Nation - California Warrants suggest killer followed 11-year-old home from school

By Elliot Spagat

Associated Press Writer

EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) -- An 11-year-old girl told police a man followed her home from school the day before registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III raped and murdered a 17-year-old girl in a nearby park, according to search warrants unsealed Monday.

The documents also said two women joggers were convinced they had encountered Gardner on the afternoon of Feb. 25, the day he attacked and killed Chelsea King when she went for a run in the park.

One woman said she was convinced a man she briefly spoke with about coyotes and snakes was Gardner.

Investigators linked Gardner to King's murder through semen found on her underwear, according to the search warrants unsealed in response to a request by The Associated Press and other news organizations.

King's body was discovered in a shallow lakeside grave five days after she vanished.

The warrants said authorities seized 11 shovels, three pickaxes and other digging tools from Gardner's home in Lake Elsinore along with a "Hard Rock Cafe Baghdad" T-shirt and other clothing.

They also found a tool case with black electrical and duct tape in a storage unit in suburban Escondido; black duct tape and a fast-food receipt from Feb. 25 in his girlfriend's car; and several "Hard Rock Cafe" shirts and a shovel at his mother's home in San Diego.

Gardner, 31, pleaded guilty April 16 to raping and murdering King and 14-year-old Amber Dubois, who was abducted while walking to school in Escondido in February 2009.

Gardner had served five years of a six-year prison sentence for molesting a 13-year-old San Diego neighbor in 2000.

The search warrants said the 11-year-old girl told San Diego police on Feb. 24 that a man in a black car slowly drove by and parked as she walked home alone from school in the Rancho Bernardo area. The driver made no effort to speak with her.

A woman then pulled up beside the girl, told her the man looked suspicious, and offered to follow her two blocks to her house. The man then made a U-turn and drove away.

The girl told a family member the man had stared at her before pulling forward, and that she later recognized Gardner from a photo published after his arrest in the death of King.

Investigators then asked her to identify the man from among six photos. She picked two of the pictures, and one was Gardner, according to the documents.

One of the women joggers told investigators she spoke with a man in a "Hard Rock Cafe" T-shirt who was drinking beer and smoking a cigarette when she went for an afternoon run on the day King was attacked.

After Gardner's arrest, she told authorities she was positive he was the man she saw along the running trail.

"The person told her to watch out for the snake and she noticed there was a rattlesnake," the affidavit reads.

The runner, identified as Cindi Jo Stock, spoke with the man again on her way back.

Another runner, Jacquelyn Maxton, also told authorities she saw Gardner that afternoon in a "Hard Rock Cafe Baghdad" T-shirt.

"She was 100 percent positive the person she saw on the trail was the person she saw on television because his haircut and eyes looked exactly the same," the affidavit reads.

The affidavits also describe a Dec. 27 attack on another jogger in the area. Gardner pleaded guilty to attempted rape in that case.

The jogger, Candice Moncayo, reported saying good morning to a man who returned the greeting then tackled her and began to climb on top of her, pinning her shoulders to the ground.

Moncayo screamed for help, believing she was going to be raped. The assailant told her to shut up and she responded, "You're going to have to kill me," according to the documents.

"That can be arranged," her assailant said.

Moncayo, who has spoken publicly about the attack, escaped after striking the man in the nose with her elbow. The affidavit said she felt the crunch of cartilage.

The court documents also said two utility workers saw a man with a girl in a remote area north of San Diego on the morning of Feb. 13, 2009, when Gardner raped and stabbed Dubois, leaving her dead body nearby.

The San Diego Gas & Electric Co. workers came forward after learning authorities were searching for the remains of Dubois near the town of Pala last month.

They recalled seeing a man matching Gardner's description with a girl who looked like Dubois on the day she disappeared. They were near a silver Ford Focus, the car that Gardner drove at the time.

Gardner led authorities to the remains of Dubois after his arrest in King's death. Her identity was confirmed through dental records.

The search warrants show Gardner was registered to live at six Southern California addresses since his release from prison in 2005, in addition to a three-month spell as a transient in 2008.

Published: Wed, Apr 28, 2010