After a month of searching, the burned bodies of Carole Sund and Pelosso were discovered in the charred shell of a rental car. Shortly after, officials investigating the case received an anonymous handwritten letter on a sheet of notebook paper. The letter contained a single taunting phrase along with a map leading police to the body of Juli Sund.
Sources say Stayner got the idea of writing the anonymous letter by watching a documentary about the Unabomber. But Stayner apparently tried to throw investigators off course, getting someone else to provide the saliva used to attach the stamp and seal the envelope.
Investigators now believe Stayner deliberately led them off course by planting Carole Sund's wallet along an intersection in Modesto, a town known to be home to a band of convicted sex offenders and methamphetamine dealers.
Police rounded up suspects, including convicted sex offenders, career criminals, and one man who reportedly gave a false confession to the killings. It seemed, for a while, the crimes were on their way to being solved.
Through the spring there continued to be reports in the media that the prime suspects were part of that criminal enclave in Modesto, and authorities assured the public that the suspects were in custody.
But in July, Stayner allegedly struck again, after a chance encounter with Joie Armstrong, a 26-year-old naturalist working at Yosemite park. Rowlands said Stayner told him he was walking alone when Armstrong appeared in front of him. According to Rowlands, Stayner said he "realized she was there alone, and "he couldn't help himself."
Sources say the woman resisted when Stayner confronted her with a knife and forced her into his truck. Armstrong, bound and gagged, managed to throw herself out of the window of his truck and escape. Stayner allegedly chased after her, overcame her and slashed her throat so violently, he beheaded her.
In the struggle, blood and other clues were left behind. When Stayner skipped work the next day, police became suspicious. They arrested him a few days later at a nudist resort near Sacramento. Within hours, he allegedly confessed to all four killings, providing details only the killer could know.
After Armstrong's murder, and Stayner's subsequent confession, investigators came under sharp criticism for their handling of the case.
Carole Sund's husband, Jens, said, "When Cary Stayner confessed, I was pretty surprised. Because we thought that the three or four people in custody were the people that had done it."
Tim Bazar, a public defender who represented one of the men arrested in Modesto, said he hopes the FBI learned something from the Stayner case. "I would hope that one of the things they would tell their agents is, 'Look criminals aren't necessarily a group of people who look a particular way.' People who commit murders, don't necessarily look like murderers."
Stayner was a handsome, outdoorsy-looking man who gave no outward indication of his inner turmoil.
Cedar Lodge manager Gerald Fischer recalls Stayner as a reliable employee, someone who was always "quick to step up to the task at hand." Fischer said, "I mean, if you had a problem, he'd be right there."