The Harrowing Story Of Cary Stayner, The Handyman Who Became Known As The Yosemite Park Killer

The brutal story of American serial killer Cary Stayner, the brother of kidnap victim Steven Stayner. Despite his brother's horrific kidnap ordeal, Cary Stayner went on to kidnap and mutilate four women near Yosemite National Park.

Cary Stayner is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison
Cary Stayner is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison

Yosemite National Park is world-renowned for its natural wonder and picturesque beauty. Situated within the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, tourists flock from all over the world every year to enjoy the granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and towering sequoia trees.


However, from February to July 1999, Yosemite National Park lost its peace and tranquillity and became a dumping ground for the mutilated victims of brutal serial killer Cary Stayner.


In March 1999, police uncovered the lifeless bodies of three females who had been horrifically murdered near the park. In July, they discovered the mutilated corpse of a fourth woman. The murder investigation that followed led police directly to Cary Stayner, who was later dubbed the Yosemite Park Killer.


The Stayner family name had been in the newspapers prior to the killings, in 1972, Cary Stayner's brother, Steven, was kidnapped in Merced, California. Steven suffered a horrific ordeal and was held captive for seven years before managing to escape and return to his family.

Despite the horrendous experiences of his brother, Cary Stayner still resorted to murder and kidnap himself 27 years later.


The Stayner Family's Tragic History


Almost 30 years before Cary Stayner was arrested for abducting and brutally murdering four women near Yosemite Nation Park, his 7-year-old brother Steven was kidnapped and held prisoner for seven years by convicted child molester Kenneth Parnell.


When Steven was just 14 years old, Kenneth Parnell forced him to help abduct another young child, 5-year-old Timothy White. Steven was hailed as a hero across the world media after coming up with an escape plan that freed both him and young Timothy White, resulting in Parnell being put in a prison cell.


Although the country revelled over Steven's return, it was reported that Cary Stayner wasn't so overjoyed, he was jealous of the attention his younger brother received from their parents and the world media.


In 1989, Steven Stayner, after his miraculous escape from captivity, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Eight years later, Cary Stayner started working at the Cedar Lodge motel outside the El Portal entrance to Yosemite National Park, as a handyman.


The Violent Murders Of Three Yosemite Tourists


On February 15, 1999, Carole Sund, 42, her 15-year-old daughter Juli, and Juli's 16-year-old friend Silvina Pelosso vanished while staying at Cedar Lodge in El Portal.


Later, Cary Stayner confessed that he told the women there was a leak to gain access into their room, before strangling Carole and Silvina, putting their bodies in the boot of their car, and forcing Juli to drive with him for hours as he searched for somewhere to dump the dead bodies.


Stayner then slit Juli's throat and dumped her corspe near a creek before setting fire to the car.


It wasn't until 19 March 1999, that authorities discovered the charred bodies of Carole and Silvina in the back of the burnt-out vehicle. The bodies were so badly mutilated they had to be identified by dental records.



Police then received an anonymous letter from Cary Stayner telling them where they would find the corspe of Juli. The letter said: "We had fun with this one".


On 25 March, detectives discovered the remains of Juli Sund, her throat had been slashed so brutally that her head had nearly come away from her shoulders.


Officers actually questioned Stayner at the time, but as he had no serious criminal background they were satisfied that he had nothing to do with the killings. However, several months later, another body was found.


The Brutal Murder Of Joie Armstrong & The Arrest Of Cary Stayner


The mutilated body of Joie Armstrong, a Yosemite naturalist, was discovered on 22 July 1999, in close proximity to the cabin she had been staying in. It turned out that the day previously, Cary Stayner had noticed her while taking a walk in the area and made the decision to brutally slaughter her.


Joie Armstrong was just 26-years-old when she was brutally murdered by Cary Stayner
Joie Armstrong was just 26-years-old when she was brutally murdered by Cary Stayner

Stayner held her hostage at gunpoint in her cabin, he tied her hands and mouth with tape before forcing her into his vehicle. Ms Armstrong managed to jump through the window of the moving vehicle in an attempt to escape, but Stayner chased her down and beheaded her.


In Stayner's first murders, he covered his tracks relatively well, however, this time, he left a trail of evidence for police to link him to the killing.


Authorities quickly found tyre marks from his truck and a red mechanics hat that belonged to him. Police soon tracked down Cary Stayner to a nudist camp in Wilton, California.


According to the Arizona Daily Sun, Stayner offered a full confession in exchange for child pornography, allegedly saying, "It's sick, disgusting, perverted. I know that. I can't go to prison for the rest of my life and be happy without seeing it."


Police refused his request and Stayner made a full confession anyway.


In a later police interview, Stayner told detectives that he had never set out to kill Joie Armstrong, but when he saw her on her own outside her cabin, "he could no longer resist the temptation to kill again."


He told authorities that he would have kept killing if he was not caught.


Cary Stayner told authorities that he never sexually assaulted any of his victims and tried to keep their deaths as "humane as possible".



Stayner said that he picked his victims for no particular reason and they were simply "at the wrong place at the wrong time."


He said that he eventually gave into the fantasy of killing women that he had been trying to put to the back of his mind for over 30 years.


The Trial Of Cary Stayner


Stayner confessed to the four murders, and described the most horrific details, resulting in him being arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder.


During his trial, lawyers for Stayner attempted to argue that he suffered from mental health problems caused by the kidnapping of his brother. They also claimed that as a child, Stayner was sexually abused by his uncle, which led to his violent fantasies against women.


In August 2002, Cary Stayner was sentenced to death for the four murders.


Cary Stayner is currently being held at San Quentin State Prison on death row. He has no chance of parole.


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