FBI: Handyman confessed Yosemite murder
July 26, 1999
SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- Motel handyman Cary Stayner was ordered held on a complaint of murder Monday in connection with the beheading of a naturalist at Yosemite National Park.
In an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, the FBI said Stayner confessed killing Joie Ruth Armstrong, 26. Her decapitated body was discovered Thursday near her home in the Foresta area of the park.
During his brief, initial court appearance Monday afternoon, Stayner sat expressionless as U.S. Magistrate Peter Nowinski read a summary of the complaint and advised him of his rights. Stayner was appointed a public defender.
The criminal complaint charges Stayner with murder on federal property, an offense that could lead to the death penalty.
Prosecutors called Stayner a "danger to the community" and asked that he be detained. That request was granted and the judge ordered that he be transported to Fresno, most likely within a day or so. No bail was set.
Stayner's next court appearance is scheduled for August 6 in Fresno.
During an interview with federal agents after his arrest Saturday, Stayner "made statements to the agents in which he admitted killing Joie Ruth Armstrong," according to an FBI affidavit.
Also in his statement, "Stayner provided details about the crime that are not generally known outside law enforcement, and which corroborate his confession."
The affidavit was made in support of an arrest warrant charging Stayner with the murder of Armstrong, a naturalist and environmental science teacher at the Yosemite Institute.
The FBI also has called Stayner the prime suspect in the murders of three Yosemite sightseers who disappeared in February. Their bodies were found about five weeks later. He originally was questioned and ruled out as a suspect in those killings.
Stayner caught the attention of park rangers again last week after his sport utility vehicle was seen near Armstrong's residence on Wednesday night, an hour after she was last seen there.
Armstrong's body was found nearby. Her head was found later.
FBI agents had questioned Stayner after the body was found Thursday.
"Although he allowed a search of the vehicle, he refused a search of a backpack he carried," the affidavit continued. "Because the investigators were investigating a murder in which the victim's head was believed to be missing, the backpack was seized in anticipation of obtaining a search warrant."
The backpack was searched and Stayner was released.
Stayner was interviewed a second time on Thursday, and again denied having been in the Foresta area the previous day, according to the affidavit.
They began to search for him on Friday after learning that he failed to show up for work at the Cedar Lodge that day. The motel is in El Portal, California, at the western edge of Yosemite, about two miles from the crime scene.
Stayner was arrested Saturday at the Laguna del Sol Nudist Park, near Wilton, after someone there heard news reports about the wanted man and called authorities.
After agents detained him, Stayner confessed, according to the affidavit.
FBI agents have wondered whether they could have prevented Armstrong's murder by linking Stayner to the three earlier killings.
Carole Sund, 42, her 15-year old daughter Julie, and Silvina Pelosso, a 16-year old exchange student from Argentina, stayed at the Cedar Lodge. Stayner did not work there at the time; he had been laid off in January and was rehired in March.
The three women were last seen alive February 15 in El Portal.
In March, two of the bodies were found in their burned-out, abandoned car; Julie's body was found near a reservoir on the west side of the park.
"I've asked myself whether we could have done anything differently that might have prevented the murder of Joie Armstrong," FBI Agent James Maddock said Sunday.
"I've struggled with that issue for the last 24 hours and continue to do so," said Maddock.
But, he said, given the circumstances of the crimes and cover-up and the dedication of the task force, "I'm confident we've done everything that we reasonably could."
The Stayner name has made headlines before.
Stayner's brother, Steven Stayner, was kidnapped in 1972 and held for seven years, during which he was sexually abused. He was later reunited with his family, but died in a traffic accident in 1989. His story was the topic of a made-for-TV movie.
Correspondent Don Knapp contributed to this report
FBI arrests motel worker in Yosemite murder
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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