Murder of Cara Knott
|Cara Evelyn Knott|
February 11, 1966|
Ventura, California, U.S.
December 27, 1986 (aged 20)|
San Diego County, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Strangulation|
|Body discovered||December 28, 1986, near Mercy Road bridge on Interstate 15|
Cara Evelyn Knott (February 11, 1966 – December 27, 1986) was an American student at San Diego State University who disappeared on December 27, 1986 while driving from her boyfriend's home in Escondido, California to her parents' home in El Cajon. The following day, on December 28, her car was found below a 65-foot bridge at the bottom of a ravine, near an abandoned off-ramp in San Diego County.
Her killer, Craig Allen Peyer (b. March 16, 1950), was a police officer and 13-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol (CHP). At Peyer's trial, it was revealed that he had been targeting women along the interstate, and had made predatory sexual advances on multiple female drivers. He was convicted of Knott's murder in 1988.
On the night of December 27, 1986, 20-year-old Cara Knott was driving south on Interstate 15 from her boyfriend's home in Escondido, California to her parents' home in El Cajon when Peyer, who was on duty in a marked CHP patrol car, directed Knott to pull off the freeway on an isolated, unfinished off-ramp. It was later discovered that Peyer also had been harassing a number of other female drivers in the same area and pulling them over on the same off-ramp and was supposedly trying to pick them up as dates. In the Knott case, it was thought that the situation escalated to physicality when Knott threatened to report Peyer for his inappropriate actions. When he attempted to grab her, she slashed and scratched at his face. Peyer then bludgeoned her with his flashlight and strangled her to death with a rope. He then threw her body over the edge of an abandoned bridge where she fell into the brush below.
Coincidentally, two days later, while covering the investigation of the murder, a reporter with KCST-TV interviewed Peyer during a ride-along segment about self-protection for female drivers. At the time of the interview, Peyer had scratches on his face which, as details of the case unfolded, were thought to have been inflicted by Knott during the struggle with Peyer. He tried to explain that they were caused when he fell against a fence in the CHP parking lot, but the fence was found to be too high to have caused the scratches on Peyer's face. Moreover, witnesses at a gas station roughly within the hour of the murder was thought to have occurred observed a disheveled Peyer drive in at high speed. One of them, who actually happened to be an off-duty San Diego police officer, reported seeing the scratch marks an hour before Peyer claimed he got them.
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Just after the KCST broadcast, nearly two dozen telephone calls, mostly from women, were received by authorities, with the callers reporting that Peyer was the officer who had pulled them over on the same off-ramp, even though in these cases Peyer was not hostile or violent towards them. They said that while he may have been friendly with them, he also made them uncomfortable. In some cases, he gently stroked their hair and shoulders, which caused them some distress. In addition, there had been complaints about him before the murder by several women but were dismissed because of his reputation within the department.
Another witness said he saw a patrol car accompanying a Volkswagen Beetle, which was thought to be the one Knott was driving, in that exact area at about the time the murder was known to have occurred. Knott last was seen alive at a Chevron gas station just two miles away from the murder scene. The attendant remembered seeing a marked CHP patrol car making a u-turn on the road just after Knott had driven away.
Peyer's own logbook revealed a hasty falsification about that time as well as changes he made to several traffic tickets that had been written some time later—according to the motorists to whom the tickets were written. A rope found in his patrol car seemed to match the rope marks around the victim's neck. Gold fibers found on Knott's dress matched the gold braid on Peyer's shoulder patch from his CHP uniform. It was assumed that he tried to minimize the fiber transfer by placing her body on the hood of his patrol car so that no evidence of her would be found in his patrol car, but he did not notice that the fibers from his shoulder patch were stuck to her dress. Skip Sperber analyzed it. Tire tracks on the bridge showed a car had pulled out hastily leaving black marks on the pavement. Furthermore, a drop of blood was found on one of Knott's boots which was found to be consistent with Peyer's blood type (AB negative, the rarest type) and other genetic markers, although conclusive DNA testing was not available at the time of the investigation. Purple and gold fibers were present.
Peyer's fellow officers testified to the defendant's strange actions following the murder, with his continuous requests regarding the investigation's status and his attempts to justify the perpetrator's crime as a mistake. An internal investigation showed that while he stopped many drivers for various legitimate violations, most of them were females who were driving alone. Additionally, they were of the same age group and physical description as Cara Knott.
The first trial resulted in a hung jury. Upon retrial, testimony regarding a potential second suspect and a hearsay explanation for the defendant's scratches was ruled inadmissible, and Peyer was found guilty of murder, the first conviction of murder by an on-duty CHP officer. On August 4, 1988, Peyer was sentenced to 25 years to life.
After conviction, Peyer continued to claim his innocence. In 2004, Peyer was asked if he would contribute a sample of his DNA to a San Diego County program, which had been designed and initiated to use DNA samples to possibly exonerate wrongfully imprisoned persons, because such testing was not yet available at the time of his trial and conviction. Peyer refused to provide any DNA for the test. At an initial parole hearing in 2004, when asked why he wouldn't provide a DNA sample, Peyer refused to answer. The board denied his parole, on the grounds of his lack of remorse for the crime, as well as for his refusal to explain why he was saying he was innocent, yet would not let anyone help him prove it.
Peyer has been denied parole two additional times: in 2008, and 2012. His next eligibility for parole will be in 2027; he will be 77 years old. Peyer is serving his sentence at California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, California.
On December 2, 2000, Sam Knott, Cara Knott's father, died of a heart attack several yards from the site where Cara's body was discovered, where the family had constructed a memorial garden for her.
Shortly after the crime and trial, a wave of incidents were reported when female drivers traveling alone refused to stop when ordered by the police. After several incidents, the State of California mandated that drivers traveling alone when ordered to stop could do so in the vicinity of high-profile areas such as malls or gas stations where there would be the likelihood of witnesses.
The Craig Peyer case has been covered in the books True Stories of Law & Order: SVU by Kevin Dwyer and Juré Fiorillo (Berkley/Penguin 2007); You're the Jury by Judge Norbert Enrenfreund and Lawrence Treat (Ho lt Paperbacks 1992); and Badge of Betrayal: The Devastating True Story of a Rogue Cop Turned Murderer by Joe Cantlupe and Lisa Petrillo (Avon Books (Mm) 1991.)
The case was also the subject of a 2003 episode of the television show City Confidential, titled "Badge of Dishonor," a 2011 episode of the Investigation Discovery TV series, Unusual Suspects titled "Betrayal of Trust" (Season 1, Episode 2), and the TV show Forensic Files.
- "Cara E Knott, Born 02/11/1966". California Birth Index. Retrieved January 2, 2016.
- Bledsoe, Greg (December 27, 2011). "Mom to Face Cara Knott's Killer". NBC San Diego. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
- "Badge of Betrayal (Season 9, Episode 18)". Forensic Files. truTV.
- Reza, H.G. (August 4, 1988). "An Emotional Judge Gives Peyer 25 Years for Killing Cara Knott". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
- "Timeline 1986". Retrieved November 14, 2009.
- Moran, Greg. "Former CHP Denied Parole Four More Years". Archived from the original on 2013-10-21. Retrieved 2014-08-18.
- "Board Denies Parole for Ex-CHP Officer Craig Peyer". ABC 10 News. 2012-01-11. Archived from the original on 2013-07-19. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
- Perry, Tony (December 2, 2002). "Sam Knott; Father of Murder Victim". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
- 1988: A California Highway Patrolman Is Tried Once Again for a Shocking Murder Under the Freeway
- 2004: The Killer Cop
- 2004: Killer Peyer refused prosecutors' offer to test DNA
- 2004: Parole board to revisit Knott murder
- 2008: No Clemency for Peyer
- 2012: Parole denied for CHP officer
- Memorial page for the victim, Cara Knott via Internet Archive
- on YouTube.