Cary Stayner, a 37-year-old motel handyman with a traumatic history of violence in his own family, was arraigned in the state capital, Sacramento, yesterday and charged with the murder of Joie Armstrong, a young naturalist working for the national park, whose beheaded body was found last week near her home in El Portal at the western entrance to the park.
FBI agents tracked Mr Stayner to a nudist colony near Sacramento suspecting that the missing head might be in his car or backpack. They would not say whether they found it.
Stayner is now also the prime suspect in the abduction and murder of three tourists last seen at an El Portal motel in February. Their burned corpses were eventually found on a lonely stretch of forest more than 50 miles away.
"We have developed specific information linking Stayner to the Yosemite sightseers' murders," the FBI special agent heading the investigation said. "With Stayner's arrest, we believe that no other person involved with any of these murders is still on the loose."
These have been harrowing times for a part of the world usually only concerned with how to control the flood of visitors to the area. El Portal is an old mining town now divided between tourism and administrative facilities for the park, where residents all know each other and whose most audacious acts are restricted to swimming naked in the mountain streams or smoking marijuana under the stars.
The disappearance and murder of Carole Lund, her 15-year-old daughter Julie, and Silvina Pelosso, an Argentinian exchange student, sent shockwaves across the whole state because the crime was apparently random, unmotivated and devastating in its brutality.
It took a month of searching to recover their bodies, and several more months of FBI investigation to zero in on possible suspects. Mr Stayner himself was questioned in the initial stages, but ruled out as a suspect - a judgement that is now coming back to haunt the FBI.
The case took on an altogether broader dimension with the discovery of Ms Armstrong's body last Thursday. The FBI said they quickly came to suspect Mr Stayner and arrested him on Saturday at the nudist park after a fellow nudist recognised his picture from a television news report.
The handyman worked on a seasonal basis at the Cedar Lodge motel in El Portal, where the Lunds and their friend were staying, and lived in a room on the premises. Raised in trailer parks in the Central Valley, his early years were marked by the abduction of his younger brother Steven, who spent seven years as the prisoner of a deranged drifter who sexually abused him.
Then, in 1990, Stayner's uncle was killed in his home - a murder that has yet to be resolved. Merced police said over the weekend that they were not ruling out Stayner's possible responsibility for that death too, but they had not officially designated him as a suspect.
In El Portal, residents were not entirely reassured that their nightmare had come to an end. Having been told once before that those responsible for the killings were safely in custody, they are less inclined to believe it now in the wake of the Armstrong murder.
The FBI said it had not yet excluded the possibility of other suspects besides Mr Stayner, but they did not think they included anyone now at large.Reuse content