Brother to the kidnapped victim Steven Stayner, Cary Stayner was the perpetrator of three women near Yosemite National Park and also took the life of a man. He has not yet been sentenced to death.
These dreadful incidents had triggered one of the largest manhunts in Sierra Nevada history.
Early Years of Cary Stayner
On August 13, 1961, Stayner’s life was turned upside down in 1972 when his younger brother Steven, then seven years old, was taken by Kenneth Parnell. At that time, he was only 11 years old.
Furthermore, he still recollects how his younger sibling, Steven, was tormented and abducted for seven years while he was simply walking home from school in the family’s hometown of Merced, California.
Delbert Stayner, his father, was a serviceman who worked an 18-hour shift six days a week in a cannery during harvest season.
His mother, Kay Stayner, was a day-care provider who had been reared by nuns in a Catholic boarding school and subsequently raised her own Mormon children.
He was an exceptional child and had incredible artistic abilities. While attending Merced High School, his peers bestowed upon him the title of “most creative” student.
When he acquired a title in the graduating class in 1979, many people assumed he would become a comic or a graphic artist, but he did not choose any profession for himself.
He was a neglected child. His parents, Kay and Delbert Stayner always mourned for their abducted son, Steven Stayner and never provided enough attention to their other children.
Cary Stayner did not have any grand expectations from his life, but he switched from one mundane job to another, such as moving furniture, repairing windows, and installing shower doors.
In 1997, Cary Stayner was employed as a handyman and then began working at the Cedar Lodge in El Portal, near Yosemite.
Cary Stayner and His Appalling Offenses
His Initial Offense
It was February 15, 1999, when Cary Stayner was executing his routine duties as a handyman. He was summoned to a room to fix the exhaust fan in one of the Cedar Lodge motel rooms.
Carole Sund, her 15-year-old daughter Juli, and Juli’s friend, 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso, were the only occupants in the room.
Upon entering the room, Stayner indicated that he needed to repair the bathroom exhaust fan. Once they were inside, he brandished a revolver at the women and bound their hands with duct tape.
Carole Sund was strangled to death by Stayner with a long rope, a process which took approximately five minutes to complete.
He subsequently admitted in a recorded confession, stating, “I didn’t realize how difficult it is to strangle a person. It’s not simple.”
After discarding Carole Sund’s body in the rear of her rental car, he returned to the room where he sexually assaulted the young captives.
Subsequently, after killing Carole Sund, Stayner proceeded to strangle Silvina Pelosso to death in the bathtub.
Then, he turned his attention to Juli Sund. Since he did not want her to witness Silvina Pelosso’s body.
Thus, he escorted her to the neighboring room to use the restroom.
Stayner then bound Juli and went next door to eliminate the evidence of the crime, relocating Silvina Pelosso’s body beside Carole Sund’s.
Juli was wrapped in a pink hotel blanket and taken to the rented car, which contained the deceased bodies of Juli’s mother and friend.
Unknowingly, he proceeded to Lake Don Pedro and parked the rented vehicle, claiming he had no idea of his destination.
Ultimately, he later disclosed that he had developed feelings for that girl, who had informed him her name was Sarah, and that he “wish[ed] he could keep her.”
Stayner combed her hair after repeatedly assaulting her, professed his love for her, and then killed her.
He concealed the car in the bushes and discarded it, hailing a cab and paying with stolen money from Carole Sund’s handbag for the return trip.
Stayner returned two days later with a can of gasoline and set it ablaze, carving the words “We have Sarah” into the hood.
Following the Incident
The bodies were not discovered for another month. Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso’s bodies were found in the charred vehicle on March 18.
Conversely, Juli Sund’s remains were found a week later, thanks to a map provided anonymously to the authorities by Stayner.
Several employees of the Cedar Lodge, including Cary Stayner, were interrogated by officials. After questioning, Stayner was released and not considered a suspect.
The bodies were unidentifiable, and their dental records were used for identification. A note containing a hand-drawn map indicating the location of the third victim, Juli Sund, was delivered to the police.
“We had fun with this one,” the message read at the top of the note. Juli’s remains, with a severely slashed throat, were found near the location represented on the map by investigators.
Stayner subsequently stated that he believed he had gotten away with the murders, but this was not the only case.
Three months after killing those women, Cary Stayner committed yet another brutal crime. He murdered and decapitated Joie Ruth Armstrong, a 26-year-old Yosemite National Park naturalist.
On July 24, FBI investigators apprehended Cary Stayner at a nudist resort after witnesses identified his vehicle, making him the prime suspect in that case.
Shortly after requesting a “good sized stack” of child p*rnography in exchange for his confessions, which was declined, Stayner confessed to his previous offenses.
The Court Proceedings
Since Armstrong’s murder occurred on federal grounds, Stayner was tried in federal court.
He pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder, felony first-degree murder, abduction leading to death, and attempted aggravated sexual assault resulting in death to avoid a potential death sentence.
Stayner was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after expressing remorse for his actions.
Stayner’s legal team claimed that his family had a history of sexual abuse and mental illness, which not only manifested in the killings but also in his obsessive-compulsive disorder.
According to Dr. Jose Arturo Silva, Cary Stayner also has mild autism and paraphilia.
In 2002, Stayner was given the death penalty and was placed in the Adjustment Center for capital punishment at San Quentin Penitentiary in California.
As of November 2021, his death sentence has yet to be enforced.