Cary Stayner, the serial killer convicted in the grisly murders of four women near Yosemite National Park, is born on this day in 1961. In 1972, Stayner’s childhood took a tragic turn when his younger brother Steven, then seven, was kidnapped while walking home from school in the family’s hometown of Merced, California. Steven’s abductor, convicted child molester Kenneth Parnell, held him captive for seven years before he managed to escape and return home. Compounding the tragedy, Steven was killed in a 1989 motorcycle accident.
In 1997, Cary Stayner began working as a handyman at the Cedar Lodge in the town of El Portal, near Yosemite. On February 15, 1999, three tourists at the motel, 42-year-old Carole Sund, her 15-year-old daughter Juli and their 16-year-old family friend Silvina Pelosso, went missing. In March, the charred remains of Carol Sund and Pelosso were discovered in the trunk of their burned-out rental car in a remote area several hours from the Cedar Lodge. Juli Sund’s decomposed body was discovered on March 25 in an isolated location less than an hour away from the rental car. Investigators initially interviewed Stayner in the case, but didn’t believe the clean-cut handyman, who had no history of violence, was involved. Instead, the investigation focused on other employees at the Cedar Lodge and on suspicious persons in the town of Modesto, where Carol Sund’s wallet was found in the street several days after her disappearance. Then, on July 22, 1999, the decapitated body of Joie Armstrong, a 26-year-old Yosemite naturalist, was found near her cabin.
Investigators, who believed she had been murdered the previous day, questioned Stayner and searched his truck, but let him go. Wanting to talk to him further, authorities then tracked him down at the Laguna Del Sol nudist camp in Wilton, California, on July 24, 1999. Later that day, in a surprising confession to FBI agent Jeff Rinek, Stayner admitted to killing all four women. Stayner later stated he had fantasized about killing women since he was a child and during trial, his lawyers argued he suffered the effects of mental illness, childhood sexual abuse and the trauma of his brother’s kidnapping. Stayner was convicted in all four murders and given the death penalty.