Murder of Cara Knott
Cara Evelyn Knott
|Died||December 27, 1986 (aged 20)|
|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' house in El Cajon. The following day, December 28, her car was found on a dead-end road at the Mercy Road off-ramp from I-15 in San Diego County. Her body was recovered at the bottom of a 65-foot ravine nearby.
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 several other female drivers in the same area by pulling them over on the same off-ramp, supposedly trying to pick them up as dates. In the Knott case, it was believed 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 Officer 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 him. He tried to explain 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, within about the hour of when the murder was thought to have occurred witnesses at a gas station saw a disheveled Peyer drive in at high speed. One of them, an off-duty San Diego police officer, reported seeing the scratch marks an hour before Peyer claimed he got them.
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, several women had made complaints about him before the murder, but these were dismissed because of Peyer’s 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. Forensic dentist Norman Sperber examined the rope found in his patrol car, and he determined they seemed to match the rope marks around the victim's neck, although Sperber was later barred from testifying about his findings in court. A distinctive and unusual gold rayon fiber—found to have been made using a yellow pigment instead of a dye—found on Knott's dress matched a shoulder patch Peyer wore on his CHP uniform. 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. Microscopic purple fibers also linked Peyer to Knott's murder.
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 after having served 17 years, 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.
Shortly after the crime and trial, a wave of incidents was reported when female drivers traveling alone refused to stop when ordered to by the police.
On November 30, 2000, Sam Knott, Cara Knott's father, died of a heart attack only a few yards from the site where Cara's body was discovered, where the family had constructed a memorial garden for her.
Peyer has been denied parole two additional times: in 2008 (served 21 years), and 2012 (25 years). His next eligibility for parole hearing was set to 15 years (longest time allowable under state law) from then to January 2027 (40 years in prison); he will be 77 years old. Peyer is serving his sentence at California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, California, which is considered a "country club" and "garden spot" among California prisons. At the time of his second parole hearing in 2008, he had "a nearly unblemished prison record" and "worked as an electrician at the facility" for years, making $52 per month in salary from the job in 2003. He worked briefly as an apprentice electrician after getting fired from CHP while on bail before the trial. His third wife Karen whom he married 18 months before the murder and who visited him regularly divorced him around 2007. Around 2010, his elderly parents, Harold and Eileen Peyer (aged 87 and 85 respectively), who previously visited him every other month, are still alive.
The Craig Peyer case has been covered in several 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 (Holt Paperbacks 1992)
- Badge of Betrayal: The Devastating True Story of a Rogue Cop Turned Murderer by Joe Cantlupe and Lisa Petrillo (Avon Books (Mm) 1991.)
- One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten (Blue Rider Press 2019)
The case was also the subject of a few episodes of different television shows:
- City Confidential: "Badge of Dishonor" (2003)
- Unusual Suspects: "Betrayal of Trust" (2011, Season 1, Episode 2) - Investigation Discovery TV series
- Forensic Files: "Badge of Betrayal" (2004, Season 9, Episode 18).
- "Cara E Knott, Born 02/11/1966". California Birth Index. Archived from the original on March 16, 2021. Retrieved January 2, 2016.
- Bledsoe, Greg (December 27, 2011). "Mom to Face Cara Knott's Killer". NBC San Diego. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. 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. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
- Menn, Joseph (September 16, 1988). "Top Forensic Dentist Sinks His Teeth Into Tough Crime Cases". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Archived from the original on October 5, 2018. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
- Reza, H. G. (February 2, 1988). "Jurors Told Fibers Link Peyer, Knott". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Archived from the original on September 20, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
- "Former CHP officer who killed San Diego State student in 1986 could see early release from prison". cbs8.com. August 25, 2020. Retrieved November 10, 2021.
- Littlefield, Dana (January 11, 2012). "Killer in 1986 Knott case denied parole". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Archived from the original on December 10, 2020. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
- "Timeline 1986". Archived from the original on November 7, 2009. Retrieved November 14, 2009.
- Perry, Tony (December 2, 2002). "Sam Knott; Father of Murder Victim". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
- Moran, Greg. "Former CHP Denied Parole Four More Years". Archived from the original on October 21, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
- Moran, Greg (February 1, 2008). "Parole board declares Peyer a risk, keeps him imprisoned". San Diego Union-Tribune. Archived from the original on September 15, 2018. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
- "Board Denies Parole for Ex-CHP Officer Craig Peyer". ABC 10 News. January 11, 2012. Archived from the original on July 19, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
- Petrillo, Lisa (February 20, 2007). "The Killer Cop". San Diego Magazine. Archived from the original on November 4, 2018. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
- "The Region". Los Angeles Times. June 4, 1987. Archived from the original on March 16, 2021. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
- Reza, H. G. (June 5, 1987). "Firm's Owners to Keep Peyer on Job Despite Threats". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 16, 2021. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
- 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
- California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Inmate Locator