Have you heard the story of David Carpenter, the infamous Trailside Killer of San Francisco?
Born and raised right here in San Francisco, the stories of the Trailside Killer inspire fear in the hearts of many of our city’s residents.
But who is the Trailside Killer, really? How did he choose his victims back in the 1980s? And, most importantly, do we have anything to fear from him now?
Keep reading to find out!
The Trailside Killer, also known as David Carpenter, is a serial killer particularly famous for stalking and murdering young women on hiking trails near San Francisco.
Dabbed a “late bloomer” by serial killer standards, Carpenter didn’t commit his first attempted murder until the age of 33 when he attacked a defenseless woman with a hammer and a knife.
Carpenter had a difficult upbringing and was frequently physically abused by his alcoholic father.
He himself started exhibiting some violent tendencies, such as torturing animals, very early on.
At the age of 17, David was incarcerated for molesting his two cousins.
But that was just the beginning of the gruesome story written by a man now known as the Trailside Killer.
The murder of Edda Kane would eventually become the first in a series of gruesome trailside murders now attributed to the Trailside Killer.
On August 19, 1979, Edda Kane was hiking at “the Sleeping Lady,” a beautiful San Francisco park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, when Carpenter set his sights on her.
Her dead, naked body was found in the kneeling position, killed by a shot to the back of her head.
The position indicates that she was made to show submission to her killer before her death – a theme that would continue throughout the Trailside Killer’s murder spree.
Less than a year later, a 23-year old woman named Barbara Schwartz was found dead in the same park.
She was found in the same kneeling, submissive position as Kane – but died of twelve stab wounds to the chest instead of a bullet wound.
This time, someone had seen the Trailside Killer do his dirty work – this murder had an eyewitness.
There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to Carpenter’s choice of victim.
According to the witness, he just walked right up to Barbara, and, after a brief struggle, proceeded to stab her in the chest until she was dead.
In the end, the witness testimony proved to be more misleading than useful, and the murders continued.
The death of Shauna May, 25, garnered Carpenter his first big media appearance.
When Shauna did not show up for a rendezvous at the parking lot of the Point Reyes Park, her hiking buddies knew something was amiss.
They alerted the authorities immediately, but it was already too late.
Shauna’s naked, dead body was found in the park three days later.
Her murder was even more gruesome than the others.
She had been raped, trussed with a picture frame wire, then shot in the head three times.
Shaun was not the killer’s only victim that day, though.
Next to her shallow grave, the police also found the naked and already decomposing corpse of Diane O’Connell, a 22-year-old who had disappeared from the park a month earlier.
The Trailside Killer did not stop there.
On May 1st, 1981, a San Jose resident reported that his girlfriend was missing.
Her last known whereabouts?
On her way to buy a used car from her fellow print shop employee by the name of David Carpenter.
Apparently, Carpenter had made a point of asking her to come alone… Which increased the police’s suspicions, leading them to arrest the man just a couple of weeks later.
On May 24th, Heather’s remains were found in the Big Basin Redwood State Park.
She was executed by the same .45 revolver that took the life of a woman named Ellen Hansen and almost killed Stephen Heartle, the only known survivor of the Trailside Killer’s murder spree.
On May 14, 1981, the Trailside Killer was finally apprehended, only to begin a long and ugly trial process that would last for more than a decade.
David Carpenter was first sentenced to death on July 6th, 1984.
Some of his convictions have been overturned since – and almost 35 later, he is still alive.
Now almost 90 years old, the Trailside Killer awaits his final hours on San Quentin’s death row.
David Carpenter is not the only San Francisco based serial killer… Far from it.
If tales of ruthless killers and gruesome murders are your kind of things, you should check out our Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour.
It will take you through the darkest moments of San Francisco’s history to show you a different side of our charming city.
Ready to discover the dark side of San Francisco?