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Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park.

Evil in Paradise

In a setting of beauty and grandeur, a twisted soul was on the loose, a murderer who revived gnawing fears that National Parks are no longer safe. Evidence reveals the confessed killer’s tortured past?and his bizarre obsession with Bigfoot

Yosemite?National Park is a vast area of mountain paths, alpine wilderness and redwood forests, one of the most beautiful scenic attractions in America. Set aside in 1890 to preserve a portion of the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevadas in California, its breathtaking topography rises as high as 13,000 feet above sea level. Two-hundred miles of winding road and 840 miles of foot trail have lured tourists, campers and skiers for decades.

But, under the mosaic of green conifer pines, domes of granite rock, silvery waterfall and misty mountain sky, a killer lurked. His first victims were a 43-year-old woman and two teenagers. They were missing for more than a month, and when the FBI located their bodies a cry of “serial killer!” shook the peaceful tranquility of the park.

On?Thursday morning, July 22, Dr. Desmond Kidd, Yosemite National Park’s medical director, had just finished a busy 24-hour shift at the park’s clinic?it was, after all, the height of the summer tourist season?and the 36-year-old physician was beat. But not long after he arrived back at the log cabin he shared with other park employees in Yosemite Village, his pager went off. Kidd called in to the park dispatcher and was asked to join a search for a missing person?a search, the dispatcher said, “with law enforcement implications.”

In two and a half years of working in Yosemite, Kidd had helped rescue a number of hikers who had lost their way, but before he headed out of Yosemite Village in a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles toward the nearby hamlet of Foresta, he learned that this search was different. Five months earlier, three female tourists had vanished from their hotel room at the Cedar Lodge, near Yosemite’s entrance, and had been found a month later, brutally murdered. Now, Kidd was told, another young woman had disappeared. Joie Ruth Armstrong, 26, an ebullient, strawberry-blond naturalist at the nearby Yosemite Institute and a casual acquaintance of Kidd’s, had been planning to spend the weekend visiting friends in Sausalito. Armstrong had never shown up, and her friends feared something had happened to her.

Turning left off the main Yosemite highway, Kidd steered his Jeep down an unmarked road into Foresta: 30 cabins, inhabited mostly by park employees, scattered across the bottom of a wooded glen. A forest fire had roared through this area in 1990, and many of the pine trees here were still blackened and skeletal. For the past year, Armstrong had lived with her boyfriend, another Yosemite Institute naturalist, along with a second roommate, in a green cabin set by itself at the edge of a golden meadow. Rangers had cordoned off the area around Armstrong’s secluded house with yellow police tape. Her white pickup truck was still parked in the driveway, packed with luggage for her trip.

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