Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cary Stayner and the Yosemite Murders

Unexpected Tragedy

Acting on a tip from a caller who was worried about the whereabouts of his friend Joie Ruth Armstrong, park rangers found her mutilated body on the morning of July 22. It was discovered beyond a campground adjacent to her living quarters in the Foresta community, an enclave of some 30 cabins for use by park workers. Twenty-six-year-old Joie had been employed by the Yosemite Institute.

Station KCRA-TV in Sacramento, citing an unidentified source, was the first to leak the terrible news that the girl was decapitated. She had probably been murdered on the evening of Wednesday, July 21, investigators determined. In fact, she had been seen that day at the Institute offices near where Carole Sund and the teenagers were found earlier in the year.

Miss Armstrong was probably only hours away from leaving her quarters to visit a friend in Sausalito, California. When she did not appear as planned, her would-be host had phoned the park. Police found her car in front of her cabin, packed for the trip.

In light of its earlier estimation that the case was closed, the FBI remained relatively quiet, but conceded that the case needed to be re-evaluated. Chief James Maddock said he himself questioned whether the Bureau could have done anything to prevent Armstrong's killing. "I've struggled with that issue for the last 24 hours and continue to do so," he confessed. He did feel, however, that the FBI spared nothing to investigate the earlier killings. "I'm confident we've done everything that could be reasonably done."

The Armstrong tragedy reawakened dark fears and brought back those bad dreams the local residents thought they could put behind them. By Friday, the day after she was found dead, a hush had fallen over Yosemite Park.

"Freckled, red-haired and full of energy and enthusiasm, Armstrong loved children, nature and teaching. Those loves took her to Yosemite, a place known for its peace and beauty," wrote the Modesta Bee, one of a line of community Bee newspapers throughout California. Written the weekend after Armstrong was slain, it went on: "For the past year, she had worked for the Yosemite Institute, a nonprofit group that runs education programs through a partnership with the National Park Service..."

Joie Armstrong (AP)
Joie Armstrong (AP)

"'Joie was a bright light to all who knew her,' said Mike Lee, the Yosemite Institute's director 'We will remember her as so full of laughter and love, and as a committed and gifted teacher..."

"Authorities went to the meadow Armstrong loved on Thursday, not long after she was reported missing (and) found her body next to a stream she and her friends used for drinking water..."

"'You should come see this place — I wonder if you ever will,' Armstrong had e-mailed her friend, only days earlier. 'I love my garden and living in Yosemite — one of the most beautiful places in the whole wide world.'"




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