Meth Dealers Eyed in Yosemite Deaths
May. 24, 1999
MODESTO, Calif. (AP) _ FBI agents investigating the slayings of three Yosemite National Park sightseers have zeroed in on a loose-knit group of methamphetamine users and are confident that some of those responsible are already behind bars.
Carole Sund, a member of a wealthy real estate family in Eureka, vanished Feb. 15 along with her 15-year-old daughter Juli and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso during a trip through the Sierra foothills.
They were found dead weeks later and hours away from where they were last seen. The burned bodies of Mrs. Sund, 42, and Ms. Pelosso, 16, were found in the trunk of their charred rental car. Juli's body was discovered more than 30 miles away on a hill.
No one has been charged in the slayings.
Investigators must resolve many questions: How did the sightseers encounter their assailants? How were they killed? And why? Was it for money, sex, thrills, something else?
Law enforcement sources and grand jury witnesses said the probe is centered on a group of ``cranksters'' _ methamphetamine is known as ``crank'' _ including Eugene ``Rufus'' Dykes and Michael ``Mick'' Larwick, half-brothers with a long history of weapons, drug and sex offenses.
Maria Ledbetter, Dykes' girlfriend, said she recovered one of his knives at the request of the FBI and has testified before the federal grand jury investigating the slayings.
The law enforcement sources, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said investigators are still trying to identify everyone who may have been involved in the slayings and figure out what their roles were.
The FBI agent in charge, James Maddock, would not confirm the accounts of Ms. Ledbetter or other people interviewed by the AP.
But he said last week that his task force has collected hundreds of pieces of potential physical evidence and is making substantial progress in solving the mystery.
Agents have been forced to return time and again for corroboration from witnesses whose memories may be clouded by drug-induced paranoia or hallucinations.
``If you're dealing with individuals in the crank trade or circles, one of the byproducts generally is these people are not as responsible or aware of details. We're not dealing with people who have regular jobs and regular lives,'' Maddock said.
Methamphetamine is a potent illegal drug that often causes delusions, paranoia and aggressive behavior. It a fast-growing drug problem in much of the Far West and Southwest. The drug is particularly popular with outlaw biker gangs.
The 3-month-old investigation gained momentum shortly after the women's bodies were found. Agents shifted their attention from the rustic lodge in El Portal where the women were last seen to the seedy neighborhoods and trailer parks where the meth trade thrives in Modesto.
Before the bodies were found, Dykes and Larwick had been arrested during separate standoffs in Modesto. Larwick, 42, allegedly shot and wounded an officer who had pulled him over for a false license plate. Dykes, 32, was taken into custody on an undisclosed parole violation.
Larwick has roots in Long Barn, the tiny community where the victims' car was set on fire. One of his hangouts, friends said, is a home less than 10 blocks from the Modesto street corner where part of Mrs. Sund's wallet was found. Agents questioned him for 16 hours straight. He has professed his innocence and said he provided a blood sample to clear his name.
Dykes, an ex-con with a record of meth possession, unlawful sex and weapons convictions, also remains in custody.
``I don't believe my son had anything to do with it,'' said his father, Burel Dykes. ``He may know something, though.''
Law enforcement sources said that others must have been involved in the slayings as well.
Getting people to talk has not been easy. This is one reason investigators convened the grand jury April 7.
``They're trying to take our clique down,'' said Angelia Dale, 24, a friend of Dykes and Larwick who has been arrested for meth possession and was subpoenaed to testify.