When two women are viciously gunned down in a Pennsylvania state forest, authorities are left chasing a man who knows the mountains like the back of his hand. The motive behind the slaying is dubbed a hate crime and the lone survivor ensures the world knows it.
- Info on Michaux State Forest
- The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA): Man kills woman hiker, wounds her companion, by Associated Press.
- Article on what constitutes Provocation in murder cases
- The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA): Hunt widens for man who shot campers, by Inquirer Wire Services.
- The Ithaca Journal (Ithaca, NY): Campsite combed after Ithacan shot, by David Goodwin.
- Latrobe Bulletin (Latrobe, PA): Shooting Of Student A Mystery, by Associated Press.
- The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): Memorial service for homicide victim Sunday, by Jeffrey B. Roth.
- The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): Murder investigation continues, by Jeffrey B. Roth.
- Public Opinion (Chambersburg, PA): Police question, release suspect in shooting.
- Public Opinion (Chambersburg, PA): Manhunt resumes, by Bill Callen.
- Public Opinion (Chambersburg, PA): Suspect lives in mountains, by Bill Callen.
- The Sentinel (Carlisle, PA): Mountain man arrested, by Staff and wire reports.
- The Sentinel (Carlisle, PA): Carr stayed for 6 days doing chores on farm, by Dan Miller.
- York Daily Record (York, PA): ‘Mountain man’ left long trail of victims, by Gary Dutery.
- York Daily Record from York, Pennsylvania
- The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA): Farmer says suspect stayed with him, by Deborah Baker.
- The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): Carr lived in mountains for last 18 months, by Jeffrey B. Roth.
- The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): Commonwealth considers death penalty against ‘mountain man’, by Jeffrey B. Roth.
- The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): Preliminary hearing for ‘mountain man’ is June 16.
- The Morning Call: ALLEGED ‘MOUNTAIN MAN KILLER’ WAS ARTIST, NATURE LOVER, by Tom Lowry.
- Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY): Ithaca rallies to aid woman shot on Pa. camping trip, by Dave Howland.
- The Evening Sun (Hanover, PA): ‘Mountain man’s’ hearing delayed, by David Perlis.
- The Sentinel (Carlisle, PA): ‘Mountain man’ facing murder trial, by Carman Anderson.
- The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): Mountain man case: Carr files motion for appointment of expert, by Jeffrey B. Roth.
- The Evening Sun (Hanover, PA): Competency hearing slated for Carr, by David Perlis.
- The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): Carr goes to court today, by Jeffrey B. Roth.
- The Ithaca Journal (Ithaca, NY): Mountain man trial competency hearing delayed, by Staff and Wire Reports.
- The Evening Sun (Hanover, PA): Carr to get second psychiatric review, by David Perlis.
- The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): Carr’s attorney confident fair jury can be chosen in Adams, by Jeffrey B. Roth.
- The Evening Sun (Hanover, PA): Carr’s pre-trial motions unsettled after hearing, by David Perlis.
- The Gettysburg Times (Spicer denies request in ‘mountain man’ case, by Jeffrey B. Roth.
- York Daily Record (York, PA): Murder on South Mountain, by Bryan Denson.
- York Daily Record (York, PA): Carr has strong ties to mountain, by Bryan Denson.
- York Daily Record (York, PA): Homosexual attacks may have led Carr to kill, by Bryan Denson.
- York Daily Record (York, PA): Confrontations highlight pre-trial hearing, by Bryan Denson.
- The Ithaca Journal (Ithaca, NY): Mountain man found guilty in Pa. Trail killing, by Ted Hass.
- Star-Gazette (Elmira, NY): Ithaca woman credits friend for survival, by Associated Press.
- The Evening Sun (Hanover, PA): New trial sought, by David Perlis.
- The Daily News (Lebanon, PA): ‘Mountain Man Case’ Example of Crime Against Gays, by Associated Press.
- Out in the Mountains (Vermont): Killer Convicted in Anti-Lesbian Shooting.
- The Ithaca Journal (Ithaca, NY): Trail killer will return to court, by Chris Swingle.
- The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): ‘Mountain Man’ murder sentencing set, by Jeffrey B. Roth.
- Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY): ‘Mountain Man’ nets life sentence, by Associated Press.
- Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, PA): ‘Mountain Man’ gets life without parole.
- Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Stephen Roy Carr. March 8, 1990.
- Daily News (NY): Anti-gay bias leads to deadly shooting on Appalachian Trail in 1988, by Mara Bovsun.
- Inmate Search for Stephen Roy Carr
Hi park enthusiasts…
I’m your host Delia D’Ambra. The story I have for you today is about a couple who wanted what so many of us want when we go for a hike in the woods…
Quality time and a break from our busy lives.
But in May of 1988, that’s not what the two victims in this story got. Instead, they found themselves face-to-face with true evil lurking in the woods.
The case takes place in Michaux State Forest, which is in Southern Pennsylvania and is home to a stretch of the famous Appalachian Trail.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation & Natural Resources states the forest is over 85,000 mountainous acres of dense woods with beautiful hills, trails, and streams to explore. It’s a great place for hikers who want to go “off the beaten path” and really immerse themselves in nature.
The two victims in this story were aiming to do that…except… it wasn’t just the two of them in the forest for their weekend getaway. There was someone else in those vast woods who’d been stalking them…waiting for the right moment to strike.
The identity of this elusive human predator might have remained a mystery forever, except… one of the women he gunned down in cold blood, survived.
This is Park Predators.
Around nine o’clock at night on Friday, May 13th, 1988, two young men were driving along Shippensburg Road just outside of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania when something on the side of the roadway caught their eye.
The two men saw what looked like a beam of light flashing on the shoulder and as they got closer, they realized… it was a woman with a flashlight. She looked disheveled and most alarming of all, she was covered in blood.
The men immediately pulled over and let her in their car. Now that they were able to see her up close, it became obvious to the good Samaritans that the helpless woman was bleeding from multiple wounds to her face and neck. The young men weren’t sure what to do other than get her to the nearest police station.
According to an article by Bryan Denson for the York Daily Record, the men brought the woman to Shippensburg Police Department and emergency personnel there tried to treat her wounds. They realized pretty quickly though that they were going to need to send her to a hospital. Even though she was conscious and talking, she had multiple gunshot wounds and had lost a lot of blood.
Police knew the woman needed a hospital much more than she needed to give a full statement, but she insisted before even giving the police her name that they stop focusing on her and go out into the state forest to help another woman whom she’d been camping with.
Even though this woman talking with police was clearly terrified and exhausted – not to mention bleeding from her head and face – she was adamant police needed to move quickly. She was able to give them explicit directions to a campsite she said was sharing with her friend as well as a description of the woman she said officers would find at their tent.
Just after 11:30 pm, local police as well as Pennsylvania State Troopers followed the woman’s detailed instructions from where she’d been picked up at the roadway about four miles back into the forest. After passing through some thick woods and emerging near a stream just 100-yards off Rocky Knob Trail, authorities saw a campsite clearing exactly as the woman had described.
The site was eerily dark and quiet though and they didn’t hear anyone moving or crying for help.
As officers got closer, they noticed a blue sleeping bag on the ground at the site…and not far away from that a woman’s lifeless, bloodied body on the ground near the tree line. Unfortunately, no life saving measures helped her…it was clear from the moment police looked at her that she was dead. She’s suffered multiple gunshot wounds and had no pulse.
Realizing they more than likely were dealing with a homicide scene; officers didn’t move the body. They left everything undisturbed and started searching for clues.
According to reporting by The Sentinel, about 80 feet away from the campsite in some brush officers found and seized a blue knit cap, a pair of sunglasses, 25 rounds of live ammo, eight Remington 22-caliber spent shell casings for a rifle, two cigarette lighters and a black handled folding knife.
Other than the obvious firearm evidence, there was really no other physical evidence authorities had to go that explained what exactly had happened. Had the woman from the roadway who was now at the hospital done this? Was there another person out in the forest somewhere who’d shot these women? No one knew and authorities only hope of getting some of their questions answered was the survivor.
Without her, police knew they would be facing an uphill battle. They needed her to pull through.
Despite a total of four gunshot wounds to the face, neck, head, and arm, miraculously, the woman from the roadway did pull through.
The very next day—May 14th—she was able to speak with detectives and explain that she was 31-year-old Claudia Brenner. Her girlfriend, 29-year-old Rebecca Wight was the woman she’d begged investigators to go into the woods and help. Sadly, police had to break the bad news to Claudia that Rebecca had not survived. Some source material states that a close friend of Claudia’s told her Rebecca had died…so I’m not sure which is true but either way, Claudia found out within a matter of hours of the attack that Rebecca had not made it.
Heartbroken, Claudia explained that she and Rebecca were dating and had reunited days earlier after being long-distance for some time. They’d decided that the best way to rekindle their romance was to go on a hiking trip, since they were both avid backpackers and loved being outdoors.
According to The York Daily Record, Claudia was from Ithaca, New York and Rebecca was from Blacksburg, Virginia. Michaux State Forest was a natural halfway point for them to meet up and spend some time together, just the two of them.
Claudia and Rebecca were both graduate students at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and during the six months before this Claudia had been away on a fellowship in Israel. After she’d returned to New York, the couple was excited to make plans to relax and spend time together before heading back to school for their final exams.
They chose Michaux State Forest because it wasn’t as heavily trafficked as other recreation spaces in the region, and they could get more privacy.
Claudia told investigators that on Thursday, May 12th, the women had parked Rebecca’s vehicle in near a ranger station in a neighboring forest called Pine Grove Furnace State Park. They’d left the truck near a trailhead ironically named, Dead Woman’s Hollow.
Together the women rode in Claudia’s car toward a pull off for the Appalachian Trail.
After the women parked, Claudia said they’d grabbed their gear and headed to their first camp site at Birch Run Shelter. That location was a designated camping area that had a fire pit, a couple of lean-to shelters, and an outhouse. For those of you who don’t know what lean-to’s are…they’re basically open-air log or wooden structures that are literally just meant to cover your and your stuff. They have slanted roofs so water can run off of them. All of Thursday night they couple talked, laughed and enjoyed finally being reunited again.
Early the next morning–Friday May 13th—Claudia said Rebecca had woken up and gone to use the outhouse. She’d walked out partially clothed…which wasn’t a big deal because the two of them were in the middle of the woods, alone, far from any other people.
Or at least that’s what they thought.
But… it wasn’t just the two of them. According to BBC Outlook’s reporting, Claudia told police that Rebecca had run into a strange man lounging in one of the shelter’s lean-to’s right next to them.
To the women, this guy had materialized out of nowhere and they knew he’d DEFINITELY not been there the night before. The man asked Rebecca if she had any cigarettes, but she said she didn’t and hurried back to meet Claudia in their tent.
Because of this uncomfortable encounter, the women decided it would be best to pack up as fast as they could and move on. The guy had given them the creeps…but more than that, the entire point of Claudia and Rebecca being all the way out in the woods was for them to be alone…just the two of them. So, moving on served both of those purposes.
They decided to head towards Rocky Knob Trail Head which according to The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website, was about one and a half miles from Birch Run Shelter.
Rocky Knob Trail was a loop trail that had several lookouts onto beautiful vistas with streams running through it and more importantly, as far as they could tell, it was secluded.
Claudia told investigators that they didn’t think about the strange man from Birch Run Shelter after that…until they bumped into him AGAIN later that morning.
She said during this second encounter, she and Rebecca were walking slowly, reading their map looking for where they wanted to set up their next camp. Just like the first time, the man had seemingly come out of nowhere and walked up to them.
Claudia said this time though the guy had a rifle casually thrown across his shoulders. He asked them if they were lost, to which Claudia said she and Rebecca replied that they weren’t. After that, she said they kept walking and the man passed by them headed in the opposite direction.
As they passed each other, Claudia said she heard the man say under his breath, quote “see you later” end quote.
The women took a turn towards their campsite destination and tried not to think about the stranger anymore after that. But something about bumping into him twice in a matter of just a few hours unnerved them.
Claudia recalled that her and Rebecca had consciously looked over their shoulders after that to ensure the man wasn’t following them. Eventually, they convinced themselves they were just being paranoid and carried on with their hike.
According to Bryan Denson’s reporting, around 4:00 pm on Friday is when Claudia said she and Rebecca set up their campsite just off Rocky Knob Trail. They cooled off in the water, boiled tea, and laid out on a blanket and enjoyed each other’s company until about five o’clock. Shortly after that they’d started to become intimate but were interrupted by a loud bang.
The ear-slitting sound had rang out from behind the tree line where neither woman could see anything.
Claudia said immediately after hearing the first bang, she’d felt a searing pain pierce her right arm and seen a bloom of bright red blood spread across her skin. After that, several louder bangs rang out.
Everything seemed to turn sideways…and Claudia said that’s when she finally realized what was happening
She and Rebecca were being shot at…repeatedly.
Just to clarify, depending on the source material you read for this story…several publications peg the time of the shooting incident to be anywhere from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, but based on Claudia’s own account of events published by Carman Anderson for The Sentinel, it seems like the most accurate timeframe for the attack was sometime after 5:00 pm, so that’s what I’ll go with.
Also, if you do the math…Claudia was picked up by the good Samaritans at nine o’clock after she said she walked close to 4 miles bleeding…so, I have to think the attack happened at least a few hours before she was found on the roadway. Her wandering the woods and eventually finding the roadway probably took her longer than the average person, simply because she was in such bad shape.
Either way, according to what Claudia told police, she’d been shot four times, the first shot had hit her in her right arm, then she’d been struck three more times in the face, head, and neck.
Rebecca, who’d somehow not been hit up at the start of the attack had told Claudia to get down and start moving towards tree cover. Claudia said that as she and Rebecca were turning to run to safety, Rebecca was hit three times—once in the head, once in the neck and once in the back.
SOMEHOW, despite both of them being shot multiple times, Claudia said they eventually made it behind a big tree and were conscious and alert enough to talk about what to do next. Within a matter of seconds though, Claudia said it became apparent that Rebecca was losing blood at an alarming rate, and she told Claudia they needed to stop it before she passed out.
Claudia told police that in that moment she’d not thought twice about being shot again and re-emerged into the open space to rush to their packs and grab items she could use to tie around herself and Rebecca’s wounds. She said she even thought to grab shoes, so they could run for it when they had the chance.
According to Bryan Denson’s reporting, despite Claudia’s best efforts to stop the Rebecca’s bleeding, the 29-year-old deteriorated quickly. She began to complain that she could no longer see, and that everything was going dark. Claudia said she’d tried desperately to get Rebecca onto her feet several times but within a matter of minutes she’d become unresponsive and stopped breathing.
Claudia said she’d attempted mouth to mouth resuscitation, but she’d been bleeding from her own facial wound so much that her CPR attempts were useless.
Claudia said as she’d watched her own blood drip onto Rebecca’s face, she realized she was probably going to bleed out too if she didn’t get help. She said she was forced to make the tough decision to leave Rebecca at the campsite and try and make her way to the nearest road.
The problem was…Claudia said she wasn’t sure how far she was from anything but woods and trees. She also had no idea if whoever had shot them was STILL out there and would follow her to finisher her off.
She pushed those fear aside though and gathered some warm clothing, shoes, a map, and a flashlight, and painstakingly began walking out of the woods in search of help.
After walking for almost four miles through hills and uncleared trails Claudia said she’d finally reached the road where the young men had picked her up.
BBC Outlook reported that at one point before flagging down the good Samaritans, Claudia had stumbled across an unpaved state forest road and a vehicle had passed right her by and didn’t stop.
After that, she said she’d thought about breaking into one of a few small homes that she’d seen tucked along the woods to try and use a phone… but she said she’d been too frightened, thinking that maybe her shooter would be inside one of those residences.
Thanks to Claudia’s articulate and detailed statements, police were in a much better place to be able to launch a homicide and attempted homicide investigation. They’d already bagged everything they found at the women’s campsite and sent it off to the state police crime lab for testing. Once the results came in they’d been even closer to catching whoever had done this.
Shortly after Claudia’s first interview with detectives, news broke about what had happened and police notified both women’s families and friends.
According to the Latrobe Bulletin and The Ithaca Journal, the Adams County deputy coroner performed Rebecca’s autopsy just 10 hours after the attack and determined that she’d died from two gunshot wounds. The one to her back and the one to her head had been the fatal injuries that caused her to bleed out.
By the looks of it, police felt everything about the crime scene and Claudia’s story pointed to a random shooter roaming the woods…which didn’t make sense because, who would want to just outright murder two women in the forest for no reason?
The answer to that question was unclear, but authorities did begin to suspect that whoever had attacked the women was skilled enough with a firearm and familiar enough with the forest to keep themselves hidden.
A few days after the crime on May 17th, a trooper with the state police told Ithaca Journal reporter David Goodwin quote— “I’m not sure that they could have even been aware that he was there. The woods are so thick in there and they would have never been able to spot him.” – end quote.
I noticed that the trooper used the pronoun, ‘he’ in that quote to refer to the shooter…so I think it’s safe to assume that early on in the investigation investigators firmly believed a man had been the person who’d shot Claudia and Rebecca…even though they had no way of proving that. All they had was Claudia’s story about the creepy guy they’d run into twice.
As an extra precaution, authorities transported Claudia—who was still recovering—to a different hospital than the one she’d initially been treated at. News reports that were published on May 14th— the day after the crime— said that she was originally sent to Hershey Medical Center but Claudia’s family had gotten upset that her location was out there for the world to know and especially for her shooter to know. So, police decided that it was best for Claudia to move her to an unnamed facility.
A state police investigator told the Ithaca Journal quote— “You know with all these movies coming out and people going into hospitals and killing witnesses, we are more concerned about her safety.”—end quote.
The next thing police needed to focus on was identifying the shooter or at least coming up with a description they could push out to the public.
Unfortunately, in the chaos of the shooting, Claudia had been unable to get a clear view of Rebecca’s killer because the woods had been too dense. However, she did express that she felt SURE she knew who it was.
She told police that in her gut she thought it was the same strange man that she and Rebecca had encountered twice on Friday, before they’d been attacked.
She told detectives that something about the gaunt young man they’d seen at the Birch Run Shelter and on the trail had struck her as… ‘off’. She said the way the guy had looked at them, the fact that they’d seen him carrying a long gun, and the way he’d been undetectable in the woods really freaked them out.
Pennsylvania State police brought in an expert forensic artist to create a composite sketch of the man based on Claudia’s description of him.
According to Jeffrey Roth’s reporting for The Gettysburg Times, she said the guy was a thin white man, around 6 feet tall, with reddish hair who was wearing gray sweatpants that had a maroon stripe down the pant leg. She said he looked unbathed and kind of scrubby.
The sketch went out to media outlets just a few hours after it was drawn up and that’s when public hysteria hit a fever pitch.
Everyone who lived locally was terrified that a vicious shooter was still on the loose. Police felt tremendous pressure to find some traction in their investigation and get a suspect into custody fast.
Crime stoppers offered up a $1,000 reward for information, hoping that SOMEONE would come forward with a tip that would point homicide investigators in the right direction, but nothing surfaced.
Authorities spent all day Wednesday, May 18th back out at the crime scene looking around for clues, but didn’t find anything. They felt certain that the person they were looking for had been to Rocky Knob Trail before and was definitely familiar with the state forest in general. The spot where the attack happened was several hundred feet off a designated trail. It was secluded. Most people wouldn’t even know it was there.
A week after the shooting, friends and family of Rebecca Wight held her memorial service in Virginia. It’s unclear from the source material if Claudia was physically well enough to attend, but if she wasn’t, that’s super sad. I can’t imagine losing someone so close to you and NOT being able to go to their funeral to say your final goodbyes.
On May 23rd—10 days after the attack and shortly after the composite sketch was released—investigators caught a huge break. The authorities announced that they had a suspect.
According to Bill Callen’s reporting for The Public Opinion ever since police had released the composite sketch, they’d been fielding hundreds of calls from the public. Many of the tips kept referring to a man from the area who looked a lot like the composite sketch. The callers all said the guy in the picture often went by the name “mountain man” —but his real name was Stephen Roy Carr.
Stephen was 28 years old and lived in the mountains just outside of Shippensburg. People who knew him told investigators that he lived in caves, lean-to’s, and even literal holes in the ground… basically wherever he could find shelter. Some source materials say Stephen was 29…but most articles cite him as being 28.
Residents said Stephen was a loner who called the woods of Michaux State Forest his home. He liked to live off the grid and would reportedly only come into town to collect cans that he turned in for cash to buy meal supplies and cigarettes. Witnesses said he almost always carried a long rifle with him and used it to shoot and kill small game.
One of the last known locations someone said they’d seen him was at a migrant camp about four and a half miles away from the crime scene near the town of Cleversburg. Witnesses said they believed Stephen had been living in a rundown camper.
By nightfall on May 23rd, Pennsylvania State Police sent 50 troopers and scent tracking dogs to that area and found the camper. The dogs used items from inside the RV to follow Stephen’s scent through the woods. Officers in a helicopter flying overhead just a few miles from where the camper was abandoned radioed in that they’d spotted a man matching Stephen’s description take off into the woods.
Thick tree cover had obscured him from aerial view, but teams on the group continued to pursue him.
Unfortunately, they lost his scent trail and the manhunt had to come to an end.
The York Daily Record reported that one of the main reasons the dogs had been unable to follow Stephen’s trail deep into the woods was because Stephen himself, at least according to witnesses, had an extremely pungent smell. He was someone who rarely bathed and constantly wreaked of body odor and the outdoors.
Even with strong odors from his belongings to go off of, the further and further the tracking dogs had gone into the forest, the less and less they’d been able to differentiate between Stephen’s stench and the surrounding environment.
Another factor that didn’t help was that while search teams had been chasing Stephen, weather conditions in the forest had gotten bad. Heavy rains and winds swept through overnight and that also presented a lot of challenges to the scent dogs trying to track Stephen.
The next day authorities released a statement recapping their efforts and said quote — “We just want to talk to Mr. Carr. He is considered a suspect and may be armed and dangerous. We know that he has no fixed place of abode and that he does wander the mountain area.” – end quote.
Stephen continued to evade law enforcement at every turn because of just how well he knew the area.
Police surmised that Stephen used backwoods trails that were not on designated maps to stay off their radar. In press releases they said Stephen was like a wild animal in the forest. He had the ability to blend in with his surroundings and disappear through the dense tree line with ease.
Thankfully, his luck ran out though after police were able to successfully locate him at a dairy farm in West Pennsboro Township—several miles away from where his dilapidated camper had been found.
What’s interesting about this part of the story is that by the time police caught up to him…they discovered Stephen was wanted in ANOTHER state for ANOTHER brutal crime…
And probably even more alarming…the people at the farm he was reported to be in West Pennsboro were completely unaware they were housing a violent fugitive.
According to Dan Miller’s reporting for The Sentinel, while authorities had been doggedly pursuing Stephen through the dense forest…he’d found a small metal tub somewhere in the woods and used it to float down the Conodoguinet Creek to make his escape.
Eventually the creek had narrowed, and Stephen found himself running ashore on a private farm.
A husband and wife named Chester and Esther Weaver owned that farm and came across Stephen just as he was getting out of his makeshift boat. Stephen told the couple that his name was ‘Mike Smith’ and he had not eaten in days.
The Weavers, a devout Mennonite family, took Stephen in no questions asked. They allowed him to sleep in their cellar and do chores around their farm. Chester told The Sentinel that at first, he’d been kind of suspicious of Stephen—mostly because he smelled and was disheveled—but Chester said he tried to keep an open mind. He told the newspaper quote—“He’s a human being too, you know. I talked to him about God and his responsibility to God.”—end quote.
At one point Chester said he’d felt so bad for Stephen that he’d gone into town to buy new shoes for him and spent $54.
On the morning of May 24th though, everything changed. Chester and one of his sons had left their farm to transport some livestock and on their way into town were stopped by a Pennsylvania State Police roadblock. The troopers at the barricade asked Chester if anyone matching Stephen’s description was living on his farm… to which Chester replied, ‘yes’…but said the man he knew called himself ‘Mike Smith.’
Authorities explained that they’d set up the roadblock near the farm after one of the Weaver’s neighbors had called in to report that they thought a guy who looked like Stephen Carr was working on the dairy farm.
Police convinced Chester that the man he was harboring was lying to him and in fact WAS NOT named Mike Smith—but instead was a violent fugitive named Stephen Carr.
Shortly after stopping at the roadblock, Chester allowed troopers to hide out in one of his milkhouses. One of the farmer’s sons brought Stephen to the building and asked him to get out and open a gate…when Stephen did, the troopers that were hiding jumped out and seized Stephen.
Chester told news reporters afterwards that he had NO idea Stephen was a fugitive. He said he and his wife never listened to the radio or watched television, so, they’d been completely unaware Stephen was wanted for Rebecca Wight’s murder.
He did however mention that during Stephen’s brief stay at his farm, Stephen had told Esther he’d come to Pennsylvania from Florida and while he’d been down there had killed three people, he said killed his best friend.
From my research, it doesn’t appear that Stephen’s claim about being a murderer was true. At least, I can’t find any source material that explicitly states he was arrested or served time for a triple murder in Florida. The York Record reported that he did live in Florida from 1979 until the summer of 1986, but no sources list him as being a suspect in a homicide investigation down there.
What Stephen did have was a long rap sheet in Florida for committing dozens of burglaries and robberies in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. He’d spent four years in prison for one particularly brutal robbery in which he’d stabbed an elderly woman. Thankfully that victim had survived.
According to The York Daily Record, when Pennsylvania police arrested Stephen, they’d discovered he had an outstanding warrant from 1987 in Florida.
The crime that warrant was issued for though was minor compared to what he was facing in Pennsylvania. On May 25th, 1988, Stephen was officially charged with first-degree murder, third degree murder, attempted murder, and two counts of aggravated assault for the death of Rebecca Wight and shooting of Claudia Brenner.
At the time, the charge of first-degree murder meant that Stephen could face the death penalty.
The Sentinel reported that after his arrest Stephen led homicide detectives back to the crime scene and showed them where he’d stashed the murder weapon – a .22 caliber Winchester rifle. The group found the gun wrapped in plastic and half buried under some leaves.
By that point, investigators had also been able to tie the blue cap, cigarette lighters, folding knife and rifle ammunition found at the crime scene to Stephen.
To add to the mountain of evidence piling up against Stephen was the fact the dilapidated camper authorities had searched near the migrant camp witnesses reported Stephen had been living in came back as registered to one of Stephen’s uncles who lived not far from Shippensburg.
There was also damning testimony from a teenage boy and his mom from Shippensburg who said they’d run into Stephen the day after the shooting.
These witnesses were 17-year-old John Golden and his mother Alice. John told police that he and Stephen were loose acquaintances and on May 14th Stephen had visited him at his mom’s house and said quote – “I did something wrong”—end quote.
Alice told police that she normally knew Stephen to carry a .22 caliber rifle but on the day he’d arrived to visit with her son, he didn’t have it on him. When she’d asked him where it was, Stephen had replied that someone had stolen it from him the day prior.
Around this time, Claudia had made a full recovery and was released from the hospital. She returned home to Ithaca, New York and was expected to testify against Stephen.
The one question that no one could answer was WHY Stephan had shot at Claudia and Rebecca. To authorities, that piece of the puzzle was still unclear. There appeared to be no personal motive whatsoever because prior to following them in the woods the day of the shooting Stephen had never met Claudia and Rebecca.
To make things even more confusing, Stephen’s statements to police after his arrest wavered a lot. At first, he seemed cooperative and led those investigators to the murder weapon…but then, according to Carmen Anderson’s reporting, he did a complete 180 and denied any involvement in the attack.
When authorities revealed to him that Claudia had survived the shooting Stephen reportedly began to cry and said quote– “If I tell you the truth, you’ll put me away for a long time. I should have run” –end quote. Shortly after saying that, he told detectives that the shooting was an accident and claimed he’d been shooting at a deer and hit the women instead.
Of course, no one believed that version of Stephen’s story. Mostly because both of his victims had been shot a total of EIGHT TIMES. To police, that many shots just DID NOT add up with an accidental hunting incident scenario.
It’s not clear from the research material out there, but I have to think that maybe one of the reasons Stephen went back and forth so much was because on May 26th, 1988, the Adams County District Attorney announced that he was going to seek the death penalty against Stephen. That more than likely ramped up Stephen’s fear of not just going to prison for the rest of his life…but his own life being at stake.
Because Stephen had no money, means or family to help pay for lawyers, he was represented at his first court hearing in June of 1988 by a public defender named Michael George.
Michael filed several motions to get preliminary hearings continued. He said he wanted to make sure that his client was in fact the man Claudia Brenner reported seeing. So, to be fair to the defense, the government allowed Stephen to be put into a police lineup and Claudia was asked to pick out who she believed had attacked her and Rebecca.
The defense also requested that Claudia hear Stephen speak so that she could identify his voice and verify he was the man she and Rebecca had bumped into twice on Friday May 13th.
Claudia went through with the request and ultimately Stephen’s case continued through the criminal justice system.
But more delays came in July and August of 1988 when a series of psychiatric evaluations were done on Stephen to determine if he was competent enough to stand trial. Psychiatrists found that he was sane enough to understand the charges against him. They also noted that during their examinations they’d learned that Stephen had a deep-seated hatred for homosexuals.
To add to the confusion of his conflicting statements to law enforcement, during a pre-trial hearing in late July 1988, Stephen entered a mute plea. According to Legal Dictionary, to stand mute means a defendant refuses to plead either guilty or not guilty.
The presiding judge told the Ithaca Journal quote– “This is a fairly bold and outdated custom. Standing mute was a procedure by which a person challenged the legality of being arrested, charged and standing trial” –end quote.
By default, the court had to enter a plea of not guilty for Stephen just to keep the proceedings moving along.
During subsequent preliminary hearings, Stephen’s attorney Michael George, openly told the media that his client had been provoked after seeing two women teasing one another and having sexual intercourse.
Michael told the Gettysburg Times quote—“We are prepared to present evidence that what happened on the afternoon of May 13th, 1988 affected Stephen’s ability to reason and pushed him over the edge and provoked him in effect to doing the act which he is alleged of doing.”—end quote
This defense strategy is what’s called, a provocation defense. Basically, what Michael was saying was that because Stephen had witnessed two lesbians being intimate, some sort of prior trauma he’d experienced had been triggered by that and he’d flown into a blind rage and become homicidal.
The York Record reported that Stephen had a history of being roughed up by gay men inside the Florida prisons he’d been incarcerated at during the late 70’s. One of Stephen’s friends, a man named James Clever told the newspaper that Stephen despised homosexuality and on one occasion while watching the Oprah Winfrey show together in which she’d been interviewing a gay man, Stephen had said quote—“I think somebody ought to kill the whole bunch of ‘em”—end quote.
The Commonwealth v. Carr case law that’s publicly available states that the defense’s provocation argument doesn’t constitute true grounds for a legitimate legal argument but there are cases where provocation is weighed heavily when it comes some charges.
The main situations where this kind of defense is used is in cases that deal with adultery, mutual combat, and assault. These are instances where the court has said in prior case law it’s almost understandable to fly into blind rage and kill someone.
However, when it came to Stephen’s case, it wasn’t any of those above situations, at least not in the judge’s eyes.
Michael George’s argument that Stephen’s previous experiences in prison with homosexual men had somehow prompted him into shooting Rebecca and Claudia was NOT a convincing one and honestly it caused a lot of emotional damage to the one surviving victim, Claudia.
She was still on the road to recovery and had to learn that a defense attorney was trying to claim she and her girlfriend were gunned down like they were less than human because of who they chose to love. I can only imagine the mental trauma that caused her.
The judge denied Stephen’s attorney’s provocation theory had any merit. He ordered that when the case went to trial no mention of Stephen’s homophobia OR the victim’s sexual orientation would be allowed.
The Evening Sun reported that jury selection for Stephen’s trial got underway on October 25th with opening arguments expected to start place on Halloween Day.
But the case never got that far.
According to Ted Hass’ reporting for the Ithaca Journal, three days after potential jurors were brought in to go through selection Stephen voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial. That put Stephen’s fate in the judge’s hands and after less than an hour the judge came back with his verdict and declared Stephen guilty on all charges.
Prior to the ruling, the Adams County DA and Stephen’s defense attorney had agreed that in exchange for Stephen waiving his right to a jury trial, the state would drop the death penalty and throw out the two charges for aggravated assault and one charge of attempted murder. Stephen was only going to be convicted and sentenced for first-degree murder and third-degree murder.
The maximum penalty he could get was life in prison without parole.
Despite getting that good deal…Stephen’s attorney filed post-conviction appeals and said that if he got a higher court to overturn the trial court’s decision, he would agree to let the government bring the attempted murder and assault charges back onto the table.
A month later, in November 1988, Stephen’s lawyer announced he planned to get Stephen a new trial but within a few months, all of those efforts failed.
On May 17th, 1989, close to the one-year anniversary of the crime, Stephen was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole
According to the Associated Press, Claudia read a two page statement at his sentence ing which read in part quote –“I wish that the inconceivable pain and horror I experienced were fears with no basis in reality, that the sound of shots – that shattering reality in my mind – was a bad dream from which I could awaken… every time I feel my cheek, my teeth, my neck, my heart, I know I have been permanently harmed… I’m thankful that the court system substantiates the truth of the completely unprovoked and pointless murder” –end quote.
Claudia went on to tell BBC Outlook that she credits her survival to Rebecca. She said that when she was lost in the chaos of the shooting, Rebecca had been the one who told her to take cover and it was Rebecca who’d had the presence of mind to realize that in order for either of them to live, they needed stop their wounds from bleeding and get help. Claudia whole heartedly believes she wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for Rebecca.
She told the Start Gazette quote—“I think the motivation of believing if I only got help for her she might live propelled me just as much as realizing I needed help for my own injuries. I really feel that Rebecca saved my life before she died.” —end quote.
In 1995 Claudia wrote a book about the attack and the aftermath titled “Eight Bullets: One Woman’s Story of Surviving Anti-Gay Violence”. In it she talked about how the impact of what she’d been through had made her more willing to share her story. She said she hoped it would inspire many more people in the LGBTQ community to speak out against the violence they’d endured because of their sexual orientation. She went on to earn her degree and become an architect as well as become very involved in anti-gay violence activism.
Stephen Roy Carr is still alive today. He’s in his early 60’s and is a life-long inmate at a state prison in Pennsylvania.
He will never see freedom again and the woods he once called home and lived in as ‘the mountain man’ don’t miss him.
He will never hear the rustling sound of wind in the trees or the gentle splash of a babbling creek again, and that’s exactly what the families of the victims—and everyone impacted by his crimes—want.
Park Predators is an audiochuck original show.
So, what do you think chuck, do you approve? *howl*