "Hotels and motels have an obligation to provide security for their guests from either their employees or strangers."

To avoid the death penalty, Stayner struck a plea bargain in September 2000 to receive life in prison for the federal Armstrong murder charges.

He was formally sentenced to life in prison for the Armstrong murder on December. DBefore being sentenced Stayner begged forgiveness from the family of Armstrong. "I wish I didn"t do this terrible thing," a sobbing Stayner told the federal court before sentence was passed "I gave into terrible dark dreams that I tried to subdue." Speaking directly to the naturalist family, a teary-eyed Stayner said: "I'm sorry. I wish I could tell you why... I don't even know myself. I wish Joie was here, but she isn't. I am so sorry."

Days later Stayner pleaded innocent to the murder of the three sightseers. On June 14, 2001, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Thomas Hastings ordered Stayner to stand trial for the murders of the three women, setting the arraignment date for July 16. If found guilty of the array of murder and sex charges, Stayner could face execution.

13 Aug 1961 Cary Stayner born.

c. 1971 At age 11, an uncle molests Cary Stayner

4 Dec 1972 Brother, Steven Stayner, abducted at age 7 in Merced, CA walking home from Charles Wright Elementary School, and held by Kevin Parnell as a sex slave for eight years.

1980 Kevin Parnell's boy Steven is getting a bit on the old side, so he kidnaps Timmy White, age 5.

1 Mar 1980 Brother, Steven Stayner, escapes captivity with the second boy, Timmy White.

c. 1985 Kevin Parnell released from prison.

22 May 1989 Made-for-TV movie, I Know My First Name is Steven, with Corin Nemec as Steven.

16 Sep 1989 Brother, Steven Stayner, killed in a motorcycle accident at age 24 (some give the date as the 20th.)

1990 Jesse Stayner, the uncle that molested Cary, murdered in a case that has not been solved. Cary lived with him at the time.

1991 Attempts suicide with carbon monoxide.

1997 Makes a stab at the medical marijuana business. Fails, mobile home is repossessed.

1997 Cedar Lodge hires Cary Stayner to do odd jobs.

15 Feb 1999 Murders Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso, at Cedar Lodge.

16 Feb 1999 Kills Juli Sund.

18 Mar 1999 Carole Sund's rental car located in Tuolomne County. Two charred bodies are in the trunk, Sund's and Pelosso's.

25 Mar 1999 Juli Sund's body found based on information sent anonymously by Cary Stayner.

21 Jul 1999 Murders Joie Ruth Armstrong, a 26-year-old nature guide, at Yosemite National Park.

22 Jul 1999 Joie Armstrong's body found, decapitated.

24 Jul 1999 Cary Stayner arrested as a witness at the Laguna del Sol nudist camp, Wilton CA. The arresting officer, FBI Agent Jeff Rinek, observed that nearly all the women at the camp were "out of shape." Stayner requests a "good sized stack" of child pornography as a condition of his confession, which was surprising -- Stayner was not even a suspect.

24 Jul 1999 Confesses. "Lost control of myself and lost control of her, and when all this started out... I had no intentions of cutting her head off."

30 Nov 2000 Pleads guilty to the murder of Joie Armstrong.

12 Jul 2000 A judge rules the government may seek the death penalty.

Dec 2002 Cary Stayner asks for a new trial on the grounds that none of the jurors were molestation victims.

12 Dec 2002 Cary Stayner sentenced to death in San Quentin.

3 Jan 2003 Kevin Parnell arrested at his Berkeley home after he tries to purchase a young boy.

Aug 2003 The Sund family accepts a $1M wrongful death settlement from Cedar Lodge.

Cary Stayner is an American serial killer currently on death row for the 1999 murders of four women in Yosemite, California. Stayner's victims were Carole Sund, her daughter Julie, Argentine exchange student Silvina Pelosso and park employee Joie Armstrong.

Born on August 13, 1961, Stayner claimed after his arrest that he had fantasized about murdering women since the age of seven. Stayner's family life was fairly traumatic; his younger brother, Steven, was kidnapped by pedophile Kenneth Parnell in 1972 and held hostage for eight years. Stayner would later say he felt neglected as his parents grieved over the loss. When Steven escaped and returned home, he received massive media attention (a true crime novel and TV movie were made about the ordeal), further embittering his older brother. Steven died in a motorcycle accident in 1989. The following year, Stayner's uncle, whom he was living with at the time, was murdered. Since Stayner's arrest, some have speculated he may have been the culprit although this has never been proven.

Stayner attempted suicide in 1991 and was arrested in 1997 for possession of marijuana and methamphetamine, although the charges were eventually dropped. That same year, he was hired on as a handyman at Cedars Lodge in Yosemite — where, between February and July 1999, he murdered four women. He was initially questioned when his first three victims were found, but was never seriously considered a suspect. When the fourth body was found in July, however, he was questioned again and arrested after a search warrant for his truck yielded evidence linking him to the victim. He eventually confessed to all four murders.

He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, his lawyers citing a family history of sexual abuse and mental illness, manifesting itself not only in the murders but also in Stayner's admitted pedophilia (he at one point requested child pornography in return for his confession) and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was nevertheless found sane and convicted of four counts of first degree murder by a jury in 2001. In 2002, during the penalty phase of his trial, he was sentenced to death. An appeal is pending.

Amid the nationwide publicity the case received, the FBI was heavily criticized for not arresting Stayner before he murdered his fourth victim. There is also speculation among some law enforcement officials and forensic science specialists that Stayner did not commit the murders by himself. To date, no one else has been charged in connection with Stayner's crimes.

Cary Stayner: Murder Among the Sequoias

Evil in Paradise

Yosemite National Park is a vast area of mountain paths, alpine wilderness and redwood forests, one of the most beautiful scenic attractions in America. Set aside in 1890 to preserve a portion of the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevadas in California, its breathtaking topography rises as high as 13,000 feet above sea level. Two-hundred miles of winding road and .840 miles of foot trail have lured tourists, campers and skiers for decades.

But, recently, under the mosaic of green conifer pines, domes of granite rock, silvery waterfall and misty mountain sky, a killer lurked. His first victims were a 43-year-old woman and two teenagers. They were missing for more than a month, and when the FBI located their bodies a cry of "serial killer!" shook the peaceful tranquility of God's country.

The saga began on Feb 12, 1999.when Carole Sund, daughter Juli 15, and 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso left the Sund home in Eureka, California, and started on a vacation to where the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains melt into Yosemite. After first flying to San Francisco, where Mrs. Sund rented a red 1999 Pontiac Gran Prix, they paused in Stockton, where Juli took part in a cheerleading contest at the University of the Pacific. They then headed out for Cedar Lodge in El Portal, which is located on Yosemite's western slope. There, a room for three was reserved. They arrived at the inn early on the 14th.

Mrs. Sund and her husband, Jens, 43, both prominent realtors in the Stockton area, had been entertaining the Pelosso girl for several weeks. A foreign exchange student from Argentina and a friend of Juli's, she was spending three months with the family that had already shown her the Bay Area and Disneyland. Jens couldn't accompany them on this trip because he needed to prepare for an upcoming business trip.

On Feb. 15, the ladies hiked and took in the wonders of the park. According to the FBI, witnesses later reported seeing the trio inspecting the giant sequoia trees in nearby Tuolumme Grove. That evening, by reports, the mother and the teens rented a couple of videos from the lodge's service desk to watch in their room.

None of them were seen alive again.

The inn staff claimed that when they cleaned the room the next morning, Feb. 16, they had detected no evidence of foul play. Check-out had been done in advance and the keys were left on the room desk, as was customary. Jens Sund had scheduled to meet them at the San Francisco airport that evening on his way to Arizona, to where the others were to accompany him. While he attended his meeting, the females were to tour the Grand Canyon.

"(Jens) did not find his wife at the airport and assumed she had flown ahead," writes columnist Robert F. Howe in Time magazine. "She was not in Phoenix, either, but he played a round of golf there the next day and when she had still not attempted to contact him, he called the police." Evidently, it seemed that the ladies had never returned the rented Pontiac nor notified an anxious rental agency that they were extending their agreement.

Local police and Yosemite security began to search the area where the missing three were last seen. Initial suspicion was that they may have wandered off the main hiking paths and got lost in the maze of confusing woodland. But, soon that assumption dwindled.

"For four weeks, police, family and volunteers combed the rugged terrain of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in and near Yosemite National Park by helicopter, foot and skis," report Patricia King and Nadine Joseph in Newsweek. "They were looking for a missing red 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix -- and the women who rented it." But, when days passed and, strangely, Carole's wallet, showed up on a Modesto (Calif.) street -- its money and contents intact - the FBI smelled something bigger.

"At this point, we have not yet uncovered evidence to allow us to determine conclusively whether this was a tragic accident or a criminal act," said FBI agent Nick Rossi on Feb. 26. But, two weeks later, FBI predictions darkened. After a massive search-and-rescue team working around the clock in a 30-mile radius failed to find anyone, agent James Maddock, now placed in charge of the investigation, told the press, "We feel almost certain that the women were victims of a violent crime."

Because of the discovery of Sund's wallet in suburban Modesto, police and FBI canvassed (to quote Maddock) "the logical routes in and out of that spot, interviewing homeowners and business owners and others who may have seen them." The Bureau relocated its headquarters from Yosemite to Modesto at this point and, on Feb. 28, twelve days after the women's disappearance, hinted that was is no longer treating the Sund incident as a missing persons case, but as murder. More than a thousand leads, they confessed, produced nothing. Still, the Bureau intensified its search, recruiting the use of more high-tech equipment and air support.

As the last days of February stumbled into March, the public still hoped. In Modesto, a march and vigil were held for the missing persons. Unofficially, Jens Sund offered a $250,000 reward for information that would lead to the to the return of the missing women. After a couple of weeks, he upped the sum to $300,000. But, to no avail. Mrs. Sund's parents, Francis and Carole Carrington, appeared on television's Good Morning, America, to entreat the prayers of Americans and their help in locating their daughter and the children.

In nowhere else were expectations higher than among the other Sund children who believed their mother and sister Juli would be returned. By the middle of March, however, even their anticipations sagged. "Her mother, sisters and family friend had been missing for a month by the time Gina Sund read her poem in front of a thousand or so people who gathered in Modesto," writes Time. "'Deep in my heart I know something my mind does not want to learn,' said Gina,13. 'I try to stay strong because I know that's what you'd want your baby to be, but, Mommy, I don't want you to leave me.'"

Then came hard reality. The Sund family's worst fears were confirmed when a hiker wandered onto the site of a burned-out red 1999 Pontiac hidden off the Highway 108 in the Stanislaus Forest region late in the day on March 18. The California Highway Patrol verified the car's license plate as Mrs. Sund's rented vehicle and immediately notified the FBI. Agents arrived at the scene early the 19th. Opening the trunk, investigators found two charred bodies. The corpses were unrecognizable, bit within days were identified as Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso. Authorities now suspected that young Juli may have met with a similar fate elsewhere.

Spotting the vicinity, FBI agents spread out along Highway 108, questioning locals and stopping cars for any information that might tell them how and when the car got there, but, more importantly, to find Juli.

But it was near Lake Pedro in Tuolumme County, miles away, that the badly decomposed body of Juli Sund was at last found on March 25. The girl's throat had been cut.


Throughout the next several weeks, a task force (comprised of FBI agents and law enforcers from four surrounding counties), dedicated to no other purpose than to round up suspects, arrested several known sex offenders, drug users and ex-convicts with a record of violence from within a 75-square-mile area between Modesto and Sonoma. The police figured that the killer of the three women was someone familiar with the county, for whoever was guilty had successfully maneuvered an otherwise obvious shiny red Pontiac unseen through the natural terrain of ravines, lakes, dense woods and country roads. More so, opined the FBI, only a native would have been aware of the out-of-the-way site where the car, with its grisly contents, was eventually abandoned.

Said the March 29 edition of Newsweek: "The FBI...believes that the killer knows the area of abandoned gold mines well enough to hide the car off a spur road where locals dump old refrigerators, cars and washing machines. And well enough to know that the smell of a burning car would likely not attract attention because the air often reeks from people burning their garbage. Unsettled locals are starting to whisper about possible murderers in their midst."

By mid-April, those who had been apprehended-on-suspicion were ordered to testify in front of a grand jury in Fresno, California. "A few weeks later," says the Fresno Bee, "(James) Maddock (in charge of the FBI manhunt) ...confirmed what The Bee and other news media outlets already were reporting: that the key players in the sightseer slayings had been arrested and were in jail on unrelated charges."

Although not named in print at the time, these names have since been published by the Fresno Bee:

* Michael "Mick" Larwick, 42, of Modesto, part of a vagabond group of methamphetamine drug users and friends centered in the Modesto area. Larwick, who grew up in Tuolumme County near where the bodies of Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso were found, was jailed March 16 after he allegedly shot a Modesto police officer, an event that was ensued by a 14-hour standoff. He has an long criminal record and has been questioned extensively by the FBI. He denies any role in the Yosemite slayings.

* Eugene "Rufus" Dykes, 32, also of Modesto and Larwick's half-brother. Arrested in March, he is now serving a year at Deuel Institute for an unrelated parole violation and has a long criminal record including sex and weapons convictions. In an interview from Deuel in June, he denies any involvement in the murders.

* Billy Joe Strange, 39, an El Portal parolee who worked at the Cedar Lodge lounge and restaurant, where the murdered women were last seen. He was arrested March 5 when he allegedly reported to his parole officer with liquor on his breath. The FBI pushed for Strange's arrest, but he denied any part in the triple murders. Reportedly, many friends have rushed forward to his aid, calling the FBI's suspicion a travesty.

* Darrell Gray Stephens, 55, Strange's roommate. Convicted in 1978 for rape and robbery, he was jailed March 14 for failing to register as a sex offender. Stephens told the Bee that he is innocent.

While the four men listed above were considered the main murder suspects in the initial inquiries, others have since been questioned by the FBI in the meantime. These people, who were never regarded as the possible killers, were nonetheless dragged into the case as perhaps abettors or witnesses:

* Rachel Lou Campbell, 36, of Modesto, who was charged in April with stealing checks and credit cards, and converting them into cash and merchandise worth $365,000. Campbell, who pleaded innocent to that charge, reportedly is a key witness. When first arrested on mail fraud charges, she had in her possession Carole Sund's checking account and automated teller machine numbers.

* Larry Duane Utley, 41 an associate of Dykes and Larwick, first picked up during a March parole sweep. He was arrested in May on an unrelated crime charge, but was soon released.

* Teresa Kay Gray, 36, of Modesto. The FBI task force investigating Yosemite issued a federal warrant for her arrest after she failed to appear in Stanislaus County drug court in June.

* Kenneth"Soldier" Stewart, 24, a former cellmate of Dykes who was charged with attempted murder. He has been questioned about any involvement.

* Angelia Dale, who testified before the federal grand jury. She was subpoenaed because she is a friend of Dykes and Larwick.

* Maria Ledbetter, 24, of Modesto, an admitted methamphetamine addict and former girlfriend of Dykes, about whom she was questioned extensively.

* Jeffrey Wayne Keeney, 32, of Modesto. Arrested on an unrelated drug charge, he has been questioned about the Yosemite case.

By the end of June, the FBI had reviewed the testimonies of and the evidence linked to the suspects in custody. At that time, the Bureau stated that, while no one had yet been charged, it felt that those responsible for killing the three women at Yosemite were already behind bars.

The nation breathed a sigh of relief.

Others, too, had been questioned in the slayings -- more routine than anything -and released. One of these was a man named Cary Stayner, clean cut, no record of violence, and was in the employment of Cedar Lodge as its handyman.

Three weeks after the FBI made its statement above, the case was reopened. And the nation grimaced. A fourth victim was brutally slain just a few miles from Cedar Lodge.

Unexpected Tragedy

Acting on a tip from a caller who was worried about the whereabouts of his friend Joie Ruth Armstrong, park rangers found her mutilated body on the morning of July 22. It was discovered beyond a campground adjacent to her living quarters in the Foresta community, an enclave of some 30 cabins for use by park workers. Twenty-six-year-old Joie had been employed by the Yosemite Institute.

Station KCRA-TV in Sacramento, citing an unidentified source, was the first to leak the terrible news that the girl was decapitated. She had probably been murdered on the evening of Wednesday, July 21, investigators determined. In fact, she had been seen that day at the Institute offices near where Carole Sund and the teenagers were found earlier in the year.

Miss Armstrong was probably only hours away from leaving her quarters to visit a friend in Sausalito, California. When she did not appear as planned, her would-be host had phoned the park. Police found her car in front of her cabin, packed for the trip.

In light of its earlier estimation that the case was closed, the FBI remained relatively quiet, but conceded that the case needed to be re-evaluated. Chief James Maddock said he himself questioned whether the Bureau could have done anything to prevent Armstrong's killing. "I've struggled with that issue for the last 24 hours and continue to do so," he confessed. He did feel, however, that the FBI spared nothing to investigate the earlier killings. "I'm confident we've done everything that could be reasonably done."

The Armstrong tragedy reawakened dark fears and brought back those bad dreams the local residents thought they could put behind them. By Friday, the day after she was found dead, a hush had fallen over Yosemite Park.

"Freckled, red-haired and full of energy and enthusiasm, Armstrong loved children, nature and teaching. Those loves took her to Yosemite, a place known for its peace and beauty," wrote the Modesta Bee, one of a line of community Bee newspapers throughout California. Written the weekend after Armstrong was slain, it went on: "For the past year, she had worked for the Yosemite Institute, a nonprofit group that runs education programs through a partnership with the National Park Service...

"'Joie was a bright light to all who knew her,' said Mike Lee, the Yosemite Institute's director 'We will remember her as so full of laughter and love, and as a committed and gifted teacher.'...

"Authorities went to the meadow Armstrong loved on Thursday, not long after she was reported missing (and) found her body next to a stream she and her friends used for drinking water.

"'You should come see this place - I wonder if you ever will,' Armstrong had e-mailed her friend, only days earlier. 'I love my garden and living in Yosemite - one of the most beautiful places in the whole wide world.'"


On Saturday, July 24, within 48 hours of the Armstrong killing, FBI agent and in-charge James Maddock announced at a press conference that a man was in custody on strong suspicion of murder and that a "significant announcement" would be made shortly.

The suspect, Cary Stayner, 37, had been one of the people questioned after the triple killings in February, but, at that time no evidence linked itself to Stayner and he had been released. Because he was the handyman at the Cedar Lodge in El Portal where Carole Sund and her two charges had stayed before they were murdered, his questioning at that time seems to have been more routine than anything

But, now, after another ghastly murder, he was again led in for questioning immediately after the body of Miss Armstrong was found. This time, agents detained him and forced him to answer more questions. Investigators searched his truck and confiscated his backpack for examination. Upon release, the FBI warned him not to leave El Portal as they probably were not through with him.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "(A witness claimed that) Stayner was angry about authorities seizing his backpack after he was questioned earlier that day. He was also angry about how his truck had been searched."

Evidently, the agents also searched Stayner's apartment later in the day and discovered evidence that they determined linked him to Armstrong's murder. And they found even more. Special agent Maddock explained, "During the last 24 hours, we have developed specific information linking Stayner (also) to the Sund-Pelosso murders." What this evidence is was not made known, but he did indicate it was discovered in a search of Stayner's apartment over Cedar Lodge.

Stayner, in the meantime, had disappeared from the locale and was gone from the premises by the time agents came to arrest him. This was Friday evening, July 23rd.. They caught up with him, however, at the Laguna Del Sol nudist colony, where he was known to frequent. Its manager had seen a newscast on television, recognized Stayner's photo as one of his guests, and notified the FBI. Agents returned him to El Portal on Saturday where he was put through a lengthy interrogation.

By evening's end, the FBI felt it had gathered enough evidence and damaging testimony to arrest Cary Stayner for murder, Sunday morning, they rushed him to Fresno to officially lodge a complaint, then to Sacramento on Monday where he was arraigned before the courts.

That same day, Stayner allowed himself to be interviewed by a reporter from KNTV. During the session, an unexpected event occurred. In a voice that seemed relieved to be unburdening from its depth a long-kept secret, Stayner blurted, "I am guilty. I did murder Carole Sund, Juli Sund, Silvina Pelosso and Joie Armstrong ...None of the women were sexually abused in any way."

His confession and the details that followed shocked America.

"In (the) interview, Stayner said he had fantasized about killing women for the last 30 years," reports Yahoo!News, "and described in detail how he murdered Carole Sund, her daughter Juli, and visiting Argentine student Pelosso. He had strangled Pelosso and Carole Sund in their rented cabin in the Cedar Lodge motel, then took Juli Sund to a lake, where he killed her early the next morning...

"He abandoned the group's rental car with the bodies of Mrs. Sund and Silvina inside, returning two days later to burn evidence and retrieve Mrs. Sund's wallet, which he dumped in Modesto to confuse authorities," the Yahoo! report continues. "Stayner said he thought he had gotten away with the earlier crimes, but could not resist the urge to kill Armstrong after he struck up a chance conversation with her..."

Concluding the interview, he addressed the victims' families: "I am sorry their loved ones were where they were when they were. I wish I could have controlled myself and not done what I did."

FBI sources claimed that he had already confessed his guilt during the Saturday evening interrogation. In the Bureau's mind, this time it had the right man. He had given the FBI details "only the killer would know in such specificity that agents were able to recover evidence confirming his confession," Yahoo! asserts. "Knives were used in the slayings and the weapon suspected in Ms. Armstrong's death was recovered."

Billed as "Mr. Nice Guy"

"He would have been the furthest of suspects in the locals' minds."

If that comment made by Cedar Lodge restaurant manager Kathy Hefner sounds unforgivably naïve, read further. Most of Stayner's coworkers would probably say they fully understand why he had fooled the FBI as long as he did. He just wasn't the killer type, not a troublemaker, not a wise guy, never violent. His only encounter with the law was for marijuana use in 1997.

The relatively quiet but friendly motel handyman's only passions seemed to be nude sunbathing and hiking. On days off he would escape to Laguna Del Sol, a nudist colony in Sacramento County. Despite this sensual surrender, he never behaved lewdly nor perversely.

Stayner's father, Delbert, admits that he thinks son Cary may have suffered a trauma at age 11 when younger brother Steven, then seven, was abducted in 1972, disappearing for eight years. In that time, Steven had been forced to endure molestations by his kidnapper, whom he finally turned in to the police. The real-life drama was later turned into a television movie. But, says Delbert, puberty-aged Cary endured some emotional hardships because of that incident.

After graduation from Merced (California) High School, Stayner worked as a window installer at a glass company. The Cedar Lodge hired him as handyman in 1997 and gave him the use of a small apartment on the top floor. Management found him a hard-worker and honest. In his capacity, Stayner performed technical and housekeeping duties, everything from fixing electrical and mechanical breakdowns to delivering extra towels and bedding to guests. He usually ate lunch and dinner at the motel restaurant and often after work would relax with one beer and a bowl of soup.

Some who knew Cary have an incredibly difficult time accepting the facts. Sandy Cox, whose husband owned the window company where Stayner worked for in Atwater, says, "We've known Cary since he was a little boy...It just doesn't match up. Out of respect for his family and the victim's family, we don't want to say anymore."

Odds & No Ends

When questioned further by the press about the FBI's error in not identifying Stayner as a suspect earlier, as well as what finally led them to Stayner, Maddock replied, "I do look forward to the day I can share the details of the investigations from start to finish."

That answer, however, was not good enough for many, including two attorneys representing some of the previously mentioned four men behind bars who are still considered as suspects in the Yosemite killings. Some of these suspects have already passed lie detector tests, say their lawyers, and have even offered to give blood samples to support their innocence. One suspect, it has been recently learned, had conclusive proof he had been working out of state at the time of the killings, but remains under scrutiny just the same. And meanwhile their perturbed lawyers see their clients as patsies forced to wait in the side lines while the FBI struggles to makes up its own mind.

"I don't understand how such a large investigation with such experienced investigators missed the trail completely," says Ramon Magana, representing two of the men. "They put so much time, energy and resources into an investigation of people that appear to be unrelated and unconnected to the case."

A brother-in-cause to Magana is Stanislaus County public defender Tim Bazar who claims, "I have never heard any evidence that ties (anyone) to these slayings. Not only did (the FBI) arrest everybody, over the last several months they attempted to put pressure on one or the other to turn the others in the group in...It actually appears they had nothing against anybody."

None of these voices is more entreating, however, than that of Mrs. Raquel Pelosso whose daughter Silvina perished in Yosemite: " I just cannot understand how so many people...didn't realize that maybe (Stayner) was the man, since I heard that he was interviewed some time ago."

Did Stayner Act Alone?

In defense of the FBI's hesitancy to speak and commit, they and many others cannot believe that Stayner acted by himself. Accounts conflict. In the meantime a grand jury continues to look into whether or not others were involved, including the previously listed suspects. "(No one's) off the hook yet," an unidentified source has told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Quote the Modesto Bee: "In El Portal, a number of residents are convinced that no one person could have created so much horror, especially in the Sund and Pelosso slayings. "'The logistics of it say it had to involve more than one person, said Letty Carolyn Barry, owner of the Yosemite Rosebud Lodge, west of Cedar Lodge. "Privately, some members of the Sund-Pelosso task force are saying the same thing, sources have told the Bee. Those sources say it is difficult for some investigators to believe Stayner could have gotten the jump on all three women without any help, let alone dispose of their bodies."

And on the flip-side, the same paper notes another unconfirmed source that maintains Stayner did act alone, with the help of only a weapon. "Stayner," says the source, "used a gun after gaining entry to the motel room of the Sunds and Pelosso, and tied them up."

* * * * *

These and many other questions that are slowly emerging since Cary Stayner's arrest. They may be answered in the trial ahead, which is expected to begin Aug. 6. The Crime Library will provide major updates as they happen.


In an affidavit filed August 30, 1999, by FBI Special Agent (SA) Marcee Robinson in support of a search warrant for blood, hair and saliva samples from Cary Stayner, further details were presented about the murders in Yosemite. In this official file, which was requested by the state of California, it is made clear that Stayner, despite earlier denials, sexually assaulted two of his victims, Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso.

Robinson bases his report on the evidence discovered by local police and FBI agents - in particularly Special Agent Christopher Hopkins -- who investigated the case and rounded up the evidence.

"According to SA Hopkins, both the (FBI's) Evidence Response Team and the Mariposa County Sheriff's Office collected items of potential evidence from Room 509 at the Cedar Lodge Motel, the room in which Stayner claims to have sexually assaulted Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso and murdered both Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso," reads a passage from the affidavit. "In his interview, Stayner claimed that hair from his body was left on the bedspread in their motel room, but he returned later and changed the bed. Upon examination by the FBI Laboratory, some items have yielded trace evidence. Among other things, the FBI Laboratory has found hairs in vacuum sweepings taken from Room 509 and possibly body fluid stains on a blanket (and) a latent palm print from the window sill."

Of the Joie Armstrong homicide, previously unreleased evidence strongly supports Stayner's confession and gives new details of that murder. For instance, according to the affidavit, "Vacuum sweepings taken from inside Armstrong's house, where Stayner claims to have bound her with duct tape, have yielded hair evidence. The FBI Laboratory has also found possible bodily fluid stains on a bed sheet taken from Armstrong's residence. The FBI also seized clothing stained with blood from Joie Armsttrong's body. Although most of the stains are likely to include Armstrong's blood, Stayner was observed to have a laceration on his hand during his interrogation, and therefore may have been cut and bled during the attack. Latent fingerprints have also been lifted from the interior of Joie Armstrong's truck, which Stayner admits to touching during his encounter with her."

Other objects of evidence are being examined in the interim. These include the knives Stayner claimed to have used to kill Juli Sund and Joie Armstrong, pieces of duct tape from Armstrong's house, and a blanket Stayner said he wrapped around the Sund teen.

Two vials of Stayner's blood, as well as 25 samples of Stayner's head and pubic hair, saliva and fingerprints, are scheduled for testing against trace evidence in the Fresno County Jail in the presence of law enforcement officials. Findings will be reported by The Crime Library.

Cary Stayner: Murder Among the Sequoias

Update from May 2002 to December 2002

The death-penalty trial of Cary Stayner was moved from Mariposa County to Santa Clara County, CA. In May, 2002, Stayner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1999 murder of three tourists in Yosemite National Park. In mid-July of 2002, the trial began in Judge Thomas C. Hastings’ courtroom with the prosecution team headed by George Williamson and the defense team headed by Marcia Morrissey.

On Monday, July 22, the court heard the former motel handyman’s taped confession, which he had given to FBI agents.

According to Fresno Bee reporter Cyndee Fontanta, “In the taped confession, Stayner calmly reviewed how he strangled 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso in a motel bathtub near Yosemite National Park. How he sexually assaulted Juli Sund, 15, for hours before spiriting her away from the motel room she shared with her mother, 42-year-old Carole Sund, and friend Silvina.

“And then, not as calmly, how he carried Juli -- "kinda like a groom carrying a bride over the threshold" -- to a lonely vista point near Lake Don Pedro, pledged his love and then cut her throat as the sun lightened the sky.” Stayner’s confession to the strangulation murder of Carole Sund had been played to the court the previous week.

The issue was no longer who committed the murders but whether Stayner was insane at the time and whether the confession to the FBI agents was coerced. Stayner is serving a life sentence for the Yosemite Park murder of Joie Ruth Armstrong. The issue of whether Stayner’s confession was coerced seemed to be resolved when on July 24, the court heard the recorded demands that Stayner made to the FBI agents that he wanted satisfied before he would give them his confession.

Stayner demanded that his parents be given the reward money, that he be incarcerated at a prison near his parents’ home, and, to Stayner’s detriment, that he be given a large cache of child pornography. Previously, the defense had maintained that the FBI had coerced Stayner’s confession. In the end, Stayner confessed without the promise of child pornography or reward money for his parents.

Cary Stayner, with classmate, was voted "Most Creative" in high school.

Cary Stayner, 1979 Yearbook

His younger brother Steven's abduction by a child molester in 1972 and his celebrated
return seven years later haunted Cary.

Cary, seen hugging his mother the day Steven came back.

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

Cary Stayner

In 1997, Stayner was hired as a handyman at the Cedar Lodge motel in El Portal,
just outside the Highway 140 Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite National Park.

Cary Stayner noticed Joie Armstrong when he drove by her house in Yosemite.

He worked at Cedar Lodge in El Portal, where Juli Sund took this photo of her mother and
friend shortly before Stayner killed them. Photo by Juli Sund via Associated Press.

Stayner killed them, put their bodies in a rental car, and set it on fire.