‘Trailside Killer’ Goes on Trial in S.D. : Already on Death Row, He Faces Additional Murder Charges
Trial begins today in San Diego for David Carpenter, the convicted “Trailside Killer” who terrorized victims on Northern California hiking trails, for the 1980 killings of five people in Marin County.
The burly, 57-year-old printer, whose criminal history includes 20 years of imprisonment, is already on San Quentin’s Death Row for the related murders of two women near Santa Cruz.
He was convicted of those crimes in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 1984. The trial venues were ordered shifted to Southern California because of publicity in Northern California.
In 1980 and 1981, as it became clear that a serial killer was murdering nature lovers, Northern Californians abandoned the lush green trails that lace the parks of Santa Cruz and Marin counties.
For 19 months, many hikers avoided Marin’s Mount Tamalpais, Point Reyes National Seashore and the state parks 80 miles south in Santa Cruz County.
Finally, in April, 1981, the case broke. Five days after one of the Santa Cruz County killings, three tipsters, in separate telephone calls to police, suggested Carpenter as a suspect. One of the tips came from a former girlfriend who said she recognized him from a composite drawing.
Carpenter was arrested in his San Francisco home the evening of May 15, 1981.
He is accused of killing Cynthia Moreland, 18, of Cotati; Richard Stowers, 19, of Petaluma; Anne Alderson, 26, of San Rafael; Diane O’Connell, 22, of San Jose, and Shauna May, 25, of Idaho.
May, Moreland and Stowers were shot; Alderson was raped and shot, and O’Connell was shot in a rape attempt.
From the crimes, detectives concluded that the killer enjoyed making a ritual out of the killings, inflicting psychological torture on the victims, and as Marin County Sheriff Al Howenstein put it, “putting the victims at some point in a position of pleading for their lives.”
Carpenter was convicted in Los Angeles of killing University of California, Davis, student Ellen Marie Hansen at Big Basin State Park and Heather Scaggs of San Jose at Henry Cowell State Park. Both were 20.
The chief witness against Carpenter was Steve Haertle, then 20, Hansen’s boyfriend, who was wounded by gunfire.
He described how they begged for their lives before Carpenter pulled a .38-caliber pistol and shot Hansen in the head and him in the arm. Police said bullets from that gun matched those used in the Marin killings.
In an extraordinary action by the court, two separate juries sat in judgment of Carpenter, one to determine guilt or innocence, the other whether the death penalty should be imposed.
On the day in November, 1984, when Carpenter was sentenced to die, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dion Morrow glared down at the defendant and said: “I must conclude with the prosecution that if ever there was a case for the death penalty, this is that case.”