25 years later: FBI agent shares how he got Cary Stayner to confess to Yosemite killings (2024)

Local News

By Kurtis Ming

/ CBS Sacramento

FBI agent recalls how he got Cary Stayner to confess to 1999 Yosemite killings

February marks 25 years since the murders of the Yosemite sightseers.

On a sightseeing trip to Yosemite, Carole Sund, her daughter, Juli, and their friend, exchange student Silvina Pelosso, vanished in February 1999. Weeks later, Carole and Silvina's bodies were found in the trunk of their charred rental car down a cliff in the Sierra.

But where was Juli?

25 years later: FBI agent shares how he got Cary Stayner to confess to Yosemite killings (2)

The killer sent the FBI a hand-drawn map with a chilling message: "We had fun with this one." It showed a trail from Highway 120, with an x along the shore of Don Pedro Reservoir, where investigators discovered Juli's body in March 1999.

Months later, the killer struck again, beheading naturalist Joie Armstrong in Yosemite.

25 years later: FBI agent shares how he got Cary Stayner to confess to Yosemite killings (3)

Then-FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Rinek was sent to talk with a potential witness in the case, Cary Stayner. He was a handyman at the Cedar Lodge just outside Yosemite. It's the motel where the sightseers stayed.

Stayner was at the Laguna Del Sol nudist colony in Wilton. Rinek and his colleague convinced Stayner to ride with him to the FBI office.

"During that time, we got to know each other. We were two guys that didn't know each other, that were stuck doing something that we didn't really want to be doing, and so we were making the best of it. We were just talking amongst us," Rinek recalled.

Stayner opened up about his brother, Steven, who was the subject of the book and miniseries "I Know My First Name Is Steven."

Steven was seven when he was kidnapped in Merced in the 1970s. He escaped his captor at 14. Stayner shared with Rinek that he was not happy over the short sentence his brother's kidnapper got.

"He went to prison for seven years, and yet, they held Steven for seven years. And he felt that was really not right and I agreed with them. I had no problem. I agree with you," Rinek recalled saying.

"You ultimately gained his trust in a very short period of time?" CBS13's Kutis Ming asked.

"Yes, but it would be a disservice for me to cause people to believe that I did that intentionally. We were two guys together and we were becoming friends with each other. I didn't know what he did. I don't judge people, so when they talk to me, they feel comfortable," Rinek responded.

That connection ultimately got Stayner to confess to killing Joie Armstrong.

"In this case, Cary Stayner shared a lot of stuff with me, and when we were all done with the interview, he felt a sense of relief that he had, you know, kind of gotten it all off his chest, " Rinek recalled.

But before admitting to killing the sightseers, Rinek says Stayner tried to negotiate with three requests. He wanted images of young girls, his family to get the reward money, and to end up in a federal prison near his family.

Rinek recalled asking him to pick one.

"He chose was the p*rnography. He chose it over the money for his family and over being close to his family," Rinek said. "And he is a perfect symbol and example of the drive that these people out there in the world who look at child p*rnography โ€“ this is what it is to them. They'll sacrifice their life to see it."

Stayner didn't get any of his requests but ended up confessing to killing the sightseers, saying he planned the attacks for more than a year. He explained why he drew that map.

"It was bothering him that Juli's body was laying out there in the elements and not being found, and he wanted her to be found," Rinek said.

Stayner was convicted and sentenced to death.

"What's valuable to me is helping the families and trying to give closure to the families. For me, it's all about these families," Rinek said.

"Have you stayed in contact with Cary Stayner?" Ming asked.

"No, no. I've had a lot of people want me to do that, but I just, you know, I think it would betray what I did," Rinek responded.

"Do you think Cary Stayner killed others?" Ming asked.

"No, I do not, and I received many calls after the confession about that. No, I don't want to get into the details of the actual murders, but based on the details that he discussed with me, he was not very inefficient at killing his victims," Stayner said.

Cary Stayner is now 62 and at San Quentin State Prison.

Investigators have looked at him in five other killings across the valley and foothills dating back to the eighties. That includes his own uncle. But he's never been charged in those cases.

His brother Steven died in a motorcycle crash in 1989.

Rinek has also written a book called, "In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent's Relentless Pursuit of the Nation's Worst Predators"

Rinek also discussed how he got Stayner to confess on the CBS Docuseries, "FBI True: Yosemite Horror" which you can watch on Paramount+.

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Kurtis Ming

Eleven-time Emmy Award-winner Kurtis Ming is CBS13's consumer investigative reporter and anchors the CBS13 News weekdays at 4 and 5:30pm.

25 years later: FBI agent shares how he got Cary Stayner to confess to Yosemite killings (2024)
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