Steven Stayner led a short and tragic life. The brother of convicted murderer Cary Stayner was kidnapped as a young child and was missing for seven years. When he was 24, he died in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident.
Cary Stayner was convicted in the 1999 murders of 42-year-old Carole Sund, her 15-year-old daughter Juli, their 16-year-old family friend Silvina Pelosso and Joie Armstrong, a 26-year-old Yosemite naturalist, according to History. He is now 59 and on death row in San Quentin State Prison, according to his prison records. Steven Stayner died in 1989.
ABC 20/20 is digging into the case on a new episode, which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time Friday, July 2, 2021.
Here’s what you need to know:
Stayner Escaped His Captors With Another Victim, Timmy White, & Inspired a Miniseries Released Months Before His Death
Steven Stayner was only 7 years old when he was kidnapped by Kenneth Parnell and Ervin Murphy, according to ABC News. Stayner was walking home from school December 4, 1972, when the men lured him into their vehicle, saying they had just talked to his parents and they no longer wanted him, ABC reported. When Stayner was 14, he ran away with another kidnapped boy, Timmy White, and went to the police, ABC News reported. Stayner became known as a hero and inspired a television miniseries, “I Know My First Name is Steven.”
Stayner went on to marry his wife, Jodi Stayner, and have two children. The miniseries was released on May 23, 1989, only about four months before he died in a hit-and-run accident. An archive article published September 18, 1989, two days after Stayner’s death, in The Spokesman-Review, said a driver hit Stayner on a highway and left him on the ground with severe head injuries. Stayner had been driving his new Kawaksaki motorcycle when the driver pulled out in front of him on a rain-soaked highway. Stayner was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, the article said.
Stayner and his wife were high school sweethearts, the article said. They had a daughter, Ashley, who was 3 at the time of her father’s death, and a son, Steven Jr., who was 2.
Stayner Felt Responsible for His Brother’s Kidnapping & Thought His Violent Fantasies Caused It to Happen
Stayner had a traumatic childhood involving sexual abuse, the kidnap of his younger brother by a pedophile, and feelings of blame that he could not protect his brother, FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Rinek wrote in his book, “In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent’s Relentless Pursuit of the Nation’s Worst Predators.” Rinek wrote that even though the abuse likely “poured fuel on a fire” for Stayner to eventually commit murder, it was one “that had already begun to smolder” before he was sexually abused and before his brother was kidnapped.
Steven Stayner was kidnapped when Cary Stayner was 11, Rinek wrote. By that time, Cary Stayner was already having grotesque fantasies, the agent wrote.
According to a psychiatrist who would later evaluate Stayner for his defense team, the Stayner family tree was riven with mental illness and sexual abuse going back five generations. According to the psychiatrist’s report, Stayner’s father, Delbert Stayner, was ordered into therapy for molesting his own daughters. In addition to her father’s unwanted advances, one of Stayner’s sisters said that Cary started peeping on her and inappropriately touching her when she was ten. A cousin said that Stayner spied on her and his sisters and a neighbor girl, hiding under their beds and secretly videotaping them in the bathroom and bedroom. One relative described child sexual abuse as “like a family sickness” because it had been going on for so many generations.
The fact that Stayner’s brother was kidnapped by a pedophile and abused for seven years adds an almost unfathomable dimension to the tragedy that enveloped this family. As the older brother, Stayner felt a natural if undeserved sense of responsibility for not protecting Steven from harm. He also felt more directly responsible. Stayner told another psychiatrist, Park Dietz, who was hired by the prosecution to evaluate whether he was sane at the time he committed the Yosemite murders, that as a child he worried that the obsessive thoughts he had about holding the neighbor girl against her will somehow caused Steven to be kidnapped.
Stayner’s parents “withdrew emotionally” after Steven went missing, Rinek wrote. Stayner’s father, Delbert Stayner, was accused of sexually abusing his daughters, and Rinek wrote sexual abuse went back at least five generations in the family. Still, Stayner wanted to help his parents and asked that a $250,000 reward for information go to his family, Rinek wrote.
Cary Staynar tried to protect his younger brother and looked out for him, according to ABC News.
“He loved his brother,” his former calssmate, Jack Bungart, told the news outlet. “You know, hung out with him, played with him.”
The kidnapping had a deep impact on Cary Stayner, his childhood friend, Mike Marchese told ABC News in a 1999 interview.
“Cary was very upset,” he said. “I heard stories about him going out and wishing on a star, that his brother would come home.”
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