Stayner was born on August 13, 1961. In 1972, when he was eleven, his seven-year-old brother, Steven Stayner, was abducted by a pedophile, Kenneth Parnell, and didn't escape until eight years later. The case sparked national attention and, Stayner later claimed, made him feel neglected. Though it was later said that it greatly affected him and possibly even played a part in turning him into a killer, he had displayed several disturbing signs before Steven disappeared. At the mere age of three, he was diagnosed with trichotillomania, obsessive-compulsive hair-pulling, and was put on medication, though the condition stuck with him even during his high school years; the consequential bald spots led to him being bullied. When he was seven, he started having violent fantasies about abducting and killing women. He later said that he had been molested by an uncle, Jesse Stayner, at the age of eleven. Though he was placed in gifted classes in school, he started having fantasies about women being gang-raped before he was a teenager. He even exposed himself to a friend of his sister's while she was on a sleepover. At the age of 18, Stayner was voted as the most creative student of his graduating class for his cartoon contributions to the school newspaper.
In 1980, Steven escaped along with the abductor's most recent victim, Timmy White, and Stayner once again felt overshadowed by the attention his brother got. After graduating high school, Stayner worked as a window installer at a glass company. Over the following years, Steven's abduction and escape continued garnering attention and was adapted into a TV miniseries. Apparently frustrated, Stayner shared a fantasy he had about driving a truck into the company for which he worked, killing everyone inside and burning down the place to a friend. In September of 1989, Steven, who had married and had two children, died in a motorcycle accident. The following year, Jesse Stayner, with whom Cary lived, was shot to death in his house. The murder was never solved and Stayner became a suspect after his arrest. In 1991, he tried to gas himself to death with carbon monoxide. In 1995, he was admitted to a mental institution after claiming to have had a nervous breakdown and was released after receiving treatment.
Murders, Arrest, and Incarceration
In 1997, Stayner was hired as a handyman at the Cedar Lodge, where he later found all of his victims. Living in an apartment at the Lodge, he became a well-liked employee, doing all kinds of work ranging from cleaning services to fixing electrical and mechanical problems. In February of 1999, Stayner committed his first known murders. Apparently, on a whim, he abducted Carole Sund, her daughter Juli, and Silivina Pelosso, an Argentinian exchange student who was traveling with them, killed Carole and Silivina on the 15th and then Juli on the 16th. Afterward, he put Carole and Silivina's bodies in the Sunds' rented 1999 Pontiac and torched the vehicle. After killing Juli, Stayner dumped her body near Lake Pedro in Tuolumme County, miles away from where the Pontiac was burned. At first, their absence was treated as a disappearance, but as the weeks went by, the authorities began to suspect that they might have been murdered. Their suspicions were confirmed a month after their abductions when a pair of hikers found the burnt-out Pontiac.
Though the two bodies were burned beyond recognition, the investigators managed to identify them. A week later, Juli's body was found as well after the authorities received a note, sent by Stayner, that showed its location. A task force of FBI agents and law enforcement officials from the four surrounding counties began investigating a number of past offenders. Stayner was also interviewed, but since he didn't have a criminal record, he wasn't considered a suspect. In June they announced that, though none of the suspects had been convicted, they were confident that the killer was at least in custody. They were proven wrong on July 22 when the body of Joie Ruth Armstrong was found. When eyewitnesses came forward and told the police about seeing a car parked outside her cabin the night, Stayner was identified as the owner and arrested. When the evidence linked him to the killings, he was charged with all four of them. Though he claimed insanity, he was found sane and guilty of four counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Stayner is currently held at the San Quentin death row pending an appeal.
Stayner targeted women of different ages who were staying at the Cedar Lodge. After he abducted them and took them somewhere private, he would then rape them, sometimes for hours (except for Carole Sund), kill them using different methods (including throat slashing, strangulation, and shooting), and then dispose of their bodies in various ways. Some were buried outdoors and some were set on fire to get rid of any evidence.
- December 26, 1990: Jesse J. Stayner (his paternal uncle; possibly; shot)
- February 15:
- Carole Sund, 43 (strangled with rope and shot; was not raped)
- Silivina Pelosso, 16 (raped and shot)
- February 16: Juli Sund, 15 (Carole Sund's daughter; raped her, then slashed her throat)
- July 21: Joie Ruth Armstrong, 26 (tied up, raped and decapitated)
- Note: Stayner claimed that he intended to lure and kill two Finnish girls in 1998, but fled when the girls’ advisor arrived.
- February 15:
On Criminal Minds
- Intro: Stayner's mugshot was among those shown in the series' intro.
- Season Four
- "Paradise" - While not directly recerenced in this episode, Stayner appears to be the inspiration for the episode's unsub, Floyd Hansen - Both were serial killers and serial rapists who developed sexual sadism at an early age, worked at vacation motels, subsequently targeted guests at the motels they worked at, bound and raped some of their victims before killing them, held two victims at once (though Stayner did this once), left their bodies in their cars (though Stayner did this with only two of his victims), and their crimes were investigated by the FBI (with whom they interacted with, unbeknownst to the investigators).
- Season Five
- "A Rite of Passage" - Stayner was mentioned by Reid as an example of organized killers, in which he brought up how Stayner drove for more than fifty miles so he could dump cigarette packs and his victims' driver licenses along intersections in order to throw off suspicion from himself. The example is an erroneous one since Stayner was classified as a disorganized-thrill killer.