Yesterday's Crimes: The Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders

John Bly and Scott Bunting, both 17, were out for a Sunday afternoon motorcycle ride through a hilly stretch of road in Santa Rosa on March 6, 1972. They stopped to take a break in a spot overlooking a creek. One of them spotted what he thought was a mannequin in the creek bed below. When the boys realized they were actually looking at the dead body of a naked young woman, they hightailed it to the sheriff.

The murdered woman was Kim Wendy Allen, a 19-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student. Sonoma County Coroner Andrew Johansen determined that Allen died from asphyxiation by being slowly strangled by a cord or rope around her neck. Allen was killed and dumped down the embankment about 24 hours before Bly and Bunting found her. There was also evidence Allen had been raped.

Allen was the first victim discovered in what’s now known as the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders, but she wasn’t the first victim. Yvonne Weber, 13, and Maureen Sterling, 12, were the first girls to disappear. One of the girls’ mothers dropped them off at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena at 7:30 p.m. on February 4, 1972. When the mom returned to pick them up at 11 p.m., the girls were gone.

[jump] The remains of Weber and Sterling weren’t found until Dec. 26, 1972. They weren’t identified for another month.

From 1972 to 1979, the bodies of eight young girls were found dumped in deep embankments and creek beds in rural areas surrounding Santa Rosa. Jeanette Kamahele, 20, another Santa Rosa Junior College student, and Lori Lee Kursa, 13, a habitual runaway, both went missing in 1972. Carolyn Davis, 15, and Terese Walsh, 13, were found in 1973. A Jane Doe was found on July 2, 1979 around 100 yards from where Lori Kursa’s remains were discovered.

Most had been raped, and all had been found nude except in the case of Jeanette Kamahele — where a body was never found at all.

In 1975, with little progress in the investigation, Sonoma County Sheriff Don Striepeke threw a Hail Mary pass and issued a report linking the Santa Rosa murders to the Zodiac Killer. In the Zodiac’s last letter from Jan. 29, 1974, the serial killer/gadfly took credit for 37 murders when only five victims were attributed to him. Striepeke theorized that Zodiac was behind the Santa Rosa murders and several other similar unsolved killings throughout the Western United States.

During a press conference, Striepeke told reporters that they were dealing with a killer who “makes Juan Corona look like a piker.”

Detective Sergeant Erwin (Butch) Carstedt, the investigator that developed this mass murder theory, also believed that the killer was leaving a trail of victims that formed a massive letter Z through California, Washington, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Carstedt also said a symbol from “ancient English witchcraft” was formed from twigs and rocks near one of the body dump sites.

Somewhat coincidentally, Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen did live in a trailer in Santa Rosa close to where the bodies were found when he studied biological sciences at Sonoma State from 1970-74. At the time, Allen had lost his teaching job due to accusations of child molestation, but he was later cleared as a Zodiac suspect through DNA tests of confirmed Zodiac letters. Allen was arrested by the Sonoma County Sheriffs for molesting a young boy on Sept. 27, 1974. He served time at Atascadero State Hospital until August 1977.

Ted Bundy was also a suspect in the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders, but he was ruled out on the basis of detailed credit card records showing he was in Washington state during the time of some of the disappearances. Bundy was responsible for some of the murders that formed Carstedt’s massive Z, adding another bitter irony to this frustrating case.

With attempts to link the Santa Rosa hitchhiker murders to more notorious serial killers turning up fruitless, we are left with the more terrifying reality that there are even more, seemingly random people capable of such extreme violence.

The Santa Rosa hitchhiker murders remain unsolved.

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