Brutal Yosemite murders recalled 20 years later; killer had grown up in shadow of hero brother

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    Motel handyman Cary Stayner is shown in a July 29, 1999, mugshot, was charged Oct. 20, 1999, with capital murder in the killings of three Yosemite sightseers. He was also linked to a fourth slaying.

    Motel handyman Cary Stayner is shown in a July 29, 1999, mugshot, was charged Oct. 20, 1999, with capital murder in the killings of three Yosemite sightseers. He was also linked to a fourth slaying. (California Department of Corrections)

    A series of killings near Yosemite National Park that rocked Central California is nearing its 20th anniversary.

    Between February and July 1999, Cary Stayner killed four women near the majestic park in brutal fashion — highlighting the contrast between him and his deceased younger brother, who was lauded as a hero in life.

    At 7-years-old, Steven Stayner was kidnapped in 1972 and endured years of sexual assault in captivity. At 14, he led another abducted boy — 5-year-old Timmy White – to freedom from their captor Kenneth Parnell. Parnell had abducted Steven after offering him a ride home.

    Stayner and White hitchhiked to a police station in 1980 and he was declared a hero for saving the young boy.

    “The whole thing was this miraculous `Steven’s been found!’ homecoming. His parents were overjoyed,” recalled former Modesto Bee photographer Ted Benson.

    Steven Stayner died in 1989 in a motorcycle accident.

    Parnell served only five years in prison for his crimes and was later imprisoned again for trying to buy a child. He died in 2008 while in custody.

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    Ten years after his Steven’s death, Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli, 15, and 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso, a family friend from Argentina, went missing while touring Yosemite. Cary Stayner, Steven's older brother, was a handyman at the Cedar Lodge just outside the park where the women were staying, according to the Modesto Bee.

    Authorities said he strangled Carole and Pelosso and sexually assaulted and killed Juli.

    “I took her to the bathroom, put her in the bathtub and strangled her,” Stayner said of one of his victims in an audio confession.

    Four months later, Stayner beheaded Joie Armstrong, a 26-year-old park naturalist.

    "How could we have missed someone we felt was part of our family?" Lisa Hansell, then Cedar Lodge restaurant general manager, told SFGate.com. "Everyone living in this community knew and embraced this monster, who was capable of such horrors."

    When Armstrong's decapitated body was found, witnesses said they spotted a vehicle that authorities later traced back to Stayner. He fled to the Laguna del Sol nudist colony where he lived in hiding. During a conversation with a woman at the colony, she recognized him as someone wanted by authorities and alerted the FBI.

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    He was convicted for the deaths of Armstrong, the Sunds and Pelosso and sentenced to death.

    "I wish I could have controlled myself and not done what I did," he said in a 1999 jailhouse interview, according to SFGate.

    Stayner, 57, remains in San Quentin Prison.

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