On March 18, 1999, a charred rental car in a remote wooded area of Long Barn, Califonia is discovered. Later, the bodies of Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso are found in the trunk. The women, along with Sund’s daughter Juli, had been missing since February when they were last seen alive at the Cedar Lodge near Yosemite National Park. Juli Sund’s body was found thirty miles away a week after the car was found.
The mysterious disappearance of the three women had drawn national attention and landed them on the cover of People magazine. Compounding the mystery, Carole Sund’s wallet had been found on a street in downtown Modesto, California, three days after they had disappeared.
Police and the FBI initially focused their investigation on Eugene Dykes, Michael Larwick, and a group of methamphetamine users in Northern California. However, all these leads went up in smoke in July when Joie Ruth Armstrong, a twenty-six-year-old Yosemite Park worker, was brutally killed and decapitated near her cabin in the park.
The discovery of her body led investigators to Cary Stayner, a thirty-seven-year-old man who worked at the Cedar Lodge motel, where the Sunds were last seen. Stayner was tracked down and caught at a nudist colony in Northern California. Stayner confessed to the murder of Armstrong and then surprised the detectives by admitting that he was also responsible for the murders of the Sunds and Pelosso.
Stayner had been on the other end of another high-profile crime years earlier. His younger brother, Steven, was abducted in Merced when Cary was eleven years old. Steven Stayner was held for more than seven years by a sexual abuser, Kenneth Parnell. Following his escape, a television movie, I Know My First Name is Steven, dramatized the incident. Steven Stayner died in a tragic motorcycle accident when he was twenty-four.
The family saw further tragedy when Jesse Stayner, Cary and Steven’s uncle, was shot to death in 1990 during a bungled robbery attempt.
Stayner pled guilty to the Armstrong murder in 2001. He was convicted of the other three counts of murder in 2002 and sentenced to death.