The Terrifying Story Of The Yosemite Park Killer

The Cary Stayner murders took place in 1999 and came to be known as the Yosemite Park Murders, a series of killings which took place over a span of four months. The man responsible for the killings was 37-year-old Cary Stayner, a handyman at a motel near Yosemite State Park. There are quite a few creepy stories involving Yosemite Park, and Stayner's crimes certainly add to that list. While there are many stories about people murdered while hiking, and people who come up missing from national parks, the crimes committed by Stayner were brutal, and not ones locals will soon forget. 

Cary Stayner was born and raised in Merced, CA, and his family life was rife with tragedy, which he eventually added to himself. Although it's a mystery as to why Stayner decided to take the lives of four people, he did claim that voices instructed him to do so. Continue reading to learn facts about Cary Stayner and the four people murdered by the Yosemite Killer. 


  • Stayner Abducted And Killed 3 Women In The Yosemite National Park

    Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli Sund, 15, of Eureka, CA, and Silvina Pelosso, 16, a friend visiting from Argentina, were vacationing together. The girls were staying at Cedar Lodge motel in El Portal, CA, near Yosemite National Park. The motel is where Cary Stayner worked as a handyman and on February 15, 1999, Stayner knocked on Sund's door. Carole Sund answered, and he told her he was there to repair a leak. Once inside the room, he pulled out a gun and said he was there to rob them. All three were bound and gagged. Carole Sund was taken into the bathroom by Stayner and immediately strangled to death and put in the trunk of her rental car. Stayner then set his sights on the two teen girls, both of whom he forced to take off their clothes and sexually assaulted. Pelosso was taken into the bathroom, where Stayner strangled her. He then carried her corpse out to the car, and she too was placed in the trunk. Juli Sund was put in the car, still alive—but not for long. Once Stayner had traveled a short distance, he cut Sund's throat, nearly decapitating her head. He abandoned her corpse near a lake. Stayner left Sund's rental car in the woods and call himself a taxi. He returned a few days later to set the car on fire. 

  • After Getting Away With Murdering The Three, He Killed Again

    Four months after Stayner killed three women and had seemingly gotten away with it, he decided to kill again. Twenty-six-year-old Joie Armstrong worked at Yosemite State Park as a nature guide. In July 1999, Stayner made his way into Armstrong's cabin. Armstrong struggled to get away from Stayner but was ultimately subdued. Stayner used a knife to decapitate Armstrong, later discarding her headless corpse in a stream.

    Because Armstrong fought against Stayner, making noise in the process, he left the scene of the crime in a hurry and left several clues behind, including tire tracks from his vehicle as well as his footprints. A witness also was able to describe the vehicle parked outside of Armstrong's house, which was the same car that Stayner drove. 

  • He Sent The FBI A Taunting Letter About One Of His Murders

    He Sent The FBI A Taunting Letter About One Of His Murders
    Video: YouTube

    Several days after the Sund's and Pelosso's disappearance, a wallet, driver's license, and credit cards belonging to Sund were found, but there was no sign of the women or their Pontiac Grand Prix rental car. A month went by before a hiker discovered a vehicle in the mountains, which turned out to be the Grand Prix that Sund had rented. The car had been torched and, once police looked inside the trunk of the vehicle, they discovered the remains of Carole Sund and Pelosso. The same week the two bodies were found, an anonymous letter was sent to the FBI with a hand-drawn map. The disturbing note, later determined to have been identified as written by Stayner, read, "We had fun with this one." The map ultimately led police to the body of Juli Sund, who appeared to have died from her throat being cut.  

  • Stayner Was Arrested While Visiting A Nudist Colony

    After the police looked into the tire tracks left at Joie Ruth Armstrong's cabin and spoke to a witness who was able to give a vehicle description, police were able to make a match on the vehicle. The SUV belonged to Cary Stayner, the motel handyman who they interviewed before on several occasions, but never got the impression he was a suspect. Stayner was located in the Laguna Sol nudist colony, apparently one of his favorite hangouts. Police discovered him there, clothed and eating breakfast, and asked if they could talk to him. It wasn't long before police got a full confession from Stayner: he admitted to killing the four women. He was promptly arrested.

  • Stayner Was Sentenced To Death For The Murders

    Stayner Was Sentenced To Death For The Murders
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    During Stayner's 2001 trial, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, due to various psychological problems. A doctor testified during Stayner's trial and said he had autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Stayner's lawyers also argued that Stayner allegedly had to deal with sexual abuse in his past, which could have played a role in him becoming a murderer. Stayner was found sane, and in 2002, he received a death sentence for his crimes. Stayner is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison in California. Although the state of California has the death penalty, executions are rarely carried out. It's more likely Stayner will die of old age than be executed. 

  • The FBI Interrogated Stayner Several Times But They Didn't Think He Had Anything To Do With The Murders

    The FBI Interrogated Stayner Several Times But They Didn't Think He Had Anything To Do With The Murders
    Photo: California Department of Corrections / Fair Use

    Because Stayner worked at Yosemite National Park, he was questioned by police on numerous occasions after the deaths of the women. Stayner had not been in a lot of trouble previously, having only a minor drug charge on his record, and police ultimately ruled him out as a suspect. In fact, police managed to arrest several men with lengthy criminal records that they felt were probably responsible for the murders and they focused on getting confessions from them. It wasn't until a fourth victim was found, Joie Ruth Armstrong, that police realized the killer was still out there and began looking into others whom they had previously ruled out, including Stayner.