Archive for February, 2010

In 1979-80, “Trailside Killer” David Carpenter murdered one woman and possibly three others on Mount Tamalpais, as well as three women and a man in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Most of the women were also raped.

Carpenter’s arrest came the following year after he murdered two women in Santa Cruz County. He was caught when the companion of one Santa Cruz victim survived despite being wounded and was able to give lawmen a description of the assailant.

For years, Carpenter has also been a suspect in several other slayings, and this week San Francisco police announced DNA evidence has now tied him to the 1979 murder of Mary Frances Bennett, 23, of San Francisco. She had apparently been jogging near the Palace of the Legion of Honor when attacked.

Police said she had been stabbed at least 25 times in her chest, back, and neck. Bennett’s “butchered” corpse was found under a thin layer of dirt and leaves.

In 1984, a jury in San Diego County convicted Carpenter of the Santa Cruz murders, and he was sentenced to be executed. In 1988, a second jury convicted him of the National Seashore murders and one murder on Mount Tamalpais.

After he was placed on death row in San Quentin where he remains today, Carpenter (left) contacted me out of the blue, and this ultimately led to my interviewing him in the prison. Photo by Christopher Springmann

At the time of the interview in 1985, Carpenter, then 55, had spent more than 22 years in custody.

Carpenter was first incarcerated at the age of 17 for allegedly having oral sex with a three-year-old girl. He denied the charge but spent three months in Napa State Hospital.

Three years later — in 1950 — he was arrested on charges of raping a 17-year-old girl, but the charges were dropped. Ten years later, he was arrested a third time. A military policeman shot and wounded Carpenter when the officer found him using a hammer to beat a secretary who had rebuffed his sexual advances. He went to federal prison for nine years.

In 1969, ten months after his release, Carpenter sexually attacked two women in Santa Cruz County, stole a car, and drove to the Sierra. In Calaveras County, he robbed two women, kidnapping one of them. He would later be charged with rape in connection with the Calaveras attacks, but that charge was eventually dropped.

A few days after the Calaveras attacks, Carpenter was arrested in Modesto. Convicted of robbery and kidnapping in Calaveras County (where he escaped from jail briefly) and of rape in Santa Cruz County, Carpenter went to state prison for seven years.

When he got out in 1977, he was returned to federal prison for violating his parole with the Calaveras and Santa Cruz attacks. In 1979, Carpenter was placed in a halfway house in San Francisco while awaiting parole. Three months later, the first trailside murder occurred. Here are the murders to which he had been previously linked:

• Edda Kane, 44, of Mill Valley was shot in the back of the head Aug. 19, 1979, while hiking on Mount Tamalpais.

• Barbara Schwartz, 23, of Mill Valley was stabbed to death while hiking on Mount Tamalpais March 8, 1980.

• Anna Mejivas, a friend of Carpenter, was found slain in Mount Tamalpais State Park on June 4, 1980.

• Cynthia Moreland, 18, of Cotati and Richard Stowers, 19, of Two Rock were shot to death Oct. 11, 1980, off Sky Trail in the National Seashore.

• Anne Alderson, 26, of San Rafael was jogging at the edge of Mount Tamalpais State Park Oct. 15, 1980, when she was killed with three bullets to the head. Alderson’s murder was the only one on Mount Tamalpais for which Carpenter was prosecuted.

• Diana O’Connell, 22, of Queens, N.Y., and Shauna May, 23, of Pullman, Wash., were shot to death Nov. 28, 1980, also off Sky Trail in the park. Their bodies, along with those of Moreland and Stowers, were found the following day.

• Ellen Hansen, 20, a UC Davis graduate student, was shot to death while hiking near Santa Cruz March 29, 1981. Her companion, Steven Haertle, was shot four times but survived.

• Heather Skaggs, 20, of San Jose disappeared the day she was scheduled to go shopping with Carpenter, May 2, 1981. Her body with one gunshot wound to the head was found in Santa Cruz May 24.

As it happened, KQED television in 1985 taped a debate between Synanon attorney Phil Bourdette and me. After watching the debate from inside San Quentin, Carpenter wrote me at The Point Reyes Light, and we began a correspondence.

Before it ended, Carpenter was answering questions from The Light and its readers. How common is homosexual rape of inmates by inmates? Most rapes occur in large jails operated by counties, not in state prisons, Carpenter answered.

With so much money being spent on prisons, how well is it used? “Pre-1976-77, everybody was under an indeterminate sentence, and you had to earn your way out of prison,” Carpenter replied. “There was very little trouble in the prison system  because the men knew they had to keep their noses clean to have any chance at parole.

“Back then most of the work that was done in prison was done by the inmates themselves. Rehabilitation is dead in this state….. Virtually all of the jobs that were done by the prisoners and cost the taxpayers practically nothing are now all being done by civilian personnel at a very high cost to taxpayers.”

When I managed to schedule an interview with Carpenter in San Quentin, I was intrigued by the prospect but didn’t know what to expect. Would he seem to be a monster, a sadist? Carpenter instead seemed rather charming.

While admitting “my record sucks,” Carpenter stammered that he was not responsible for the trailside murders. Carpenter’s stuttering was, in fact, so severe I felt an immediate sympathy.

Carpenter acknowledged experimenting with pot after he got out of prison in 1979, so I asked if marijuana gave him any relief from his stuttering. “Alas,” he replied, “it really didn’t do anything for me speechwise. My stuttering stayed the same, but my attitude toward my stuttering changed. The more I smoked, the less I cared or let it bother me.”

Years later in conversation with a former member of the San Quentin staff, I speculated that Carpenter’s stuttering was so disarming it may have made sympathetic women more vulnerable to an attack.

The former staffer, in turn, said he suspected that Carpenter murdered his rape victims because a middle-aged, bald man with an extreme stutter would be easy to identify. That does make sense.

For the last three or so years, a feral cat has been hanging out on this part of the hill.

At first I wasn’t pleased to have him on the hill, fearing he would try to catch the birds around my cabin. My neighbors Dan and Mary Huntsman weren’t particularly happy to have the cat around either because it used to fight with their cats.

Over time, however, the cat began to fit into the neighborhood better, and the deer that also hang out on this hill were intrigued by it.

A doe watches the cat wash itself.

On Valentine’s Day, however, I noticed the cat lying in the grass outside my kitchen window. It was so motionless I thought it might be dead, but eventually it got up, shook itself, and walked off.

The next morning I was a bit surprised to see a buzzard sitting in a tree outside my living-room window. I had never seen a buzzard in the tree before. After looking around for a while, the buzzard flew off, but the following morning, it was back. Only this time it was on the ground eating the cat.

Not only was the scene disturbing, I found myself wondering what killed the cat. If the cat died as a result of eating a mouse or rat that had been poisoned, the buzzard could be poisoned too. The buzzard soon flew off, and I put the remains of the cat in the garbage to eliminate any further risk to buzzards.

However, as my friend Tony Ragona pointed out later in the day, cats die for many reasons, and for all I knew this one may well have died from kidney failure.

That made me feel a little better for the buzzard, but I still felt a bit shocked at having seen a housecat — albeit one that had gone feral — being eaten by a buzzard outside my window.

The cat’s grim departure seemed one more reason to periodically put your spare change in the Planned Feralhood cans on the checkout counters of several stores in Point Reyes Station.

The program is headed by Kathy Runnion of Nicasio, who works at the Point Reyes Station Post Office, and it has been successful at humanely limiting the number of feral cats around town.

Another surprise: Last week I was in my loft one midnight dreary while I pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious posting of forgotten lingo when suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my dormer window.

“Who could my visitor be?” I muttered. “Wind or prophet? Bird or devil? A raven on the window’s bevel?”

But ’twas no raven tapping on my dormer window. Two raccoons had climbed onto the eaves above my front door and were hunting moths attracted to the light coming through the glass.

When I used to cover Sheriff’s Calls for The Point Reyes Light, I’d periodically come across a dispatcher’s report that some resident home alone at night was alarmed at hearing a prowler outside the house, sometimes on the roof. Inevitably a deputy would investigate, find no prowler, and conclude the culprit must have been a raccoon.

The answer may not have satisfied the resident, but from what I’ve observed, most of the time it was probably correct.

A Valentine’s Fair Saturday at Toby’s Feed Barn was the latest fundraiser hereabouts to help survivors of the catastrophic earthquake that hit Haiti a month ago.

The small-scale fundraiser, which coincided with a “mini” farmers’ market, brought in several hundred dollars. Joyce Goldfield (at right) of Inverness Park sold more than $200 worth of anatomically correct gingerbread men and women.

Linda Petersen, ad manager for The West Marin Citizen, organized the fundraiser and sold $58 worth of Valentine’s cards made by second grade students at West Marin School.

In June, Linda was severely injured in a traffic accident, which killed her popular Havanese dog Sebastian. Four months ago, another fundraiser was held at Toby’s to help pay her medical bills, and last month she found a new Havanese, Eli (pictured), at the Marin Humane Society.

Other contributors to Saturday’s fundraiser were Moonflowers Bodycare (soaps and lotions), Sandra Wikholm, who sells baked goods at Wedgewood Bakery, Gaia Tea, Marin Roots Farm, Flower Power, rancher Liz Daniels, KT’s Kitchen catering, Zuma, and the Giammona brothers, Morgan and Ryan, (eggs).

Their mother Connie Giammona brought an orphan calf for a petting zoo while Kathy Simmons, wife of West Marin Citizen publisher Joel Hack, brought rabbits to be petted. The singing duo Todd Pickering & Blue performed, as did flamenco guitarist Carl Nagin.

Myriam and Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Nicasio were in Haiti during the earthquake and told about their experiences. Myriam had previously founded a nonprofit, DG Educational Services, which teaches Haitians how to raise and breed rabbits for food. Part of the proceeds will go to the project, and part will go to Partners in Health run by Dr. Paul Farmer.

Sponsoring Saturday’s fundraiser were Toby’s Feed Barn and The West Marin Citizen.

A loaded milk truck belonging to Straus Family Creamery of Marshall overturned along Highway 1 just north of Nicks Cove today. The Highway Patrol reported the accident happened at 8:50 a.m.

The 270-degree rollover occurred when the long tanker-truck, which was southbound, encountered a northbound vehicle on a tight curve, members of the county fire department and Straus family told me. The truck came to a stop with a pair of its dual rear wheels off the pavement, the firefighter said.

The truck was still upright when the driver got out, but it then rolled over, the firefighter added. No one was hurt in the accident.

The property on which the truck landed is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and a small amount of milk spilled out of the tanker’s hatch.

In a serendipitous irony, however, the spilled milk didn’t go very far, let alone down to Tomales Bay a short distance below the curve.

Straus Creamery uses rice hulls for bedding in the cows’ stalls, and in 2003, a truck heading to the dairy ranch ran off the same curve and spilled a load of hulls. The decision at the time was to leave the hulls on the ground since they weren’t doing any harm.

When milk began leaking from the overturned tanker-truck today, it was immediately absorbed by the old rice hulls. Here a cleanup worker shovels more hulls under the leak.

As mentor to a female possum on my hill, I have been helping her find greater tranquility in life. Before we proceed with the story, however, here’s a quick summary of events up to now.

The first challenge was to overcome hostility between the possum and a raccoon that also likes to hang out around my cabin.

To do this, I brought them to the negotiating table by putting two handfuls of peanuts on it. Over the course of several nights, I moved the handfuls closer and closer together until they were contentedly eating nose to nose.

My next challenge was to teach the possum proper dining etiquette. That proved fairly easy.

This being Marin County, I’ve now begun encouraging Ms. Possum to become a bodhisattva and begin the path toward spiritual enlightenment. Fortunately, her curiosity has been piqued, and she’s giving it a try.

Resting from her sojourn, the bodhisattva achieves serenity among life’s blossoms.

Many possums never find tranquility. Here a male possum turns his head to show one of several bites he recently received from somebody — presumably another male.

As it happened, Linda Petersen, ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, and I were watching last week when he began making moves on Ms. Possum. At first she ignored him, but when he persisted, she hissed and bared her fangs, causing him to back off.

Although noticeably larger than Ms. Possum, the male is scared of me and skedaddles whenever I open a door onto my deck.

Ms. Possum and I, on the other hand, get along famously. She’s grateful for any peanuts I put out and has no problem with my petting her, as one would a dog, or scratching her behind the ears. Photo by Linda Petersen

From scratching her, I’ve seen for myself what excellent insulation Ms. Possum’s outer layer of fur provides. Even on cold, wet nights, her soft, inner layer remains warm and dry.

However, I should stress that Ms. Possum is unusual and that you shouldn’t try this at home. There were no possums to speak of in West Marin until 25 years ago (they’re native to the Deep South), so you wouldn’t be screwing up an established ecosystem by befriending one. But possums have sharp teeth, and you don’t want to end up like the male above with a bunch of puncture wounds.

The danger is not primarily rabies. The body temperature of possums is low enough they seldom get it. Nonetheless, they can carry H1N1 (swine flu), and I always wash my hands after petting with Ms. Possum.

A fundraiser at Cavallo Point Sunday for Haiti’s earthquake victims brought in $15,345. The restaurant and lodge are at Fort Baker in Sausalito, and 120 attendees from East and West Marin filled a second-floor dining room to capacity.

The magnitude 7 earthquake that struck Haiti Jan. 12 was, as most of us realize, a disaster beyond comprehension. Virtually every multi-story building around the capital Port-au-Prince collapsed, and an estimated 200,000 people died. (By way of contrast, Hurricane Katrina, the worse natural disaster in US history, claimed 1,800 lives.)

So many hospitals fell down that the few remaining have been overwhelmed by thousands of seriously injured survivors. Food and water are scarce throughout much of the country. Public utilities and government facilities are in ruins.

All the money raised Sunday is going to two nonprofits, Partners in Health run by Dr. Paul Farmer and DG Educational Services Haiti project founded by Myriam Kaplan Pasternak of Nicasio.

Kevin and Nancy Lunny of Drakes Bay Oyster Company contributed oysters on the half shell to the fundraiser.

Myriam’s project teaches Haitians how to raise and breed rabbits for food, and she and her family happened to be in Haiti when the earthquake struck.

Luckily they were riding on a rural road. If they had been in the school where they were headed, they might well have died because the school collapsed, as can be seen in this photo by Myriam. Some students in the school were killed, she noted during the fundraiser.

Part of the West Marin contingent, Kay McMahon and Jim Campe of Inverness, chat before the dinner.

Myriam on Sunday told the gathering about the immediate aftermath of the quake, as well as about the days that followed.

The scenes on television of desperate Haitians in Port-au-Prince struggling with each other for food and water were not typical of the nation, she said.

In much of the country, the disaster brought people together.

How Sunday’s event came to be is a story in itself. It was the brainchild of reporter Andrea Blum, who worked for me at The Point Reyes Light six years ago and now reports for The West Marin Citizen.

Only two weeks earlier, she had decided to hold a Haitian fundraiser at the Muir Beach Community Center.

Andrea invited Myriam and her husband Mark Pasternak to attend, and Mark (right) used the Internet to encourage others to take part.

When Cavallo Point chef Joseph Humphrey received word of the fundraiser, he volunteered to host a larger event and provide food, a dining room, cooks, and formal serving staff.

Cavallo Point’s restaurant, by the way, is the only Michelin-rated restaurant in Marin County, and Sunday night’s elegant dinner showed why it got the rating.

Also contributing to the fundraiser were: La Tercera Farms, Star Route Farms, Rustic Bakery, Acme Bread, Della Fattoria Bakery, TCHO Chocolates, Straus Creamery, Tartine Bakery, Cakework, Good Earth Market, Whole Foods, Cow Girl Creamery, Gale Ranch, BN Ranch, Mariquita Farms, Kendric Vineyards, Schramsburg Winery, and (as emcee) Doug McConnell.

Children, some of them covered with cement dust, huddle in the aftermath of the earthquake in this photo by Myriam Pasternak.

Every seat in the dinning room was quickly reserved notwithstanding a minimum $50 donation, and Andrea sent out word that anyone who couldn’t attend should notify her because there was a waiting list.

The only “no show,” she later told me, “was Silvia Lange, the [77-year-old Nicasio] woman who disappeared at North Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore” Jan. 23.

Her disappearance came two weeks after Katherine Truitt, 37, of Alameda disappeared while also hiking alone in the park.

Andrea (right) said Lange “signed up for the dinner at 10:21 a.m. the day she disappeared.”

In short, Sunday evening was a rush of mixed emotions. It was an uplifting event organized to help Haitians recover from a disaster, and guests came away with a greater understanding of that island nation.

However, in the background was a missing guest who may have just died under mysterious circumstances here at home.