Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trailside Killer of San Francisco


In one incident in 1960, fully described by Graysmith, Carpenter had befriended a woman, inviting her to his home to meet his wife and including her in some of his celebratory moments.  Then one day, he picked her up, but instead of taking her to work as promised, he drove to a wooded area of the Presidio and then acted as if he was lost.  At some point he grabbed her, straddled her, and used a clothesline to bind her.  With a knife, he threatened her, forcing her to be still.  He told her he had a "funny quirk" that needed to be satisfied.  When she resisted and tried to get away, he struck her several times with a hammer.  Douglas states that prior to and during the incident, he lost his crippling stutter.  The victim described his speech as slow and deliberate, in contrast to the way he usually talked, and he had seemed unduly angry.

This woman might have been Carpenter's first murder victim had she not been saved by a suspicious military patrol officer who heard her call for help.  He'd been looking for Carpenter's car, having spotted it earlier, and when he saw what was happening, he commanded Carpenter to stop.  Carpenter shot at him, missing, so he returned fire and wounded Carpenter.  Then the MP arrested Carpenter and took him in.  The victim survived, but Carpenter, who claimed to have blacked out during the attack, ended up with a fourteen-year sentence.  During this time, his wife, who'd had to put up with his temper and sexual demands and who'd just given birth to their third child, divorced him.  To psychiatrists who evaluated him, he gave a range of different stories about what had occurred, from amnesia to a lover's quarrel.  He'd clearly learned to tell people what he thought they wanted to hear.

In 1969, Carpenter was freed after only nine years.  He quickly got remarried, and in less then a year, he was back at it again (and the marriage failed).  He tried to rape a woman by hitting her car to force her out of it.  When she struggled against him, he stabbed her, but she managed to get back into her car and race toward help.  Obviously, Carpenter was now looking for a way to rape but not return to prison, so he was prepared to eliminate witnesses.  He continued to target women until he was arrested again in Modesto on February 3, 1970.

While awaiting his trial, Carpenter conspired with four other inmates at the Calaveras County jail to break out and escape.  They didn't get very far and he was sentenced to seven years for kidnap and robbery (not for any sex offenses).  He also received two more years for his parole violations.  When he got out in May 1979, he was not listed as a sex offender, although he clearly was.  By August, he had murdered Edda Kane.

Even while Carpenter continued his criminal activities, he found a way to pass as a normal, productive citizen.  He took courses in computer printing at the California Trade School, graduating with a degree.  Then he got a job as a typesetter instructor at an agency affiliated with the school.  He took up hiking as a hobby, but not for the same reasons most people do.  He simply liked the shelter afforded in the wilderness for grabbing young women to rape and kill without being seen. It remained for the courts to ensure he return to prison for the rest of his life.


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