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Woman beheaded in Yosemite

July 24, 1999
Web posted at: 3:42 a.m. EDT (0742 GMT)

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California -- The FBI was searching the park on Saturday after a naturalist was found beheaded along a stream near her home in a remote part of the park.

Rangers found the body on Thursday a few hundred yards from the park housing she shared with two people who were away on business at the time.

She was found just a few miles from El Portal, the town where three sightseers were last seen a month before their bodies were found in March. No charges have been filed in those slayings, and an FBI task force and federal grand jury investigating that case have said they are confident that most of those responsible are behind bars on unrelated charges.

"We have absolutely no reason to believe there is a connection" between the two cases, said FBI agent James Maddock.

However, workers at Cedar Lodge, the motel-restaurant where the three sightseers were last seen, said Friday that FBI agents were asking about a maintenance worker who failed to show up for work. The man apparently did not work at the lodge when the three women were killed.

Car was packed for trip

Authorities began searching after the woman was reported missing by a friend she was supposed to visit in Sausalito, just north of San Francisco. The victim's loaded car was found outside her quarters, ready for the trip.

Maddock said Friday "a large, very large" area was being carefully searched for clues, and a number of people were being questioned. The FBI is assisting in the investigation because the park is federal property.

The woman worked at the Yosemite Institute, a nonprofit group that runs education programs through a partnership with the park service.

"She was one of the finest naturalists and science teachers I ever met," said John Carlstroem, executive director of the Headlands Institute, the Yosemite Institute's sister campus, his voice choking with emotion.

Carlstroem said she loved children and teaching, especially when she was "connecting young people with nature."

"There are going to be a lot of sad kids when they find out she's gone," he said.

Park spokesman Kendell Thompson said the last murder in the park he could remember was a dozen years ago, when a husband pushed his wife off a cliff. He said such incidents draw so much attention precisely because they are so rare, pointing out that the park averages about 4 million visitors a year.

"We get one incident in 12 years," Suzette Prue, a co-worker of the victim, said Friday. "I feel really safe here."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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