Who can forget the Trailside Killer?
David Carpenter was born on May 6, 1930 to Elwood and Francis Hart Carpenter. Elwood was a mean-spirited, physically and mentally abusive alcoholic. Francis was also abusive, but seemed to be more engaged in David’s life.
Carpenter spent most of his childhood at 152 Sussex Street in San Francisco’s Glen Park district. Glen Park is located south of Diamond Heights and Noe Valley, west of Bernal Heights, and east of Glen Canyon Park. The neighborhood is known for having a village-like atmosphere, with mom-and-pop shops, quality schools, and sheltered homes on hilly, narrow streets. Families that resided in Glen Park usually knew each other and their children often played together. It was in this idyllic environment that the Trailside Killer came into being.
Carpenter described his childhood as “hellish.” He took violin and ballet lessons, which made him the target of bullies. There were also rumors at school that David’s parents beat him, and classmates often noticed bruises on his body. He had a severe stutter and was a chronic bed-wetter. He also discovered early on that he had a ravenous, unhealthy sexual appetite that would often lend itself to compulsive, deviant behavior.
As an outlet for his inner turmoil, Carpenter tortured animals. When his father deserted the family for a year when he was 14, his erratic behavior escalated. He lured two sisters into a restroom in Diamond Heights Park, threatened them with a knife and began to get grabby. He was charged with molestation, and committed to Napa State Hospital for 90 days.
As a result of the Diamond Heights incident, David made an important discovery: During the attack, when he was in complete control, his stutter disappeared. This revelation into his inner-workings gave him confidence, and would shape the rest of his creep career.
In the mid 1950s, Carpenter joined the U.S. Coast Guard and eventually landed a job with Pacific Far East Lines as a purser on a long freighter named the Fleetwood. During this time he met and courted Ellen. The couple married on November 5, 1955, and settled down at 380 Mina Lane in the sleepy seaside town of Pacifica, just south of San Francisco. They had three children. At first life seemed stable, but eventually the union became fraught with tension. David was sexually demanding and prone to enraged outbursts.
The couple had a mutual friend, Lois DeAndrade, who also did accounting work for David’s father, Elwood. One day, Carpenter offered Lois a ride to work. He had been circling the block like a shark waiting for her to arrive at her bus stop. At first, she politely declined, but at his insistence, eventually accepted. She always got weird vibes from David, but assured herself he was just trying to be nice. What harm could possibly come from accepting a ride from a friend?
A sweaty, rapey Carpenter insisted on taking a detour so that Lois could see his newborn baby. Oddly, Carpenter then claimed he was having trouble locating his wife and child. As they drove into the Presidio, things began to take a bizarre turn. David parked and began making sexual advances toward Lois. When she rebuffed him, he exclaimed, “I have this fuming quirk that’s got to be satisfied!” He attacked her with a hammer as she screamed for help. A military policeman, Jewell Wayne Hicks, heard the commotion and recued Lois. She was critically injured but alive.
On April 2, 1961, David Carpenter was sentenced to 14 years at McNeil Island Prison in Washington, near Puget Sound. Back in San Francisco, Ellen Carpenter filed for divorce.
Nine years later, Carpenter was released from prison. As part of his parole, he began attending a group therapy class where he met Helen. The two dated for a short time before marrying and moving into apartment 304, at 1140 Sutter Street in San Francisco.
By 1970, exasperated with David’s persistent need for sex, Helen took a vacation. Unable to control his compulsive sexual proclivities, Carpenter attacked a 19-year-old girl near Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains. David was familiar with the area; his relatives had a cabin nearby that he used to visit as a child. The girl was able to escape, but her injuries required a stay in the hospital. She remembered his license plate number and physical description, and quickly gave the information to local police.
Meanwhile, David Carpenter continued his lustful, violent indulgences. He returned to 1140 Sutter Street, where he ditched his car, quickly changed clothes, slipped out the back door, and thumbed it to Santa Cruz.
In Santa Cruz, he promptly abducted two women, raped one, and insisted they drop him off outside Oakdale, which was nearly 100 miles away. Police eventually caught him buying a ticket at the Greyhound bus station in downtown Modesto. He was booked into the Stanislaus County jail.
The drama continued as Carpenter escaped jail with four other inmates, but was captured soon after. Eager for notoriety, Carpenter reportedly told his newfound jail homies that he just might be the Zodiac Killer.
He was transferred to Vacaville State Prison later that year, where it was determined that he had a 125 IQ, which is notably high. Prison doctors also diagnosed a behavioral disorder that manifested itself as a deep hostility and resentment toward women. Big surprise. He was released from prison in 1977, only to return to serve two more years for a parole violation.
On May 21, 1979, David Carpenter was once again released from prison. He settled into Reality House West, a halfway house in the ramshackle Tenderloin district.
He made an attempt at a normal life by attending a vocational rehabilitation program and securing a job with Gems of the Golden West, a company that sold key chains and trinkets. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the best occupation for him – it allowed unsupervised, long-distance travel in the company van in the still somewhat carefree seventies. But David was determined to change. He began going to a speech therapist to work on his stutter, and joined the Sierra Club, which regularly hiked the trails of neighboring Mount Tamalpais.
Unfortunately, his compulsions resurfaced and he found it difficult to resist his overwhelming urges. The accountability factor of living at the halfway house started to cramp his style, so he moved in with his parents at 38 Sussex Street in old, familiar Glen Park. He enjoyed the privacy of living alone on the first floor of the house, where he could discreetly come and go without his pesky parents spoiling all the fun.
Thus began a six-week period that resulted in one of the most prolific killing sprees in California history.
After many days of death and carnage, things finally began to unravel for Carpenter when he killed Ellen Hanson, 29, a U.C. Davis graduate, and attempted to kill her friend Steven Haertle. Steven survived after being shot four times. He later positively identified Carpenter as the triggerman.
David Carpenter’s final known act of savagery involved his friend Heather Skaggs, a 20-year-old blonde who attended the same trade school as Carpenter. She found him a bit awkward, but that didn’t stop her from accepting the occasional ride home. She needed a car of her own, if for no other reason than to thwart Carpenter’s clumsy efforts to make sure she got home safely. David informed Heather he had a car hook-up with a friend in Santa Cruz. Excited by the prospect of owning a car, she agreed to accompany him.
Friday, May 2, 1981 was the last time anyone saw Heather Skaggs. Her badly decomposed body was found with a gunshot wound to the head on May 24 in Big Basin Redwoods Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The trial of David Carpenter was moved to San Diego County in order to avoid unnecessary media attention. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death row in San Quentin, where he remains to this day. Investigators speculate that he may be responsible for several other murders, but he isn’t talking. He has appealed his convictions and asserts his innocence, of course.