When his brother, Steven Stayner, disappeared at age seven, Cary Stayner, as the oldest child, felt the constant void in his home and the changes in family dynamics more so than his younger siblings. And when Steven was recovered seven years later, Cary suddenly found himself on the edges of a very bright spotlight.
What effects did such major events have on a young man? Could it have created a serial killer?
In February 1999, Carole Sund was vacationing with her daughter, Juliana Sund, 15, and friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, at Yosemite National Park when they suddenly disappeared – instigating a huge search-and-rescue mission which ended a month later with the discovery of the victims’ burned rental car and the recovery of their bodies.
Everyone who worked at The Cedar Lodge, where the victims had roomed and were last seen, was questioned – including Cary Stayner who, with his very familiar last name, quickly satisfied detectives as having no involvement in the murders.
But when Joie Ruth Armstrong‘s beheaded body is found floating in a creek less than hundred yards from her Yosemite cabin just a couple of months later, Cary Stayner‘s name resurfaces.
And this time he doesn’t walk away free.
Carlton Smith tackles the case of the Yosemite murders and the arrest of Cary Stayner in his 1999 book Murder At Yosemite: The Stunning True Story of a Horrific Handyman and The Brutal Murders of Four Nature-Lovers – a book I found both interesting and boring.
Well, considering the history, the story of Cary Stayner is interesting and I rather enjoyed Smith’s armchair-psychology on whether the traumatic events which unfolded in 1999 were possibly set in motion by the disappearance of his brother in 1972. On the other hand, however, the overall tone of the book was very ho-hum.
And shallow. Although Smith gives us background on Sunds and Ms. Pelosso, it minimal at best. I learned more with a Google search. And readers are never really given any insight into Ms. Armstrong’s life. The lack of these facts prohibits any real emotion for the victims, makes them almost unreal, for lack of a better word. I can’t speak for you but, for me personally, it leaves me with void.
Last but not least, Smith steers readers away from understanding just how horrifically the FBI screwed up this case. If anything, I had the impression he wanted to forget their “errors” altogether. Albeit a matter of opinion, in my eyes, the lackadaisical investigating in the beginning was a huge contributor to Ms. Armstrong’s murder.
Carlton Smith has given us some fantastic books during his career but, sadly, this isn’t one of them. Good news, though, for those interested in the Cary Stayner murders: Dennis McDougal published one titled The Yosemite Murders which, from what I understand, offers a more detailed recounting. I’m going to add it to my reading list, so hopefully I’ll have a review on it soon but if you’ve read it, please feel free to leave a comment and let us know if it’s worth it or not.