Sat 27 Feb 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.