David Carpenter – The Trail Side Killer


David CarpenterDavid Carpenter – The Trail Side Killer

David Carpenter was a severe stutterer with an insatiable sex drive and a propensity for violence. By serial killer standards though, he appears to have been a late bloomer. His first serious violent offense occurred in 1960 when, at the age of 33, he was arrested and sentenced to 14 years in prison for attacking a woman with a hammer and knife.

He spent a little more than half of that sentence behind bars, earning a return trip back to prison in 1970 for kidnapping. He was released in 1977. Between his two extended prison stays he was a major suspect in the famous Zodiac murders but was eventually cleared.

David Carpenter Started Earning His Own Title

David Carpenter may have proved not to be the Zodiac but it wasn’t long before he was claiming lives of his own. His first victim, who may have been an acquaintance, Anne Kelly Menjivar, disappeared from her home in late 1979 and was found dead, in Mt. Tamalpais Park, located in the San Francisco Bay area. Her death was not linked to David Carpenter however, until after his arrest.

David CarpenterMt. Tamalpais was also the scene of the next three murders.

In August of 1979 Edda Kane disappeared from the park while hiking. She was found shot in the back of the head in a kneeling position. Then in March of 1980, Barbera Schwartz, 23, was found in the same position as Kane, but died of stab wounds to the chest. 26-year-old Anne Alderson was next, in October, when she was found shot in the head after vanishing during a jog. The police had what appeared to be an excellent suspect soon afterward when a man who lived with his mother and brother on Mt. Tamalpais was caught after killing his two family members and hiding in the surrounding woods for a few days. He was soon cleared of suspicion and the “Trail Side Killer” continued his killings.

The Bodies Started To Surface

David Carpenter made his mark in the media on November 29th in 1980. Two days earlier Shawna May, 25, disappeared from Point Reyes Park while hiking. Two days later she was found dead from a bullet to the head. This time however she was joined by Diane O’Connell, 22, who had disappeared about a month earlier from the park. She was found beside May’s shallow grave, also shot in the head.

As if that wasn’t enough, later in the day, two more bodies were found in Point Reyes, both victims of the mysterious killer. Cynthia Moreland, 18 and Richard Towers, 19, had been killed on the same October weekend as Alderson. The media frenzy focused on the case with the discovery of four bodies in one day was almost expected and near-panic ensued.

A Survivor

In March of 1981 David Carpenter struck yet again, killing Ellen Hanson in a park near Santa Cruz. Her boyfriend survived, however, and gave police enough of a description to finally release a composite sketch of the suspect.

Park goers also told police of a small red car that was in the area during the attack. Armed with this info all the cops needed was a break and they got one on May 1st, 1981, although it would be at the expense of one more victim.

20-year-old Heather Scaggs disappeared on her way to the home of David Carpenter, who knew her from work and was rumored to have attempted to date the young woman. When police came to his home to question him, they couldn’t help but notice his resemblance to the composite sketch of the Trail Side Killer and his shiny red Fiat, a dead-ringer for the car seen near the Hanson murder scene. They kept Carpenter under surveillance until Scaggs’ body turned up in Big Basin State Park and then he was finally arrested.

David CarpenterDavid Carpenter had a history of sex crimes. An acquaintance admitted selling the ex-con a .45 which was used in several of the killings, though Carpenter had gotten rid of it by the time of his arrest.

A .38 another man had bought from Carpenter proved to be the gun used in the last two killings. It was an open-and-shut case and on July 6, 1984, the “Trail Side Killer” was sentenced to die in the gas chamber for the Hansen and Scaggs murders.

He was later tried and convicted of murder in five of the other slayings.

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