Motel Handyman Confesses to 4 Yosemite Murders
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His friends didn't consider him a killer and, up until now (7/25/99), neither did the FBI. Motel handyman Cary Stayner, according to court - admitted affidavits & now published reports, has confessed to 4 murders. The most recent? ... a week earlier slaying of Yosemite naturalist Joie Armstrong. The other 3 murders? Yosemite tourists Carole Sund, daughter Julie Sund & family friend Silvina Pelosso earlier this year ... this triple homicide the subject of a massive law enforcement manhunt as well as "headline" media stories around the world. As one newspaper editorialized: "how could such a terrible crime take place in such a beautiful place?"
On Monday, July 26, Cary Stayner was arraigned in federal court in Sacramento. Lacking a grand jury indictment, the Sacramento arraignment lasted just minutes ... just enough time for Stayner to be read his rights, to have a first degree murder charge in the Armstrong confession against him explained and to receive a court ordered public defender. Court proceedings will resume August 6th in U.S. District Court in Fresno and a plea will presumably be entered at that time. No court date nor formal charges have been announced regarding the Sund / Pelosso murders / confession.
26 year old Joie Armstrong, according to friends, loved people and loved nature. Only days before she was killed, she e-mailed a longtime Florida: "You should see this place ... I love my garden and living in Yosemite - one of the most beautiful places in the whole wide world."
Ms. Armstrong had been been living in Yosemite and working for the Yosemite Institute, a non profit group running educational programs via a partnership with the National Park Service. Armstrong's torso was found a short distance from her cabin in Yosemite's Foresta region on Thursday, July 22. Her decapitated head was found nearby.
Stayner lived just outside Yosemite in El Portal at the Cedar Lodge Motel where he worked as a handyman. He had been questioned months earlier in the Sund / Pelosso murders. That motel was the last location where the trio was seen alive.
Most recently, Stayner's sport utility vehicle was seen near Armstrong's Foresta cabin barely an hour before she was last seen alive that Wednesday evening.
Twice on Thursday, law enforcement interviewed Stayner. He was neither arrested nor detained but, upon learning that the handyman failed to show up for work the next morning (his first absence in a year and a half, we've learned), the FBI apparently wanted to talk to Stayner again. He was arrested Saturday, July 24 at a Sacramento area nudist camp (friends described him as an outdoors person and a "naturalist") after someone there heard news reports and called authorities. Stayner was reinterviewed and then arrested for the Armstrong murder ... a murder that Stayner has now, according to court submitted affidavits, admitted to. The Sund / Pelosso confessions apparently soon came thereafter.
As to Stayner's involvement in the Sund/Pelosso murders: FBI District Chief Jim Maddock has refused to say why Stayner was dismissed as a suspect earlier. In Maddock's words: "I look forward to the day when I can share the details of the investigations from start to finish."
Meanwhile, we have pieced together the following information:
Stayner was indeed the handyman at the Cedar Lodge Motel in El Portal. That same lodge was the last place that Carole, Julie & Silvina were seen alive. That was on February 15. On March 18, law enforcement found the torched remains of the trio's rental car in neighboring Tuolumne County. In the trunk, the 2 badly bodies later identified as mother Carole Sund & friend of the family Silvina Pelosso. In late March, the FBI & Tuolumne County authorities discover the body of daughter Julie Sund near Lake Don Pedro, 40 minutes away from the rental car location.
Stayner grew up in nearby Merced in the San Joaquin Valley. Some childhood friends described him as a "nice guy" but also a "loner." His family suggests he may have been coerced into a confession.
Two other items of importance here:
#1: Cary Stayner's uncle, Jesse Stayner, was shot to death in December, 1990. The homicide was never solved. Merced County authorities say they will once again open up the unsolved case. Is Cary Stayner a suspect in this now reopened homicide? Yes.
#2: Cary's brother Steven made national headlines back in 1972 when he was snatched off a Merced street at age 7. He remained missing for 7 years. Steven was reunited with his family in 1980, hailed as a hero for finally going to authorities when his abductor Kenneth Parnell, a since convicted child molester, kidnapped yet another boy. (You might recall that the abduction was made into a television mini - series.) One final piece of irony, brother Steven Stayner's family reunion was not permanent. He died in a hit & run accident in 1989. He was 24.
More relevant information is contained in the "Points to Ponder" segment at the end of this page. Meanwhile, for the internet's most concise & comprehensive view on a triple murder that has now taken on a fourth victim, please scroll below:
Update on the 3 Missing Yosemite Women: 3 GrizzlyFinds
It's a case that millions of people on two continents have been following ever so closely. 42 year old Carole Sund of Eureka, California, her 15 year old daughter Julie and 16 year old Silvina Pelosso, a visiting family friend from Cordoba, Argentina seemingly disappearing off the face of the earth since February 15th during a trip to Yosemite. They were last seen at a restaurant adjacent to the Cedar Lodge just outside the El Portal, Highway 140 entrance to the park.
Now however the case has taken on all aspects of a gruesome tragedy. Here is the crime investigation chronology:
Thursday, March 18
Law enforcement announces they had found the women's rented 1999 red Pontiac Grand Prix. A private citizen located the badly burned vehicle 100 yards off Highway 108 near Long Barn, California. Positive investigation is confirmed via the still readable license plates. Baffling investigators is the fact that the car was found 3 hours away from El Portal. Further baffling investigators: Carole Sund's wallet is recovered (without money or credit cards) in the Central Valley city of Modesto (2 hours away).
Friday, March 19
At 11am the FBI holds a press conference in Miwuk (only a short distance from where the torched car was found). Sacramento District FBI Director Jim Maddock reports the horrific news. Two bodies were found in the car's trunk and they were both so badly burned as to be unrecognizable. There is a very audible groan from the hundred or so reporters and camera people in attendance. We are told there has been no positive identification of the bodies and no timetable as to when there might be one. Director Maddock announces that Tuolumne County Sheriff Dick Rogers is now officially in charge of the investigation and Tuolumne County District Attorney Nina Deane will be in charge of prosecution of this case. Continuing to assist in the investigation will be a large FBI Task Force and several other law enforcement agencies.
Reporters are also informed that there will be no further announcement of possible suspects until an arrest or arrests have been made. Dozens of acres of the Stanislaus National Forest have been cordoned off as a crime scene. Every car traveling on highway 108 through this area is being stopped with motorists and their passengers being quizzed as to their destination. Local residents and those traveling to nearby recreational facilities are being allowed through.
Click on this link to see 2 pictures from this major press conference.
Saturday, March 20
Another press conference is held at the Miwuk United States Forest Service headquarters. Tuolumne County Sheriff Rogers and the FBI's Maddock announce the following:
- a 3rd body has yet to be found
- an overnight snowfall has temporarily halted any search effort
- the badly burned car has been towed to an undisclosed location
- several items of evidence have been taken from the car & around the car
- some of those items are badly burned; others are not
- all will be closely examined by a specially organized forensics team
- possible I.D. of the 2 victims won't be known until Monday at the earliest
- the highway 108 roadblocks have been removed
- the crime scene & a surrounding perimeter continue to be secured
- the FBI hot line is receiving some 300 tips a day; all are being investigated
- additional phone lines & operators have been added
If the women were abducted, it was done, most likely, by 2 or more people
Click on this link to see 2 photos: one from the weekend press conference and the other a helicopter shot of the burned out rental car.
Sunday, March 21
No press conference but rapidly melting snow permits the resumption of the search effort. That search effort is halted for less than an hour when the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department & the FBI allow members of the Sund & Pelosso families to enter the cordoned off perimeter and visit the crime scene where the burned rental car & the 2 bodies were found. The family members spend an emotional several minutes there and leave behind several flower arrangements. The grieving relatives return to the Holiday Inn in Modesto where they await further news. The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department announces a morning press conference the next day.
Monday, March 22
The previously announced 9am press conference was postponed from 9am to 5pm. It is at this late afternoon confab that we get the tragic news: Dental records positively identify one of the two badly burned bodies as that of the 42 year old mother Carole Sund. The other body is so badly burned that dental records are of no assistance. The FBI & Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department report that DNA samples have been taken from surviving relatives of both families. These samples should give us positive I.D. should that 2nd body be Julie or Silvina. DNA tests take time however and the I.D. on the 2nd body won't be made until Tuesday at the earliest.
The other major revelation: undamaged roll or rolls of film recovered near the Long Barn burned car scene. The FBI tells us that their investigation reveals that none of the pictures were taken beyond the February 15th positive confirmation of their last siting. That film, however, does contain the last photographic images of the Sund mother & daughter and Ms. Pelosso. 7 images were duplicated and given to the grieving parents in Modesto. Other images, described as evidence, have not been released.
Click on this link to see 2 of those 7 final images of the 3 women and another photo from this press conference.
The search at the burned car site at Long Barn has been completed. 6 dog teams and several dozen people have combed a 1 mile radius of the car site. An even more intense "inch by inch" search was conducted within a 1/2 mile radius. No 3rd body was discovered. Law enforcement believe they have retrieved any and all evidence at this suspected crime scene.
The investigation will now focus on evidence gathered so far including hundreds of "tips" called into the FBI Special Hot Line. Some of those tips include dozens of "sightings" of the 3 women after February 15 ... most of them in the Sonora area. Sheriff Rogers & the FBI's Maddock say those reporting these sightings are being interviewed but, without substantiating collaboration, it will be difficult to, in their words, "weigh this evidence."
Other items are announced Monday afternoon:
- No 3rd body at the Long Barn location. Search there has been concluded
- Future press conferences will be held in the nearby county seat of Sonora
- The active task force now numbers 26 law enforcement members
- 15 FBI, 5 Tuolumne County, 4 Stanislaus County, 2 Modesto Police
Tuesday, March 23
No press conference. The FBI Media Hot Line says future press briefings will only be scheduled when there is something important to release. Interviews continue with those who phoned in tips. No news yet on a DNA identification on the 2nd body recovered in Long Barn.
Wednesday, March 24
No press conference but we learn through independent sources that the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department, the FBI and the Modesto Police continue to investigate tips to the hotline and, in the case of the Modesto Police, a Modesto suspect Roary Larwick. 42 year old Larwick, a former long time Long Barn resident, had been arrested last week after a 14 hour standoff with Modesto police. The incident started with a routine traffic stop for an expired license plate. Larwick then reportedly opened fire on the officer. (30 spent bullets were later recovered.) Larwick was then traced to a nearby home and ultimately surrendered after tear gas canisters were fired into the residence. That location, coincidentally, is only a few blocks from where Carole Sund's wallet was recoveredweeks earlier.
An FBI spokesperson announces that the day to day search for the 3rd body has been suspended pending further clues to a possible location. ID on the 2nd body in the trunk of the burned out rental car recovered in Long Barn will probably take until next week. We had been told earlier that DNA comparison exams take time. Now we are told by an FBI source that any ID is still pending because of a delay of medical records requested from Argentina.
Thursday, March 25
Tuolumne County Sheriff Rogers, accompanied by Tuolumne County District Attorney Nina Deane & Sacramento FBI Regional Director James Maddock, announces that a body had been found on the 120 Yosemite corridor between the tiny communities of Mocassin & Chinese Camp at a location called the Lake Don Pedro Overview. The Rogers' statement lasts all of 25 seconds. Next press briefing will be at 11am Friday in front of the Tuolumne County Sheriffs' Department in downtown Sonora.
Friday, March 26
An 11am press conference in Sonora is postponed: the forensic team needs extra hours to do additional investigations. The reslated 6pm press conference tells the story ... a tragic story ... but at least a partial "completion story" for the two families involved:
The body of Julie Sund (15 year old daughter of slain mother Carole Sund) is positively identified through dental records as the victim found near a Lake Don Pedro vista drive off. The body is located 50 yards from the highway 120 vista drive off. The above photo shows the location of a large, multi agency investigation headquarters at a cordoned off section of Lake Don Pedro between the tiny communities of Mocassin & Chinese Camp on Highway 120.
For 3 additional photos of the Don Pedro vista drive off scene, click on this link.
The other much anticipated news is finally announced: The 2nd previously unidentifiable corpse discovered in the burned out rental car uncovered in Long Barn (40 miles from the Lake Don Padro site) was, with the FBI's announcement of a 99% plus accuracy, that of Silvina Pelosso.
For the first time since they were reported missing (February 17), the 2 families are now assured that their related were apparently murdered & the victims of violent crimes ... not a pleasant thought for members of both families (from Eureka, CA & from Cordoba, Argentina) who were hoping and, at the end, clinging on to a dimming thread.
Ironically too, the 3rd body is found 2 days after law enforcement would concentrate their investigation from searching for bodies to searching for abductors. Neither the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department nor the FBI would have any comment this evening on who discovered the 3rd body at Lake Don Pedro or under what circumstances.
Among the things that were said:
- the FBI's Maddock said he's never seen such a level of commitment
- future commitment would be logged under code name "TOURNAP"
- most likely, no more press briefings until person(s) charged in case
- shortly before tonite's press conference, 2 families in Modesto notified
Finally, as sad as it is, both families have a sense of closure. They know that Carole, Julie & Silvina are gone. Now the entire case may focus on finding the culprits in these heinous crimes.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department & the FBI both announce that future press briefings will be less frequent and only when major news announcements need to be made. Those announcements and the entire investigation, as we just announced, will now focus on the culprits...not the crime.
The Weekend of March 27 & 28
No announcements from the FBI Task Force nor the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department. A law enforcement forensics team is observed dusting for fingerprints one of the vehicles of "unofficial" suspect Roary Larwick in Modesto (Stanislaus County). Tuolumne County residents who called the FBI Tip Line reporting a "siting" of the trio are interviewed.
Monday, March 29
FBI & Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department escort members of the Carrington/Sund & Pelosso families to the Lake Don Pedro site where Julie Sund's body was located. The families & dozens of local residents place flowers, crosses & other remembrances at this latest crime scene. Click on this link to see a small, spontaneous memorial erected on the outskirts of East Sonora.
Click Here or on map image to download a larger, printable map graphic indicating the possible abduction site & other pertinent locations in this ongoing investigation.
In Modesto, the FBI's Jim Maddock holds an afternoon meeting with Stanislaus County Deputy Public Defender Gary Smith. (Read on for the possible full meaning of this 2 agency confab.)
Tuesday, March 30
A break in the case? Possibly ... especially if you read between the lines:
It is announced that a federal grand jury in Fresno will be convened to hear evidence in the kidnappings and slayings of the 3 women. The FBI's Sacramento division announces that the decision to use a federal grand jury comes during a meeting today in Sonora between the U.S. attorney's Fresno office, the Tuolumne County D.A.'s office, the Stanislaus County D.A.'s office, the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department & the FBI.
The FBI's Sacramento-based Special Agent Nick Rossi insists the decision to deliver evidence to a grand jury does not
necessarily mean that charges or arrests in this case are imminent. In Rossi's words: "The federal grand jury will simply be
one more investigative tool used to gather information."
That's what they say. We have our own interpretation of the aforementioned. Please read on under Points to Ponder below.
Wednesday, March 31
The FBI announces that local 40 year old Long Barn resident & self employed carpenter Jim Powers is the recipient of a $50,000 reward offered by the Sund / Carrington parents. Powers ventured a short distance from his home to use his .22 for target shooting. It was on that short jaunt that he came across the junked, burned out car. In Power's words: "It looked pretty new...then it hit me." He takes note of some red paint & the still readable license plate numbers and realizes this could be the most M
Thursday, April 1
Both families today make plans for 2 public memorial services: one in Eureka on Sunday, April 11 at 2pm; the other in Modesto on Monday, April 12 at 7pm.
Current, Missing & Future Dates
The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department & the FBI announced back on Tuesday, March 23 that no future press announcements will be made unless there are new developments. If you see a missing day or days ... we are not sleeping. It means "no news".
Points to Ponder
One person (Cary Stayner) has confessed to the Sund / Pelosso murders. We wonder if one person without additional help could abduct 3 people. A Fresno grand jury is reportedly looking into whether a loose knit group of methamphetamine users were involved in the earlier murders.
Cary Stayner, in a jailside interview, told a San Francisco television station "I did murder Carole Sund, Juli Sund, Silvina Pelosso & Joie Armstrong."
Stayner said he strangled Pelosso & Carole Sund in their Cedar Lodge motel room in mid-February ... then took Juli Sund to Lake Don Pedro where he killed her the following morning.
He says he returned to the abandoned rental car (with the bodies of Pelosso & Carole Sund in the trunk) 2 days later to burn any evidence and to retrieve Carole Sund's wallet which he dumped in Modesto to confuse investigators.
In his continuing jailhouse interview, Stayner said he didn't leave the area out of fear of drawing attention to himself. That all changed however when he says he struck up a per chance conversation with naturalist Armstrong and, when he realized she was alone at the time, could not resist the urge to kill her.
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