Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murders of Ken Stahl and Carolyn Oppy-Stahl

Dark Highway

Dr. Ken Stahl kept his eyes on the road as he drove along the Ortega Highway in Orange County, Calif., on the night of November 20, 1999. The road ahead was deserted, the headlights of the silver Dodge Stratus piercing the empty darkness ahead. His wife, Dr. Carolyn Oppy-Stahl, was in the passenger seat next to him. They had just been out to dinner to celebrate her 44th birthday.

The Ortega Highway area where crime occurred
The Ortega Highway area where crime occurred

He glanced in the rearview mirror, looking for the white Mazda 626 that had been parked at the gas station he'd stopped at a while ago. He glanced sideways at his wife. He and Carolyn had been incompatible for quite a while. According to author Michael Fleeman in his book Deadly Mistress, Stahl had only married her to please his mother. Carolyn was the kind of woman his mother had wanted him to marry, and he was devoted to his mother and had not wanted to disappoint her.

Ken and Carolyn Stahl
Ken and Carolyn Stahl

To the outside world, Ken and Carolyn seemed to be a prosperous and happy upper-middle-class couple. They were both doctorshe an anesthesiologist; she an optometrist. But as far as he was concerned their life together was a fraud, and he wanted to be free. She had gained weight since they'd married, and he had lost interest in her. They had no children together. Ken had had many affairs during their 14-year marriage, but Carolyn would not divorce him.

Ken Stahl was the kind of person who dwelled on the disappointments in his life. He was a successful doctor but not as successful as his father who had been a respected surgeon and the CEO of a hospital. Stahl was also twice divorced. Stahl had a grown son from a former marriage who lived in Texas, but he rarely saw him. Earlier in 1999 he had been forced for financial reasons to sell their large house and move into a more modest condominium in Huntington Beach. He had been plagued with serious health problems during most of his adult life. Fifty-seven years old, he had just had quintuple bypass surgery four months earlier, his second such operation. He'd had the first bypass when he was 35, yet still suffered a heart attack two years later. He exercised obsessively and did everything he could to maintain his health, but he felt that his time was running out, and he wanted to spend his final years free of Carolyn.

If all went according to plan, he would get what he wanted this night.