The chain-link gate outside the dusty gray mobile home of Steven and Cary's parents, Delbert and Kay Stayner, was padlocked last week, and the blinds were shut tight. But relatives and other acquaintances opened a window on three decades of Stayner-family horrors, and when they did, Cary stood in the darkest corner of his family's misery, quiet, withdrawn, forever sketching the world he wanted to see.
Cary, the motel handyman and champion underachiever who was arrested at a nudist colony, said in a jailhouse interview that voices told him to kill Carole and Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso in February and Joie Armstrong just two weeks ago. That he had fantasized about killing women since the age of 7. That they ought to make a movie about him, same as his famous brother. A movie about a would-be artist who became a serial killer, torching two of his victims and decapitating another.
"It crossed my mind that maybe this was Cary's way of competing with his brother's notoriety," says Tony Dossetti, Merced's chief of police, who in 1980 was the cop who told the Stayners their son Steven had been found. It was a discovery that ultimately delivered, to the Stayners' front door, a screenwriter on a research mission. Twelve years later, that writer still holds the tapes that offer a glimpse into the mind of a killer.
The moment that crystallized JP Miller's feelings about Cary Stayner, now 37, came in 1987, when the morose young man of 24 reluctantly showed him his prized pencil drawings. Miller spent countless hours with the Stayners preparing to write I Know My First Name Is Steven, the NBC mini-series based on the Steven Stayner kidnapping case. "I kept at him, and eventually he kind of confided very shyly this dream he had. He wanted to be an artist," Miller says. He saw no second coming of Picasso in the sketches but said to Cary, "'Why don't you send them off to some colleges? Maybe they'll give you a scholarship.' He said, 'No, it'd never happen.' You could see that he'd made up his mind that he was a loser."
Last week, as a growing pile of news clippings gave shape to the profile of a monster, the Stayner family, reeling under the dust-bowl version of the Kennedy curse, was adamant about one thing. "And please quote me on this," said a relative. "The thing with Steven is not at all related to any of this with Cary."
But when Miller dug through his New Jersey office last week for transcripts of his recorded conversations, he found what could be called a voice of dissent. It was Cary's voice, carping about having to share his bedroom upon Steven's return in 1980, and wondering why Steven got such a hero's welcome for leading a younger boy named Timmy White to freedom from the same skeevy abductor.
Miller: For seven years that had been your bedroom by yourself, right?
Cary: Yeah, and all of a sudden, no longer.
Miller: And he didn't have very good manners about it?
Cary: It was just that "I'm Steven Stayner," and his head was all bloated out...just little things, but they kind of irked me... The way I see, just about anybody would have done the same thing in his shoes... We never really got along that well after he came back... All of a sudden Steve was getting all these gifts, getting all this clothing, getting all this attention. I guess I was jealous. I'm sure I was... I was the oldest and all that. Then all of a sudden it's gone. I got put on the back burner, you might say.
But Cary's feelings of resentment and alienation had hardened long before his brother's return. Of his father, he says, "Before Steve disappeared, I always thought my dad was like the Rock of Gibraltar. Never trembled at all. All of a sudden, this one day, Dec. 4, 1972, my little brother is gone, and my dad is crying all of a sudden. Never saw my dad have a tear in his eye in my whole life. All of a sudden, life changed."
Of course it did, says Anna Jones, Cary's aunt and Delbert's sister. Delbert and Kay were after nothing more than a small-town stake in a Central Valley farm community, Delbert punching a clock as a mechanic, Kay grabbing whatever service jobs she could find. It wasn't easy or grand, but it was a life, and in an instant, it was gone.
"It would have helped if they'd gotten some therapy, but you just didn't think of it back then," says Jones. "You told yourself you were strong and you could handle it... Maybe the other kids didn't get as much love as they should have because of all the pain and sorrow."