Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trailside Killer of San Francisco

'Please Don't Hurt Me'

Joseph Carpenter's residence at 36 Sussex Street in San Francisco, Calif.
Joseph Carpenter's residence at 36 Sussex Street in San Francisco, Calif.

The FBI, along with local authorities, set up a surveillance van outside the house at 36 Sussex Street in San Francisco where David Joseph Carpenter, 51, lived with his aging parents.  They also followed him to places he went, especially when he associated with other criminals.  Graysmith includes several photos from a videotape when they caught him walking with a shopping bag in his hand.  They approached him carefully, speaking in soft tones so as not to alarm him or inspire him to reach for whatever was in the bag.  He seemed confused at first, but soon insisted on getting a lawyer.  At this point, the agents told him he was under arrest.

"Please don't hurt me," he begged.

In Carpenter's car, a red Fiat with a bent tailpipe (as described by witnesses), police found books about local hiking trails, along with many more such maps in his home — over sixty in all.  They also located Carpenter's former fiancé, who told them that Carpenter had lost his gold jacket around the time of the Hansen murder.  He said it had been stolen, although that had struck her as unlikely.  This testimony proved that he'd at least had a gold jacket at that time, placing him circumstantially at the site of the shooting of Hansen and Haertle.

Thus, Carpenter drove a car similar to the one described by the surviving victim, had the same optometrist as another victim, had the right distinctive type of clothing, and had a record for violent sex crimes.  He also suffered from explosive rages and had recently tried to change his "look" with a different type of frame for his glasses.  In addition, several witnesses had recognized him as the man who had been in the area of an attack.

David Carpenter
David Carpenter

The police put him in a line-up, inviting everyone who had made a report to participate.  Steve Haertle went to the station to endure the ordeal of seeing again the man who had shot him and killed his girlfriend.  Despite the newly-grown beard hiding Carpenter's face, Steve quickly picked him out as the perpetrator.  The Post-Standard indicated that six out of the seven witnesses did the same, although several were not quite certain.  (Graysmith says that three were unable to make the identification.)  A car line-up was also arranged and witnesses identified the Fiat.  Carpenter was formally charged in the murder and attempted murder in Santa Cruz.  At his arraignment, he stuttered so badly he had a difficult time answering the judge's questions, which was to simply agree that his name was as stated.

"Carpenter's face contorted and his head shook as he struggled to respond," states the Post-Standard.  "He finally managed to utter a 'yes' after the passage of several seconds."

On May 15, 1981, newspapers published the stories about Carpenter, the supposed Trailside Killer.  In a press conference, officials reiterated that they believed the killer of eight had psychologically tortured his victims first.

Then decomposed remains of a female were found in Big Basin Redwoods Park on Sunday, May 24.  Her killer had apparently tried to hide her body under a lot of brush.  He'd removed her clothing and taken everything except an earring — smiliar to an earlier murder. An analysis of the dental work indicated that they had found Heather Scaggs.  She had been raped and shot once through the eye with a .38.  That made nine dead.

Patch: Big Basin Redwoods Park
Patch: Big Basin Redwoods Park


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