Cary Stayner

Cary Anthony Stayner (born August 13, 1961) is an American serial killer and the older brother of kidnapping victim Steven Stayner. He was convicted of the murders of four women between February and July 1999: Carole Sund, her teenage daughter Juli Sund and their teenage traveling companion Silvina Pelosso, and Yosemite Institute naturalist Joie Ruth Armstrong.

Cary Stayner
Stayner - mugshot.jpg
Cary Anthony Stayner

(1961-08-13) August 13, 1961 (age 60)
Other namesThe Yosemite (Park) Killer
RelativesSteven Stayner (brother)
Conviction(s)First-degree murder, 4 counts
Criminal penaltyDeath
Span of crimes
February–July 1999
CountryUnited States
Date apprehended

The murders occurred in Mariposa County, California, near Yosemite National Park. Stayner was sentenced to death for the four murders, and is still on death row at San Quentin Penitentiary in California.[1]

Early lifeEdit

Cary Stayner was born and raised in Merced, California.[2] His younger brother, Steven Stayner, was kidnapped by child molester Kenneth Parnell in 1972, when Cary was 11, and held captive for more than seven years before escaping and being reunited with his family.[3] Stayner later said that he felt neglected while his parents grieved over the loss of Steven.[4]

When Steven escaped from Parnell and returned home in 1980, he received massive media attention. A true crime book and TV movie, both titled I Know My First Name Is Steven, were made about the ordeal. Steven died in a motorcycle accident in 1989. The following year, Stayner's uncle Jesse, with whom he was living at the time, was murdered. Stayner later claimed that his uncle molested him at the same period as when Steven was kidnapped.[5]

Stayner is reported to have attempted suicide in 1991,[6] and was arrested in 1997 for possession of marijuana[4] and methamphetamine,[7] although these charges were eventually dropped.


In 1997, Stayner was hired as a handyman at the Cedar Lodge motel in El Portal, California, just outside the Highway 140 entrance to Yosemite National Park.[4] Between February and July 1999, he murdered two women and two teenagers: 42-year-old Carole Sund, her daughter, 15-year-old Juli Sund, Juli's friend, 16-year-old Argentine exchange student Silvina Pelosso, and Yosemite Institute employee Joie Ruth Armstrong, a 26-year-old naturalist.[5]

The first two victims, Carole Sund and Pelosso, were found in the trunk of the charred remains of Sund's Pontiac rental car.[5] The bodies were burned beyond recognition and were identified using dental records. A note was sent to police with a hand-drawn map indicating the location of the third victim, Sund's daughter Juli.[5] The top of the note read, "We had fun with this one." Investigators went to the location depicted on the map and found the remains of Juli, whose throat had been cut.

Detectives began interviewing employees of the Cedar Lodge motel where the first three victims had been staying just before their deaths. One of those employees was Stayner, but he was not considered a suspect at that point because he had no criminal history and remained calm during the police interview.[8]

When the decapitated body of Joie Ruth Armstrong was found, eyewitnesses said they saw a blue 1979 International Scout parked outside the cabin where she was staying. Detectives traced this vehicle to Stayner, which led to him becoming the prime suspect in the case.[5] FBI agents John Boles and Jeff Rinek found Stayner staying at the Laguna del Sol nudist resort in Wilton, where he was arrested and taken to Sacramento for questioning. During his interrogation, Stayner shocked the agents when he confessed not only to Armstrong's decapitation, but to the murders of Pelosso and the Sunds, and the sending of the map for finding Juli Sund's body as well.[9] His vehicle yielded evidence proving his link to Armstrong.

Stayner claimed after his arrest that he had fantasized about murdering women since he was seven years old, long before the abduction of his brother.[10]

Trial and convictionEdit

2007 mugshot of Stayner

Stayner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers claimed that the Stayner family had a history of sexual abuse and mental illness, manifesting itself not only in the murders, but also his obsessive-compulsive disorder and his request to be provided with child pornography in return for his confession.[11] Dr. Jose Arturo Silva testified that Stayner had obsessive-compulsive disorder, mild autism, and paraphilia.[12] He was nevertheless found sane and convicted of four counts of first-degree murder by a jury on August 27, 2002.[13]

Sentencing and wait for executionEdit

In 2002, during the penalty phase of his trial, Stayner was sentenced to death and thereafter entered housing in the Adjustment Center on death row at San Quentin Penitentiary in California.[14] Stayner remains on death row as of November 2021[15][1] though there have been no executions in California since a 2006 court ruling over flaws discovered in the administration of capital punishment in the state.[15]

Media portrayalsEdit

  • Stayner's case was featured in an episode of American Justice produced in 2002.[16]
  • Stayner was mentioned on Criminal Minds, in the season 5 episode 19 "A Rite of Passage".
  • In 2011, Stayner's investigation and arrest were featured in an episode of FBI: Criminal Pursuit, titled "Trail of Terror", airing on Investigation Discovery.[17]
  • In 2013, the history of Stayner's progress from student to convicted murderer was told in an episode of the U.K. television series Born to Kill? titled, "Yosemite Park Slayer."[18]
  • The American Court TV (now TruTV) television series Mugshots released an episode on the Stayner case titled "Cary Stayner – The Cedar Lodge Killings".[19]
  • In 2018, the Reelz channel aired an hour-long documentary about the murders titled Yosemite Park Killer.
  • On January 26, 2019, ABC News broadcast a 20/20 episode covering the Stayner brothers, titled "Evil in Eden".[20]
  • August 30, 2020 HLN aired "The Yosemite Murders: The Missing Women (Part 1)" and "The Yosemite Murders: The Evil Side (Part 2)", from the documentary series How It Really Happened.
  • October 31, 2020, Casefile, an Australian true crime podcast, released the first of two episodes on Stayner with the title "The Yosemite Sightseer Murders". The second episode was released on November 7, 2020. The podcast had released an episode on Steven Stayner's kidnapping earlier in 2020.

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Allie Yang, Joseph Rhee, and Keren Schiffman, 2019, "Steven and Cary Stayner: The tale of two brothers' horror and heroism", ABC News (online), July 19, 201, See [1], accessed September 2, 2020. [Subtitle: "The two brothers are both famous and both knew unspeakable horror."]
  • Mara Bovsun, 2012, "Justice Story: Twisted trail of 'Yosemite murders' leads to resort handyman," New York Daily News (online), Sunday, September 30, 2012, see [2], accessed June 12, 2015. [Subtitle: "Cary Stayner planned to kill his girlfriend and her daughter; instead he killed 4 other women."]
  • CNN, 2001 [1999], "Yosemite suspect confesses to 4 killings, (online), July 27, 1999, see [3], accessed June 12, 2015.
  • Stacy Finz, 2002, "Yosemite killer sentenced to death," SFGATE (online), December 13, 2002, see [4], accessed June 12, 2015. [Excerpts from Stayner's confession; subtitle: "Terrible details of Stayner case stun even the judge."]
  • Smith, Carlton (1999), Murder at Yosemite, St. Martin's True Crime Library, St. Martins Press, ISBN 978-0-312-97457-2
  • McDougal, Dennis (2000), The Yosemite Murders, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-43834-8
  • Rinek, Jeffrey L. (2019). In the name of the children : an FBI agent's relentless pursuit of America's worst predators. Marilee Strong. London. ISBN 978-1-5294-0188-2. OCLC 1111594447.


  1. ^ a b "Stayner, Cary Anthony". Inmate Locator. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  2. ^ Editors. "Yosemite killer Cary Stayner born". A&E Television Networks. Retrieved September 2, 2020. {{cite web}}: |last1= has generic name (help)
  3. ^ "Crash ends life scarred by childhood abduction". The Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington: Cowles Company. Associated Press. September 18, 1989. pp. A1–A2. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Sward, Susan; Finz, Stacy; May, Meredith; Minton, Torri (July 30, 1999). "Overshadowed All His Life". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst Corporation. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e Finz, Stacy (December 15, 2002). "The case of a lifetime". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst Corporation. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  6. ^ Gray, Orrin (September 11, 2017). "The Yosemite Killer: Cary Stayner's Twisted Mind". The Lineup. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  7. ^ Bailey, Eric; Arax, Mark (July 26, 1999). "Man Is Suspect in Both Yosemite Murder Cases". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  8. ^ Finz, Stacy (December 14, 2002). "The Case of a Lifetime, Part Two". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst Corporation. Archived from the original on June 28, 2008. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  9. ^ "Yosemite suspect confesses to 4 killings". CNN. Atlanta, Georgia. July 27, 1999. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  10. ^ Hammer, Joshua (November 1, 1999). "The Yosemite Horror". Outside. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  11. ^ Geringer, Joseph (February 12, 1999). "Cary Stayner and the Yosemite Murders". truTV Crime Library. Archived from the original on May 13, 2008. Retrieved April 9, 2011.
  12. ^ Finz, Stacy (July 30, 2002). "Stayner called mentally impaired / Psychiatrist testifies for defense". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst Corporation. Retrieved July 15, 2015.
  13. ^ Finz, Stacy (August 27, 2002). "Stayner guilty of 1st-degree murder / Former handyman could now face death penalty". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst corporation. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  14. ^ Finz, Stacy (December 13, 2002). "Yosemite killer sentenced to death / Terrible details of Stayner case stun even the judge". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst Corporation. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  15. ^ a b Jardine, Jeff (July 26, 2014). "Waiting out the death penalty". The Modesto Bee. Modesto, California: McClatchy. Archived from the original on August 8, 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  16. ^ "The Yosemite Killer". American Justice. New York City. 2003. A&E Television Networks.
  17. ^ Director: David Haycox (2011). "Trail of Terror". FBI: Criminal Pursuit. Season 1. Investigation Discovery.
  18. ^ Director: Neil Edwards (September 3, 2013). "Yosemite Park Slayer". Born to Kill?. Season 1. Episode 4. London, England. Sky UK.
  19. ^ "MUGSHOTS: CARY STAYNER – THE CEDAR LODGE KILLINGS". FilmRise. Archived from the original on October 6, 2017. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  20. ^ "Evil in Eden". 20/20. Season 41. Episode 21. January 26, 2019. ABC.

External linksEdit