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CALIFORNIA MURDERS Camp counselors' deaths still unsolved



Published: Sat, February 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



It has been six months since the murders of a Michigan man and Ohio woman.

JENNER, Calif. (AP) -- On the remote beach where two camp counselors were murdered in their sleeping bags last summer, there is no memorial to the young couple and no sign of where they died.

Twice a day, high tides remake this place, erasing footprints, stealing away driftwood that surrounded their campsite and rearranging the sands where Jason Allen of Michigan and Lindsay Cutshall of Ohio spent their last night six months ago.

Their killer or killers have also apparently vanished, stumping Sonoma County sheriff's investigators and leaving family members of the two Midwesterners anguished and wondering what went wrong last August along the rugged coastline.

"I haven't a clue. I have no idea. It's a mystery to us," Delores Allen, mother of Jason Allen, said by phone from her Zeeland, Mich., home. "I would like very much to see it solved, but it's not something that I worry about. I don't carry it around like a burden."

Allen, 26, and Cutshall, 23, who were to be married in September in Ohio, had been working all summer at a Christian camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills when they headed to the coast for a weekend getaway before their final week of work.

Finding the bodies

A search and rescue team in a helicopter discovered the bodies Aug. 18 while plucking a stranded hiker from a bluff above the rocky shore in this area that draws tourists along undulating Highway 1. The two had each been shot once in the head as they lay in their sleeping bags, a few hundred yards from the highway.

While more than a dozen officers once scoured the beach just north of this seaside village of fewer than 200 residents, only one officer is assigned to the case full time, said Lt. Dave Edmonds.

Officers have said very little publicly about the case. In September, they revealed that the murder weapon is probably a .45-caliber Marlin rifle, a relatively rare gun. Edmonds said they had found some models of that firearm, but he refused to say if the actual murder weapon was recovered.

Reward

In November, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the killings. The governor's awards, which have been paid 18 out of 165 times they've been offered since 1967, are only offered when other means are exhausted.

The state doesn't offer the reward if police are about to make an arrest, Edmonds said. The reward, along with $10,000 posted by a private foundation, may inspire a tipster to come forward with evidence that solves the crime, he said. In any case, they haven't given up hope.

"It's not lost on us the gravity of the case. So that gives us greater impetus to push harder," Edmonds said. "We're also familiar with statistics about success rates diminishing with the passage of time. We can't pay attention to that."

The six-month anniversary of the bodies being found arrived Friday without any special attention in Jenner, although residents said the killings remain fresh in their minds.

Jim Daly, a local plumber and crab fisherman, said he used to camp on the beach frequently. "We don't think about doing that anymore."

"Spooky," Daly said of the murders. "I mean, they never caught the guy."

Investigators believe the killings happened sometime after sunset Aug. 14 and before the morning of Aug. 16, when they were due back at Rock-N-Water, a Christian adventure camp in Coloma, about 50 miles east of Sacramento.

Remembering the couple

A scholarship program named Kids in Creation to help send children to such camps was set up in honor of Cutshall and Allen.

The camp, which teaches youths about the Bible and leads them on whitewater rafting trips, plans to dedicate a memorial to the two sometime this summer in a private service, a spokesman said.

Kathy Cutshall, Lindsay's mother, said her family privately acknowledged the passage of time earlier in the week.

"It's a difficult day, but not any different than any other day," she said by phone from her Fresno, Ohio, home. "She's always in our hearts and our minds."

The parents of both counselors are devout Christians and say their faith has seen them through the ordeal.

The Rev. Chris Cutshall has been preaching a series of sermons dedicated to his daughter and Allen. The sermons are based on scripture that Lindsay had marked up extensively in the Bible they found among her belongings at camp.

Recently, Chris Cutshall read a letter from the pulpit that was written by a 17-year-old girl Lindsay had counseled. In the letter, the girl said she now understands things she didn't understand before and that Lindsay's death had brought her closer to God. If she had a daughter, she said she would name her after their daughter.

"I broke down," Chris Cutshall said. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Something so precious about the letter is that it reminded us what a beautiful girl she was."

The two families are confident the killer will be brought to justice eventually.

"This person is really sick and needs to be taken off the streets and the beaches before he hurts someone else," Chris Cutshall said. "At the same time, I can honestly say that my wife and I have prayed for this guy's soul because we know he's under the wrath of God."




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