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Brando magazine, April 2009In April 2009, Argentina’s Brando magazine ran a long-form narrative feature I wrote about Cary Stayner, a death row inmate in California’s San Quentin State Prison.

Stayner was sent there for the killings of four women in Yosemite National Park in 1999, what became known as The Yosemite Murders. One of the victims was an Argentinean teenager, Silvina Pelosso, whose disappearance was covered intensely by media in her home country.

At the time, I was an intern at Clarín newspaper in Buenos Aires and, since I was one of the few in the crime desk who spoke English, I was assigned to cover the case. It was a major assignment for me, since at the time I’d been a journalist for less than two years. But, even as I reported by phone from Buenos Aires and the paper’s main competitor flew a reporter to California, I managed to break news — like the day the story below ran, when the paper actually stopped the presses to change its cover after I got the exclusive that the missing women’s car had been found.

After I left for New York three years later, one day I read a small item about Stayner’s sentencing on the Daily News. I started working on the case again for a narrative journalism class taught by New Yorker writer James B. Stewart and I wrote a story that was never published.

Clarín, March 19, 1999On the tenth anniversary of the crimes, I contacted Brando and got them interested in running an updated version of the story.

A big component this time was an interview with Silvina Pelosso’s mother. This forced me into an uncomfortable position, since she was adamant that I not run any details on the crime itself — a big part of the story and one that had been published before, when reporters obtained transcripts of Stayner’s confession. My journalistic judgment ran against her wishes but her request was compelling.

In the end, I included some details of what happened, but I left many parts out. (My first draft was even more succinct and the editor, wisely I think, asked me for more.) Based on our correspondence and conversations, I assume the victim’s mother didn’t like the published version — but I know I never deceived her as to what I was setting out to write when I spoke to her. I did try to avoid any sensationalism, the thing she most feared.

The story, in Spanish, is below. And you can also download it in a pdf file by clicking here.

La mente de un asesino

En 2009, Silvina Pelosso, una adolescente cordobesa, apareció estrangulada en un bosque de California. Cary Stayner, condenado a muerte por el crimen, vivió casi cuatro décadas sin signos de su patología, hasta que una noche se hundió en un raid de violaciones y asesinatos. Retrato psicológico y biografía de un hombre que creció entre abusos infantiles y horrores domésticos. [ + ]