2004 Jenner, California double-murder

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The Jenner, California double murder of 2004 is an unsolved case which occurred on August 14-15, 2004, in which a young couple was shot to death as they slept on a state beach. The bodies of Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and her fiance Jason S. Allen, 26, were found on Fish Head Beach, between Russian Gulch and the mouth of the Russian River, in the small coastal hamlet of Jenner, California. Both Cutshall and Allen were killed with a .45-caliber Marlin rifle as they slept in their sleeping bags on the beach. The Sonoma County Coroner's Office estimated that the couple was slain on either the night of August 14, 2004 or in the early morning hours of August 15, 2004.

The case has received considerable national attention, but the crime remains unsolved.

Weapon[edit]

The weapon used was an 1894 Marlin .45 caliber long rifle, either a long colt style, or a carbine magazine. Although ballistics determined the gun type, police declined to publicly disclose it, in order "to eliminate false leads."[1] The rifle is uncommon, considered too high caliber for most ranchers, and most likely would have required hand loaded ammunition. Shell casings were not found at the scene of the crime, suggesting the killer retrieved them.[2]

The victims[edit]

Both Cutshall and Allen grew up in the mid-western United States. Cutshall was from Fresno, Ohio and Allen was from Zeeland, Michigan. The couple met in 2002 while Cutshall was a student at Appalachian Bible College in West Virginia, and became engaged six weeks later. They planned to marry in autumn of 2004.[3]

Both Cutshall and Allen were counselors at Rock-N-Water, a Christian summer camp in El Dorado County, California. According to acquaintances, Cutshall and Allen had left the camp on a road trip the day before they were killed. Credit card receipts placed the duo at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco on August 14, 2004. Witnesses also reported seeing Cutshall's 1992 red Ford Tempo in the towns of Guerneville, Sebastopol, Forestville, and Jenner before the murders.[4]

On Saturday - the probable night of the murder - it is speculated, but not confirmed, that the couple went to a local motel and restaurant called River's End but were unable to rent a room. They learned about the nearby beach, which is less than a mile from the restaurant. Since camping on the beach is illegal, it is unlikely the couple planned to camp for more than one night.[5]

The bodies of the slain couple were not discovered until Wednesday, August 18, when the Sheriff's helicopter was dispatched following a report of a man who was stranded on a cliff above Fish Head Beach. The helicopter spotted the bodies and notified the department.

Investigation[edit]

Homicide detectives from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department launched an investigation into the deaths. The detectives quickly eliminated murder-suicide as an explanation to the killings. They also confirmed that none of Cutshall's or Allen's belongings had been taken, ruling out robbery as a motive, and that neither of the campers had been sexually assaulted.

Camping is prohibited on the rural stretch of beach where Cutshall and Allen met their deaths, but drifters and hitchhikers on State Route 1 (which runs alongside Fish Head Beach) are known to use the oceanfront site for sleeping. Initially, it was postulated that a drifter had murdered the young couple and then left the area. Despite an exhaustive effort by detectives, this avenue of the investigation never yielded any solid leads.

Similarities to other murders[edit]

In the weeks following the murders, detectives looked at similar cases in the United States and Canada.

  • On October 19, 2003, Brandon Rumbaugh, 20, and Lisa Gurrieri, 19, were shot to death in their sleeping bags while camping in Yavapai County, Arizona. No suspects were ever identified in that case.
  • On June 22, 1972, Leif Carlsson and Ann Durrant were killed while camping on Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 1972. The killer left fingerprints on their identification cards.[6]
  • On July 1, 2005, the bodies of middle school counselor Stevan Haugen, 54, and his girlfriend Jeanette Bauman, 56, were discovered at a remote campground outside Oakridge, Oregon. Haugen's dog was also shot to death at the scene. There were key similarities between the Haugen-Bauman killings and the Allen-Cutshall killings: both couples were murdered with a rifle; both couples were killed in their sleeping bags while camping in a secluded area; and neither of the couples were the victims of sexual assault or robbery, although authorities in Lane County confirmed that the license plates on Haugen's vehicle (Oregon plate number CL47763) were stolen. To date, no suspects have been arrested for the murder of Stevan Haugen or Jeanette Bauman.

Persons of interest[edit]

James Robert Zook murdered Daniel Charles Bloomfield with a .22 caliber revolver on August 18, 2004, and was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder.[7] Zook had used an old west-style revolver of the same era as the Marlin rifle, and Zook shot Bloomfield three days after Cutshall and Allen were approximated to have been killed. Bloomfield's murder took place around the outskirts of Sebastopol, California, about 30 miles from the Jenner crime scene.

Zook and his victim were both residents on Bloomfield Road, in a building frequented by methamphetamine users. Zook and Bloomfield frequently argued and fought with one another, and Bloomfield was killed after a feud involving a motorcycle accident and a stolen revolver. Zook reported joked with his cousin about "hunting the two-legged kind." Zook had also insinuated to fellow drug users on an occasion in August that he had murdered someone and that Bloomfield "was going to end up just like those other people. The crabs were going to be eating him also."[citation needed]

Zook's parents owned a house on Muniz Ranch; the crime scene at Fish Head Beach is only a mile from the junction of Muniz Ranch Road and Hwy 1. At the scene of Bloomfield's murder, his body was discovered under a tarpaulin sheet along with a bottle cap of Camo beer; the beer bottle was found nearby.[8]

Joseph Henry Burgess[edit]

On July 16, 2009, a 62-year-old drifter named Joseph Henry Burgess was killed in a shoot-out in the remote Jemez Mountains of New Mexico.[9][10] His DNA did not match that left at the Jenner crime scene.[11] However, Sonoma County detectives still consider Burgess a person of interest in the case. Burgess was known to be a nomadic drifter and often stole to make his living. At the time of his death, Burgess was a suspect in numerous killings, including that of David Eley, a New Mexico resident who disappeared from the Jemez Mountains in 2007. Burgess had Eley's gun when he was killed. However, it was unclear if he had the means to travel back and forth from northern California; Burgess was known to be in the New Mexico mountain area since at least 2003.[12][13]

Sonoma County Sheriff's detectives named Burgess a suspect in the Jenner slayings a few days after his death. Burgess was also a suspect in the murders of Carlsson and Durrant on Vancouver Island in 1972; a connection was established between Burgess' fingerprints and those taken from the Vancouver murder scene. Additionally, a photograph of Burgess, boots and a Bible signed "Job Weeks" were left at the Vancouver crime scene. A witness on the beach later said that Burgess had voiced his disapproval of the young, unmarried couple sharing a sleeping bag.[14] Burgess has been named as their presumed killer.[15]

Police release information 2006[edit]

In May 2006, 21 months after Cutshall and Allen were slain, Sonoma County Sheriff's detectives released new evidence in the case, which they hoped would generate new leads. New evidence including poems found near the crime scene, writings contained in a journal left for visitors inside a nearby driftwood hut, an empty 40-ounce bottle of Camo beer, and drawings inked onto pieces of driftwood near the site of the killings. Camo beer originates in Wisconsin, is no longer made, and is an uncommon beer in California. They also found a distinctive hat on a turnout above the beach on Hwy 1. Police wanted to know how the hat and beer bottle came to be in the places they were found.[16]

Detectives also disclosed that a possible DNA sample from the killer, from an undisclosed source, had been recovered from the crime scene. The sample was tested against California's database of DNA samples, taken from all convicted felons, but no match was made.

The case remains unsolved. The Sonoma County Sheriff's department has offered a $50,000 reward for information.[17]

References[edit]

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