Vanished: Amber Dubois & Chelsea KingDateline NBC
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- 19 Nov 2020
In this Dateline classic, when Amber Dubois vanished in San Diego County, a search turned up nothing. Then, a year later, Chelsea King disappeared in a neighboring town. Keith Morrison reports. Originally aired on NBC on September 3, 2015.
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This is an important message regarding a missing juvenile at risk life stops. Amber Leandy, boy, you don't sleep, you don't eat. Nothing matters anymore. The teenager disappeared. Oh, please, so I have never made it. I knew right then someone had kept us up at nights going over in our heads what happened in front of the school. Then another gone. She said she needs to come home. There's a lot of desperation. Maybe she's tied up somewhere.
Maybe she's being held captive enough to find her two missing girls, one man with a secret. Oh. Did you get any sense of the sort of personality you were dealing with? Yes, psychotic came up and he went right to here to the edge.
And he says right there to families, to mysteries. Who journeys to justice? If that lesson can be learned from everything that I want to go out there. On the evening of February 12, 2009, in a hillside house north of San Diego, California, the negotiation is finally complete. The girl and one that made her write a one page letter to me and she made it to pages, but repeated herself multiple times to make them longer. I'm like, OK.
She pestered her mother, Carrie, and her mother's boyfriend at the time. They all kids have their own things that they're into. Amber loved animals she'd been campaigning for during her regular and frequent visits with her father, Mo. She had already had it longed for probably a month before she even got it. What was he going to call that? Frenchness. Which made perfect sense to her since her own surname was very French Du Bois Amber Dubois. She was 14 years old in the morning, it would be Friday, February 13th.
It was to be her lucky day, the day she'd walk those few familiar blocks from her home in Escondido, clutching her mother's 200 dollar check and receive an exchange album.
Of all things, she was buying it as part of her high school's Future Farmers program. And tonight, as she drifted off to sleep for the last time, every good thing still seemed possible.
Oh, please. None of it had happened then. There's not a single day that goes by that I don't break down and cry for hours. The extent of the evil hadn't occurred to the sheriff yet, all of a sudden there's a safe zone that's been taken away from you. The D.A. never imagined she'd say this case rocked San Diego County. But this was before all that. And Amber was just going about the business of being 14 and slightly quirky.
Amber was a free spirited kid. She loved reading and writing, and she didn't like the normal things that, you know, kids like. She had her own pace. She liked to take her time. You know, you come on. Come on. She's looking at the flowers, the bugs and just whatever. She was never in a hurry, ever. She just wanted to see the world, how she wanted to see it. And she did.
No interest in boys yet. No girly things either.
We would have to order her clothes for school online because she want to go shopping. Oh, God, no, not at all. That would be torture for her to go to the mall.
What did other girls think about? I mean, you know, the so cliquish, you know, that she had her claque, but it was a very, very small clique, one small group of very close friends that were all geeky nerds like her. Basically, you know, they're all a bunch of book worms to read the whole Harry Potter series in two weeks. Come on. All of them can put a book down. You know, she'd get a new three hundred page novel and I'd have to go in a room multiple times because I knew she was under the blankets with flashlight reading, probably in the years I read more books than I have in my life.
And I she was just beginning high school. She'd made plans to take extra courses, graduate early, and she vowed never to miss one day of class. I'm like, are you sure you never want to miss school? What's wrong with you? I'll do anything in miss school. If she wanted perfect attendance, I shouldn't have been an animal behavioral scientist. She want to study animals in depth.
She kept guinea pigs and fish and birds and dogs and rats. She began riding lessons of three by nine she owned a horse.
So when the school offered Future Farmers of America, of course she joined.
And they have a huge, huge farm on the campus and they allow students to purchase and raise farm animals.
And thus the land and the happy walk to school on Friday, February 13th.
And I remember driving to work, laughing, going, I know I'm going to have to take care of that lamp.
The weather was drizzly that Wednesday, mid 50s. It was late in the afternoon when they noticed, well, nothing an absence. I was at the house and went, wait a minute, why is Amber here? Because her mom was still at work, looked at my watch. She should have been here an hour ago. I called her mom and I go when she's out. So I called her cell phone at my Amber call me.
Dave, got in his car, drove to the school. So I figured maybe she went to play with her and just lost track of time. But then he found one of her teachers and asked if he'd seen Amber. And Mr. Rayburn looked at me and said she didn't show up here today. I was very surprised that she wasn't here. This was her last day to pay for her lamp. And I said, no, no, no, no.
What are you talking about? I gave her a check before I left the house this morning and that's when sirens went off. I called Carrie and told her, Mr. Rayburn said she wasn't there. And Carrie at that point, you know, kind of went into panic mode and he says, you know, Amber never made it.
And I knew right then something someone had her. I know. I was like, oh, my God, someone something terrible has happened. Where was Amber police and the nation join the search and a new lead and a mother on a dangerous mission across the border.
We advise her not to go because there be great reason for them to kidnap her and hold her.
Amber Dubois, 14 years old, was a young woman of established habits. She got out of school at two 45, I guess until three thirty to be home so she could hang out with her friends. Dependable was ever predictable, even she was always down by three, 30, always called. And then came Friday, February 13th, 2009, when she wasn't home, didn't call the day her mother, Carrie McGonigle, discovered she hadn't gone to school at all and never wanted to miss school, and she had the check in her pocket for the lamp.
I mean, there's no way she was missing that. That day of school, Kerry called her ex-husband and father, Mo. What did her voice sound like on the phone? Complete panic. And I went to the school and I started looking all around the school, you know, and dumpsters, anything for a backpack. What could they do?
They printed flyers called their friends.
And I probably had 15 people show up right away. And we started going door to door, as did the police.
They were out with a black and white picture, a fax picture of Amber when I handed them a color flyer and said, here, this is a much better picture of Amber that she is missing.
Since about Friday, Escondido police combed the neighborhood, the school, the creek behind it worked all night. Then Captain Bob Benton, you see her by chance.
It's now Saturday morning and still no sign of Amber, very concerning to us. And then later that day, a break, somebody had seen her near the school describing how she had put on that. It was drizzly. He described her as walking hurriedly, so he thought she was late to school. Then someone else had seen Amber near a fire hydrant with a boy. Basically, I said, Oh, there's Amber made notice that she was there. The boy was described as tall, about six to eight inches taller than amber, doughy looking and dark complected.
Who was that boy? Was Amber with someone?
She had been missing a day when the phone company called her cell was active somewhere nearby. Somebody had tried to access voicemail and it hit on the same cell phone tower that covers both chambers home and the school. So police found out what amounted to a reverse 911 one call.
This is an important message from the police department regarding a missing juvenile at risk. The missing juvenile is Amber Dubois.
It's a recorded message that we can send out to all the homes in the area. We did it for several mile radius around the cell phone tower, brown hair, blue eyes, last seen wearing dark clothing.
If you've seen her, you know her, please call us.
As the news spread, people did call her classmate reported seeing Amber in downtown Escondido Saturday, the 14th, early evening, but local surveillance cameras picked up nothing.
Then Sunday, the 15th, a second classmate said he saw her walking with a boy.
Deciding on Sunday night was deemed to be as reliable as could be. Each sighting sent home soaring, but not in Carrie because she knew Amber was not a runner.
And I'm like, it wasn't her. I'm telling you right now it wasn't her. She would not be this close to home and not come home day or night.
The search went on. The FBI joined in. Volunteers did, too, searching out buildings, vacant sheds. We don't know what's going on here, but we do check that out.
As a matter of course, search and rescue teams scoured miles of brush, choked ravines, hidden places around rocky hills. Also in this area, what we found out was a place where a lot of kids go to party. It's called the caves, and it consists of a real rock area, mountainous area, but no sign of amber.
And this has been going on for several days. So as it goes on, we get a little more worried.
What was it like for the two of you as those days kept going by and there was no word, nothing livestock's.
Nothing matters anymore. We don't sleep.
We don't go into Great Depression some days and other days you can feel, you know, some kind of light.
The police set up a task force, assigned search teams, volunteers came out, hundreds of them. I have three daughters myself, and I just cannot imagine what those parents are going through.
I look around, I see a bunch of flickers of hope is what I'm seeing. Someone has. She's not just hiding from me or hiding from the house, someone has kept us up at nights, going over in our heads over and over of what happened that morning in front of the school. If Amber was alive and that was a big if.
Where could she be if she left?
She left with somebody she knows. Who was that person?
If you know where Amber Dubois is tonight, they told the Amber story on America's Most Wanted. She was on the cover of People magazine. And what happened? Suddenly, sightings coast to coast, hundreds of them. There was one girl who looks so much like Amber that she had to keep carrying her ID on her because law enforcement would stop her so many times. I'm not Amber, you know, she has to show the ID and not Amber.
Captain Bennett's team ran down every tip in every state. Twelve hundred of them 500 interviews, even though the more we investigated it, the more we came up into dead ends. And Kerry ran her own private task force of one. When tips came in of sightings in Mexico, Kerry got in her car and drove 45 miles south across the border into Tijuana, another 60 miles to Mexicali to scour the streets for Amber. I always let law enforcement know what I was doing, you know?
And so I called him and I said, I'm going to go down there like you don't know how dangerous is. We advise you not to go, because if somebody down there knew that she had you know, at that point, I think a forty or fifty thousand dollar reward, there would be, you know, great reason for them to kidnap her and hold her down. There I go. It's for my kid. Like, we're begging you not to go.
I said, I'll call you when I get back by. I ended up going down there for, I think four or five times, but no Amber in Mexico. So at home in Escondido, what did she do? She had the list of registered predators and she would drive by one out and she'd take a dozen a night. We had a call from an apartment complex manager. Then a female was yelling at individuals in the apartment complex. And when our officers arrived, it was McGonagle yelling at a registered sex offender and sex ed and actually was complaining that apartment manager and apartment manager had asked us to ask her to leave.
The threat of arrest didn't scare her. I'm like, Silverdale, get amorous face out there, Mark. Go ahead. But then the weeks became months and ginning up hope got hard to do. The volunteers, once a small army friend, stopped coming. We had days where we'd have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. Yeah, but then it would steadily drop down to points where where those weeks when we had like eight people show up.
Four months after Amber disappeared, the volunteer search center closed on February 13, 2010, they marked the somber anniversary.
Our biggest fear is going our entire careers, if not our lifetime. And not knowing what happened to Amber the Block and the likelihood of solving this case was very limited, if at all.
And then the search is on this morning for a missing 17 year old Poway girl, Chelsea King. It happened again. Another mystery and another anguished mother, please just help us bring her home. She's a great she's such, but she needs to come home. Thursday, February 25th, 2010, just over a year since Amber Dubois vanished. Another teenager was missing 10 miles away in a suburb of San Diego. And like, how can this happen almost a year, you know, same month that might happen, as you know, it began in a parking lot near a popular local hiking trail.
We get calls oftentimes about juveniles, girls, you know, runaways to San Diego County, sheriff's deputies responded to a call from panicked parents. This one, I think, made the hair stand up a little bit on Deputy Cryos Neck, 17 year old Chelsea King, straight-A student, college bound, had come to Rancho Bernardo Park in San Diego, as she often did around 2:00 in the afternoon for a brisk five mile run in broad daylight, a well-known, well-used, safe hiking trail that skirted the marshy banks of a long, shallow lake.
But then she was late, didn't answer herself, didn't return her parents messages. Chelsea's dad called the cell phone provider, which looked up the tower. Her signal was hit and led her dad to her phone, which was inside her locked car in that parking lot. And just, you know, finding her car. It was unusual. It was not just somebody, a teenager out here with her boyfriend and made me think that maybe something something had gone wrong.
It certainly had Chelsea King is described as having strawberry blonde hair and now another public nightmare began.
Anybody out there, if you know anything, please just help us bring her home. She's a great she's such a good girl. She needs to come home. Word got around fast.
We immediately felt what they were going through. I was ready to get in my car and go. I'm like, I want to go home. Such as that was my instinct. Bonnie Dumanis was the San Diego district attorney at the time and one of the first to get the news. Everybody began thinking of Amber right from the beginning, I think.
And that's I think that's what made everybody so scared about Chelsea, was knowing that this had happened, you know, with Amber Amber, who was in some ways so similar beautiful girls, both five five, both light complected.
That very Thursday afternoon, within hours of Chelsea's disappearance, friends fanned out around the park, the neighborhood around it. Even total strangers joined in. And then perhaps two miles from Chelsea's abandoned car between a creek bed and a row of houses as the cold settled in the daylight failed. One of the people that are coming from the neighborhood to search came across a pair of underwear and socks that did not appear trampled or discarded. They were right in the center of the walking trail.
Could have been anyone's, of course, but how did they get there? And they seem to be freshly there. Was there a connection?
Dave Brown, a sergeant back then, sent a detective out to the trail right along this trail here, somewhere right along this trail, just a little bit further down. The parents said that, yes, that's the type that she wears.
Was there a clear indication that there might be DNA?
Yes, there was a small amount of blood that was found that didn't look good.
They sent the clothes to the DNA lab for confirmation. And deployed a virtual army helicopters with infrared tracking, search and rescue teams, hundreds of people began beating the impossibly tangled thickets around thousands of acres of Rancho Bernardo Park land and divers made their way through the lake and its underwater forest.
You can see the shoreline over there and the shoreline over here. It's very, very thick. And it's the trees in the middle are hidden by the deep water.
Sergeant Don Parker, now deceased, led the operation.
And so you can see a little bit of the difficulty.
For instance, just here, if you take one step, you have to part the brush. And look, you take another step, you have to part the brush. And that's the way it was that day, the Thursday night.
Night fell. Still no sign of Chelsea. Where was she on these miles of trails in this vast, dark path? There's a lot of places where you can hide. That's our problem. As you can see, this is a very, very expansive area. There's a lot of acreage here.
By Friday, the day after Chelsea's disappearance, there were canine units, trucks, four wheelers. We had hundreds and hundreds of folks coming from all over Southern California. And people were up for hours and hours and hours. County Sheriff Bill Gore manned the phone. It was literally calls from the agent in charge of the FBI to me saying I got 25 agents. Where do you want them? Border Patrol got a call and they were there. The FBI canvassed some 300 homes around the park and its lake, police ran down 600 tips.
The area's known sex offenders were tracked down as well. And by that weekend, two days missing, we're looking for, what, a five foot five, 250 pound thousands came to look for, Chelsea Ambriz parents among them.
It was huge. I mean, the line of people is eight people wide went around the whole building all the way up to the street. But this was not like the search for Amber. There were no sightings of Chelsea. This case was pretty specific. We believe that she was out and went jogging in that park.
And the fact she didn't come back leads you to believe there was some type of foul play right from the beginning, which is why the sheriff called Dave Brown and his team of homicide detectives.
There were certain things about this missing person case that concerned the people that were investigating. And one of them was the clothing found and found really far away, a couple of miles from where a car was found. There's a rational explanation for it, no rational explanation except foul play. And then next day, the second discovery, it was a mile from the place where the underwear and socks were found near a running trail, a shoe which appeared to be the very shoe Chelsea was wearing in this photo.
It was laying on the brush on top. Look like someone had thrown it or dropped it. Yeah, right there.
The way these things are are so far apart from each other. We figured foul play, whether or not she's deceased or whether or not she's just being held somewhere. We can't answer that. The chance they'd find Chelsea alive was growing slim. The chance they'd find her at all was not much better. Now, there were two girls gone. There's more of a hope that they were somehow connected, Chelsea, Amber, might there be a link? Police are about to get a break and we need to find out everything we can about this person.
There's a lot of desperation in the back of your mind, you're hoping that someone has or held against her will. And so the detectives don't want to go home, nobody wants to go home, nobody wants to sleep. We have to find her. It was like some nightmarish deja vu. Amber Dubois vanished in San Diego County. A search turned up nothing more than a year later in a neighboring town, another teenage girl was gone. Another search going nowhere where the two connected.
That's what the cop who searched for, Amber wondered. It was more of a hope that they were somehow connected and would help us solve the Amber case.
And so he watched as search and rescue literally beat the Bushes and probe the treacherous muddy water.
And detectives in suits worked in neighborhoods nearby to find out who your friends are, where she was talking to anybody and everybody who might have been in that park that day hoping to find something.
And they were trying to make sense of evidence scattered around the park, Chelsea's car underwear with a slight stain of blood found on the trail, a shoe a mile away in the back of our minds. We know it's a matter of time before we're going to what we may get the results from this DNA. And that will also prove if those are actually her items of clothing and shoe.
Then three days after Chelsea disappeared, more clothes surfaced not far from where the first items were found, the meat to the first shoe and a sports bra in a ditch is an area that we had searched and didn't find anything of value. What did you think when you found that stuff?
There was an idea that maybe articles were being randomly thrown or scattered to throw us off of a trail or throw us off of the lead. Was Chelsea still in that park? Was she dead or alive? And one more question about anyone else being attacked in that park.
And sure enough, a student home for the holidays, also a jogger, reported that she'd been attacked while running on a trail near where those first items of clothing were found.
That was December, two months before Chelsea vanished.
What's chilling is it happened literally within feet of a whole row of houses. But what was good was a young woman could provide a description of her attacker and what he tried to do.
He was white. She said maybe 25 or 26, stocky, muscular, brown hair, military type cut.
She was running along the path and this guy tackled her from the side, pinned her down, and she, understanding what was coming, said, you'll have to kill me. He said that can be arranged.
But she knew taekwondo and she caught him in the nose with her elbow and he reacted.
She wriggled away and ran like the wind out of their.
Other witnesses offered a vague description of a man they had seen in the park today, Chelsea disappeared, white male, heavyset. Did they have a serial attacker on their hands? Was this part of the park his territory? It is now Sunday afternoon, February 28.
Chelsea have been missing for three days. How do you deal with the parents?
I didn't have any answers for them. One point they asked for a tour of the various items that were found.
So Sergeant Brown showed the Kings where some of Chelsea's clothing was found. We got to positions where we could point it out. You know, that's where we found this. That's where we found that. And that's when the detective's phone rang, the DNA came back, the DNA on the clothing. It confirmed it was Chelsea's, but the test produced something else, too. The most important discovery yet inside that clothing was a second person's DNA and the lab got a hit and it came back to a sex registry.
Chelsea's parents were standing beside him. Did you tell them that? No, I did not. But the tour was over. Sergeant Brown gathered his team. But we have the name and a prison number and we need to find out everything we can about this person. The DNA match was to a convicted sex offender named John Gardner, a man who spent five years in prison for a sex assault back in 2000. Is it a mixed blessing that it comes back to a sex registry that's been done time in prison?
That's you know, that's not a positive note, but at least we knew who and where it was and we knew we were going to close in the search for Gardner again that afternoon. We sent undercover people to watch the houses that might be where he lives. They approach carefully watched from a distance. It was a slim chance. But what if he was holding her, saw the cops panicked in the back of everybody's mind is she's alive and you're thinking maybe she's tied up somewhere.
Maybe she's being held captive, but we're going to find her and we're going to find her tonight. But she wasn't in any of those houses and neither was he. Instead, they found Gardner in a bar on the north side of the lake and the very park where Chelsea had been running Hernandez's hideaway. And this was weird. Gardner's clothes were wet and muddy, as if he'd been waiting in the lake. For some reason, they took him to the sheriff's lockup center, line up photographs of the young woman now back at college who survived that earlier attack in the park.
And she picked John Gardner instantly. What had this man, the wet and muddy clothes done with Chelsea King and for that matter, did he know anything about that other missing girl, Amber Dubois?
The interrogation begins and police are in for a ride, rolled back in the chair, did a full belly laugh, laugh for an extended period of time. He was a young white male, barely short cropped hair, matched perfectly the descriptions of the suspected attacker in Rancho Bernardo Park. Now, John Gardner, 30 years old, was behind bars. How did he react to being arrested? Very unhappy, wondering why he was being arrested, believe the accusations were false, detectives Pat O'Brien, Scott Enyart, Mark Palmer confronted Gardner in an interrogation room.
We believed and we hoped that Chelsea was still alive someplace. So we just kept asking, where is Chelsea King? How do you respond to that? He denied everything. He denied ever coming to contact with her. He basically said the only information he had was from the television.
But you're able to say, listen, pal, we've got your DNA. We did. We approached him with the DNA and he called us liars. What was his demeanor? He was all over the place, his calm one one minute, angry one minute, you know, on the verge of crying. The other minute. He thought part of it was humorous to him and part of it was just offensive. How dare we even consider him as a suspect?
He actually made it perfectly clear that he hated law enforcement. He said he was treated poorly while he was in the Department of Corrections and he hated cops for that reason. Gardner had been arrested at a bar called Hernandez Hideaway, Drunk, wet, muddy. He told the detective he slipped in some mud and hopped in the lake to rinse off. First thing it comes to our mind is why is he in the lake? Hernandez hideaway is on the north end of Lake Hodges, but the evidence, those bits of Chelsea's clothing were found on the south end of the lake.
So now we're thinking, has he placed Chelsea somewhere on the north side of the lake and he's going to retrieve or see if she's still there. And you're looking for clues that he's going to give you verbally or nonverbally or whatever. The questioning was strictly limited to this. Where was Chelsea?
Our sole purpose was to find Chelsea King alive and get her some kind of help. So we couldn't go into too much detail about why and what you were doing. You know, we kept trying to keep him focused to find out, you know, where she at, what you do with her. This suspect wouldn't budge, they kept prodding, so Scott's got a photograph of Chelsea King and continually pushed it in front of them, he would glance at it.
He wouldn't look at it very long. But then he'd continue deny, deny, deny. Scott would keep talking to him. Where is she? Where is she? And then he would go off on some tangent.
Did you get any sense of the sort of personality you were dealing with when you talk to him? Yes, psychotic. That's a major anger issues. They left the room for a few minutes, watched him on a video monitor as Gardner looked at a photo of Chelsea and basically called Chelsea a bitch. Why are you doing this to my life? And flipped the paper away. And then out of the blue in the interview said the detective's gardener surprised them.
He brought up a name, the name of a girl who had disappeared more than a year earlier. The photo of Chelsea's sitting in front of him. At some point he says, you guys, in essence, are going to probably try to finger me for that Amber girl's disappearance. I ask where she was and he played it off. He wouldn't even pronounce her last name properly. And at that point, the officer say Gardner began laughing hysterically, rolled back in the chair, did a full belly laugh, laugh for an extended period of time.
And at some point you realize that's it, you're not going to get anything out of this guy, correct?
We definitely knew walking out of there he was guilty. There's nothing we could do at that point.
Nothing but redouble the effort to find Chelsea. Still, Chelsea's parents couldn't help but hope that the arrest of Gardner had brought them a step closer to finding their daughter and gave us hope that Chelsea is still there and we just have to find her.
So, I mean, I'm not going to think about who he is, what he is, a very credible amount of rage that boils. But right now we're focused on just rage.
Yes, of course. But imagine what Brent King might have thought when he learned just a little more, as you will, too, about the history of Mr. John Gardner. The man was evaluated ten years previously by a board certified psychiatrist who found that he was a danger and a continuing danger to the public. And apparently that warning was not listened to. I was shocked. Who was John Gardner, really good friend John told us what had happened or sinister offender.
This was a man who started out being violent. Two very different pictures come into focus.
Sunday, February 28th, 2010, three days of searching, no Chelsea King, but there was an arrest and John Gardner in custody was at least some kind of comfort for Chelsea's parents.
I was relieved that this. Monster is no longer out there and able to do this to anyone else. Who was John Gardner by the time they arrested him? Police had assembled some disturbing information. This would not go down well in San Diego County. He had been a convicted sex offender. The initial crime was with serious news, was convicted for six years for a sexual assault in 2000. I believe it was.
In fact, he'd served five years of that sentence for sexually assaulting and brutally beating his 13 year old neighbor.
This is where in March 2000, Gardner became a sex offender. It was daytime, his own mother's house. He was 20, then invited a 13 year old over to watch videos with him. He began groping her. She begged him to stop. He intensified his attack. She resisted. He began beating her severely. The incident left her so traumatized, her family had to move to a different part of California. But Garner denied it all. He even blamed the beating on the victim's mother.
Jennifer Brandt was a friend of Gardner's back then. I remember John had come up to the mountains and told us what had happened and that he was going to have to go to court for this.
They went to high school together in the San Bernardino Mountains, 100 miles from San Diego.
He told us it wasn't him. It was the girl had a boyfriend. And he thought that the girl just didn't want to admit to her parents that she was having sex with her boyfriend because it might have gotten her in trouble. And so she was going to blame the neighbor being John.
She and their circle of friends all believed him. She says the John Gardner they knew was a good friend, always helpful.
He confided in her that he'd been diagnosed as bipolar. He did display the symptoms of it, really high highs and really low lows. And I'm one of the occasions that he was in a low. He started telling me about some things that happened in his childhood that a family member actually molested him.
Gardner and his mother moved to San Diego from the mountains in 1998. According to court records, he was working at a sporting goods store when he was arrested in 2000. He was about to turn 21, had wanted to become a math teacher. His arrest put an end to those plans.
Gardner always proclaimed his innocence but agreed to a plea deal, telling his probation officer three attorneys warned him he'd get reamed if he went to trial.
But before he was sentenced, the court ordered a forensic psychiatrist to evaluate Gardner to help determine whether he should receive probation or how long he should be imprisoned.
It was a very serious offense, even though it was the first time this was a man who started out being violent.
Dr. Mark Kalish is a forensic psychiatrist who's read the documents on this case. He's also a colleague of the doctor who wrote the evaluation that Dr. Matthew Carroll declined Dateline's request for an interview.
It's a rare case where the individual starts out in their first offense by assaulting the victim. And so that was a warning sign to Dr. Carroll that this was not the typical case.
This was a man who was on a very, very steep trajectory for future violence. The psychiatrist warnings, as noted in Gardner's probation report, were dire. The defendant manifest significant predatory traits to underage females. The defendant would be a continued danger to underage girls in the community, and it would be unlikely that the defendant would be amenable to treatment. The psychiatrist recommended the maximum sentence allowed by law. In my experience, I don't think that I've ever seen a psychiatrist make a louder and clearer call.
And the doctor who evaluated Gardner was apparently so concerned about it. He followed up his report with a phone call to Gardner's probation officer with yet another warning. The defendant does not suffer from a psychotic disorder. He said he's simply a bad guy who is inordinately interested in young girls. Such calls are rare, says Dr. Caliche, when psychiatrists become desperate. We we pick up the phone. Yet despite those warnings, the prosecutor, probation officer and judge all decided that John Gardner should get a mid-level sentence of six years rather than 10 years, which would have been the maximum sentence under the plea deal.
I have reviewed this case with the glasses of having been a prosecutor, having been a municipal court judge, superior court judge and now the D.A. We asked to speak to the prosecutor on that case. Instead, we were told Bonnie Dumanis, then San Diego district attorney, would answer our questions. What happened in this case was appropriate under the law that existed.
And this was, what, a mid range sentence as opposed to the maximum that's traceable. That was in spite of a psychiatrist report that said this guy's really dangerous and he always will be dangerous. Not why would that not have jacked it up to a full 10 year sentence?
Well, first of all, there were two psychiatric reports, right?
One was saying he was a danger. One was saying that he was treatable and recommended inpatient treatment for 90 days and probation. But this is a guy who had seen it once in five years.
But he examined him just as much as the guy who saw him for an hour.
He had actually treated him. But that report was only one factor in the sentencing decision. There were glowing character references. I know in my heart of hearts, John Gardner is a rare and good breed. I dated him for a year and a half. John is the one person who made me feel completely safe in the world. I believe John will become a great man, husband, father. He was 20 years old. No prior record and the presumption of the law was the middle term, six years out after five and now this.
But the second guessing went on hold for the moment because just now there was a far bigger issue. What had John Gardner done with Chelsea King? Was she still alive? And if so, where? Everybody's pager went off and everybody's heart sank. The mystery surrounding Chelsea would be solved very soon. This year has challenged businesses across the globe to be their most efficient, which means every hire is critical, indeed is here to help you finish 20-20 strong indeed is the number one job site in the world with more total visits than any other job site, according to comScore.
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As John Gardner sat in the San Diego sheriff's lockup, Sergeant Dave Brown working the Chelsea King case, took an urgent phone call.
The investigators from Escondido called us investigators on the Amber Dubois case in the neighboring town of Escondido had a question. Was your guy also our guy? I sat in my car and had a teleconference with them. The arrest of John Gardner set off a small earthquake among the cops searching for Amber. They'd been sending emails to me, trying to get a hold of us.
We're a little busy to talk about their case, but they kept talking even as they ramped up the search for Chelsea around Rancho Bernardo Park. Hope that she was alive flickered. But hell, it was Tuesday, March 2nd, day five of the search for Chelsea. That day, her parents worked on plans for a vigil, a sign no one was giving up.
It's just going to be one more thing about Chelsea is when she comes home, she's going to see and want to give back a thousand times over.
If Ambriz parents hadn't given up, they said neither were they the Kingsmead Ember's parents when they came out to help in the search.
But the strength that they displayed is driving us. You know, I know one looks me my eyes and says, don't worry, we're going to find her. Yeah, that's that's strength.
Out in the park Tuesday morning, search and rescue teams continue to search the brush and waterway. They would do shoulder to shoulder, go underwater, look, come back up, check to make sure that they weren't in line because they have to do it systematically. How many times did they do that?
I want to say we did the six times, six or seven times we searched this this entire area here, that area of shoreline had particular interest because Chelsea Shoe had been found just a few feet away. So the shoe was basically in this area.
Was laid on top of the brush, and then from here we go north straight to the straight to the water. That afternoon downtown, the homicide team was called to a meeting with D.A. Bonnie Dumanis once he was arrested.
We knew that there was going to be a prosecution.
Dumanis, by that Tuesday, had few illusions left about finding Chelsea alive.
The circumstances were such that we felt it was a murder case and a potential death penalty case.
Thus, the meeting with homicide detectives. What case you're going to charge him with murder.
And we still didn't have a we didn't have a body. And then mid meeting, that's when it happened.
The detectives were presenting the case when everybody's pager went off and everybody's heart sank.
It was Chelsea. Rescue divers had found her body on the dive.
Personnel was in a boat and beached the boat literally right here. And then him and his his his partners actually started walking this way and shortly thereafter noticed an area a little bit further this way. And that's that's when Chelsea was found.
It was that small area which had been searched so many times. The place the shoe was found 15 feet from the edge of the water, a shallow grave.
A little shrine was created there and a patch of decorated earth. Sheriff Gore delivered the news that was probably the longest drive I've ever had in my life to go to the King house, and it was just news that nobody in law enforcement ever wants to deliver.
It was just heart wrenching. It's the worst day of our lives ever. And there's no deeper pain will ever feel again. A bit of a depth of despair. As I was right now, what type of creature would do this? Not far away. Amber Dubois mother, Carrie, heard the news to the reaction was almost physical when his body was found. I started panicking. I'm like, I don't want to bury Amber. You know, I'm like, I'd rather have her missing than have to bury her and stuff.
And it hit me really hard that evening. What was true about a search vigil for Chelsea became a memorial. Instead, thousands came. She's my angel forever.
I want to thank you. Chelsea wants to thank you. Keep her spirit alive for us. John Albert Gardner Gardner was in court the next day charged with murdering Chelsea King while committing a rape.
He was also charged with assault, with intent to commit rape for the attack on that student back in December, Mr. Gardner wishes to enter a plea of not guilty to both counts.
Ambriz father was at the hearing afterwards. He worried what this meant for his daughter.
In the back of our head, we are kind of concerned that there is a connection.
And though no one had proved John Gardner's guilt around San Diego, he had become infamous public enemy number one. And his people here learn more about that two case the psychiatrists report at Gardner's failure to reveal where he was staying.
The outrage boiled over as I think pretty much all of San Diego County is is completely disgusted with this. During the week before the attack on Chelsea, Gardner had been staying with his mother a few blocks from the park in which Chelsea was murdered. In fact, it was the very same house in which he attacked that 13 year old back in 2000. But when police had gone round the neighborhood looking for sex offenders, they did not come to this house.
No reason to.
He was actually registered at his grandmother's house in Lake Elsinore. So Gardner would not come up in that search because he was registered in Lake Elsinore and that was 50 miles away.
Another county. The mother never forced John to report it. He may have met all the guidelines, only coming down a certain amount of days, but people felt threatened not knowing the sex registrant was living that close to them.
Once the news broke, Gardner's mother seemed to be trying her best to hide from the media and the public.
Anger, anger so strong someone spray painted the words Chelsea's blood is on. You move out of her house, holding her along with her son, accountable for Chelsea's death.
If I was them and I saw that, I'd move out, move out of the area.
And when some of Gardner's friends came by to paint over those words, they were driven away.
Get the hell out of here. I can see the sympathy you have for her. I can see it in your eyes. Get the hell out of this neighborhood, you don't belong here. In the midst of that public shock and anger, detectives in the Chelsea case again considered those calls and emails from their fellow cops have been looking for Amber Dubois. Was there a connection? Maybe we realized that John Gardner was a resident of Escondido and was one of our registered sex offenders back in the time that Amber disappeared.
That's when the light bulb went off and. The race to find Amber, I'm sorry, 100 percent of the life we're detectives getting closer. The arrest of John Gardner for the murder of Chelsea King prompted some serious rethinking a few miles up the road in Escondido. Amber Dubois parents, for example, remembered something about that man. He was a registered sex offender in his Cándido at the time Amber vanished. This was one of the people on your crazy list of going around that night.
I think there was 148 at that time. But, yeah, it was one of them.
John Gardner, it turned out, had been living in an apartment complex in Escondido at the time Amber disappeared.
Some of my volunteers did wait outside of his apartment looking for him and just, you know, see what he drove or whatever. But they never they never made contact with him. After his arrest, Kerry couldn't see how Gardner could be connected to her daughter's disappearance. Gardner seems to attack girls that are by themselves. And Amber was last seen by two eyewitnesses in front of the school. And for him to do that in front of all those kids, I just seem really unlikely.
Police had also been aware of John Gardner, but finding evidence now that he was somehow involved in Ambriz disappearance was not going to be easy.
Yes, Gardner was a no sex offender who in fact lived two miles from the school.
Police here in Escovedo had regular contact with him, as they do with all sex registrants, but there was no reason for them to suspect him in every one of those contacts.
Mr. Gardner was in compliance with his sex registration requirements, and he wasn't in the area of where she went missing.
He wasn't in the area where the sightings were.
And he was not considered to be high risk, not officially, at least there was, as everybody would discover, much more to learn about that. Gardner did have a brush with the law in the spring of 2009, after Amber disappeared, a woman in a parking lot flagged down a police officer to complain Gardner had been following her in his car. But when a cop confronted him, he had asked him why he was following this female. And he had responded that he had this woman had cut him off in traffic as the cop talked to Garden.
Something else caught his eye. This known sex offender had a three year old in the car with him. That was of obvious concern to the stopping officer. Why is the sex registrant with a three year old child? It turned out it was his girlfriend's child. She verified the story. And besides, he was off parole, had no restrictions at all about being around small children. But now, after his arrest for the murder of Chelsea King, the Amber Task Force went back and reviewed everything.
Amber cell phone records, Internet hits, all those leads during a year of searching, looking at all twelve hundred tips, seeing if there was anything in there on John Gardner and in there wasn't there was no connection at all linking him and Amber to Block. So they look back to the day she went missing. Two witnesses had seen Amber in front of the school. One of them said she was with the boy.
Must be somebody that knew her or she knew that she felt comfortable with. And again, we are looking for a boy.
A year later. Detectives began thinking back to that particular witness description. One of the witnesses had last seen Amber walking with a tall, doughy, dark skinned boy, which somewhat described John Gardner.
And we were thinking, well, it's possible that based on it being a drizzly day, lighting's limited. A parent who's just driving up and looking at a boy maybe appears to be younger than he actually was. So now police reinterview the witnesses and the residents of Gardner's apartment complex and his girlfriend, all of it.
And then a tip came in which sent the divers to a park. And Escovedo, two children, told their mother they might have seen a body in a bag around a pond. And I was watching all the divers in there going through all the muck. And and I'm like nervous.
Of course, when they're doing this, search and rescue teams drain the pond, search through reeds and brush surrounding it and nothing yet another dead end. And I'm like, you know, it was such a relief that knowing that there's no way she could be in there because they're all down to the bottom.
And so a little spark of hope rose to the surface again.
Oh, I'm sorry, 100 percent of the light still had John Gardner ever run into Amber.
Was he involved? Even if no one could prove it?
If we ever start to believe that that Gardner is connected to Amber. It's basically us losing hope. You know, we're and we're never going to do that. We're going to deny it until we have an answer and we have our daughter home.
But out there, among the searchers at that sad little pond, Madugalle could have no idea that farther south in San Diego, Sergeant Brown had already embarked on a very unusual errand.
You could say it was a unique day, but just where he was going, he had no idea. He just guided us up the street and he explained where we would probably turn off on a dirt road. And we did just that, a journey down a dirt road, where could it possibly lead?
This could be an escape attempt. Come on, guys, in jail for murder and now he wants to go on a field trip. This might not go well.
It happened even as search and rescue teams were wading through that Escondido pond following what might be a lead in Amber Dubois disappearance 20 miles south in downtown San Diego, D.A. Bonnie Dumanis received a mysterious request to meet with Gardner's attorney. Wouldn't discuss what it was Gardner had been claiming. Remember, he had nothing to do with Ember's disappearance. But this morning, his lawyer offered a deal and it was huge.
Gardner would lead detectives to Amber, but he'd only do it on one condition that they couldn't use it against him if we didn't use the fact that he took us there in any as evidence in any court proceeding and that his attorney had to be present and we couldn't question him in any way.
She took the deal and Sergeant Brown's phone rang.
We got told to go down to the jail and we were going to go on a field trip with Gardner and Sergeant Brown and his men were told the rules.
This was not his confession, but he was going to show us where it was. They had 30 minutes to prepare, called the SWAT team for backup. Why this would be an escape attempt. Come on. While the guy's in jail for murder, we have his DNA and now he wants to go on a field trip with a couple of detectives, maybe. And he's a big guy. Yeah, this might not go well. And so if they win, Gardiner's showing them the way a detective surreptitiously texting directions to the undercover SWAT cars around them, we set them up in a few strategic locations.
And as we began driving on the freeway, we knew where we were going to pick them up. Different cars, different unwraps. They drove through an Indian reservation, up a dirt track to the top of a rocky hill. She's in there somewhere. He told them. This is 20 miles from where she disappeared, did you have any idea where you're going or wouldn't get a sense of? No, he can't really point. He's wearing waist chains. But if you notice, this cliff goes off a cliff here and to get his bearings and try to remember he was here.
Exactly. And I would grab him and go, you know, if he goes off this cliff, no one's going to believe me that he accidentally went off this cliff.
So I was he looked around, seemed confused. He came up and he went right to here to the edge and he says right there, right about here. And he's not exactly certain. Then he takes it and he takes a few steps this way, changes his mind.
What were you thinking as you're looking down at this? Well, this isn't going to be a fun walk. And also, how did you get there? He's he tries to go here. He can't make it.
And he comes back, he resets. And then he says, oh, I think I think it's this way. Honestly, we were frustrated. You know, we don't know we still don't know if he's doing this to just get a get out of jail for the day.
I don't know. They were still watching for any escape attempt. And then Gardner found a familiar area. Then he gets to about here and then he then he remembers and he he says, this is it. This is it.
And she was a dare say excited detectives walked. They're shackled, prisoner down a steep incline.
And so we were just sliding down. I can see why you would see very steep pushing their way through the thick brush trees.
Until they got to an old rusted water tank, this is the tank I remember holding right there, and he's pointing here saying this. He was right about here and he's also unsure of himself. He's a guy, I think, right there. I think right away. And then he saw something, a reminder. He leaned in to me and he said that he could see go see the shovel mark. And there is a distinctive mark that it held in the dirt like a nice clean slice against the mountain right there.
It's going to be right there. I know it's going to be there because I had a shovel, so that was enough. So we pulled them out of here. What were you thinking? I work in the homicide division. I'm just used to it, let's just say. But this was just absolutely surreal that he would bring me here. And I know this case. I know this girl. I live in this community. This is on my newspaper.
And I see her face or her her poster on every business in the store I go into. So, you know, and here I am.
And he's walking me to the to the grave, to the spot where he claimed to have buried Amber Dubois in February of 2009 in a thicket of trees on a hillside in the middle of nowhere, no houses anywhere accessible by one dirt road. I don't believe anybody would have ever found this site. And then a small army was called still in secret to that lonely hill detectives, a forensic archaeologist, medical examiner. For 12 hours, they sifted meticulously through the dirt to find where it had once been a person.
Up on the hill, Captain Benton made the next decision.
We didn't want to notify the family, not knowing whether it truly was amber or not.
But the next day, Saturday, the medical examiner had made a positive identification. Gardner had indeed led them to Ember's remains. More calls to make.
When we receive the calls on Saturday night, we immediately get a sinking feeling in our stomach because we've been called in many times to have talks never at a Saturday, a Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. at night. Would they come to the police station, walking in there, seeing the medical examiners and all of our investigators were there, the minister, the sheriff's department, DA's office? You know what you're going to hear next? The medical examiner told us that that her remains were found and they possibly beat her through dental records.
I can't say I was prepared to hear it, but after three hundred and eighty six days of searching, we're ready for anything they can tell us. Give us an answer. Make us make this stop.
Would you do after that? After that, maybe two of you tried. For days, the Escondida police chief made the announcement the next day, Sunday, March 7th, 2010. Two teenagers found dead in less than a week.
Human skeletal remains have been positively identified as being those of our missing 14 year old Amber. But what he didn't say to his parents or to anyone was call it the official secrets, the fact that Gardner had led them to the body.
Why not tell? Because now investigators needed to prove Gardner's guilt without using a shred of what he had shown or told them.
Asking the police and sheriff's homicide detectives are following a lead in the case when they made this discovery, but frankly, they were stuck.
Independent evidence so far none, meaning Gardner might never be charged with killing Amber unless.
Unless someone offered an incredible gesture. One heartbroken family reaches out to another, paving the way for a stunning moment in court. Do you admit that? Yes. Hey, it's Chris Hayes this week on my podcast, why is this happening? I'll be talking with Texas Tribune reporter Avi Livingston about the fascinating and rapidly changing political landscape in Texas.
There's a mantra in politics that is yard signs don't vote. There became this cultural thing of yard signs are a waste of money, don't spend money on them. And so that hasn't really been a yard sign war in Texas. Well, O'Rorke use yard signs and what happened was people in Republican sides of town had better work signs in their yards. And it was sort of a coming out process of people who lived in Republican areas saying, you know what, I'm actually a Democrat.
And they would go to meetings and clubs and see people they knew and didn't know. Oh, you're a Democrat, too. And so I think what has changed that can't go back is there's now a social acceptance of being a Democrat in a way that did not exist before. Twenty eighteen.
That's this week on why is this happening? Search for why is this happening wherever you're listening right now and subscribe. There were memorials then I wake up every morning now and I have to remember how to grieve.
The searches were over.
They tried to figure out how to go on, I will channel my rage and commit to spending my life making our save our society safe from the incurable evil. There were thousands of these events, a measure of the upset, the impact of the killings for every single person out there who's ever shed a tear. For Amber, for Chelsea, I beg you to please put one minute of effort, one minute of action into helping protect our children. And, well, that was going on.
Investigators searched furiously for any evidence that would independently link John Gardner to the death of Amber Dubois.
What that included was finding every vehicle that he had at the time that or access to at the time that Amber disappeared. And I believe there was four different vehicles we had to find where every one of those vehicles were have them forensically examined. The investigation continued and the days ticked from March and April when we sat with Anvers parents, remember, they had not been told that Gardner led police to Ambriz remains or even that Gardner was known to be the man who abducted and killed.
We asked them if they were prepared never to know for certain who killed Amber or how police found her.
It may be that nobody's ever charged. Maybe that you just have to live with the rest of your lives.
With that not knowing, I'm more fearful that there might be another predator out there as opposed to more upset of not having the answer. I want to make sure that whoever did this to Amber is off the street. That's what that's what scares me the most. You know what what what if they never connect this to somebody and the person who actually did this is still out there and they can do it again? But it was a different question Kerry had on her mind what happened to Amber.
She wanted to know, had to know everything you want to hear.
Whoever did this tell you exactly what happened?
You do? Oh, yeah, absolutely. I couldn't hear it from the person's mouth saying I did this. I did that. I could I couldn't I couldn't do it without without wanting to reach in and caused myself to be in jail for a long time.
But here on this April afternoon, the question was academic. More likely they would never know the difference a week can make. It was April 15th.
Five days after our interview, Ember's parents were called to a meeting where they learned for the first time who led authorities to their daughter's remains.
We knew something significant because we had to go to downtown to go meet with the district attorney, and they were informed of an offer made by John Gardner's attorneys.
His attorneys came forward with an offer to plead guilty to all of the charges with life without possibility of parole and waving his appellate rights. In exchange, Gardner's attorney wanted the death penalty off the table, so her dilemma, should she continue to develop her strong death penalty case in the murder of Chelsea King? Should she wait for the task force to link Gardner to Ambers death to. Or would that ever happen? There was absolutely no link that anyone was able to find between John Gardner and Amber, and so D.A. Dumanis was faced with a choice proceed only in the Chelsea King case or make another deal to get some kind of justice for Amber.
You could have won pretty easily a death penalty case in the Chelsea King case. Why not just do that, get the death penalty for that one?
The question was for the family. So the family I talked to was Chelsea's family because we had no case on Amber and we talked about the fact that the end result with a life without possibility of parole is he'd die in prison and there would be no appeals. So the Kings were faced with a decision. Would ambriz parents ever learn what, in fact happened to their daughter and would they see her killer pay for this crime? April 16th, the day after Mo Kerry learned about the plea deal, this is a special news report.
San Diego television stations interrupted their afternoon program, and it's a hearing is scheduled in the courthouse for John Gardner. There was news, a lot of it all at once. Let us take you live there. There's John Gardner right there.
You have the truth of that allegation. Yes.
A stunning admission of guilt. First for Chelsea King. You're admitting that on February the 25th, 2010, you attacked Chelsea King while she was running. You dragged her to a remote area where you raped and strangled her. You then buried her in a shallow grave. Do you admit that? Yes. You also admit that the killing was done with premeditation and deliberation. Yes. And the murder took place within an hour of your initial contact with Chelsea King.
You get those facts as well. Yes.
Then the jogger in December. Do you admit that December the 27th, 2009, you attacked Candace Montoya while she was running and unlawfully assaulted her with the intent to rape her? Yes, and after 14 months, an end to the mystery of what happened to Amber Dubois, you admit that on February the 13th, 2009, you took Amber Devoir to a remote area, Paula, where you raped and stabbed her, then buried her in a shallow grave. Do you admit the truth of those facts?
Yes. You're also admitting that this murder took place within an hour and a half of your initial contact with Amber Dubois. You met all of those facts as well. Yes.
In exchange for a life sentence, Gardner admitted all and pleaded guilty. It was a deal made possible because of a choice willingly made by one grieving family in an effort to spare more pain for another, the family has been through unthinkable hell the past 14 months.
We couldn't imagine the confession to ambush murder, never seeing the light of day. Leaving an eternal question mark and Ambriz, parents were grateful for the rest of my life without knowing what ifs and horrible would have they always wondering if he was connected and or if there was someone else out there. But now that she knew now she was determined to come face to face with her daughter's killer. No matter what it took you, I want to talk to your son and find out why he murdered my daughter.
An emotional meeting behind prison doors. What to do, ask? You plead guilty. It was after John Gardner stood in a San Diego courtroom and pleaded guilty to the murders of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois. Probation hearing and sentencing in this department. It was as he waited for the formal sentencing life in prison that he knew was coming from the San Diego County jail cell.
Gardner gave an interview to a local TV station and said he would only talk to the families about what happened to Chelsea and Amber as soon as I heard those words. It's all I focused on because Carrie, remember, was determined to know what happened to her daughter during the last minute she was alive.
I think if you're a parent, you want to know what happened. You want to know how they took your child. If a lesson can be learned from Amber, then then I want to go out there.
And so early in May, she began trying to arrange a visit, went through all the correct legal channels to try to get it.
And they kept insisting that I would meet with them after sentencing and I didn't want to meet with them after sentencing.
She had to know now. She tried to schedule a visit. I was told none was available. So Carrie had a bold idea. Why not ask Gardner's mother to give up one of her visits with her son? And so one afternoon, she waited outside the jail as Gardiner's mother approached. It didn't go well. I just want to visit. Your son scuse me, don't don't touch me. I'm not. I'm not here to race, you all want to talk to your son and find out why he murdered my daughter.
The next day, there was a phone call from the jailer. Can you be here and a half hour somehow the time was found for her talk with Gardner. Would you like to walk in there? No, you're going to talk to the guy who killed your daughter. I was really nervous up until I got there. Going in there and talking with them just didn't really have any feelings with me. I have forgiven whoever had done this to Amber when I got her remains back.
So to me, it was just a person talking.
He was already sitting behind the partition when she arrived. I think maybe I glanced at him once, but where were you looking just down, just not just not at him. I really had no desire to look at him. Why not?
I didn't want to get angry or upset or or I just wanted to stay focused and stuff for me to stay focused. I just looked down or doodled on paper or whatever. I just really wanted to stay in a mindset where I didn't start crying or get upset or what to do. Ask him, walk me through your day.
And now Kerry would finally learn what happened to Amber in the last hours of her life.
He started, you know, in the morning and then his girlfriend got in a fight.
So he took off in a car to blow off steam, he said, and he happened to drive by the street where Amber was taken. Why she was on that street, I don't know.
It was not the way Amber usually went to school. My guess is that she was going by her girlfriend's house and lives right around the corner. He snatched her here.
Gardner told Carey he saw Amber walking by herself. He turned and cut her off and told her, if you don't get in this car, I have knife. And again, things will be real bad for you. And she got in a car. He didn't have a gun. But I don't know if he showed her the knife or not. I'm not sure. But he said, you know, she knew by the look in my eyes. That I was serious.
There was no there was no questions about it, and honestly, I think if she would have tried to run, it might have just killed her right there on the spot. Did you ask him for more than that? Yeah, he told me which way he drove. You know, he's very detailed about the streets. He went on. He stopped the conversation repeatedly, said Carrie asked me if he if I wanted him to continue, you know, got real upset every time I told him to continue.
And he's like, you know, I don't want to I don't want to upset you. And I'm like, you've already taken my daughter continue. And when it got to the rape part of it, he he, you know, pretty much begged, you know, please, can I stop? Can I stop? And I'm like, continue. And he's like, I don't want to.
And by the time by the time I left there, he was pretty much curled over sweating, just, you know, complete crying.
He was a mess. So he did have some feelings.
All right. Very good actor. So once you got the answers, you knew you could be a criminal. Did you say anything else to him? No. He asked me, are you going to tell me you hate me? Are you going to yell and scream? I'm ready to hear that. And I said no. And I hung up the phone and I walked out. Did you walk out of that place a different person than when you were going to that place?
Very. Happy, very just kind of giddy, and I'm like, oh, my God, I could breathe. You know, it's just like such a relief. It really it was. It was a great feeling and unexpected reaction, perhaps, though, how could anyone know how it feels to be Carrie McGonigle or to be the parents of Chelsea King in court on sentencing day? Look at me. One last haunting question. Are you saying then that the deaths of these two girls would have been prevented and a revelation from a mother?
I said, wow, you just said the whole world. What happened? Chelsea saw I'll look into the soul of a killer. Lawyer John Gardner was guilty, no doubt about it. He was a predator and a murderer. All that was left to do was sentence him. So case closed. Not really. For three months, a steady drip of news seemed to ask over and over, how did they miss him? Gardner remembered spent five years in prison for sexually molesting a beating a 13 year old girl back in 2000.
He was paroled in 2005.
It was maddening to us at the time everything that led up to his being free on the streets, allowing him to stalk our children.
Maddening because there had been fair warning. A psychiatrist a decade earlier warned that he was very dangerous and should receive the maximum 10 year sentence under his plea deal.
At that advisement taken, Gardner might still have been in prison back in 2010.
There's numerous, numerous times that he felt through the cracks, like, for example, his parole violations once he was released.
The cops found marijuana in his car for a time. He lived too close to children with the judgment of the parole department was not to bust him. And then the public discovered that Gardner wore a GPS monitor his last year on parole, which ended in 2008, just four months before Amber disappeared.
But no one was watching, and we found over 100 violations of parole that hadn't been previously discovered by the department. We missed some opportunities to remove him from society.
So Dave Shaw was the inspector general for the California Department of Corrections. The agency's watchdog, which after the fact looked into the Gardner case, he spent time at adjacent to day care centers, to schools, to parks, to playgrounds, to the beach, all places that he shouldn't have been out.
And we didn't catch it because we weren't looking, nor was anyone watching when Gardner drove into the parking lot of a state prison.
Gardner said it was to drop off a friend, but it's against the law for an ex-con to enter prison grounds and that San Diego's D.A. at the time told us was a felony that would have locked him up for a very long time.
We would have filed a three strikes case because his 2000 case was two strikes and he'd be facing 25 years to life.
Are you saying then that the deaths of these two girls would have been prevented?
What we're saying is that had he been incarcerated, it would have been impossible for him to commit these particular crimes. And there were ample opportunities to either revoke his parole or to prosecute him.
But no one at the time was monitoring Gardner's GPS.
Did you find fault with somebody or with some systems?
We think it was a system that was at fault. We didn't find any particular fault on the part of the parole agent. The agents just weren't looking at it because they weren't required to. Listen to this. They weren't expected to track Gardiner's GPS monitor because of the way a standardized assessment used at the time classify Gardiner's risk potential as medium low risk for the lower risk offenders.
It was used only as a crime solving tool. Matthew Cate was the head of the California Department of Corrections.
And so if a crime is reported, then we would go back and look at the tracks to see if we could place the offender at the scene of the crime. Gardner, a lower risk offender, again, says Matthew Cate, it was the assessment method itself, its limitations that failed to spot Gardner's potential to be dangerous. But when Gardner was paroled. This was the most accurate tool in the world, and so we used it. I wish we know then what we know now, but the department just didn't have anything else to use at the time.
It was based on factors such as age, number of offenses, type of crime, I think the public wants us to be able to predict who exactly is going to do what will never be able to do that. Low risk doesn't mean no risk improvements have been made.
There is required GPS tracking of all sex offender parolees and treatment for those parolees.
The treatment includes the use of polygraph tests in an effort to keep track of them to see if they're in danger of reoffending will move then to the victim impact statements.
There's an emotional structure now to sentencing days in American courtrooms, wrenching, often deeply angry.
And I pray every night that God shows, you know, mercy. And this is how it was with John Gardner listening sometimes attentively, sometimes not to Chelsea's parents, you dismantled a family life that was built on love, trust and faith. But you did not destroy it. Look at me. Why am I not surprised and embarrassed, no one can appreciate the horror that is my life and so they can appreciate the joy that was my amber there.
The earlier survivor of a Gardner attack spoke every day I look at my shoes and relive the moments of terror, the utter conviction that I was going to die.
And she reminded him how she elbowed his nose to escape. And finally. Ask him how his nose is returned to his attorney and appeared to say she didn't hit me and even that, she's saying it for publicity.
And you saw that look of rage. And I said, wow, you just showed the whole world what Ambron children saw before you killed them.
But all this was formality, really.
Already, the people who must live with the death this man left in his wake had struggled with what to do after.
Ember's mother is involved in search and rescue building, her legacy is going to be the search and rescue team and Chelsea's parents took on the system.
If our laws were smarter and bolder, Chelsea might still be here.
We push for a new law named for Chelsea and signed by the governor in 2010, imposing stiffer sentences for sex offenders, increased terms of parole and improved monitoring and assessment of parolees. Governor Schwarzenegger, I thank you for your support and commitment. You've helped us fulfill our dream of doing everything in our power to prevent this tragedy from ever happening to another family again. Chelsea should have been a college graduate by then, and Amber, a future farmer. Instead, all their parents could do was watch authorities lead the killer away to a life in prison.
And try the best they can to stop the next one out there somewhere. Hi, I'm John Thrasher, and I'm Darren Carr, and we're the hosts of Oxygen's True Crime podcast, Martinis and Murder. Are you like us and always looking for a new true crime podcast, a bench? Well, you're in luck. Martinis and murder is a perfect blend of true crime.
Good laughs and of course, delicious drinks that you're going to want to enjoy while listening to the show from high profile cases everyone has heard of to tiny, lesser known ones that have gone under the radar. We are breaking down all the details of a new case every week.
And not only that, we're interviewing some of the biggest names in the true crime world, people like Nancy Grace, Paul Holes, and, of course, the king of true crime himself, Keith Morrison. So what are you waiting for? Come have a drink with us.
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