David J. Carpenter
The Trailside Killer
It took some time for brooding rage to surface in the case of
David Carpenter, but when it reached the surface there were no holds barred. In
1961, when he was thirty-three years old, the future "Trailside Killer" brutally
attacked a woman with a hammer, earning fourteen years in prison for his
trouble. Back in circulation by the latter part of 1970, he drew another seven
years on two counts of kidnapping and robbery. Before his transfer to the
penitentiary, he joined four other inmates in escaping from the Calaveras County
jail. Recaptured by the FBI, he did his time and was paroled in 1977. He found a
job in San Francisco, working for a photo print shop, and gave evidence of
"going straight." In fact, his brief hiatus was the calm before a lethal storm.
The terror began with Edda Kane, age 44, whose naked, violated body was
discovered on a hiking trail in Mt. Tamalpais State Park, near San Francisco, on
August 20, 1979. According to forensics experts, she was murdered
execution-style, shot through the head while kneeling, possibly while pleading
for her life. March 7, 1980, Barbara Swartz, age 23, went hiking in the park.
Her body was recovered one day later on a narrow, unpaved trail. She had been
stabbed repeatedly about the chest, while kneeling in the dirt.
Anne Alderson went jogging on the fringes of the park, October 15, 1980, and did not return. The 26-year-old was found next afternoon; three bullets in the head had snuffed her life while she was kneeling at her killer's feet.
November 27, Shauna May, age 25, did not show up to keep a lover's rendezvous in the parking lot at Point Reyes Park, a few miles north of San Francisco. Two days later, searchers found her body in a shallow grave. Beside her lay the decomposing corpse of a New Yorker, 22-year-old Diana O'Connell, who had disappeared while hiking in the park a full month earlier. Both women had been killed by gunshots to the head.
Mere hours before the corpses at Point Reyes were unearthed, November 29, two other victims were discovered in the park. Identified as Richard Stowers, 19, and Cynthia Moreland, 18, they had been missing since September, when they told friends of their plans for hiking in the area. Again, both victims had been murdered execution-style. As panic gripped the Northern California camping areas, the media indulged in speculation linking the sadistic "Trailside Killer" with the "Zodiac," another serial assassin -- still at large -- responsible for seven murders in the latter 1960s. Homicide detectives had not linked the Zodiac with any documented crimes since 1969, and now the press began to speculate on his return, perhaps from serving time in prison or a sanitarium. Unlike the Zodiac, however, the elusive "Trailside Killer" felt no need to taunt police with mocking letters. He was satisfied to let his actions speak out, loud and clear. On March 29, 1981, the killer struck again, this time in Henry Cowle State Park, near Santa Cruz. He ambushed hikers Stephen Haertle and Ellen Hansen, brandishing a .38, announcing to the woman that he meant to rape her. When she warned him off, the gunman opened fire, killing her outright and leaving young Haertle for dead. Surviving wounds that ripped his neck, a hand, and one eye, the lone survivor crawled for help. He had been close enough to offer homicide detectives a description of the killer's crooked, yellow teeth. Upon release of the description, other hikers told police that they had seen a man resembling the gunman in a red, late model foreign car.
Despite the new, important leads, police had reason for concern. From all appearances, publicity had caused their man to change his hunting ground and weapon. All the other gunshot victims had been murdered with a .45, and if the pistol was destroyed or lost, a major portion of their case might well go up in smoke.
On May 1, 1981, a resident of San Jose informed detectives that his girlfriend, Heather Scaggs, was missing. She had last been seen en route to buy a car from fellow print shop worker David Carpenter, who lived in San Francisco. Carpenter, she said, had made a special point of asking her to come alone when she dropped buy to get the car. Police dropped in to question Carpenter, immediately noticing his strong resemblance to composite sketches of the Trailside Killer. In his driveway sat a small, red, foreign car. A background check revealed his felony arrests, and Stephen Haertle picked the suspect's mug shot as a likeness of the Santa Cruz assailant.
Carpenter was taken into custody on May 14, and ten days later, the remains of Heather Scaggs were found by hikers in Big Basin Redwood State Park, north of San Francisco. She had been executed with the pistol used on Stephen Haertle and his girlfriend, Ellen Hansen, back in March. Despite a search of Carpenter's belongings, homicide investigators still had not recovered any weapons.
Finally, they got a break, discovering a witness who remembered selling Carpenter a .45 -- illegal, in itself for a convicted felon -- and although they never found the gun, at least a link, of sorts, had been established to the early homicides. A short time later, testimony from a suspect facing trial for robbery revealed that Carpenter had sold the thief a .38 revolver back in June. The weapon was recovered, and its barrel markings matched the bullets fired at Ellen Hansen, Heather Scaggs, and Stephen Haertle.
As detectives worked to build their case, they linked their suspect with another unsolved homicide. On June 4, 1980, Anna Menjivas had been discovered, dead, in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Her murder had not been connected with the "Trailside" slayings at the time, but now investigators learned she was a long-time friend of David Carpenter, who often let him drive her home from work. The link appeared too strong for mere coincidence, and Anna's name was added to the murder chain, for ten in all. Publicity led Carpenter's defense attorneys to request a change of venue. When his trial convened in April 1984, he faced a jury in Los Angeles, but relocation did not change the damning evidence of guilt. Convicted of the Scaggs and Hansen murders on July 6, Carpenter was sentenced to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin. Judge Dion Morrow, in pronouncing sentence, told the court, "The defendant's entire life has been a continuous expression of violence and force almost beyond exception. I must conclude with the prosecution that if ever there was a case appropriate for the death penalty, this is it."
On May 10, 1988, a San Diego jury convicted Carpenter of first degree murder in the slayings of Richard Stowers, Cynthia Moreland, Shauna May, Diana O'Connell, and Anne Alderson. Carpenter was also pronounced guilty of raping two of the women and attempting to rape a third.