Yosemite murders

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Sund and Pelosso trip

Missing persons report

Initial investigation

Victims discovered

Drug ring suspects

Joie Armstrong murder

Cary Stayner confession

Subsequent events

Legal proceedings

Rhonda Dunn statement

Sanzeri investigation


Suspicious deaths

  • Terry Ray: Found drowned in April 1999 after purportedly witnessing Juli Sund being held captive and raped; an associate with Rachel Lou Campbell, who was found to be in possession of Carole Sund's bank account details, in a check fraud scheme whose clients included Larwick and Dykes

Unresolved matters

Political protection

At first glance, it is unclear why law enforcement would conspire to protect a lowlife group of methamphetamine users and dealers by pinning the entire crime on Cary Stayner. But it turns out that the "crankster" network was directly tied in with local powerbrokers involved in the drug trade. This is most clearly illustrated through the group's apparent leader Paul Candler, who investigator Stephen Sanzeri learned was a drug dealer and hitman that played a part in Mariposa County's criminal underworld. Candler was given a contract to murder Orb Hatton, one of three investigators appointed by Sheriff Ken Mattheys to look into drug-related corruption within Mariposa law enforcement.

Cary Stayner manipulation

Main article: Cary Stayner

Post-February 15 sightings

Jens Sund response

Motive for abduction

See also


External links

Initial investigation

  • SFGate, "Grim Discovery in Burned Car / Husband Stunned With Grief -- Teens' Classmates Try to Cope", 1999/03/20 - says Carole Sund was a court-appointed advocate for the Humboldt County branch of CASA, an organization dedicated to working with abused and neglected children; this might hint at a motive for her kidnapping and murder, since as court-appointed advocate, she would be in the position to document child abuse, like Patricia Flocken in the Franklin scandal
  • SFGate, "Following the trail of the missing trio", 1999/03/21 reveals that there were multiple credible sightings of the trio on February 16 and February 17
    • A private investigator (remaining anonymous) found credit card slips of food purchases that Carole Sund made at the Yosemite Lodge on February 16
    • Donna Mackie, the postmistress at the Yosemite Lodge, sold stamps to a woman and two girls who wanted to send a postcard to Argentina, and said "The FBI told me not to speak to anyone"
    • Sonia Baxter, who worked at the Tuolumne County Visitors Information Center in Sonora, claimed to be "100 percent certain" that the three women came to the Center on February 17 to speak with her about sightseeing advice. According to Baxter, when she complimented the woman on the appearance of her daughters, she said they weren't both her daughters, one was a friend visiting from Argentina. Baxter also claims that another employee took note of their red 1999 Pontiac car. She claims she subsequently identified them in a newspaper photo.
    • Joseph Zarate, owner of the Yosemite Westgate Motel in Buck Meadows, was certain that Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso came to the lobby around 9 PM on February 16 to ask about room availability before entering a car with an older woman (perhaps Carole)
    • Penny Mann, owner of the Cedar Cottage Cafe and Gift Shop in Twain Harte, said the three women came to the gift shop on February 16
    • Louise Guthmiller, owner of a Chevron gas station in Sierra Village, said the three women came to the gas station on February 16
  • Further articles about the credible sightings of the trio after the morning of February 16, and how some of the witnesses failed to get through to the FBI: SFGate, "Sierra locals: We saw them alive", 1999/03/19; Baltimore Sun, "Search for missing turns up bodies", 1999/03/20; Washington Post, "Bodies Found in Tourists' Burned Car", 1999/03/20

Drug ring suspects

  • From p.110-111 of Programmed to Kill:

        Due to the complexities of the crime, many investigators on the case assumed that multiple perpetrators were involved. During the course of the investigation, at least a dozen people were implicated in the murders; all of them were part of a drug-trafficking network operating in the area. One of these was a man named, perhaps appropriately, Billy Joe Strange. Like Cary Stayner, Billy Joe worked at the Cedar Lodge. Strange was the night clean-up man at the lodge’s restaurant, above which lived handyman Cary Stayner. Strange’s girlfriend, another suspect, also worked at the lodge, as a night clerk. Also implicated was a man named Darrell Stephens, who occasionally roomed with Strange and his girlfriend. Stephens had a lengthy arrest record, as did another suspect, Michael Larwick.16 Larwick’s rap sheet included arrests for attempted manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, child stealing, assault with a deadly weapon, and various drug offenses.
        When police came to arrest Larwick, he led his would-be apprehenders on a high-speed chase, in which one officer was shot, before barricading himself in a house and initiating a fourteen-hour standoff. He was eventually driven out with tear gas. When he was brought to court for his arraignment, the courtroom doors were locked to the press and public. This was improbably claimed to have been an accidental oversight. Jeff Keeney, another suspect in the women’s murders, also led officers on a car and foot chase, leaving a trail of drugs in his wake. His home was found to contain three portable methamphetamine labs.
        Larry Utley, a convicted sex offender and an associate of Michael Larwick, was also deeply involved in the meth trade, and quite possibly in the murders as well. Utley was also an associate of Eugene Earl “Rufus” Dykes, Larwick’s half-brother and yet another suspect. Once in custody, Dykes claimed that Larwick had admitted to playing a role in the kidnappings. He also admitted that he had received from Larwick checks and jewelry that had belonged to the victims. A friend of Dykes’ acknowledged being asked to forge identification to access Carole Sund’s bank account, and another friend admitted to having taken her wallet to Modesto. Dykes, whose ex-convict father was also implicated, agreed to take a polygraph examination, which seemed to confirm that he was being truthful about his involvement in the kidnappings/murders. His girlfriend admitted to investigators that Rufus had confided to her that he and another man had killed the trio by slitting their throats. Dykes himself ultimately confessed, first to helping transport the bodies, and then to the murders themselves.
        That he had transported at least one of the bodies was apparent from the fact that pink fibers found on Juli’s corpse, probably from a blanket her body was wrapped in, matched fibers recovered from a Jeep used by Dykes. These same fibers were also found on Dykes’ jacket, in a truck owned by a friend of his, and in Michael Larwick’s Corvette. Other fibers, which appeared to come from Sund’s clothing, were also found in the suspects’ vehicles. Though fiber evidence is inherently problematic, it should probably be noted here that several alleged serial killers have been convicted, and even condemned to die, on less substantial fiber evidence cases than the one assembled against this group of individuals. And the incriminating fibers certainly were not the only evidence that investigators had. Rachel Lou Campbell, an associate of both Dykes and Larwick, was discovered to have in her possession Carole Sund’s checking account and ATM numbers. Investigators believed that she was likely the unidentified female who had twice called the bank in the week after the disappearances to inquire about the status of the account. Another woman testified before a grand jury that she had received a ring from Larwick that two members of the Carrington clan identified as having very likely belonged to Juli Sund.
  • SFGate, "New turn in missing case", 1999/03/11 - mentions arrest of Billy Joe Strange, a night cleanup man at the Cedar Lodge restaurant, for parole violations; details Strange's history of violent crime
  • Sacramento Bee, "Accused gunman has no problem filling Bigfoot's shoes", 1999/03/19 - mentions Michael Larwick, whose father Leroy Larwick was known for a purported sighting of Bigfoot, shooting a police officer and engaging in a 14-hour standoff
  • From p.120 of Murder at Yosemite:

        “You know how they say most killers return to the scene of the crime?” Nelson asked. “Well, here's what's odd to me,” and she went on to relate how one caller put the case against Larwick succinctly:
        “A few weeks later, last Sunday,” the caller told Nelson, “they hold a march for the missing women. And two days after that, a few blocks from the intersection where that student found Carole Sund's wallet, Michael Larwick has a shootout with the police. Over what seems to be a simple traffic violation. Why would he shoot a police officer over that?
        “And the day after Larwick ends up in jail, someone finds the women's missing car in the very town where he grew up. They say whoever stashed the car would have to have known the area.”
        Other callers likewise pointed out what appeared to be a string of coincidences apparently connecting the multiple felon Larwick to the Sund/Pelosso case; a few even claimed that Michael Larwick was bosom buddies with Billy Joe Strange and Darrell Stephens, the two El Portal men who had already been jailed after the FBI began poking into their pasts, although as far as any of the authorities could so far determine, that wasn't the case at all.
  • Time, "Evidence Of Murder", 1999/03/21 - mentions the questioning of Billy Joe Strange and the investigation of his home and van; quotes his roommate Darrell Stephens, a convicted rapist who was shortly thereafter arrested for failing to register as a sex offender, complaining about FBI harassment
  • People, "Into Thin Air", 1999/03/29 - mentions the arrest of Billy Joe Strange and law enforcement interviews with two of his former girlfriends, both of whom recounted beatings
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Rumor", 1999/04/02 - mentions Michael Roy Larwick, Billy Joe Strange, and Darrell Gray Stephens as suspects
  • 1999/04/16 alt.true-crime discussion on the arrests of initial suspects
  • KOVR report on 1999/05/05 - cites an informant dubbed Anne who was purportedly the friend of a suspect in the murders, and gave details about them; also points out a letter signed "RUFUSS" which says "I DIDN'T KILL ANYONE. I DIDN'T KILL ANYONE. I DID (MESS) A COUPLE OF PEOPLE UP. I DID TAKE SOME PEOPLE'S (STUFF). BUT I DIDN'T KILL ANYONE."
  • Los Angeles Times, "Drowning May Be Linked to Yosemite Killings, Family Says", 1999/05/07 - mentions how Terry Ray, who was associated with the drug ring suspects and told family members he witnessed Julie Sund being raped, was found drowned in the Tuolumne River
  • Washington Post, "FBI Probes Man's Links to Tourists", 1999/05/08 - mentions the FBI investigating the claims of Terry Ray's brother Dennis Ray, who was told of Terry's disclosure by a nephew of his
  • Sacramento Bee, "Mail-theft suspect had Sund's banking numbers", 1999/05/08 - mentions how Rachel Lou Campbell, a Modesto woman involved in a mail theft and forgery scheme, was in possession of Carole Sund's banking information; authorities claim she was associated with the drug ring suspects, and her attorney admits she "might have some peripheral knowledge" of them but denies she was involved with the murders; a federal source claims that she made "incriminating statements" linking her to Eugene Dykes and Michael Larwick; has Campbell trying to negotiate a plea deal; notes that Terry Ray was an associate of Campbell and another participant in the scheme, who "made counterfeit mailbox keys and false identification cards and sold them to people, including Larwick and Dykes"
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Woman had account, ATM numbers of slain tourist, investigators say", 1999/05/08 - repeat of the first Rachel Lou Campbell story?
  • Reno Gazette-Journal, "Paper: Theft suspect linked to kidnap victim", 1999/05/09 - repeat of the first Rachel Lou Campbell story?
  • Los Angeles Times, "Police Say Woman Had Yosemite Victim's Banking Numbers", 1999/05/10 - repeat of the first Rachel Lou Campbell story?
  • Los Angeles Times, "Drowning Not Linked to Tourist Slayings, Investigators Say", 1999/05/13 - has the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department deny Terry Ray met with foul play, despite his brother continuing to believe he was murdered
  • 1999/05/18 alt.true-crime discussion on Billy Joe Strange's car
  • Associated Press, "YOSEMITE DISAPPEARANCES: Investigation focuses on meth dealers, users", 1999/05/25 - quotes Dykes' girlfriend Maria Ledbetter as saying that she recovered one of Dykes' knives for the FBI and has been testifying before the federal grand jury
  • Several 1999/05/27 news reports on the grand jury investigation - reveals Maria Ledbetter's newfound belief that Dykes "had something to do with" the Yosemite murders; mentions that her brother David Ledbetter interviewed 17-year-old Modesto girl Amy Wallace, a former girlfriend of Dykes, who said that Dykes bragged about murdering Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso, while keeping Juli Sund alive and repeatedly raping her; associates of Dykes such as the Ledbetters and Angelia Dale say that Larry Utley was an acquaintance of Dykes and Larwick; discusses how Rufus Dykes told investigators that his half-brother Mick Larwick was responsible for the murders; according to one report, Dykes often parked his Jeep Waggoneer at Larry Utley's home and had stayed there prior to his arrest
  • Two 1999/05/27 TV broadcasts on the grand jury investigation - oddly enough, David Ledbetter told the grand jury that he did not believe Dykes or Larwick committed the murders; according to Maria Ledbetter, on the early morning of February 16, Dykes took her to a seemingly-abandoned building with a "real big guy" and "some kids playing way down the hallway"; mentions Terry Crabtree, an associate of Dykes and Larwick, receiving a diamond ring from Dykes around the end of February, which he told her to "get rid of" if she knew anyone who wanted to buy it; the FBI made Crabtree retrieve that piece of jewelry and a "gold nugget ring" someone else gave her; discusses how some grand jury witnesses were afraid for their lives
  • More commentary of the 1999/05/27 TV broadcasts
  • SFGate, "Killers of Yosemite trio likely in jail, cops say", 1999/06/10 - mentions Paul Candler as a person of interest; quotes James Maddock saying "The problem is that many of the people we are dealing with as potential witnesses are members of a crankster circle. They deal in the methamphetamine trade and they have a lot of baggage. These are dopers who can't remember what they did yesterday, much less weeks ago, or where a suspect was on a particular day, at a particular time"; article says "The task force has interviewed more than 1,000 potential witnesses in the investigation focusing on a loose-knit group of parolees in and around Modesto, many involved in the methamphetamine trade in the mountain counties around Yosemite National Park"
  • SFGate, "Possible link to Yosemite murders", 1999/06/10 - mentions Paul Candler, who fled to Alabama and was pursued by Calaveras County bail agent Stephen Sanzeri
  • 1999/06/10 alt.true-crime discussion on the FBI's announcements of suspects
  • SFGate, "Ex-con admits link to Yosemite slayings", 1999/06/12 - has Eugene "Rufus" Dykes confess to involvement in the murders
  • SFGate, "Yosemite slayings: A big puzzle of evidence", 1999/06/14 - references the confession of Rufus Dykes, with some of those who knew him expressing disbelief and others fearing retribution from Dykes' criminal associates if they talk; reveals that Dykes' girlfriend Maria Ledbetter talked to investigators, gave them Dykes' gun and knife, and told the media "I know in my heart he was involved"; names two other Modesto suspects as Jeffery Wayne Keeney and Kenneth Alan "Soldier" Stewart, whom a childhood acquaintance said were "the kind of guys you don't want to mess with"
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Meth valley: Yosemite murders expose drug's sordid, violent subculture in corridor", 1999/06/20

Cary Stayner identification

  • 1999/07/24 alt.true-crime discussion about James Maddock backing off his earlier statement that the Joie Armstrong murder was not linked to the earlier three - mentions the interesting fact that both Cary Stayner's father and Paul Candler's mother live in Atwater near Merced, which could suggest that Candler is the "handler" of sorts for Stayner
  • Modesto Bee, "Yosemite murders connected", 1999/07/25: "Other sources told The Bee that Stayner is acquainted with Billy Joe Strange, who was detained for questioning by the FBI during the early stages of the sightseer investigation. [...] Some El Portal residents told The Bee they refer to Cedar Lodge as "Speeder Lodge," because of methamphetamine activity there."
  • 1999/07/25 alt.true-crime discussion on James Maddock's news conference announcing Cary Stayner as their new suspect - some users question how Stayner could have been the sole perpetrator, citing: the fact that "a Cedar Lodge employee" (evidently Stayner, not Billy Joe Strange) had been "cleared" early in the investigation; a truck seen near where the Sund's car was found a couple weeks before the murders; Paul Candler owning a cabin near where Juli's body was found; a confirmation by a TV station that Juli was seen in Modesto; the numbers in the possession of Rachel Lou Campbell
  • New York Times, "Suspect at Yosemite Had Fantasy of Killing Women", 1999/07/28
  • SFGate, "FBI missed Yosemite cab clue", 1999/07/28
  • Justice Watch discussion on 1999/08/01 with many expressing doubt about Stayner's confession
    • "Stayners "friend", a restaraunt employee and meth abuser. I thought the FBI said they were "trying to establish links between Stayner and meth heads? I'm assuming that is Strange..but I thought he was a janitor..I need to get these players straight. But the town is tiny. Why wouldn't he know these guys? I'm confused."
    • "Supposedly when Stayner did this on Sunday night (Feb 15). Yet, despite the fact that these rooms are not cheap and would therefore no doubt have daily maid service...and no doubt that organized Carole's reservation would have shown a check out on Monday morning. Yet when Jens called on Wed, he was told the women had NOT CHECKED OUT."
    • "I saved an article from Friday's Cincinnati's newspaper regarding child porn arrests. Two guy's names: Thomas MEYER of Ohio and then as an offshoot of that arrest, Tyrone RUST, 36 of Albuquerque, N.Mexico.

      I suppose it is a coincidence that these two last names were mentioned in 2 August 1 Stayner articles. A woman who lived in the "green house" (one that Joie Armstrong lived in) named Elizabeth MEYER lived in that house around the turn of the century. Joie, it was stated, was researching that lady to find out more about her. Mrs. Meyer lived there for years after her husband died.

      And in another Stayner article a woman last name of RUST was quoted as being in high school with Stayner, looking over his shoulders at his drawings."
    • "Quote: The District Attorney's Office couldn't use Osborn's statements about Stayner's alleged role in the marijuana cultivation because they were co-defendants, and "you can't use a co-defendant's statements" against another co-defendant, Ash said.

      Me: Excuse me? Doesn't that happen all the time where one defendant testifies against another one (or their statements are used)? Sometimes in order to gain a lighter sentence for themselves, but it seems to me that once a defendant has made a statement to the police, that statement is the property of the police and can be used any way they see fit? This doesn't make sense, but, then again, it's not that big of a deal in relation to the murders--just nagged at me, that's all."
    • "Quote: Letty Barry, owner of the Yosemite Redbud Lodge and Sisochi Gallery-Native American Art, said she would see Stayner's baby blue sport utility truck heading down to the beach. On average, from her property along Highway 140, Barry would see Stayner driving by two to six times a day.

      Me: Two to six times A DAY!!!! And this guy was holding down a job? Does that seem extreme to anyone else?"
  • SFGate, "Maddock: Agent in the line of fire", 1999/08/01
  • Newsweek, "The Handyman And His 'Voices'", 1999/08/08
  • CBS, "Yosemite Victims Were Raped", 1999/08/30
  • Los Angeles Times, "Stayner Raped 2 Teenagers, Affidavit Says", 1999/08/31
  • Reuters, "Saliva on Envelope in Yosemite Case Not Stayner's, Test Finds", 1999/10/07
  • From p.112-113 of Programmed to Kill:

        Even with this rather convoluted story, authorities have not been able to explain away all of the incongruous evidence. For example, the taunting letter sent by the killer revealing the location of Juli’s body was sealed with someone else’s saliva. The FBI reluctantly acknowledged that DNA tests verified that fact. Spokesmen for the Bureau had an explanation, however: their theory was that Stayner had “tricked an unsuspecting male” into supplying the saliva to seal the envelope. How exactly that would be done was left to the imagination. Cary had initially given an alibi for the night of the murders: he said he had been visiting a female friend. The woman in question confirmed that fact. Then there is the rather troubling fact that evidence strongly indicates that the women were not killed that morning at the lodge, but later at an unknown location. That, needless to say, casts serious doubt on Cary Stayner’s confession.
        Any number of credible witnesses came forward, or at least attempted to come forward, to attest to the fact that the three were very much alive long after the time they were allegedly killed. A private investigator working on the case discovered credit card slips for purchases Carole made at the Yosemite Lodge—former employer of Ken Parnell—after she allegedly disappeared. Carole had signed for the purchases. Yosemite Valley’s postmistress reported selling stamps to the trio on February 16, many hours after they had allegedly been kidnapped and killed. In Sierra Village, far away from the Cedar Lodge, and very close to where Carole’s car was later found, at least three witnesses reported seeing the women that afternoon. A gas station owner remembered selling them gas, and a gift shop owner remembered them stopping in her place of business as well. Both of them attempted to contact the FBI. One failed to get through despite several attempts, and messages left by the other went unanswered. The Bureau later reluctantly acknowledged that there were several credible sightings of the women, not just on February 16 but on February 17 as well.
  • ABC, "How a nudist colony helped FBI agents find a Yosemite serial killer and how the agents got his confession", 2019/01/24: "Mariposa police arrested Stayner that same day for smoking marijuana and questioned him, but somehow due to a clerical error, he was released from custody overnight, Rinek said."

Sanzeri investigation

Cary Stayner state trial

Broader connections

  • Wireless Flash, "Maine Professor Chosen 'Bigfooter of the Year'", 1999/12/23: "A Bigfoot researcher in Portland, Maine, has just won the paranormal version of the Oscars. Dr. Loren Coleman was recently declared "Bigfooter Of The Year" by the Center for Bigfoot Studies in Norwalk, California. Center president Daniel Perez says Coleman deserves the Bigfoot honor because he co-authored two groundbreaking books on the subject of cryptozoology: "The Field Guide To Bigfoot, Yeti And Other Mystery Primates Worldwide" (Avon) and "Cryptozoology A To Z" (Fireside). Coleman -- a professor at University of Southern Maine -- also convinced fellow Bigfoot researchers to help the FBI in its investigation of the infamous Yosemite murders, which were initially blamed on a group of Bigfoot buffs known as the "Modesto Cranksters." Although Coleman won't get an plaque declaring he's "Bigfooter Of The Year," he says he's still thrilled and hopes it will convince other academics to come out of the cryptozoology closet."
  • Rumor Mill News, "FBI JAMES MADDOCK, CARY STAYNER AND DRUG DEALERS", 2001/01/25 - claims that Cary Stayner was part of a well-connected drug ring in Mariposa County CA operating out of the Cedar Lodge; also implicates his uncle; draws a connection to "The Company" investigated by Cheri Seymour
  • On p.140-142 of Ultimate Prey, Sanzeri references The Last Circle by Cheri Seymour. He mentions the drug trafficking ring in Yosemite National Park operated by Curry Company / Music Corporation of America (MCA), and the police protection it had from the Mariposa County Sheriff's Department. According to Sanzeri, one of his bounty hunting assignments in 1995 was the department's lead "drug mule" Cliff Watkins:

        It was June of ’95 and I was chasing the main drug mule for the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department. If you think I’m kidding, check out The Last Circle by Cheri Seymour.
        In the first chapter, she mentions the 1980 drowning death of Mariposa County Deputy Ron Van Meter. Ten years later, his torso washed ashore on Lake McClure, dragging various weights that included a fire extinguisher.
        The investigation of his murder led straight to the doorstep of MCA Corporation (Music Corporation of America), parent company to Curry Company; the largest concessionaire in Yosemite National Park.
        Curry Company operated a major drug network, based in the park, compelling Park Ranger, Paul Berkowitz, to go before the House Interior Subcommittee on National Parks and Recreation to testify about drug distribution by Curry Company officials.
        One investigator discovered Sheriff’s deputies unloading drugs on a regular basis at the Mariposa airport.
        So, when I say I was chasing the main drug mule for the Mariposa Sheriff’s Department, I wasn’t kidding. His name was Cliff Watkins, and he had a felony bench warrant for jumping on Wyckoff Bail Bonds, out of Twain Harte. I was retained to find Mr. Watkins.
        After a few trips to Mariposa County, the Sheriff’s Department arrested me for felonious battery, trespassing, and brandishing a weapon. I beat the case, because what they arrested me for never happened. District Attorney, Christine Johnson was pissed.
        You see, each time I came to Mariposa County looking for Cliff Watkins, the Sheriff’s Department would notify Watkins that I was in town. I found out later that the first time I hit Cliff’s house, he was standing behind the door with a .40 caliber. Maybe I had an angel on my shoulder, but, for some reason, I chose not to enter that night.
        I had some serious charges, charges that could result in prison time. The peculiar thing is that I was never booked into jail. Even so, the case went to a preliminary hearing, but the story of my arrest never even hit the local paper and cannot be found on the Internet.
        Are you fucking kidding? Bounty hunter arrested in town of 2,500 people and no ink? Even a kid who breaks a window gets written up in the daily crime reports.
        Mariposa County and their vindictive little District Attorney covered this up pretty good. State prison had been their plan for me five years earlier. But they lost their case against me, because there was no case!
  • On p.143-151 of Ultimate Prey, Sanzeri recounts his discussion with former Modesto narcotics officer Orb Hatton, who had retired from the force to own a real estate company in Tuolumne County. He recalls how on November 20, 1998, Paul Candler walked into his real estate office and intimidated the secretary into calling him, trying to set up a meeting so he could kill him. Hatton ended up confronting Candler near Sonora, and both of them aimed their guns at each other, leading Candler to take off in his blue truck and Hatton to follow him. After a brief chase, Candler rolled his truck and Hatton tied him up. The murder attempt turned out to be a hired hit in retribution for Hatton investigating what he called the "Mariposa Mess". In 1984, newly-elected Mariposa County Sheriff Mattheys contracted him to look into law enforcement corruption (it was suspected that the previous sheriff was the local drug lord) and the death of Ron Van Meter. Van Meter was a whistleblower who informed the California Attorney General's Office (ed. note: under John Van de Kamp) about the corruption in Mariposa, only to have them out him to the local authorities. Hatton investigated the case for 6 months until the sheriff was forced out due to threats. As Hatton recounted it, Candler was involved in drug dealing in Mariposa County and he suspected Candler of being a hitman as well. Both Mariposa and Tuolumne County protected Candler from facing any serious charges for his attempted murder with a deadly weapon.
    • Chapter 1 of The Last Circle fills in some of the names. The old sheriff was Paul Paige and the new sheriff was Ken Mattheys. According to Orb Hatton, his two partners in the investigation were "a former FBI guy and a retired Merced cop", matching what Seymour about the two main investigators enlisted by Sheriff Mattheys being "Investigator Raymond Jenkins, a Merced College Police Chief, and retired FBI agent Tom Walsh from Merced".
    • Mariposa County Resolution No. 85-314: "WHEREAS, Mr. Phinas Orb Hatton entered into an agreement with Mariposa County to provide services to the Sheriff's Department;"
    • ABC 20/20, "The Law of Sheriff Paige", 1991/11/15 - at 12:48 it shows Orb Hatton, identified as a veteran Modesto narcotics officer brought in by Sheriff Mattheys to help clean up the department, describing how he was told by informants about police cars being used to escort narcotics dropped at the Mariposa airport to Yosemite park
    • 2011/12/04 comment by Orb Hatton on a blog post about The Last Circle: "Hi, this is Orb Hatton, I just read your book and I would like to give you the rest of the Mariposa documents that I have from my investigation."
    • Mariposa Gazette, "Hatton gets eight years", 2012/04/05: "Following emotional pleas from all sides in the child molestation case of Kyle Andrew Hatton, 22, the judge in the matter made his view very clear. Hatton would be going to prison. “This court has seen no remorse from you--none whatsoever,” Judge H.N. Papadakis told Hatton. “You attempted to shift blame on this little girl who looked up to you.”"
    • Modesto Bee, "Coulterville man faces charges in abuse of child", 2012/05/15 - just 2 months before Sanzeri published his book, Orb Hatton was arrested on child sexual abuse charges: "A Coulterville man will be arraigned in Stanislaus Superior Court today on charges of continuous sexual abuse of a child and lewd and lascivious acts with a child. A warrant was issued last week for Phinas Hatton, 68, and he was arrested at his home early Tuesday. Hatton is accused of committing sexual acts on a girl younger than 14 who lived with him. The criminal complaint against Hatton states he engaged in three or more sexual acts with the girl in a period of no less than three months. Hatton is a former Modesto police officer, according to city Human Resource Department records. He worked for the department from 1966 until 1981, when he resigned, records show. He is scheduled to appear in court this afternoon."
    • Modesto Bee, "Hearing in Stanislaus County abuse case rescheduled", 2013/05/06: "A judge Monday rescheduled a preliminary hearing to start May 16 for a 69-year-old Coulterville man accused of sexually abusing a girl in Stanislaus County 25 years ago. The preliminary hearing, which is expected to last a few hours, initially was scheduled to start Monday for Phinas Orby Hatton. At the end of the hearing, Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. Hatton remains free on bail as he awaits prosecution. The defendant is charged with one count of committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child younger than 14. Hatton is a former Modesto police officer, according to city records. He worked for the department from 1966 until 1981, when he resigned, records show. There is no indication that Hatton committed crimes with a child he encountered while working as a police officer."
    • Modesto Bee, "Sex abuse charges dismissed against ...", 2013/06/14 (link now broken)
    • California Court of Appeals for the Fifth District, no. F065019: THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. KYLE ANDREW HATTON, Defendant and Appellant, appeal decision, 2014/06/30
    • Modesto Bee, "Turlock murder case: Detective testifies about break-in at Carson’s property", 2015/10/16: "A Turlock police detective on Friday testified about questioning a man who says he was momentarily detained by Frank Carson after he was caught trespassing on the Modesto attorney’s property. Robert Jaquish is suspected of having been on Carson’s property around Christmas 2011 to steal antiques or scrap metal the attorney stored on the 5-acre property along Ninth Street in Turlock. Jaquish identified the man who detained him as Carson in a photo lineup during his first police interview. [...] The testimony about Jaquish is part of a preliminary hearing for Carson and five others charged in Korey Kauffman’s death. Carson is accused of recruiting a group of people to send a violent message to thieves repeatedly stealing antiques and scrap metal from his property. Authorities say Kauffman was shot to death after he was caught trespassing on Carson’s property. Kauffman was last seen alive in late March 2012 as he headed to Carson’s property. His remains were found in August 2013 in a remote area of Mariposa County. [...] Inside, there were a lot of old cars and antiques. Jaquish said he also spotted inside a man carrying a rifle with his right hand and a cellphone in his left hand. In that first police interview, Jaquish identified the armed man as Terry Carson, the attorney’s brother. In a second police interview, Jaquish identified someone else as the man with the rifle. Jaquish told the detective that the armed man spoke into the cellphone, saying, “I think he’s still in here. Come to the back.” [...] In that second police interview, Jaquish said the man with the rifle inside the outbuilding looked like Phinas Orby Hatton and another man shown to Jaquish in a photo lineup. Navarro testified that he didn’t include a photo of Terry Carson in the lineup for the second police interview. Carson in June 2013 represented Hatton in a Stanislaus County molestation case. That case was dismissed because the molestation was claimed to have occurred from January to March 1988 at a home in Mariposa County. Navarro testified that investigators learned that Carson represented Hatton’s son in Mariposa County around the time Kauffman disappeared."
    • William Thomas Jensen, "FRANK CARSON ET AL CASE", 2018/07/11: "It is now 11:22AM, and the jury is allowed to go for an early lunch. Ms. Fletcher is brought back to the stand. Things get interesting here folks. We now enter into a 402 hearing on Ms. Fletcher. Defense attorney Percy Martinez starts talking about the Kyle Andrew Hatton case that she had tried where Frank Carson had been the defense attorney. Percy gets Ms. Fletcher to admit that she had contacted Annette Reese of the Stanislaus County DA’s Office concerning a recording made of Kyle Hatton’s father Orb Hatton. In this recorded conversation, Orb Hatton left a voice mail for his son where he admitted to being a “Monster” in his past by sexually abusing children. It is brought out that Ms. Fletcher had held onto this recording for an extended period of time before she contacted Annette Reese concerning the recorded conversation. It is brought out that she turned over the recording after she found out that Frank Carson had been arrested. Orb Hatton was later tried for sexual crimes related to this recording. I am not sure if he was convicted. I think Frank Carson was involved with this case."
  • National Coalition for Men, "NCFM and the disappearing 20/20 Mariposa County corruption YouTube episode", 2018/07/26: "It has recently come to the attention of NCFM that an ABC News 20/20 video expose on the corruption in Mariposa County has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from YouTube."
  • Facebook post by Stephen Sanzeri on 2019/11/29 about how his investigation tied into the work of Cheri Seymour
    • "*SS In 1995, I was chasing Cliff Watkins in Mariposa County. I was contacted by Wyckoff Bail Bonds to apprehend this dangerous felon. Each time I entered the county, Watkins disappeared. After the 6th visit to Mariposa, I was charged with 2 felonies and three misdemeanors. District Attorney Christine Johnson filed the indictment and I was looking at 3 to five years in prison. That December, Cliff was arrested in Shasta County. In the presence of Ron Adams, former Angels Camp Police Chief, we interviewed Cliff. Not only did Cliff state that the Mariposa Sheriff's office notified him each time I was in town, Cliff said he had the green light from the sheriff's department to kill me. Cliff stated he was a "deadman" and explained his operating as the department's main drug mule. He talked about flights to the Mariposa airport where hundreds of pounds of cocaine and heroin were delivered weekly. With meth from local labs, the drugs were hidden in coves along Lake McClure including a cave once used by the infamous bandit, Juaquin Murietta. The drugs were subsequently moved to Yosemite Park, distributed, and transported to counties en route to Los Angeles."
    • "*SS Raymond Jenkins, aka Phineas Orb Hatton is a retired Modesto narcotics officer and my go-to guy when I was chasing Paul Candler Jr., a suspect in the Yosemite Sightseer Murders. I met with Orb and his advice was, "get a newspaper behind you if you want to survive this!" I did, and Mike Mooney of the Modesto Bee followed my investigation."
    • "*SS July 2017, I did my first interview with Ed Opperman, The Opperman Report. During the two hours, we discussed my book "Ultimate Prey," The Yosemite Sightseer Murders and the coverups by law enforcement. Two months later, I was hired by charter Captain and owner Larry Murray of Just Dreaming Yacht, Pier-40, South Beach, San Francisco. The following year I was retained by two other yacht owners and resided on one of them. Immediately, I discovered intrusions aboard her whenever I returned from a couple of day's leave."
    • 1995/09/13 document containing the charges by Mariposa County District Attorney Christine A. Johnson against Hughlen Cliff Watkins for car theft from his wife Melinda Watkins
    • 1995/06/06 letter from the attorneys of Stephen Sanzeri to Mariposa County District Attorney Christina Johnson
    • 1995/11/13 identification card of Hughlen Cliff Watkins
  • Alabama connections
    • From p.42-43 of Ultimate Prey:

          “You boys know 'bout us here in Walker County?” [Walker County sheriff's deputy] Lavelle [Roberts] asked.
          “Sure don't, Lavelle,” I said.
          “We're the hit capital of the United States.” Lavelle said. “We were on 60 Minutes last year. It put us on the map!”
          I knew exactly where Lavelle was going with this. I remembered a television special on 60 Minutes about Walker County, Alabama. I guess that murder for hire is as common as bass fishing down here.
          This train of thought carried me to Candler. Why was he hanging out in the “hit” capital of the country?
          I looked at Rick. “What the hell is Candler doing here?”
          “Maybe he's got family down here, or Barbara does,” Rick said.
          “No, I checked all of that. Did you hear what Lavelle was saying?”
          Rick paused, thinking it over. “You're thinking Candler is a hired gun.”
          “Maybe,” I said, wiping my face.
    • From p.102-103 of Ultimate Prey:

          Mr. [Francis] Carrington went on to tell me that he owned a shopping center in Fultondale, Alabama.
          “I have to tell you,” Francis said. “It's very strange. You arrested Candler in a town where I own a strip-mall.”
          What in the hell was Candler doing in the same town as a Carrington-owned investment? I wondered. Candler could have run and hid in any town. I don't believe in coincidences. There was something peculiar about Candler moving to Alabama, twice.
    • More information about Alabama mercenaries with organized crime and intelligence links can be found on the Dixie Mafia page