Serial Murderer Known As ‘Trailside Killer’ Stalked Victims Hiking In California Wilderness

David Joseph Carpenter fatally shot seven people during his reign of terror in the early 1980s.

David Joseph Carpenter, pictured here, fatally shot seven people during his reign of terror in the early 1980s.

A man who became known as the “Trailside Killer” terrorized hikers on remote paths in California’s Santa Cruz and Marin Counties over four decades ago.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Very Scary People")

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Very Scary People")

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A man who became known as the “Trailside Killer” terrorized hikers on remote paths in California’s Santa Cruz and Marin Counties over four decades ago.

On Oct. 11, 1980, Richard Stowers, 19, and his fiancée, 18-year-old Cynthia Moreland, were in the woods on the Point Reyes National Seashore when they were fatally shot in the head, according to a case report.

Then, on Oct. 15, 1980, the body of Anne Alderson was discovered on Mount Tamalpais — two days after the 26-year-old former Peace Corps volunteer was last seen alive. Investigators believed she had been sexually assaulted.

In late November 1980, during a search at Point Reyes National Seashore for Stowers and Moreland almost seven weeks after they disappeared, investigators found their bodies as well as those of two more shooting victims around 200 yards away from the couple’s remains.

Diane O'Connell, 22, and 25-year-old Shauna May were both shot dead. The women’s nude bodies were facedown and O’Connell had a pair of panties stuffed in her mouth. There were indications she had been strangled with a cord or wire. May had been raped.

The following year, 1981, Heather Scaggs, 20, accepted a ride from a colleague at a Hayward trade school. A short time later, she was found nude and shot to death in Big Basin State Park.

The serial killings would soon come to an end with the arrest of a suspect, but not before one more woman lost her life.

On March 29, 1981, a gunman confronted UC-Davis sophomore Ellen Hansen, 20, and her junior boyfriend, Steven Haertle, while they were hiking at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. According to the report, the gunman said he was going to rape Hansen and she resisted. The man shot her and turned the gun on Haertle, sending a bullet into his neck.

Haertle survived his injury, and he was able later to help investigators crack the case wide open by providing a composite sketch that was key in identifying his attacker, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The suspect, David Joseph Carpenter, was arrested in May 1981 and he was linked to the cases.

Carpenter’s criminal record included a series of violent sex crimes dating back to as early as 1947, and he had just been paroled after serving a nine-year stint behind bars, according to the Chronicle.

The first of Carpenter's adult victims is believed to be Lois Rinna, the mother of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Rinna. Carpenter kidnapped Lois in 1960 before stabbing her in the hand and hitting in the head with the hammer multiple times. She was rescued by a military policeman who saw them on the deserted road.

Dubbed the “Trailside Killer”, Carpenter was tried and convicted of the charges against him during two separate trials. The first, in 1984, covered the Santa Cruz killings, while the other, in 1988, was for the Marin slayings. He was sentenced to death after each.

The California’s Supreme Court upheld both rulings the following decade. One court justice noted in his opinion that Carpenter’s brutal crimes were “appalling even by the standards of capital cases.”

In 2010, DNA evidence also confirmed Carpenter was responsible for the 1979 death of 23-year-old Mary Frances Bennett, who was jogging in the Bay Area when she was stabbed dozens of times, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Carpenter, now 92, remains on death row in San Quentin State Prison.

For more on this case, stream Very Scary People: "The Trailside Killer" on discovery+.

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