There are some stories so evil we have a hard time believing them. The people behind these acts of violence are twisted in the mind and soul. Broken human beings who leave carnage behind them wherever they go. Unfortunately, a handful of these types of folks are from Northern California. Hope it’s not close to your bedtime because these stories will keep you up tonight.
1. Jim Jones, San Francisco
Jim Jones is shown here protesting in front of the International Hotel on Kearny Street in San Francisco around 1977. He was founder and leader of The Peoples Church and behind the mass murder/suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Close to 300 people, predominantly woman and children, were killed by cyanide poisoning. Jones was born in Indiana and began his church in the 50s there, but moved to San Francisco in the 60s where it began to take off in notoriety.
Born to a poor family, he lived in a shack with no running water. His father was a World War I veteran and his mother Lenetta believed she'd given birth to a messiah. Growing up, Jones was a voracious reader and filled his mind and black heart with the writings of Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler. A devout communist and socialist, as a young adult he asked himself, "How can I demonstrate my Marxism?" The thought was to infiltrate the church. His evil knew no bounds. When Jones returned from traveling to Brazil in December 1963, he shared with his Indiana congregation that world would be in a nuclear war on July 15, 1967. This would begin a new socialist Eden on earth, and this is why their Temple had to move to Northern California for safety. So, they picked up and moved the Temple to Redwood Valley, California, near the city of Ukiah. Cult leader Jim Jones was even appointed in 1975 by then-San Francisco Mayor George Moscone as the chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority. Jim Jones would later convince his congregation in Guyana, more than 900 people, to drink poisonous grape flavored Kool-Aid.
2. Cary Stayner, Merced
Yosemite was the backdrop of some disgustingly heinous murders of four women between February and July of 1999. The sick murderer? Cary Stayner.
Stayner was born in Merced and was under media attention as young as 11 when his younger brother Steven was kidnapped by convicted child molester Kenneth Parnell. Steven escaped seven years later and was reunited with his family. Cary would later say his parents neglected him while grieving the kidnapping of his brother. Steven was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989. Cary went to live with his uncle who was murdered not long after; Cary would later confess that he'd been a victim of his uncle's molestation. Stayner is on death row awaiting his execution.
3. Eric Royce Leonard, Sacramento
Known to not stand out in a crowd, Eric Royce Leonard killed just for the sheer thrill of it. When police came across the execution-style deaths of numerous convenience store and pizza parlor employees, the hunt was on. Eric Royce Leonard is seen here at a court appearance on Feb. 29, 1992. He was convicted of the execution-style killings of six innocent victims in Sacramento. He was sentenced to death.
4. Burton Abbott, Alameda County
On August 29, 1955, teenager Stephanie Bryan went missing. This 14-year-old girl never came home from school. The whole area pitched in to help with the search. Abbott's wife found items belonging to Stephanie in their basement and turned them over to the police. The family had a cabin they vacationed at in the Trinity Mountains about 300 miles away. This is where they discovered the shallow grave that held the body of Stephanie Bryan. Her badly decomposed body had been bludgeoned to death.
Abbott was convicted of her death and sentenced to execution. But Abbott professed his innocence and his defense team worked up until minutes before his execution to get a stay. They didn't believe circumstantial evidence was enough to condemn him to death. Unfortunately for Abbott, the governor called to stay the execution but was two minutes too late. I'm sure Stephanie Bryan's family would disagree.
5. Wayne Adam Ford, Humboldt County
Born in Petaluma, Wayne Ford whet his sinister appetite in Humboldt County, killing women between 1997-1998. A serial killer, for reasons we may never know, he turned himself in to the police department. The officer who had the unfortunate task of patting him down discovered the severed breast of one of his victims in his pocket.
I have to admit, these stories are gruesome and hard to read. It hurts to believe others suffered at the hands of such evil. Their last moments snuffed out by people so dark that death almost seems kind. But, I’m one to see light and hope. Northern California a population of more than 15 million people. Which means that evil people like these will always be a tiny minority.