Cary Stayner

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Cary Stayner
Stayner - mugshot.jpg
Born Cary Anthony Stayner
(1961-08-13) August 13, 1961 (age 56)
Merced, California
Other names The Yosemite (Park) Killer
Criminal penalty Death
Conviction(s) First degree murder, 4 counts
Victims 4
Span of killings
February 1999–July 1999
Country United States
State(s) California
Date apprehended

Cary Anthony Stayner (born August 13, 1961) is an American serial killer. Stayner's early family life was marked by the abduction of his younger brother, Steven by child molester Kenneth Parnell.

He was convicted of the murders of four women between February and July 1999: Carole Sund, her teenage daughter Juli Sund and their teenage traveling companion Silvina Pelosso, and Yosemite Institute naturalist Joie Ruth Armstrong. The murders occurred in Mariposa County, California, near Yosemite National Park. Cary Stayner was sentenced to death for the four murders, and remains, as of May 2017, awaiting execution on death row at San Quentin Penitentiary in California.[1]

Early life[edit]

Stayner was born and raised in Merced, California. His younger brother, Steven, was kidnapped by child molester Kenneth Parnell in 1972, when Cary was 11, and held captive for more than seven years before escaping and being reunited with his family.[2] Cary Stayner would later say that he felt neglected while his parents grieved over the loss of Steven.[3]

When Steven escaped from Parnell and returned home in 1980, he received massive media attention; a true crime book and TV movie, both titled I Know My First Name is Steven, were made about the ordeal. Steven died in a motorcycle accident in 1989. The following year, Stayner's uncle Jesse, with whom he was living at the time, was murdered. Stayner would also later claim that his uncle molested him when he was 11.[4]

Stayner is reported to have attempted suicide in 1991,[5] and was arrested in 1997 for possession of marijuana[3] and methamphetamine,[5][better source needed] although these charges were eventually dropped.[3]


In 1997, Stayner was hired as a handyman at the Cedar Lodge motel in El Portal, just outside the Highway 140 Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite National Park.[3] Between February and July 1999, he murdered two women and two teenagers: Carole Sund; her daughter, 15-year-old Juli Sund; their travel companion, 16-year-old Argentine exchange student Silvina Pelosso; and Yosemite Institute employee Joie Ruth Armstrong, 26, a naturalist.[4] The first two victims, Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso, were found in the trunk of the charred remains of Carole's Pontiac rental car.[4] The bodies were burned beyond recognition and were identified using dental records. A note was sent to police with a hand-drawn map indicating the location of the third victim, Juli Sund.[4] The top of the note read, "We had fun with this one." Investigators went to the location depicted on the map and found the remains of Juli, whose throat had been cut.

Detectives began interviewing employees of the Cedar Lodge motel where the first three victims had been staying just before their deaths. One of those employees was Cary Stayner, but he was not considered a suspect at that point because he had no criminal history and remained calm during the police interview. Upon meeting Stayner, FBI Agent Jeff Rinek asked if Stayner had ever seen the movie Billy Jack, noting Stayner's resemblance to the film's hero. Initially, Stayner denied seeing the movie.[6] However, 90 minutes later, after building rapport during the drive to the FBI headquarters in Sacramento from the nudist resort where he was picked up, Stayner surprised Rinek by reciting several of Billy Jack's lines.[6]

When the decapitated body of the fourth victim Joie Ruth Armstrong was found, eyewitnesses said they saw a blue 1979 International Scout parked outside the cabin where Armstrong was staying. Detectives traced this vehicle to Stayner.[4] This caused Stayner to become the prime suspect in the case. FBI agents John Boles and Jeff Rinek found Stayner staying at Laguna del Sol nudist resort in Wilton, where he was arrested. His vehicle yielded evidence linking him to Joie Armstrong. During his interrogation, Stayner confessed to the four murders as well as to sending the map for finding Juli Sund's body.[7]

Stayner claimed after his arrest that he had fantasized about murdering women since he was seven years old, long before the abduction of his brother.[8]

Trial and conviction[edit]

Stayner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers claimed that the Stayner family had a history of sexual abuse and mental illness, manifesting itself not only in the murders, but also his obsessive-compulsive disorder, and request to be provided with child pornography in return for his confession.[9] Dr. Jose Arturo Silva testified that Stayner had mild autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and paraphilia.[10] Stayner was nevertheless found sane and convicted of four counts of first degree murder by a jury in 2001.[citation needed]

Sentencing and wait for execution[edit]

In 2002, during the penalty phase of his trial, he was sentenced to death and thereafter entered housing in the Adjustment Center on death row at San Quentin Penitentiary in California.[citation needed] Stayner remains on death row as of June 2016,[11] though San Quentin's gas chamber has been dormant since a 2006 judicial action called California executions to a halt over perceived flaws in process (and a more recent ruling by federal Judge Cormac Carney ruled that state’s death penalty unconstitutional because of legal issues raised by the penalty's disuse).[11]

Media portrayals[edit]

  • Stayner's case was featured in an episode of American Justice produced in 2002.[12][full citation needed]
  • In 2011, the investigation and arrest of Cary Stayner were featured in an episode of FBI: Criminal Pursuit, titled "Trail of Terror", airing on the Investigation Discovery channel.[13][better source needed]
  • In 2013, the history of Stayner's progress from student to convicted murderer was told in an episode of the U.K. television series "Born to Kill?" titled, "Yosemite Park Slayer."[full citation needed]
  • The American Court TV (now TruTV) television series Mugshots released an episode on the Stayner case titled Cary Stayner - The Cedar Lodge Killings.[14]

Further reading[edit]

  • Mara Bovsun, 2012, "Justice Story: Twisted trail of 'Yosemite murders' leads to resort handyman," New York Daily News (online), Sunday, September 30, 2012, see [6], accessed 12 June 2015. [Subtitle: "Cary Stayner planned to kill his girlfriend and her daughter; instead he killed 4 other women."]
  • CNN, 2001 [1999], "Yosemite suspect confesses to 4 killings, (online), July 27, 1999, see [7], accessed 12 June 2015.
  • Stacy Finz, 2002, "Yosemite killer sentenced to death," SFGATE (online), December 13, 2002, see [8], accessed 12 June 2015. [Excerpts from Stayner's confession; subtitle: "Terrible details of Stayner case stun even the judge."]
  • Smith, Carlton (1999), Murder at Yosemite, St. Martin's True Crime Library, St. Martins Press, ISBN 978-0312974572 [full citation needed]
  • McDougal, Dennis (2000), The Yosemite Murders, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345438348 [full citation needed]


  1. ^ "Inmate Locator". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved June 24, 2015. 
  2. ^ The Spokesman-Review, 1989, "Associated Press: Crash ends life scarred by childhood abduction," The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), pp. A1-A2, see [1], accessed 12 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d Susan Sward, Stacy Finz, Meredith May, Torri Minton, Chronicle Staff Writers, 2002, "Overshadowed All His Life," SFGATE (online), July 30, 1999, see [2], accessed 12 June 2015. [Subtitle: "Low-key Cary Stayner took back seat to kidnapped brother."]
  4. ^ a b c d e Stacy Finz, 2002, "The case of a lifetime," SFGATE (online), December 15, 2002, see [3], accessed 12 June 2015. [Subtitle: "For Cary Stayner, there was something about Jeff Rinek that put him at ease - and made him want to talk."]
  5. ^ a b Martin Chavez, Katie Clark, Toshia Najar, Matt Sers, and Mike Aamodt, 2005, "Psychology 405, Forensic Psychology, Student Notes: Cary Stayner," Radford, VA:Radford University Department of Psychology (Prof. M. Aamodt), see "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-09-04. Retrieved 2013-02-10. , accessed 12 June 2015.[better source needed][better source needed]
  6. ^ a b Finz, Stacy (December 14, 2002). "The Case of a Lifetime, Part Two". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on June 28, 2008. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  7. ^ CNN, 2001 [1999], "Yosemite suspect confesses to 4 killings, (online), July 27, 1999, see [4], accessed 12 June 2015.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Geringer, Joseph (1999-02-12). "Cary Stayner and the Yosemite Murders". truTV Crime Library. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2011-04-09. [better source needed][better source needed]
  10. ^ Finz, Stacy (2002-07-30). "Stayner called mentally impaired / Psychiatrist testifies for defense". SF Gate. Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  11. ^ a b Jeff Jardine, 2014, "Waiting out the death penalty." The Modesto Bee (online), July 26, 2014, see [5][permanent dead link], accessed 12 June 2104.
  12. ^ "The Yosemite Killer". American Justice. 2002. [full citation needed]
  13. ^ Director: David Haycox (2011). "Trail of Terror". FBI: Criminal Pursuit. Season 1. [better source needed]
  14. ^ "MUGSHOTS: CARY STAYNER – THE CEDAR LODGE KILLINGS". FilmRise. Retrieved 8 November 2017. 

External links[edit]

The Cedar Lodge Killings"] episode (2002) at FilmRise