The Yosemite Murders by Dennis McdougalThe Yosemite Murders by Dennis Mcdougal

The Yosemite Murders

byDennis Mcdougal

Mass Market Paperback | January 4, 2000

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Since he was seven, Cary Stayner had dreamed of capturing women . . . and killing them

They were crimes that grabbed headlines around the world and stunned America. Four women dead, their bodies charred and horribly mutilated. Now Dennis McDougal, acclaimed author of the spellbinding true crime tour de force Mother's Day, brings his considerable investigative and narrative skills to the Yosemite murders to give you the most complete account of what really happened. Drawing on several personal conversations with the confessed killer and interviews with the victims' families, McDougal presents the definitive story, and answers many lingering questions. What demons drove this quiet handyman and nudist colony habitue to burn, mutilate, and murder four women he didn't even know?  How did he overpower a woman and two teenaged girls?  And most disturbing, did the glory-seeking FBI actually hinder the investigation, leaving the killer free to kill once more before he was caught?

THE YOSEMITE MURDERS offers valuable insight into these savage and senseless murders in the heart of America's most beautiful wilderness.
Dennis McDougal, an investigative reporter who worked for the Los Angeles Times for ten years, is the author of several true crime books: In the Best of Families, Angel of Darkness, and Mother's Day. He is also the coauthor of Fatal Subtraction: How Hollywood Really Does Business.
Title:The Yosemite MurdersFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:352 pages, 6.87 × 4.2 × 0.72 inPublished:January 4, 2000Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345438345

ISBN - 13:9780345438348


Read from the Book

I   On February 12, 1999, 42-year-old Carole Sund left the northern California logging town of Eureka with two teenagers in tow for a whirlwind winter holiday in the High Sierra wonderland of Yosemite. Four days later, all three vanished into thin air and theirs became a story of chance encounters of the worst kind.   This is how it happened.   Carole was a five-foot-two human dynamo, marshaling her four children like a field commander and calling in the tall, somber presence of her husband of twenty-one years, Jens Sund, only when she needed a tough-love backup. She was also a stickler for detail—downright anal when it came to scheduling. During the week prior to their departure, she even mapped the trip out online, using her Rand Mc-Nally software to figure travel times and distances. The meticulously scripted plan was printed out and clipped to the family refrigerator. This trip was going to be precisely five days in length and cover approximately eight hundred miles, by air and automobile.   Carole promised Jens she would fly to San Francisco, rent a car, amaze the girls with the sights at Yosemite, return her rental car to Modesto, then fly back just in time to rendezvous with her husband in San Francisco on the evening of February 16.   A good plan, Carole believed. The whole trek would go like clockwork. It was to be a farewell gift for 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso, the daughter of Ca-role's lifelong Argentine friend Raquel Pelosso. Silvina would be returning to her own family in her home town of Cordoba on March 3 after a three-month visit in the United States, and Carole intended to send her back with a lasting “Ooooh! Ahhhh!” impression of the startling majesty of Yosemite Valley. During the days leading up to the trip, Carole bubbled over with excitement about the waterfalls and canyons they'd be seeing, while her 15-year-old daughter Juliana, a popular sophomore at Eureka High, registered less enthusiasm. If she'd had her choice, she'd have been on her way to the mountains to ski over the three-day President's Day holiday with her friends.   But the outgoing Juli and the Sunds' shy Argentine houseguest had become much closer friends during Silvina's stay, so Juli kept her grumbling to a minimum and soon took up her mother's mantra about fabled Yosemite. Mother and daughter were tailormade tour guides. Carole was a native—a fourthgeneration Californian, to be more precise, and that made Juli Sund fifth generation. Californians knew Yosemite. It was part of their birthright. Back in the disco '70s, when Jens's hair was very nearly as long as Carole's, the newlywed Sunds even honeymooned there, spending their first night in the baronial Ahwahnee Hotel before camping outdoors the rest of the trip.   The one detour Carole planned for Silvina's inaugural Yosemite trip was a stopover in Stockton, where Juli was to participate in the American Spirit Association cheerleading competition at the University of the Pacific—a school Juli had her eye on, once she graduated from Eureka High. Carole and the two girls flew in to San Francisco from Eureka's McKinleyville airport, picked up a bright red Pontiac Grand Prix from Avis, and made the easy drive to the Central Valley city of Stockton in a couple of hours. They spent the night at a Days Inn motel.   During the competition the following day, Carole huddled with one of her Eureka neighbors, who had also come down from Northern California to sit up in the bleachers and watch. Like Juli, the neighbor's son, who was also competing, thought he might want to attend the University of the Pacific following graduation. The two moms decided to make a date to meet up again at the end of the Sunds'Yosemite trip and tour the campus with their teenagers.   This new wrinkle in Carole's precision planning would make keeping to a timetable during the trip a little more challenging, but she had no qualms. Carole would make it work. She always did. She made a commitment to meet her neighbor back on campus at precisely 2 P.M. on Tuesday, February 16. Allowing two hours for the campus tour and another two hours to race back to San Francisco Airport from Stockton, Carole figured she could just squeeze in all of the activities she had planned and still be able to meet Jens on time to make their flight.   In San Francisco, Carole, Juli, and Silvina were to join Jens before he and Silvina caught a plane for Phoenix, accompanied by the Sunds' three younger children, Jonah, Gina, and Jimmy. Carole's master plan called for her and Juli to fly back to Eureka so that Juli could get back to school after the long Presi-dent's Day weekend while Silvina, Jens, and the younger kids visited Jens's sister and brother-in-law in Arizona. From Phoenix, they'd take Silvina to visit the other great national park of the American Southwest, the Grand Canyon. By the time she headed home to her family in Cordoba, the young Argentinian would have seen the very best that the western United States had to offer, and Carole could take some pride in having orchestrated it all.   Following the cheerleading competition, which ended late Saturday afternoon, Carole and the two girls drove south to the Central Valley farm community of Merced and checked in at a Ramada Inn just off the freeway.   Named for the river that flows out of Yosemite Valley, Merced is one of the chief entry points into the National Park. Though the river itself actually flows several miles to the north, Merced has long taken civic pride in its Yosemite connection, and everywhere there are references to the park and its lore, from Yosemite Auto Body & Towing to Yosemite Sam's Saw & Stove. The city itself is sleepy, small and undistinguished—the Bedford Falls of California's San Joaquin Valley. Fast food drivethrus and shopping centers have invaded on the fringes, just as they have everywhere else in America, but the core of the town remains a time capsule, as if the century that were about to turn were the 19th, not the 20th. Beneath the rococo dome of the centuryold Merced County Courthouse at sundown, a bell still tolls the hour. It's easy to imagine Clarence the angel sitting on its front steps, whispering to Jimmy Stewart: “Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel's just got his wings!”   Carole Sund and her girls weren't in Merced to remake It's a Wonderful Life. The place was strictly a stopover, as it is to most tourists. They stuck to the more modern fringes of Merced, like Costco Wholesale, a brand new hippodrome-sized discount store, where Carole stopped late Saturday to purchase some camping equipment. On Sunday morning, Carole made one more visit to Costco to withdraw $200 from an ATM and stock up on snack food. Then the three women were off, driving the final leg of their journey up winding state Highway 140, past the Gold Rush town of Mariposa, and high into the canyon of the Merced River itself, to the tiny settlement of El Portal.   Spanish for “the entrance,” El Portal had been the front door to Yosemite Valley for centuries before Mexican and, later, American settlers discovered it. Originally an old mining town, El Portal sits at an elevation of 1,919 feet, just outside the western boundary of the National Park and several miles from the park's western, or Arch Rock, entrance. The National Park Service uses a portion of the town as an administrative site for Yosemite, and many park employees live in El Portal, which relies heavily on tourism.   The hamlet's modern history began in 1870 when a farmer named James Hennessy staked out forty acres on the south side of the Merced River. Over the next forty years, the rudiments of a community began to take shape: a general store, a blacksmith's shop, a lumber mill, a volunteer fire department …   By 1907, the Yosemite Valley Railroad came through, bringing with it the first throngs of city adventurers anxious to catch a glimpse of the fabled valley first made famous by the 19th-century naturalist John Muir. The rambling four-story Hotel Del Portal opened for business the same year that the railroad arrived, and began serving thousands of tourists each year until 1917, when the grand Hotel Del Portal burned to the ground. After its destruction, overnight accommodations came and went roughly every ten years or so: the El Portal Inn, the El Portal Motor Inn, the Hotel El Portal, and the Portal Motor Court, among others. In each case, fire eventually claimed the Hotel Del Portal's successors, just as it had the Hotel Del Portal.   More than Yosemite itself, El Portal was at the absolute mercy of nature. When it rained, the river could easily rise above its banks, and when it didn't, the valley could dry to a tinderbox in a few weeks beneath the hot summer sun. Besides fire and flood, El Portal was subject to the same volcanic forces that created Yosemite's striking geology and, occasionally, it experienced a tremor. On either side of the narrow canyon, rock walls ascended nearly one thousand feet, blocking out light for much of the day.   People who lived here had to want to live here, because the elements argued against it. Thanks to the popularity of the national park, however, the economics of living in El Portal made up for the erratic weather and geography. During the summer months, the daily population of Yosemite could swell as high as 50,000, and even in the winter, thousands still flocked to the Valley each week for a glimpse of snow-covered Yosemite, and they all had money to spend. Carole Sund and her two teenagers were venturing into El Portal at the slowest time of the year, but they had cash with them, and they were definitely not alone. Slow or not, Yosemite National Park logged in 107,999 visitors during February.   The women arrived at Cedar Lodge, the latest incarnation of the Hotel Del Portal, some time after noon on Valentine's Day. Though it has 210 rooms, Cedar Lodge is not laid out at all like most hotels. A half dozen two-story dormitories are scattered over twenty-seven acres and are linked by parking lots to accommodate the daily swarm of automobiles. There's a swimming pool and Jacuzzi adjacent to the restaurant and bar complex on the northeast side of the property, but the dorm where Carole, Juli, and Silvina were assigned was in the southwest corner, half a football field away from the lodge's nerve center.   There was snow on the ground and no neighbors on either side of the Sunds' suite—in fact, there was no other guest in the entire building—but it was a spacious nonsmoking room and it was located on the ground floor, so there was no lugging heavy bags up a flight of stairs. What was more, the room had cable and a VCR, and there were plenty of videos for rent at the gift shop next to the Cedar Lodge registration desk. While the trio were a little isolated, set off in a dorm building all by themselves, they also had the calming consolation of being warm, toasty, and entertained in a dry, comfortable room.