In 1997, Cary Stayner was a handyman at the Cedar Lodge motel in El Portal, California, just outside the Highway 140 entrance to Yosemite National Park. He was convicted of the murders of four women in 1999, Carole Sund, Julie Sund, Silvina Pelosso, and Joie Armstrong. Cary was sentenced to death and is still on death row at San Quentin State Prison in California.
Carole Sund grew up in a family that made millions. She married her high school sweetheart, Jens Sund and after they had their daughter, Juliana, the couple opened their home to kids in need of a family. They took in foster kids and ended up adopting three children of mixed African American heritage. Carole spent thousands of hours volunteering with groups that assist foster kids and abused and neglected children, those most vulnerable to victimization and least able to protect themselves. She joined the NAACP to better understand racial issues and to keep her children in touch with their culture. She advocated for abused kids in the legal system, taught parenting classes, and also worked with developmentally disabled adults living in group homes who were trying to establish a measure of independence.
When Carole spent a semester abroad during her senior year in high school, she lived as an exchange student with Raquel Pelosso and stayed with her family on their cattle ranch. Carole stayed there for 6 months and the two of them became best friends and they exchanged friendship rings. They remained in touch for the next 26 years and they each got married and had children. Carole traveled to Argentina at one point because she considered adopting there. Carole’s daughter Juli and Raquel’s second child, Silvina were toddlers when they first met, but the girls were fast friends, just like their mothers had been. In 1999, Silvina was 16 and Juli was 15. Silvina was invited to stay at the Sunds’ home in the Northern California town of Eureka. Two of Juli’s friends were sexually assaulted, so she started an anti-rape campaign at her school. She had a passion for fighting against victimization, just like her mother, and she also had her adventurous spirit as she planned to visit Silvina in Argentina that summer. The Sunds wanted to show Silvina as much as they could.
They went to popular tourist attractions like Disneyland and San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. They also wanted to make sure that she got to see some of America’s true treasures, so Carole and Juli brought Silvina to Yosemite National Park over President’s Day weekend in February of 1999. This was a very special place to Carole because she had honeymooned there with her husband Jens. At the end of the long weekend, Carole would bring Juli back home and Silvina would fly to Arizona with her, Jens and the younger Sund children to visit the Grand Canyon.
Carole had the whole thing planned out. She and the girls would fly from Eureka to San Francisco on Friday, February 12th, then she would rent a car and drive to Stockton. Juli was on the cheer squad at her high school and she had a competition the following day at the University of the Pacific. On Sunday they would drive to Yosemite to spend the day touring the park, then drive back to the San Fransisco airport on Tuesday, where they would meet up with Jens for the flight to Arizona.
Carole and Juli were very impressed with the University of the Pacific and Juli thought she might like to go to college there. They made plans with another mother who attended the cheerleading competition to meet back there on Tuesday to tour the campus. Carole was confident that they would have time to stop there on the way back from Yosemite and they could still get to San Francisco to catch their flights. They headed out Sunday morning on Highway 140 for Yosemite and the route follows along the Merced River. The three of them checked into the Cedar Lodge, just outside the western entrance to the park in the town of El Portal (El –Port-ahl). The lodge had more than two hundred rooms in a half-dozen separate buildings spread out over 27 acres. They were assigned to room 509 and Carole and the girls were the only guests in their entire building. They were extremely far away from the office, and they actually had to drive to get there from their room.
The hotel didn’t provide daily maid service, so they would keep renting fresh rooms that were further and further away from the main office until the crew came in to clean them. After spending the whole day in the park on Monday, Carole called her husband that afternoon from their hotel room. She told him that the girls had a great time exploring the park, hiking, and ice skating. They were hoping to get a few extra hours in on Tuesday morning before heading to the school tour and the airport. They rented some movies to watch in their room that night and they were last seen around 7:30 PM eating in the diner attached to Cedar Lodge. Eyewitnesses at the diner recalled a couple of high school aged ladies and an adult female stopping by for some food. The waitress said the adult paid for the group’s food before they left in a hurry.
Carole and the girls did not show up for the campus tour on Tuesday and they did not meet Jens at the airport. His flight into San Francisco from Eureka had been delayed by 5 hours due to bad weather, so he actually assumed he had just missed Carole and the girls. Even though he thought it was completely out of character for Carole to go against a plan they had in place, he tried to rationalize things. Maybe she got an earlier flight to Arizona and went ahead of him. He and his 3 other children decided to fly to Arizona to check things out.
When Jens got to Phoenix, he got in the rental car, headed to his sister’s place and realized Carole wasn’t there. The next day, he played a game of golf, then decided he should call the police, and yes, he became a prime suspect in the case. When he called the Cedar Lodge, he was told that the three of them had left. Carole had a credit card on file and instead of going to the office to check out in person, the room key was left in the room and all of the luggage was gone. He contacted the rental car company his wife had been using and learned that the car hadn’t been returned. On Wednesday, February 17th, Jens called the Sheriff’s Department in Mariposa County and reported them missing.
A high school student found the plastic insert from Carole’s wallet with her driver’s license and credit cards on February 19th on the median of an intersection in the city of Modesto, which is a 2 hour drive from Yosemite. It was winter, so the roads were pretty treacherous, leading people to believe that Carole and the girls had possibly perished in a car accident. Perhaps they plunged into the river? Once the wallet was found, it looked a lot more like foul play and the FBI got involved.
The search began and the park was over 1,100 square miles and was located in three different counties. Hundreds of officers and agents participated in the search by air in helicopters and planes, on the ground by foot and snowshoe, and on water in the lakes and rivers surrounding Yosemite. The area was home to the once-thriving Gold Rush, so there were countless abandoned mining caves and tunnels, which needed to be searched. Jens had to call Silvina’s family in Argentina to tell them their daughter was missing. The victims’ families had all come to Modesto and they were staying at a Holiday Inn. Jens was there with Carole’s parents, Francis and Carole Carrington. Silvina’s parents, Raquel Pelosso and her husband Jose’ had flown in from Argentina. The Carringtons had posted a $250k reward for the safe return of their missing loved ones and another $5k reward to anyone who could locate the rental car. During the search, nine vehicles were found abandoned on various roads around the park, but none of them were the car Carole had rented.
Jens was interviewed for three hours and at the end, he was asked if they failed to cover anything important and he said, “You didn’t ask me if I did this.” He was asked and he said no. He agreed to do a polygraph test the following day and he passed.
Investigators started back at the Cedar Lodge, which was the last place the ladies had been seen. Even though their luggage had been removed from the hotel room, a few things had been left behind: a bag with some souvenirs purchased on the trip, an apple, and a bottle of tomato juice in the fridge. A pink blanket from one of the beds was missing as well as a pillowcase. Some videos they rented from the motel to watch were there, including the move Jerry Maguire. The towels in the bathroom were soaking wet and a soiled sanitary napkin was in the trashcan. There were little cuttings from fabric on the hotel carpet that stumped investigators, but this became a major part of the case later.
Agent Rinek was going to interview everyone at the Cedar Lodge who may have had contact with the missing women. The first person on the list was the handyman who had changed the locks on room 509 the day Carole had rented the room. Carole had requested separate room keys for her and the girls and the hotel had to change the locks to comply with this. Investigators learned that the man’s brother was a registered sex offender who had victimized the handyman’s daughters. He passed a polygraph test and was moved down the list as a suspect. The FBI had narrowed it down to 55 potential predators and the next person on the list was 38 year old Billy Joe Strange, a graveyard shift janitor in the Cedar Lodge restaurant. He didn’t have any known contact with the women, but he had a record of violence torwards women and he dated another employee whose husband had died under mysterious circumstances. The man had been stabbed several times in the back with scissors and then drowned in a creek, but this was ruled a suicide.
Billy failed the polygraph test and became so angry during the questioning that he almost attacked the examiner. He was arrested for a parole violation, drinking alcohol, and he had stains that looked like blood that were found during a search in his van. Investigators also had another strong lead to follow. Carole and her husband had an account at Wells Fargo Bank and several inquiries about the account had been logged in their system. Someone tried to access Carole’s bank account, but the calls were not recorded. The bank paid for calls made to their 800 number to be tracked to the number where the call was placed, but this software hadn’t been activated yet at that time. That meant that investigators had to track down the numbers where the calls came from and it turned out that most of the inquiries were from bank employees. They heard about the case and got curious. Others entries were system generated maintenance, but two calls appeared to be significant.
The first call was placed on February 19th, the day Carol’s wallet insert was found in Modesto. The caller was a woman who claimed to be Carole and requested that a duplicate ATM card be sent to her. The employee asked for identifying information and the woman was not able to provide this, so the call was ended per bank policy. Since the call was ended, the employee did not get the address that the woman wanted the new card sent to. The second call came in a few days later on February 22nd and this was also a woman claiming to be Carole. She provided her Social Security # and obtained balance information on the account.
Joe Klass (Class), the grandad of Polly Klass (Class), who was kidnapped and murdered at age 12, attended the vigil and said, “This poor family surrounded by members of other families in a bond of love that exists between those who have had loved ones stolen. A common bond of agony, a common bond of love. In the name of Carol, Juli, and Silvina, let us dedicate ourselves to a new crusade for peace in the most violent nation on Earth. Why is this the country where it’s unsafe for a 12-year-old to walk her dog? Why is this the country where it’s unsafe for a 15-year-old and a mother and a daughter to visit Yosemite National Park? Don’t ever think you’re safe until we learn as a nation to solve this problem.”Carole’s daughter, 13-year-old Gina Sund read a poem in front of roughly a thousand people. “Deep in my heart I know something my mind does not want to learn. I try to stay strong because I know that’s what you’d want your baby to be, but, Mommy, I don’t want you to leave me.”
The day after the vigil, on March 15th, 1999, a police officer in Modesto came across a guy named Michael Larwick who was cruising in the same spot where Carole’s wallet had been discovered. Police officer Steve Silva was on patrol, and he noticed Michael began to follow him and it was obviously suspicious, but he couldn’t do anything about it right away. He was waiting for an actual reason to pull him over and AHA, his tags on his license plate were expired.
Officer Silva flashed his lights, but Michael decided not to stop and accelerated. A high speed chase began and Michael swerved through a residential neighborhood and took a sharp turn. He hit a van, landed at a convenience store and totaled the car. Once the car stopped, he hopped out and took off running. Silva did chase him, but Michael started firing a gun at him and Silva was struck with a bullet. Michael was able to get inside a house and he barricaded himself inside. The homeowners were away and police arrived to flush him out. There was a standoff for several hours and the police shot tear gas into the home and Michael finally walked out on his own.
Michael Larwick had a long criminal record that included assault and battery, rape, and abduction. His behavior was extremely suspicious and everyone assumed he was involved in something bigger, so he became an obvious suspect in the case. Michael Larwick had grown up just miles form where Carole’s vehicle ended up being discovered and his half brother, was Euguene Dykes and investigators were already suspicious of him too. They both took polygraph tests and Michael’s was inconclusive and Euguene failed. Several witnesses were able to link the brothers to Carole. Witnesses claimed that it was the brothers that had Carole’s ID from her wallet and they were trying to use it for identity theft. These same witnesses said they also had some of the victim’s jewelry as well.
On March 18th, Carole’s rented car had been discovered by a man who was out “plinking” which is target shooting with a rifle. The car was about a hundred feet off State Route 108, a highway north of Yosemite, surrounded by trees and it had been torched up. The man was a local carpenter, Jimmy Powers and he believed this could be the car everyone was looking for, so he removed the license plate and took it with him so he could go look for a phone.
Gas had been poured into the car’s interior and it was set on fire. It burned so hot that it scorched the tree branches 25 feet above the car. Tests later determined the heat generated by the fire reached 2,000 degrees. It would have started a forest fire, but everything was covered in ice and snow. The car had been shiny and red, but the paint poured off it like water and the tires popped and melted. There were two bodies in the trunk and investigators needed to know where the third victim was. On the ground around the car, there was a shoe, some rope, and Carole’s purse that had a bank card, the reciept from dinner at the Cedar Lodge, and a camera.
The purse wasn’t burned, so the film was developed and this provided time stamped photos to piece together a timeline. The entire trip had been documented, but the photos ended with the three women in their room at Cedar Lodge. Before the bodies were identified, Carole’s hunsband, Jens released a statement saying, “The senseless waste of these precious lives is so incomprehensible, I can’t even begin to understand why it happened. They were victims of a devious, calculating criminal who most likely is still in the Yosemite area. And so it is with sad irony that not only have we lost what dreams and hopes we had for our teenagers, but we lose the sort of person today’s world most desperately needs.” The victims in the truck were identified as Carole and Silvina and they had been killed before the car was set on fire because they didn’t have smoke in their lungs. Carole’s stomach had ingredients from the vegetarian burrito she had for dinner at the lodge, so it was starting to look like the women were attacked at the hotel.
Someone reported that a note was found at a restaurant with the words “help me” scribbled on it, so investigators believed it could be Juli. They started knocking on doors in the area to see if she was being held somewhere, but that all changed when the FBI received a note in the mail that said, “We had fun with this one.” A map was hand drawn on the note showing the vista point exit to Don Pedro Lake, a reservoir about fifty miles from Yosemite and thirty miles from where the rental car was discovered. There was an X marking the spot where Juli’s body could be found. The map was received after the brothers Michael and Eugene were locked up, but maybe that meant they had an accomplice? Michael publicly denied any involvement, but his brother confessed to kidnapping and murdering all three women and he did not mention an accomplice.
The FBI brought a cadaver dog to the scene, and they found Juli’s body, completely hidden under the brush. She was naked, her neck had been slashed and she had remnants of duct tape around her ankle, indicating that she had been bound. With all three bodies discovered, the FBI circled back to the note they received. It said “we” which obviously makes it sound like more than one person was involved. Also, they had crime scenes spread over multiple counties.
In Mid June of 1999, the FBI was focusing on a group of suspects that were heavy methamphetamine users. They had conducted more than 10,000 interviews, but they didn’t necessarily feel compelled to hurry because they believed the threat had been contained after they arrested all of the suspects on parole violations or other charges. For nearly six months, the Yosemite community had lived in fear, wondering who the killer could be.
It was announced that the park was deemed safe again as all the main players were in jail. 26-year-old Joie Armstrong was a strong, outdoorswoman. She was lively and ambitious, and she had rented a cabin in the park that was isolated. Joie’s goal was to teach others, especially children, to love and appreciate nature, so they’d want to protect it. She majored in parks and resource management and worked at an Audubon (ahh-duh-bun) center on the San Francisco Bay, the Marin Headlands Institute, and at an outdoor education camp for school kids in Sonora before landing her dream job with the nonprofit Yosemite Institute teaching children about nature and wildlife in the park.
She moved into the cabin that is known as “the Green House in the Meadow”. She and her roommates paid a dollar a year to live in the house, which was leased to the Institute by the Park Service. Joie had never spent the night alone in the cabin, but in the second week of July, one of her roommates was going away and Joie’s fiance’ was taking some kids on a wilderness trek. She made plans to drive down to the Bay Area and stay with a friend in Sausalito. She was going to spend a night alone on July 20th, then she would head on a trip the next day. A local friend invited her to spend the night at her place so she didn’t have to be alone, but she decided not to go. The night before she was murdered, she told her father that she felt safe again because the FBI said the killers were behind bars. In her diary, she wrote, “The monsters are gone.”
A day before her murder, Joie emailed her friend saying, “You should come see this place. I wonder if you ever will. I love my garden and living in Yosemite, one of the most beautiful places in the whole wide world.”
On the morning of Wednesday, July 21st, Joie walked back and forth between her cabin and Toyota truck as she was loading it up and getting ready for her trip to Sausalito. She had no idea that a man was watching her from a little bridge just a short distance away. The front door to the cabin was open and Joie was listening to music on her stereo. A man approached her, and they made small talk until he attacked her. When Joie failed to show up to her friend’s place in Sausalito, her friend called the police. The US Park Service sent a ranger to the Green House to check on her. The cabin door was open, the stereo was on, no one was home, but her truck was there, packed with her belongings. By 7:30 AM, a dozen rangers were searching the area.
They found a pair of sunglasses on the porch that looked like they had been stepped on and partially crushed. Around 1:30 PM, a woman’s body was discovered partially submerged in a creek a hundred yards from the house, but they didn’t know if it was Joie because the victim had been decapitated. It took several hours and a trained dog to locate the head which had sunk to the bottom of a pool about 40 feet away from the corpse. Joie was clothed, but her pants were undone, and her bra had been pushed up over one breast. The vegetation around that area had been trampled, indicating that there had been a chase. After this discovery, the police refused to believe there was a link between Joie’s murder and Carole, Silvinia, and Juli’s murders.
The weekend after her murder, an article in the Modesta Bee said, “Freckled, red-haired and full of energy and enthusiasm, Armstrong loved children, nature and teaching. Those loves took her to Yosemite, a place known for its peace and beauty. For the past year, she had worked for the Yosemite Institute, a nonprofit group that runs education programs through a partnership with the National Park Service.”
Mike Lee, the Yosemite Institute’s director said,“Joie was a bright light to all who knew her. We will remember her as so full of laughter and love, and as a committed and gifted teacher.”
On Friday, July 23rd, Agent Rinek learned that there was a surprising twist in the case. Cary Stayner, the brother, of the kidnapped victim, Steven Stayner, was believed to be a possible witness to Joie Armstrong’s murder. Cary was in his 30’s and he appeared to be honest, laid-back and friendly. He was very experienced at fixing things and he worked at the Cedar Lodge. During a canvass of residents, a neighbor who was a Yosemite firefighter recalled seeing a sport utility vehicle with a distinctive paint job, a baby blue International Scout with white stripes that was parked near Joie’s house the night she was killed. A park ranger also reported giving a ride that same night to a man whose car, also a blue and white scout, had broken down on the highway between the Foresta turnoff and El Portal. He said he drove the man to Cedar Lodge because he said he lived there.
Rinek was told that he needed to make contact with Cary Stayner who happened to be at a nudist resort called Laguna del Sol in Sacramento County. Some deputies from the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department found a vehicle matching that description parked on the side of Highway 140 outside the park. There’s a popular skinny-dipping spot nearby that the locals refer to as the 25 Mile Per Hour Beach because it’s located on a sharp curve in the highway that’s marked by a 25 mile per hour speed limit sign. The deputies and two park rangers found Cary Stayner, sunbathing nude and smoking pot. They waited until he headed back to his truck to approach him because they were hoping to get his consent to search the vehicle.
Cary said he was not in Foresta the day before and he agreed to let them search his vehicle, but he did not allow them to search inside the backpack. They told him they would just get a search warrant for the bag, so he relented, and handed it over. Since he acted weird about it, the team did wait for the warrant to go through before examining the bag. That night, a park ranger and an FBI agent picked up Cary for an interrogation that lasted a few hours. He denied being in Foresta and he said he had nothing to do with Joei’s murder. The investigators had taken photos at the crime scene of the tire tracks that were outside of Joie’s cabin, and they compared this to the tires on Cary’s Scout. His tire treads were very unique because he had a different brand and age of tire on each wheel, and it looked similar to the photos of the tracks.
Visitors do get lost in the parks, so the Park Service employs professional trackers who are experts at following trails. Mark Fincher was not provided any details about the case and he picked up on two sets of footprints coming from Joie’s cabin, one slightly in front of the other. The two people walked past Joie’s car, then forward to where tire tracks left by another vehicle could be seen. The pairs of footprints morphed into one single, deeper set. Mark Fincher said it looked like someone had come down and swooped her up to heaven. The kidnapper had picked her up, which made his footprints heavier and deeper as he stood and placed her into his car.
Cary’s backpack was searched, but they didn’t find anything incriminating, but they found some things that were interesting. A novel called “Black Lightning” by horror novelist John Saul which is about a grisly serial killer who cuts women open while they are still alive, but that doesn’t mean much, you could find that in my bag. There was an X-Acto knife, but the knife was small, and it certainly wasn’t the weapon used to decapitate Joie. There was also an opened package of sunflower seeds. This wasn’t enough evidence to hold Cary, so they let him go. He went back to Cedar Lodge, sold some of his possessions to other employees to get money to fix his truck and he mentioned that it might be time for him to move.
When investigators showed up the next morning to talk to him again, he was gone, and he checked into Laguna del Sol and set up a tent by the resort’s man-made lake. He paid for two nights when he checked in on Friday, but he packed up his belongings and was already leaving on Saturday morning.
The FBI issued a BOLO (be on the lookout) for Cary Stayner when he cleared out of Cedar Lodge so quickly, it looked suspicious. The media outlets began broadcasting this information and a guest at Laguna del Sol recognized him and called in the tip. Agent Rinek was sent to pick up Cary at this resort and when he arrived, a guy walked up to him and said the guy he was looking for was in the restaurant eating breakfast and he is wearing clothes. That sentence sounds silly and vague, but this was a nudist colony. When the resort discovered that the FBI was looking for Cary, they blocked off the exit from the resort with some vehicles to make sure he was stuck there.
Once Agent Rinek’s team arrived, they split up and entered the restaurant through two separate doorways. When Cary saw them, he stood up and put his hands on his head. Rinek cuffed him, but let him know he was not being arrested. He told him, “I don’t have a clue why we are here other than to ask if you would be willing to come back to our office to be interviewed.” He said if Cary agreed to go, he would drive him there, then bring him back to Laguna del Sol when they were done, and he also needed to search his truck again. Cary gave permission for both requests.
Rinek and Cary were on their way to the station, but their 45 minute drive took about an hour due to all the road construction, so they chatted for awhile. Cary said he loved the outdoors and he had been going to Yosemite all his life and he cherished its beauty and serenity. Rinek told him that he worked cases that mainly involved missing children because he was always looking for ways to help the victims’ families. He knew that Cary’s younger brother, Steven had been kidnapped. Cary Stayner was just 11 years old when his 7-year old brother went missing in 1972.
For years, he saw posters plastered all over town with a picture of his brother’s face that said “Have you seen me? And his picture was also on milk cartons. He didn’t know what happened to his little brother for 7 years, but Steven finally escaped from the pedophile that took him, Kenneth Parnell. In 1980, the family was reunited, and the media was stationed all around the Stayner residence, trying to get as much information as possible. Steven passed away in 1989 from a motorcycle accident. Rinek asked him if there was anything law enforcement could have done to make things better for his family when that happened. Cary said he felt that the sentence Ken Parnell received was unjust. His brother was held captive for seven years, so his kidnapper should have at least received the same sentence.
Rinek agreed with him, the sentence was unfair. Cary said that when Steven came home, he just wasn’t the same. He was out of control, acting recklessly, and he believed that recklessness contributed to the car accident that killed him. Cary said that Steven’s kidnapper had basically destroyed their family three times. The unexplained disappearance ripped a giant hole in the family and they spent seven years not knowing if he was dead or alive. Once he returned, he was a total stranger to them and when he died so early, they were catapulted back into that trauma all over again.
Rinek said that due to the cases he worked, he had contact with several people that could help Cary feel better and come to terms with what happened to his brother. He said he had tried counseling, but he didn’t feel like it helped. When they arrived at the station, Rinek brought Cary into the interrogation room, then he went to find out who was doing the interview. He was told that they believed he had been a witness to Joie’s murder and now he was running away because he was scared. They needed to find out what he saw that day. Since it was a Saturday, there weren’t many people around to conduct the interview, so Rinek said he could talk to him and gather some information until someone was available to step in. It’s not that he can’t conduct interviews, he just wasn’t well versed on this one, he didn’t know all the details because he hadn’t been assigned to work this case the entire time. Since they had interrupted Cary’s breakfast that morning, he decided to order a pizza and Rinek and his partner Hitman were going to start the interview. They also called in Harry Sweeney, because Cary agreed to a polygraph test.
While they were gathering some information, Cary said that his uncle, Jesse/Jerry Stayner, had been murdered in 1990 and he had been living with him at the time he was killed. He said that the case was still unsolved. Jerry had come home for lunch and a burglar was in the home and killed him with a shotgun. He bled to death near the front door and Cary discovered his body. This took a huge toll on him and a year later, he tried to end his own life.
Michael Marchese (Mar-kay-zee) was a friend that worked with Cary. He said that he found Cary in the parking lot outside of work and he was shaking and incoherent. Michael felt that he was in the middle of a complete break with reality. He tried to talk to him, but Cary wasn’t making any sense. According to Michael, “Cary said he felt like he was having a breakdown and said he was all nervous and didn’t know why Cary said he felt like getting in his truck, driving into the office, and killing everyone in there and torching the place.”
Michael and his coworkers made sure that Cary got help and he was driven directly to the local hospital to be evaluated. His condition stabilized, but he did decide to leave his job. When he picked up his final check, he told everyone he was heading to Santa Cruz and he was going to go to school to become a cartoonist.
Rinek said that he actually worked cold cases, so he could call Merced County where his uncle’s murder occurred to see what he could do. The pizza and the polygrapher arrived at the same time. They asked Cary which one he wanted to do first and he said they could skip the polygraph, he wanted to speak to Rinek alone.
Cary was slumped over with his head down and he was crying when Jeff Rinek entered the room. He said, “Jeff, I’m a bad person and I’ve done some really bad things.” He said he struggled with terrible and obsessive thoughts about molesting and killing prepubescent girls. Rinek told him that doing bad things doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person, nor does having bad thoughts. He said they could talk things through and figure it out together. Cary said that he had been molested by one of his uncle's when he was 11 years old, which was the year his brother, Steven had been kidnapped. He said he was never able to achieve an erection to have a normal sexual relationship with a woman. He talked about being in a constant state of anxiety and engaging in complusive behaviors to relieve that anxiety. He would pull his hair out, leaving bald patches on his scalp and he usually wore a baseball hat to hide this.
Cary said, “I can give you closure.” Rinek asked on what and he said, “This. And more.”This didn’t make a lot of sense, but Rinek thought about that long conversation they had in the car on the way to the station. He told Cary that he struggled with the concept of closure from his experiences in working murder cases. It affected him and his family. Could that be what Cary was referring to? Rinek asked what he meant by “more”. Cary said, “You know what I mean.” “One more?” Rinek asked. He thought that he may be referring to his uncle’s unsolved murder case. Cary said, “More.” Rinek asked him if he was talking about the three tourists and Cary slowly nodded.
Did this make sense? Rinek was told that they already had put away a group of people that were involved in the Sund-Pelossa murders. Cary was supposed to be a witness to Joei’s murder, now he’s confessing to all four murders? Cary said, “You work all kinds of cases. I’d like to see pictures of little girls.” Rinek was stunned and he said,“Child pornography?” Cary wouldn’t say it in those words, but he said, “You know, pictures and videos of little girls.” He said he assumed they may have evidence like that stored in the building. Rinek excused himself to go talk to his partner, Hitman. He said he could pass the request up the chain of command, but neither of them could imagine a scenario where they would be allowed to hand him child pornography. They weren’t sure how to proceed with this interview, so they ate the pizza they ordered, and Cary said,“This is gonna be my last pizza. Never got to see Star Wars.” Rinek told him that he would be giving a gift by telling the truth and he would get some relief out of this. He said, “You’re going to feel good. Not good, but you’re going to feel peaceful. Probably a feeling you haven’t had in a long time.”
Cary said, “It means I can die with a clear conscience now, whenever that day comes. I know they’re going to give me the death penalty. Even if I confess, they are going to give me death.”He continued, “It’s weird because I love life so much.”He explained that one minute, he’d be enjoying time with friends, marveling at nature, and thinking high-minded thoughts, “and the next minute, it’s like I could kill every person on the face of the earth. It just mentally tortures you. Constantly back and forth like a tennis match.”
Rinek asked if his family knew about the things he struggled with over the years. He said he never told anyone, not even his closest friends. Cary said he had first started imagining scenarios of harming women and girls when he was 6 or 7. He imagined having a neighbor girl trapped in an underground bunker. The thoughts and fantasies started before his brother’s kidnapping and then he was molested by his uncle. According to a psychiatrist who later evaluated Cary Stayner for his defense team, the Stayner family tree was riddled with mental illness and sexual abuse that went back five generations. According to the psychiatrist’s report, Cary’s father, Delbert Stayner, was ordered into therapy for molesting his own daughters. Then, one of his sisters said that Cary started peeping on her and inappropriately touching her when she was 10. A cousin said that Cary spied on her and his sisters and a neighbor girl, while hiding under their beds and secretly videotaping them in the bathroom and bedroom. One relative described the sexual abuse as “like a family sickness” because it had gone on for so many generations.