Wave of Hiker Deaths Echoes 1970s Crime Spree

mttamLast week, Bay Area residents had a disturbing reminder of a crime spree that terrorized Marin County women in the 1970s. While the police seem to believe that there’s no reason for present-day women to be concerned, several locals disagree.

“It’s the second body found on Mt. Tam in less than a week,” a reporter on the local evening news flatly stated Thursday night.

“Did you know a first body was found?” I asked my husband, who, of course, had heard all about it.

Mount Tamalpais, a popular hiking area where my family regularly plays, looms large over our backyard. It’s a place so beautiful and natural that it stops me in my tracks every day, and fills me with appreciation when I glance it from our yard, our bedroom, our living room, or the trampoline my family of five jumps on almost every warm evening. And now the body of a female hiker had been found there, the second in recent days.

“Lock the doors tonight,” I said as chills went up my neck.

Just to be clear, I am not a “better safe than sorry” kind of person. Usually I’m a “rather be sorry than bored” kind of person, but this case is different.

According to the news, both women seem to have fallen into a drainage ditch within a mile of one another. Both women were last seen near the Mountain Home Inn, and both women were alone.

However, according to one police officer, “There’s no indication of any foul play. There’s no indication that this may be anything more than an accident.” But despite this lukewarm assurance, I am not the only woman feeling anxious about these terrible deaths.

In an email forwarded to me by a friend, a local writer and Mount Tam hiker says:

Dear women friends who hike on Mt. Tam or know of those who do,

I am not one to live in fear, but I have concern for all of us given the recent deaths of two women (one just yesterday afternoon) whose bodies were found in a drainage ditches, not far from each other and the Bootjack trail.

What’s even spookier is that I wanted to hike up there alone last weekend, as I do all the time, but received a very loud “no” in my head, so went to the Headlands.

Until the toxology [sic] reports are complete (which can take up to six weeks), please be careful. I’m very sad that we have to stay away from such a majestic, sacred and healing place in nature.

This afternoon, as I drove around Mill Valley in the shadow of the mountain where these two women were found, thoughts of that email remained in my mind. So, I emailed author Joyce Maynard, whose book After Her — released in April of this year — was inspired by the Mt. Tam Trailside murders in 1979 and 1980.

Before reading After Her, I could not have imagined anything iniquitous ever occurred on the peaceful mountain. However, after reading Maynard’s page-turner, which is based around the real-life daughters of the police officer in charge of the Trailside case, I grew obsessed with the murders and with David Carpenter, the man convicted of the crimes.

I googled articles and read interviews with Carpenter, a multiple violent offender with a bad stutter, who steadfastly claimed that he was not responsible for the brutal murders on my hiking trails. I read and re-read Maynard’s introduction to her book. I was baffled and intrigued by the dichotomy of such horror occurring on my divine mountain, but like most things, the case eventually drifted from my head.

That is, until all the images I had conjured while reading Maynard’s book and researching the murders flashed back into my mind as I saw the faces of the two women found dead in 2014.

Wondering if I was inappropriately laying history and Maynard’s story onto the recent news, I asked Joyce if she was also concerned. She wrote back quickly.

Speaking for myself I would have to say this certainly affects my feeling about safety on the mountain.

I feel exactly the same way, and I hope that every woman reading this takes precautions if they choose to hike on Mount Tam. Grab a friend. Don’t hike alone.

Horrible things have happened on our majestic peak. And despite my penchant for adventure, I know there are no apologies in death.

This column first appeared on The Huffington Post