Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

10 Years After Murder Of Poway Teen Chelsea King

Cover image for podcast episode

This month marks 10 years since the murder of Poway teenager Chelsea King shocked San Diego. King, 17, was raped and murdered while on an afternoon run around Lake Hodges.

Speaker 1: 00:00 10 years ago. This month, the murder of Poway teenager, Chelsea King shocked San Diego and opened up a twisted story of mental illness and sexual violence. 17 year old Chelsea was raped and murdered while on an afternoon run around Lake cottages and we were soon to learn that a murder the year before of Escondido teenager. Amber Dubois was also part of the tragic story. Since her death, Chelsea has been remembered first with heartfelt memorials, then with Chelsea's law, which increased penalties for sex offenses against children and the King family has created the protect the joy organization to remember Chelsea. It's dedicated to advocate for all aspects of childhood safety. Joining me is author Caitlin Rother, who wrote about the murders of Chelsea and Amber in her book lost girls and Kaitlyn. Welcome to the program.

Speaker 2: 00:52 Thanks for having me on

Speaker 1: 00:53 the murder of Chelsea King was a shocking event for San Diego. How did the community react?

Speaker 2: 00:59 Well, you know, this case to me received unprecedented coverage and that's because it raised unprecedented level of emotions in this County. First because we already had the disappearance and murder of Amber Duvall, which we weren't sure what happened to her at this point. And there were search teams both for her. And then again when Chelsea disappeared for her as well. And they were unbelievably popular in terms of how many people felt like they wanted to get involved, that people's hearts went out to this girl because her picture was posted. Even in my gym. I remember seeing a flyer, it went viral and people in record numbers were showing up to help look for for this girl. And in days it went from this hope and love that this girl would be found to absolute anger when her body was found and John Gardner was arrested and I've never seen anything like that before, which is why I felt compelled to write this book.

Speaker 1: 02:04 Unfortunately, when we talk about Chelsea King, we, we talk about her murder, but what was this 17 year old girl like?

Speaker 2: 02:12 You know, I think the reason that people came out in such numbers was, you know, she had this very intelligent and hopeful look on her face and these eyes, these blue eyes, they just looked so genuine and so pure and I think that really resonated with people. They knew she was a really great student. She had a whole life ahead of her. She was a first amendment advocate. I believe she was, you know, really involved in her school and people liked her. People were hoping that she would be found and then when she wasn't, she became almost, you know, an an idolic figure. They'd posted flowers and ribbons at the trail head where she had last gone running

Speaker 1: 02:54 another young life was taken to this story. 14 year old Amber Dubois. Police originally thought she might have run away from home and that was the year before Chelsea's murder. How did police link the two crimes?

Speaker 2: 03:08 Nobody knew really where Amber went and they initially thought, you know, maybe she had run away. Maybe there was something else. And you know, her family kept saying, no, no, she never would have done that. After Chelsea went missing, there was this response by the Sheriff's department that was very different from the one with Amber because they knew where her phone was inside her car. They knew that she did not come home when she was supposed to. They knew that she was somewhere in the area or had been, you know, very recently, her parents were on it immediately and then they found her panties. And because John Gardner's DNA was in the database, they were able to quickly find him, apprehend him, capture him, and then within a couple of days they found Chelsea's body. And then behind the scenes, none of us knew this at the time by John Gardner in order to, you know, save his own life from the death penalty. Um, at least at that point told authorities where he had taken Amber and where he had raped and murdered her and they went there and found her remains

Speaker 1: 04:15 no. Your book describes the, the history of sexual violence at the murder of John Gardner had, and the efforts by his family to get them off the streets, to get them committed into some, some kind of program. Tell us about that.

Speaker 2: 04:28 You know, there was really an outpouring of anger at his mother and I spent quite a lot of time interviewing her now. She had her own troubled past. She had been molested as a child. She had been raped, she was a psychiatric nurse, and yet she couldn't see what her own son was. So people thought that she purposely, you know, was holding him there and protecting him, but in fact, she didn't realize what he was capable of because he had, you know, assaulted and molested this 13 year old girl who had lived next door to them. But he told his entire family that she had been making the whole thing up and they believed him because there was this whole other side to John Gardner that I described in my book that you know, even to his girlfriends that I interviewed years later, they said, I never saw this monster person that everybody's describing. So you know, his mother basically didn't know where he was. He was out on these trails and he actually told me in an interview at Corcoran state prison that he had been after another woman who had been jogging. He ran after her and couldn't catch up to her, and Chelsea just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and he grabbed her and badly raped and killed her at the trail side.

Speaker 1: 05:46 When your book came out, Katelyn, you were criticized by Chelsea's family and others for writing it. Did you expect that reaction?

Speaker 2: 05:53 I felt like I had good intentions. I always was trying to prevent something like this from happening by educating the public on what to look out for. You know, your daughter's boyfriend who might actually be a sexual predator like John Gardner. So to me, I was just trying to tell the community and help educate the community on what happened and hopefully try to prevent something like this from happening again.

Speaker 1: 06:17 How has this tragedy had a lasting impact on San Diego?

Speaker 2: 06:21 So my hope is that because of this case, because of we found out how they were murdered, how he managed to capture them, he got Amber when she was walking alone to school. He got Chelsea on the running trail where she was running alone. Um, I don't know whether she had earbuds in or not, but you know, in the book I tried to give lessons and, and helpful information to people to protect themselves. And I'm hoping that this really did have that effect on the community.

Speaker 1: 06:52 I've been speaking with Caitlin Rother, author of the book lost girls and Caitlin, thank you.

Speaker 2: 06:57 Thank you.

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.