The Jenner, California double-murder of 2004 came to the public's attention on August 18, 2004, when the bodies of Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and her fiance Jason S. Allen, 26, were found on Fish Head Beach at the mouth of Russian Gulf, in the small coastal hamlet of Jenner, California. Both Cutshall and Allen were killed with a .45-caliber Marlin rifle as they slept in their sleeping bags on the beach. The Sonoma County Coroner's Office estimated that the couple was slain on either the night of August 14, 2004 or in the early morning hours of August 15, 2004.
In the days following the murders, the case received considerable attention from the national media. As of March 2010 the crime remains unsolved.
Both Cutshall and Allen grew up in the mid-western United States. Cutshall was from Fresno, Ohio and Allen was from Zeeland, Michigan. The couple met in 2002 while Cutshall was a student at Appalachian Bible College in West Virginia.
Prior to their murders, Cutshall and Allen had been working as counselors at Rock-N-Water, a Christian summer camp in El Dorado County, California. According to acquaintances at Rock-N-Water, Cutshall and Allen had left the camp on a road trip several days before they were killed. Credit card receipts placed the duo at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco on August 14, 2004. Witnesses also reported seeing Cutshall's 1992 red Ford Tempo in the towns of Guerneville, Sebastopol, Forestville, and Jenner before the murders.
On Saturday - the night of the murder - the couple went to a local motel and restaurant called Rivers End but were unable to rent a room. There they were told about the beach where they ultimately went and met their untimely end. The beach is about 5 miles from the restaurant and they were said to have been in the area around 10:00pm.
The bodies of the slain couple were not discovered until several days later when the Sheriff's helicopter was dispatched on a call of a man who fell off the cliff above Fish Head Beach. The helicopter spotted the bodies and authorities were called in.
Homicide detectives from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department launched an investigation into the deaths of Cutshall and Allen. The detectives quickly eliminated murder-suicide as an explanation to the killings. They also confirmed that none of Cutshall's or Allen's belongings had been taken, ruling out robbery as a motive, and that neither of the campers had been sexually assaulted.
Camping is prohibited on the rural stretch of beach where Cutshall and Allen met their deaths, but drifters and hitchhikers on State Route 1 (which runs alongside Fish Head Beach) are known to use the oceanfront site for sleeping. Initially, it was postulated that a drifter had murdered the young couple and then left the area. Despite an exhaustive effort by detectives, this avenue of the investigation never yielded any solid leads.
In the weeks following the murders of Cutshall and Allen, similar cases in the United States and Canada came to the attention of detectives. On October 19, 2003, Brandon Rumbaugh, 20, and Lisa Gurrieri, 19, were shot to death in their sleeping bags while camping in Yavapai County, Arizona. No suspects were ever identified in this case. Additionally, detectives looked into a double-murder which occurred on Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 1972. While a suspect was identified in the British Columbia case, he was eventually ruled out as the killer of Cutshall and Allen.
In 2005, detectives in Lane County, Oregon contacted the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department to compare a double-homicide in their jurisdiction with the Jenner double-murder of 2004. On July 1, 2005, the bodies of middle school counselor Stevan Haugen, 54, and his girlfriend Jeanette Bauman, 56, were discovered at a remote campground outside Oakridge, Oregon. Haugen's dog was also found shot to death at the scene of the murders. There were key similarities between the Haugen-Bauman killings and the Allen-Cutshall killings which piqued the interest of investigators. First, ballistic evidence confirmed that both couples were murdered with a rifle. Second, both couples were killed in their sleeping bags while camping in a secluded area. Third, neither of the couples were the victims of sexual assault or robbery, although authorities in Lane County have confirmed that the license plates on Mr. Haugen's vehicle (Oregon plate number CL47763) were stolen. To date, no suspects have been arrested for the murder of Stevan Haugen or Jeanette Bauman.
Perhaps the most tantalizing theory on the Jenner murders is that they were the work of the infamous Zodiac killer. Between 1966 and 1969, the Zodiac was responsible for five murders in northern California and possibly one murder in Riverside, California. The Zodiac is also strongly suspected in another double murder that occurred on June 4, 1963 on a beach in Santa Barbara County, California. The murder of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards bears some extremely striking similarities to the Jenner murders as well as those of the Zodiac and is being considered as another possibly related murder. This has also led to some speculation that Joseph Henry Burgess might be, in fact, the Zodiac Killer. In addition, some observers believed the Zodiac killer was responsible for other unsolved homicides in the San Francisco Bay Area. During his reign of terror, the Zodiac wrote numerous letters to the media, taunting them with his willingness to kill and the ineptitude of the law enforcement agencies which were pursuing him. Despite an investigation which spanned decades, the Zodiac killer was never brought to justice. To this day, the identity of the Zodiac remains a mystery.
However, because the Zodiac often targeted young couples in isolated areas near water and sometimes killed with a firearm, he was identified as a possible suspect in the Jenner double-murder of 2004. It can also be noted that, per the book "Zodiac" by Robert Graysmith, the serial killer murdered his victims on nights with a full moon or a new moon. There was a new moon out on August 16, 2004, a day after Cutshall and Allen are believed to have been killed.
Police also investigated James Robert Zook who was convicted of first degree murder for the killing of Daniel Nathan Bloomfield with a .22 caliber revolver on the day of August 18th. Significant in this case was the use of an old west style pistol revolver of the same era as the Marlin rifle used in this case and that Zook shot Bloomfield 3 days after the morning when Cutshall and Allen are approximated to have been killed. Also significant is the fact that Zook was arrested walking barefoot down Muniz Ranch road where his parents lived. The crime scene: Fish Head Beach is visible only a quarter of a mile from that dirt road where it meets Hwy 1. Police claimed that Zook had an alibi and so did not pursue this line of questioning further. Zook is also in the DNA registry of felons and no match has yet been found to DNA presumed to be the killer's on the Jenner beach.
In May 2006, twenty-one months after Cutshall and Allen were slain, Sonoma County Sheriff's detectives released new evidence in the case, which they hoped would generate new leads. Several pieces of evidence were released, including poems which were found near the crime scene, a hat which was found on Highway 1, an empty 40-ounce bottle of "Camo" beer, and drawings which were inked onto pieces of driftwood near the site of the killings. They also found a distinctive hat on a turnout above the beach on Hwy 1, and police said they wanted to know how the hat and beer bottle came to be in the places they were found.
There were also writings contained in a journal left for visitors to write entries in found inside a driftwood hut; nearby to where the murders took place.
Besides these pieces of evidence, detectives also disclosed that a possible DNA sample from the killer had been recovered from the crime scene. Nevertheless, this promising piece of evidence had been tested against California's database of DNA samples (which are taken from people who are convicted of felonies), but no match was made. This has fueled speculation that the Jenner murders might actually be the work of the unapprehended Zodiac Killer.
Police would not elaborate on what the DNA evidence found was.
The murders of Lindsay Cutshall and Jason Allen have never been solved. Cutshall's father, who is an evangelical minister in Ohio, believes that the devil was responsible for the deaths of his daughter and her fiance. In a 2006 interview, Chris Cutshall stated that he believes the murders are linked to satanic activity. However, there is no substantive nor conclusive evidence which links the murders of Lindsay Cutshall and Jason Allen to satanists, the Zodiac Killer or any other specific suspect.
On July 21, 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported that Sonona County Sheriff's detectives had named Joseph Henry Burgess as a suspect in the Jenner slayings. Burgess, who fled to Canada during the Vietnam War and joined a cult, is also a suspect in the murders two campers on Vancouver Island in 1972.
Burgess grew up in New Jersey and began drifting around the United States and Canada as a young adult. He was known to carry a .22-caliber rifle. Furthermore, Burgess was alleged to have a hatred for unmarried couples who slept together. Detectives believe this could have precipitated the attack on Cutshall and Allen.
On July 16, 2009, Joseph Henry Burgess was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers in Sandoval County, New Mexico. Over the last several years, home owners in Sandoval County had been experiencing problems with a serial burglar in their community who would break into homes and steal food and valuables. Surveillance of several homes in Sandoval County was set up in an attempt to nab the burglar. On July 16, Burgess broke into a Sandoval County home which was being watched by sheriff's deputies. After entering the residence, Burgess and Sandoval County Sheriff's Sergeant Joe Harris got into a gun battle, wherein Sgt. Harris was mortally wounded. However, before Burgess could escape, he was gunned down by Harris' partner.
Detectives from Sonoma County will be travelling to New Mexico in the coming weeks to compare DNA evidence recovered at the scene of the Jenner double-murder with Burgess' DNA.
After further analysis it was determined that DNA samples did not match Burgess with the Cutshall and Allen murders. Sonoma County Sheriff's department investigators traveled to New Mexico to compare evidence with DNA and a spent bullet in the case of a police shooting there with an unidentified piece of DNA found at the Jenner crime scene but there was no match.