News from one week ago...
I never before have seen this article. I'm not sure how I missed it, but I thought I would include it anyway. This article was released last week Friday, September 3, 2004:
Last days of murder victims filled with anticipation...
Jason Allen of Zeeland, fiancee were planning for upcoming wedding.
By DEREK J. MOORE
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Jason Allen and Lindsay Cutshall were winding down their California adventure with another ride on the American River in an inflatable raft filled with screaming kids.
The young rafting guides, who were looking forward to going to Cutshall's home in Fresno, Ohio, and getting married, were weary by the time they met up with other guides for a mandatory safety debriefing at the Rock-N-Water Christian youth camp in Coloma, Calif.
It was Friday the 13th, an ominous day on the calendar. It would be the last time any of the camp's staff would see Cutshall, 22, and Allen, 26, of Zeeland, alive.
A memorial service for the two is scheduled for Saturday in Coshocton, Ohio.
"We were all really wiped out," said Craig Lomax, 37, the camp's director. "It was the end of summer, the end of a hot week being physical."
Nearly three weeks since that last rafting trip, Sonoma County sheriff's investigators still are trying to recreate Cutshall and Allen's final days, searching for anything that might help them catch whomever killed them.
Their bodies were found, shot to death and zipped in separate sleeping bags on a Jenner beach, five days after the raft trip.
Investigators haven't revealed whether they know where the couple was or what they did before their deaths, other than a few isolated details. But through interviews with the camp's director, a gas station clerk and residents of a small town near the murder site, a more complete picture can be drawn.
After the debriefing, the camp's staff noticed Cutshall and Allen sitting on the back of his beat-up Ford Tempo, the one he drove to California from Ohio at the start of summer.
They were planning some sort of getaway, saying they were going to visit friends, which sounded strange to some as neither really knew anybody outside the confines of the camp.
Cutshall filled a small cooler with ice and packed leftover food from the camp's refrigerator. Lomax said they left sometime between 6 and 8 p.m.
Where they stayed that night remains a mystery.
"We attempted to talk to kids who were on their boats that Friday thinking perhaps they might have mentioned where they were headed," Lomax said. "Frankly, I don't know that they (Cutshall and Allen) knew until they got back (from rafting) and talked about it."
Normally, the couple would have invited friends to go with them. But this was to be Cutshall's final weekend in California before going home ahead of her fiance and planning their Sept. 11 wedding.
"They could be on their own," Lomax said, "but they enjoyed being on staff and being a part of that. They were a couple who didn't isolate themselves."
They had started working at the camp in early June after an intense two-week application process. The trainers spoke glowingly of their rafting skills, but Lomax said he was looking for something more, telling his staff they had the luxury of hiring "from the heart."
"These guys have the heart," Lomax said the trainers reported back to him.
He said the couple went on to exemplify the camp's stated mission of "infecting youth with the adventure and joy of God's living word."
A few days after their deaths were discovered, Lomax said he received a letter from a former camper and opened it with permission from the family. It was from a girl, thanking Cutshall for sending pictures and inspiring her.
"The first paragraph made me bawl," Lomax said.
He is convinced Cutshall and Allen didn't stay in a hotel room after leaving the camp that Friday and heading south. He said the couple, who met in Bible college and had taken a vow of celibacy before marriage, wouldn't have wanted to give even the appearance of impropriety.
He said the camp's staff literally laughed out loud after hearing conflicting reports that the couple may have tried to rent a motel room in Jenner, Calif.
"All the stuff about them being moral and careful about their chastity is totally right on," he said. "That's not an exaggeration. That's real stuff."
He also doubts they could have made it all the way to San Francisco that night, given their long day on the river. A credit card receipt revealed they had made it to the city by Saturday.
Cutshall spent about $9 at the California Gourmet Market on Fisherman's Wharf to buy miniature bottles of Tabasco sauce, which friends think might have been intended as a gift for her father, pastor of a church in Ohio's Amish country.
Photos that were developed from a camera found with the slain couple revealed they stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge.
Dustin Gooler, a cashier at River Gas in the Northern California town of Guerneville, said he remembers Allen coming into the store later that afternoon.
"I remember his sideburns," Gooler said. "I have sideburns. It's a subconscious thing."
Gooler can't recall what Allen bought or whether there was anyone besides his fiancee with him. But he said Allen was "rude" and "snooty," attributes that seem to go against the portrait painted by others. ---
Note: I have a VERY hard time believing that this gas station cashier is speaking of Jason. He may very easily be mistaken. I have heard from several sources that the Jenner area has a great population of "hippie-ish" types of people... which would indicate to me that sideburns might be a common feature among men in that area. I just cannot imagine Jason being rude and snooty to anyone. He has always been very kind, light-hearted, and easy-going.
--- Gooler said investigators confiscated the store's surveillance tapes. Other tapes have been reviewed as well, but authorities so far have declined to say what they found on them.
Cutshall and Allen arrived in Jenner to find the small coastal town in a celebratory mood.
That Friday -- the same night the couple left Coloma -- Jenner residents gathered at a community club for an annual barbecue and pot-luck dinner. Dozens turned out for the event.
"It was a real celebration, and a particularly nice one," said Elinor Twohy, who has lived in Jenner for four decades.
Twohy's home, which overlooks the mouth of the Russian River, is the farthest north in town, and the closest to Fish Head Beach where the couple's bodies were discovered.
But she can't see the beach from her home and doesn't remember hearing gunshots. While calling violent crimes "few and far between," she admitted to being unnerved one night last week by the sight of a sheriff's helicopter hovering outside her window.
Helicopter crews are using thermal imaging and night vision technology to scan the coastline and adjoining areas for possible hideouts and encampments in case someone might be lurking there.
Lomax and two other camp staffers never thought to look in Jenner after starting to search for the couple that Monday, the day after they failed to return for a staff meeting.
They first searched in the Auburn area of the Sierra Nevada foothills where the couple liked to camp, but on Wednesday, went to San Francisco after Cutshall's family obtained the receipt showing she had been on the wharf.
After a frustrating day handing out fliers, Lomax said they got a call around midnight alerting them that two bodies had been found on the Sonoma coast by sheriff's deputies. Their worst fears were confirmed later Thursday.
Since then, the mystery surrounding the couple's deaths has only seemed to deepen. Investigators say they have no motive and have ruled out robbery or sexual assault. A weapon has yet to be found.
The Rock-N-Water camp, in the meantime, closed a few days early this summer to allow people time to grieve.
Lomax said he didn't mind that investigators interviewed all of his staff.
"If the police weren't seriously looking at my staff, I would have seriously looked at police, like, 'How good are you?' Not because I'm worried about my staff," he said.
Authorities since have ruled out any staff members as having any connection with the killings.
Asked if he has any theory as to why the couple were killed, Lomax paused briefly before answering.
"The only thing I know is that somebody is really sick," he said. "This is someone else's sickness subjected upon them."