On July 26, 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.
On December 15, 2002, the Yosemite handyman-killer recieved three death sentences for the murders of Carole, Juli, 15, and Silvina. Jens Sund, the father of Juli and former husband of Carole, said in court that Stayner should drop his appeals and accept the death sentence, as the Oklahoma City bomber. "I know he's got no trouble killing little girls in the middle of the night," Sund said. "He should step forward and take his punishment like Timothy McVeigh did."
Stayner's father, Delbert Stayner, said his son was deprived of a fair trial by a "kangaroo court" and a judge who ignored defense arguments. Delbert added that the death sentence was the latest blow to a family that's suffered greatly.