Many of today's headlines are terrifyingly similar — a young girl abducted from her front yard, from a street corner, from her bedroom. Cases like those of Samantha Runnion, Elizabeth Smart, and Danielle van Dam leave communities in a state of shock and fear.
In February 1999, fear was hovering over the communities around Yosemite National Park following the brutal murders of three women who visited the park.
Before those slayings, Cary Stayner seemed to be just another loner seeking refuge in Yosemite. He was a clean-cut handyman who worked at a motel near the park. Now, he is on trial for the February 1999 slayings of Carole Sund, her teenage daughter Juli and their young friend, Silvina Pelosso. Pelosso, the daughter of one of Carole Sund's close friends, was visiting from Argentina, spending her winter break with the Sund family.
Stayner has pleaded not guilty and is claiming insanity.
The Sunds wanted to make Pelosso's visit a memorable trip. They took her to Disneyland, San Francisco, and, finally, to Yosemite. Familiar with the park, Carole Sund usually stayed inside Yosemite. This time, however, she booked a room at the Cedar Lodge Motel, located just outside the park. The decision was a fateful one — one that brought the women into Stayner's path.
FBI agents had interviewed the 38-year-old Stayner twice following the three murders, but he never aroused much suspicion. Investigators only homed in on him five months later, after a fourth victim, environmentalist Joie Armstrong, was found decapitated by a stream in the area.
Stayner was arrested in July 1999, two days after Armstrong's body was discovered. He reportedly confessed to all four murders, providing clues only the killer could know, and detailing how he taunted police and evaded capture for five long months.
A Knock at the Motel Room Door
According to the FBI and other sources, Sund and the two teenage girls had settled into their room at the Cedar Lodge on the night of Feb. 15, 1999, when they heard a knock at their door. It was Stayner, claiming he had to fix something in the bathroom. He later emerged with a gun, claiming that this was just a robbery and nobody would be harmed if they cooperated, sources say, and proceeded to bind them with duct tape.
Ted Rowlands, a reporter who interviewed Stayner in prison, said Stayner described the chilling details of how he carried out the killings. Rowlands said Stayner told him he committed the slayings "quietly." Rowlands said Stayner also told him that "all three women cooperated with him, obeying every single order he gave them, throughout the entire ordeal."
Sources say Stayner strangled Carole Sund and Pelosso and put their bodies in the trunk of their rental car. Investigators say that Stayner took Juli Sund, alive, in the car with him and drove about an hour north of the lodge. At Vista Point, a scenic reservoir, Stayner took her from the car and slashed her throat.
Rowlands said he asked Stayner what he was feeling after he killed the three women. Rowlands said Stayner told him he was scared.
When the FBI joined the investigation into the murders, Stayner assisted agents. He was interviewed but was not the focus of the investigation.
Carole Sund's father, Francis Carrington, said he recalls an eerie encounter with the handyman. He "was kind of peeking at me and watching me," Carrington said. "It just gave me an uneasy feeling," he added.