Search for Yosemite killers focuses on violent ex-cons

No arrests yet in slayings of woman, two teen girls

April 08, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MODESTO, Calif. -- A hunt for the killers of three Yosemite tourists is focusing on a small cadre of prison parolees who have a history of sex offenses, drug arrests and weapons convictions.

A federal grand jury will begin looking this week at potential suspects, who include an aspiring Hells Angel arrested last month in the shooting of a Modesto police officer and the jailed man's half-brother, who has been in and out of prison much of his adult life.

Authorities are also eyeing at least two of their ex-convict acquaintances and one or two women who may have had some role in the slaying of a Eureka woman and two teen-age girls, according to sources close to the case.

Investigators are hopeful that the federal grand jury in Fresno will open up what has so far been a tight-lipped circle of suspects, their friends and associates.

"They are dancing around and around this thing," said one federal official. "Physical evidence is going to drive this case."

Carole Sund, her daughter and a teen-age friend from Argentina vanished outside Yosemite National Park in mid-February and were missing for more than a month, prompting one of the largest searches in state history by the FBI and law officers across central California.

Investigators have been reticent about potential suspects.

But one law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said a key break came with the anonymous tip that led to the body of 15-year-old Juliana Sund on March 25 in the Sierra foothills.

The tip was so specific that officers quickly found the high school cheerleader's remains in a thicket near a scenic overlook at a Tuolumne County reservoir.

The body appeared to have been dumped weeks before, although investigators have not revealed the cause of death. Several potential suspects have given blood or hair samples for testing, according to one official.

Medical examiners have not determined a cause of death for the two burned bodies found a week earlier in the trunk of the trio's charred rental car, which was abandoned along an old logging road off a busy Sierra highway.

The bodies were so consumed by flames that authorities have called in forensic anthropologists to discern how they died. One victim has been identified as Carole Sund, 42. Officials believe the second is Silvina Pelosso, 16, though DNA tests are not complete.

A few personal belongings found scattered around the car are also expected to provide physical clues.

Many details still unclear

Authorities say it remains unclear where the killings occurred or what events took place that led to the abduction of the three, who were last seen Feb. 15 at a restaurant in the tiny town of El Portal near the western entrance to Yosemite.

Among the career criminals who have emerged as a primary focus of the FBI manhunt are a pair of half-brothers.

The elder of the two is Michael Larwick, 42, who was arrested March 16 after a 14-hour standoff with Modesto police. Larwick, who goes by the nickname "Mick," is accused of wounding an officer who tried to stop him for an expired license plate.

At the time, police were puzzled by the shooting, which seemed an overreaction by a veteran criminal. But FBI agents grew more interested in Larwick when they discovered the burned car in Tuolumne County. The car was near Long Barn, a small community where Larwick grew up.

"We had no bead on him before the shootout," said one federal source close to the investigation. "Then two days later we found the car, and, given its location, we took a look at him. That's when his behavior during the arrest, the shootout, raised some suspicion."

Of the 40 FBI agents assigned to the case, the federal source said, the bulk are focusing on Larwick and his half-brother, Eugene Dykes.

Larwick's record includes convictions for attempted manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon and rape in Tuolumne County. He returned to prison in 1989 after arrests for methamphetamine sales, auto theft and possession of a sawed-off shotgun and other weapons. That June, he was arrested with a rocket launcher in his possession after fleeing a police officer.

A longtime aficionado of Harley Davidson motorcycles, Larwick has the look of an outlaw biker, with bushy beard and tattoos. Larwick aspired to join the Hells Angels, one acquaintance said, but never was invited into the group.

Half-brother questioned

Dykes, 32, also has been questioned extensively by FBI agents and remains in custody on a parole violation.

Like his older brother, Dykes has been in and out of prison.

He was convicted of burglary and illegal weapons sales in 1982, at age 15. In 1986, a conviction for unlawful sexual intercourse and false imprisonment landed Dykes a three-year sentence. He got two years in 1991 for selling illegal weapons. Another time, he was arrested when police serving a search warrant found Dykes in bed, a sawed-off shotgun propped up next to him.

In 1992, a parole agent called him a "danger to the community."

FBI agents also have expanded their inquiry to focus on several acquaintances of the brothers who also have prison records, among them a 41-year-old Modesto man convicted of assault to commit rape in 1982.

A fourth potential suspect is a 32-year-old Modesto resident who served time in prison on drug possession charges and is being held at the Stanislaus County Jail on an unrelated parole violation.

Investigators seem to be edging away from two ex-convicts from El Portal questioned in the case.

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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