Drifter’s Death Thaws Cold Cases
Three decades and two countries apart, the young couples were shot to death in the night as they slept under the stars. Then the killer crept into the shadows of a mystery that only now is beginning to come to light.
"For 30-something years, this guy has been flying under the radar," says Chris Cutshall, whose daughter Lindsay Cutshall died in 2004 alongside her fiancé, Jason Allen, on a secluded beach near Jenner, Calif.
Clues have been hard to come by - until a recent shootout in the remote Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. Among those killed in the gunbattle with sheriff's deputies was Joseph Henry Burgess, a decades-long drifter whose death has rekindled old murder cases and stirred hope among detectives and victims' relatives.
Burgess, 62 when he died, is the top suspect in two murder cases, 32 years apart, with striking similarities: young, unmarried couples camping near a beach in sleeping bags shot at close range with a rifle. The killer in each incident - one in 1972 in British Columbia, the other in 2004 in Northern California - was never caught.
Federal agents are now trying to retrace Burgess's steps during those 30 years and see whether he was responsible for other killings, including that of David Eley, a New Mexico resident who disappeared from the Jemez Mountains in 2007. Burgess had Eley's gun when he was killed.
Delores Allen, Jason's mother, was busily making final arrangements for the wedding of her daughter, Vanessa, in mid-July when she received the phone call that Burgess had been killed. Excited thoughts of her daughter's wedding collided with 5-year-old dread and fresh angst over finding her son's killer, she says.
"We would like for the case to be solved," Delores Allen says. "We'd like for justice to be brought about. We don't want to see this happen to anybody else."
New Mexico police killed Burgess on July 16 after he broke into a cabin in the Jemez Mountains. Burgess shot and killed a sheriff's deputy in the exchange.
Police in the U.S. and Canada say they believe the couples' killer was a man who disapproved of young couples bedding out of wedlock - a profile that fits Burgess, investigators say.
Burgess, who evaded the law for three decades by hiding in mountain passages, was initially low on the suspects list of the 2004 California murders, says Capt. Matt McCaffrey, of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department, who led the 2004 murder investigation. That changed after the New Mexico incident, McCaffrey says.
"Not only was he still alive, he was armed and still committing crimes," McCaffrey says. "That definitely brought him back up as a strong person of interest."
Burgess, a New Jersey native, crossed into Canada in 1968 to avoid the Vietnam War draft, says Dan Creally, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigator who hunted Burgess in the 1970s. He wandered west to Vancouver Island, which at the time was drawing other draft dodgers and hippies, and joined Children of God, a Christian commune, he says.
He often quoted the Bible and introduced himself as "Job Weeks," Creally says. The group soon expelled him: They felt uneasy about the Gevarm .22-caliber rifle Burgess carried in his bag, Creally says.
On June 22, 1972, Ann Barbara Durrant, 20, and Leif Bertil Carlsson, 21, were discovered shot to death while sharing a sleeping bag on a secluded stretch of Radar Beach outside Vancouver, Creally says. The couple had been shot at close range with a .22-caliber rifle. Nearby, investigators recovered a trail of items left hastily behind: photos of Burgess, boots and a Bible signed "Job Weeks." A witness on the beach later said Burgess had voiced his disapproval of the young, unmarried couple sharing a sleeping bag.
Police named Burgess as their primary suspect, and his ID was dispatched to U.S. and Canadian police agencies and to Interpol, the international police organization, Creally says. But Burgess disappeared. "The frustrating part was that we pretty much knew who we were looking for but couldn't find him anywhere, Canada or U.S.," Creally says. "He just vanished."
Three decades later, on Aug. 18, 2004, Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and Jason Allen, 26, were found shot to death in their sleeping bags while camping on a secluded beach outside Jenner, Calif. The couple, who had met at a Christian college in West Virginia and planned to marry the following month, was shot at close range with a .45-caliber rifle, McCaffrey says.
Investigators zeroed in on Burgess after Canadian investigators called and described their 1972 case, McCaffrey says. "The combination there of how the killings took place, the manner in which they happened, as well as the possible motive here, named Mr. Burgess as a potential suspect," he says.
Still, Burgess eluded capture.
DNA taken from Burgess did not match items recovered from the scene of the 2004 California slayings, although it remains unclear whether those items came from the killer. Burgess remains a "person of interest," McCaffrey says.