Yosemite suspect confesses to 4 killings
July 27, 1999
SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- A motel handyman, charged with killing a 26-year-old woman beheaded in Yosemite National Park, has confessed to killing three sightseers whose disappearance from the scenic park earlier in the year captured national attention, CNN has learned.
And a California TV station is reporting that Cary Stayner admitted to the four killings in a jailhouse interview.
But the FBI is continuing to check into the statements made by Stayner, 37, and trying to corroborate his stories to see if he is telling the truth, one senior law enforcement official told CNN.
A family member of two of the victims told CNN the FBI had informed the family of Stayner's confession.
Authorities said earlier Stayner was a suspect in the carjacking, kidnapping and killing of Carole Sund, 42, her 15-year old daughter Juli and Silvina Pelosso, a 16-year old exchange student from Argentina.
The three disappeared February 15 while on vacation to Yosemite. A month later, the charred remains of Carole Sund and Pelosso were found in the trunk of a burned-out rental car about 40 miles north of Yosemite. The body of Juli Sund was found near a reservoir on the west side of the park a week later.
In a 25-minute jailhouse interview that was not recorded, Stayner told Ted Rowlands of San Jose TV station KNTV that he killed the four women.
"He started by confessing to all of the Yosemite murders. He said he killed the Sunds, Carole and Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso on February 15," Rowlands said.
"He said because of voices in his head, and thoughts in his head the past 30 years, he couldn't help himself, so he acted again, and killed Joie Armstrong, last week."
Stayner had been interviewed two or three times around the time of their disappearance, but authorities did not arrest, charge or link him to the killings at the time.
Ken Sund, Carole's brother-in-law and Juli's uncle, said the family has been in touch with the FBI and was aware of the alleged confession. He said everything "just developed over the weekend."
"It's not going to bring me any closure until there's a jury trial and someone's convicted," he told CNN.
Sund said: "Every day I have to think about them," he said, referring to his sister-in-law and niece.
Jailed as 'danger to the community'
Stayner was jailed Monday as a "danger to the community" following his first court appearance in which he was advised of his rights after a criminal complaint was filed charging him with murder on federal property in the death of Joie Ruth Armstrong, an offense that could lead to the death penalty.
Stayner, wearing an orange jumpsuit, sat expressionless during his brief court appearance. He is to be transported to Fresno, most likely within a day or so. No bail was set.
His next court appearance is scheduled for August 6 at 11 a.m. in Fresno.
According to an affidavit, during an interview with FBI agents, Stayner "made statements to the agents in which he admitted killing Joie Ruth Armstrong" last Wednesday. Her headless body was found Thursday.
'Surprised and dismayed'
The news of his arrest and possible link to the earlier killings came as a shock to employees at the Cedar Lodge in El Portal where Stayner worked.
The lodge issued a statement, saying "we are surprised and dismayed" that an employee was possibly involved in the killings.
"We treat our guests as we would our own families, and any harm to them distresses us," the statement said. "The management and employees extend their heartfelt sympathy to the families of the victims in these cases."
The Cedar Lodge is the motel where the three sightseers were staying when they first disappeared in February.
Stayner was living in a nearby apartment above a restaurant that served guests of the lodge but was not working at the motel at that time. He was laid off from the lodge January 1 due to lack of work, but rehired March 18 -- the same day authorities found the charred remains of Carole Sund and Pelosso.
Investigators previously had said they believed people already in custody on unrelated charges were responsible for those crimes -- and officials are now reassessing that possibility.
"Whether he is solely responsible or whether others were involved is an issue we'll resolve as quickly as we can in light of the information we've received in the past 48 hours," FBI agent James Maddock said Sunday.
Stayner's family has been in the news before. In 1972, Stayner's 7-year-old brother, Steven, was kidnapped and held prisoner and sexually abused for seven years before escaping to freedom. His abductor was arrested and the story was made into a TV movie.
Steven Stayner died in a motorcyle crash in 1989, at age 24.
In his statement to the FBI agents about the Armstrong killing, "Stayner provided details about the crime that are not generally known outside law enforcement, and which corroborate his confession," the affidavit said.
The affidavit was made in support of an arrest warrant charging Stayner with the murder of Armstrong, a naturalist and environmental science teacher at the Yosemite Institute whose body was found near her residence in the park, in Foresta.
Failed to report to work Friday
"Although he allowed a search of the vehicle, he refused a search of a backpack he carried," the affidavit continued. "Because the investigators were investigating a murder in which the victim's head was believed to be missing, the backpack was seized in anticipation of obtaining a search warrant."
Stayner was interviewed a second time on Thursday, and again denied having been in the Foresta area the previous day, according to the affidavit.
On Friday, Stayner failed to report for his job as a maintenance worker at the Cedar Lodge, the affidavit said -- an absence his manager described as unusual.
On Saturday, Stayner was located at the Laguna del Sol Nudist Park, in Wilton, about 100 miles northwest of Foresta, and detained by the FBI. It was then that he confessed, according to the affidavit.
FBI arrests motel worker in Yosemite murder
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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