registered


Cara Knott Murder & The San Diego Crime Vicitims Oak Garden


 

Article, Photos & Research by David Johnson:

The Cara Knott Murder and the San Diego Crime Victims Oak Garden

The 1986 murder of twenty year-old Cara Knott by California Highway Patrol Office Craig Peyer was a case that shook the San Diego region like an earthquake.  It frightened women young and old, it horrified parents who wanted to believe their daughters were safe in our community, and it engendered a gut level distrust of police that persists in many to this day.  It still evokes a visceral reaction from  hundreds of thousands of  San Diegans, and it was every bit as shocking back then as was the Chelsea King murder that brought the region to its emotional knees a quarter of a century later.

The Garden

One tangible manifestation of the Knott tragedy is the San Diego Crime Victims Oak Garden located near the site where Cara’s body was dumped just northeast of the intersection of Interstate 15 and Mercy Road.  To reach the park, exit Interstate 15 at the Mercy Road/Scripps Poway Parkway exit, go east and make a U-turn at Scripps Highland Drive 300 yards from the freeway, take the first right into Cara Way and proceed north to the park.

The creative force behind the oak garden concept was Cara’s grieving father Sam Knott who lobbied for the better part of a decade to have the area dedicated to his daughter.  His work reached fruition in 1996 when the site was dedicated as the Cara Knott Memorial Oak Garden.  It was re-dedicated in 1999 as the San Diego Crime Victims Memorial Garden, undoubtedly with the blessing of the Knott family.  In that year, Sam Knott transplanted scores of Oak saplings that the family had grown from acorns in their back yard.

Since its dedication the park has grown into an oasis where the lives of dozens of victims of crime and violent death are commemorated.  It is the gathering point for periodic events in which family and friends of those who are remembered here gather and continue the process of recovery.  It has also become something of a destination for followers of paranormal phenomena.  If you are unable to visit the garden personally, here is a YouTube clip that beautifully captures its essence:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5lJJ2wpb6o

The Cara Knott Murder

In the several days following Christmas of 1986, Wayne Bautista of Escondido was suffering from the flu.  His girlfriend Cara Knott had been caring for him for several days, but shortly after 8:00 in the evening of December 27, she phoned her parents at their home in El Cajon to inform them she was on her way home.  She was last seen alive when she refueled at 8:27 at a Chevron station about two miles from the murder scene.  Most of what follows will be stated as fact, rather than allegation, because there is not a shred of credible evidence to even suggest that Craig Peyer did not murder Cara Knott, or that anyone else did.

Peyer was a thrice married California Highway Patrol officer who was known in the trade as a “hot ticket;” or one who wrote an unusually large number of traffic citations.  He had been a CHP patrolman for thirteen years following a two year hitch in the Air Force.  He generally worked afternoon or graveyard shifts, and his usual beat was the Interstate 15 stretch between Balboa Avenue and Poway Road.  While on duty, he had a disturbing habit of pulling over attractive young women in his police cruiser, directing them to exit at Mercy Road and drive down the off-ramp to what was then a deserted dead end in the years before Scripps Poway Parkway linked Interstate 15 with Pomerado Road.  In the space at the bottom of the off ramp, Peyer often detained and carried on uncomfortably personal conversations with the women for as long as two hours unseen by drivers along the freeway above.  In every instance preceding this one, the incident ended with the woman driving off safely.  This time, it ended with the violent strangulation death of Cara Knott.

Why did this confrontation go so wrong?  Was Cara so appealing to Peyer that he was unable to control his actions as he had in every other instance?  Or did Cara, who had been trained to violently resist an assailant, believe her life was at risk and try to escape?  Only one person knows exactly what happened that night and he is not talking.  Whatever the trigger was, it is a certainty that once the assault began, Peyer knew his career was over if Cara lived to report it, and he chose his career over her life.  As a final indignity, he dumped her body off a nearby bridge that spanned a creek bed below.

The Aftermath

By 10:00 the desperately worried Knott extended family had begun a relentless search for Cara.  They knew their daughter would never deviate from her plans without notifying them, and that minutes counted.  Sam Knott’s pleas to law enforcement for assistance were met with the pronouncement that searches were not formally initiated until a person had been missing for 48 hours, so family members and Bautista worked on their own.  They retraced her route up and down Interstate 15, but found no evidence of her whereabouts until Cara’s sister and brother-in-law decided to drive around barriers and explore the Mercy Road off-ramp.  Soon after they found her car and police were called to the area.  Shortly after 8:00 AM, an officer peered over the railing of the bridge and spotted her body.

In the days after the murder, police sifted through trace evidence and fielded calls from the public.  Several people had reported a shaggy hitchhiker in the area on the evening of December 27th, but attention gradually shifted to Peyer.  He had returned to the station at the end of his shift with scratches on his face that he claimed were the result of a fall into a chain link fence.  He had also falsified an entry in his logbook, ostensibly to give himself an alibi for the murder.  On that cold evening, the driver’s side window in Cara’s car was rolled down indicating she had been stopped by somebody she trusted.  And there were the disturbing reports about inappropriate stops of young women that Peyer’s supervisor had received even prior to the murder.  Adding these clues together, Peyer’s sergeant offered him up as a suspect to San Diego homicide detectives.

Peyer proclaimed his innocence during multiple interrogations, but fiber and blood evidence linked him to the crime. Fibers on Cara’s clothes appeared to be a match with a patch on Peyer’s uniform, and a spot of blood on her leather boot was AB negative, a type Peyer shared with one sixth of one percent of the population.   He was given a series of polygraph tests in which his answers were judged to be deceptive.  And colleagues reported several strange conversations with Peyer relating to the murder and subsequent investigation.  On January 15, 1987, Officer Peyer was arrested and charged with murdering Cara Knott.  In May he was fired for inappropriate conduct by the CHP.

The Trials

To prosecute the case, District Attorney Edwin selected veteran Deputy D.A. Joseph van Orshoven.  He was opposed by court appointed defense attorney Robert Grimes.   The trial judge was Richard Huffman who a decade earlier had been the star prosecutor in the D.A.’s office, and who would go on to a long and distinguished career as a trial and appellate court  judge.  Van Orshoven had a well-earned reputation as a skilled prosecutor.  But earlier in the month of the murder, he was arrested for drunk driving by the CHP, although in a departure from established procedures, he was not taken to jail.  The 55 year old prosecutor had a measured blood alcohol level of .18.  Clearly he was no longer at the top of his game.  He allowed questionable evidence to be introduced, and stood by while Grimes effectively discredited his star witnesses.  In the end the jury hung 7-5 in favor of conviction and Peyer was bound over for a second trial.

For the retrial Miller called on a young rising star in his office from New York named Paul Pfingst.  He attacked evidence that had been allowed into the record of the first trial.  The first jury had been told by defense witnesses that the cuts on Peyer’s face resulted from a fall against a fence.  Pfingst argued that those witnesses were merely repeating what Peyer had told them, and none had witnessed the fall.  Huffman blocked the re-introduction of that evidence.  In the first trial Grimes had used the specter of the mystery hitchhiker to create an alternate suspect in the murder.  Pfingst argued that the police had never seen or interrogated any such person, and testimony regarding the hitchhiker was also not allowed by Judge Huffman.  With a more aggressive prosecution and a shorter list of confusing defense claims, Peyer was convicted of first degree murder.

At sentencing, an emotional Judge Huffman found plenty of blame to spread around.  He excoriated CHP officials for permitting Peyer to “continue to take young women to the off-ramp, even after receiving complaints.”  That practice, according to Huffman, “led inexorably to this tragedy sure as the sun came up this morning.”  If the CHP had acted appropriately on earlier complaints against him, Judge Huffman noted, “Cara Knott would be alive and Craig Peyer would not be on his way to state prison.”  He concluded by noting with considerable sadness, “One family has almost been destroyed by this, and the sentence that the court will impose will do the same thing to another.  There’s nothing I can fix.”

Afterward

Craig Peyer remains in prison and maintains a model record for behavior.  He continues to maintain his innocence, although significantly, he turned down an opportunity to provide DNA which could have proven the incriminating blood stain was not his.  For many years his elderly parents regularly made the trek to the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo to visit him.  His wife moved north to be nearer to him and testified in parole hearings that she would be willing to provide a home for him if he was released.

Like his beloved daughter Cara, Sam Knott died in close proximity to the Crime Victims Oak Garden.   In late November of 2000 he was by seen by a passing police patrolman at about 5:00 PM tending the garden and collecting trash.  About 90 minutes later a second patrolman found him slumped over the wheel of his car a few yards away, dead of a heart attack.  He was widely considered to be Craig Peyer’s second victim, refusing to even say the killers name and referring to him only as “the monster.”  But during the fourteen years between Cara’s demise and his own he was highly consequential.  In addition to establishing the park and nurturing the trees that are its calling card, Knott was a tireless and effective advocate for changes in laws and police practices that he felt contributed to Cara’s death.

In large part through his efforts, a number of police practices have been changed.  In 1988 he gained passage of legislation that made responding to missing persons reports a priority for police agencies.  In San Diego the Board of Supervisors appropriated millions of dollars to equip Sheriff’s patrol vehicles with computers, a move that enabled constant real time tracking of police vehicles.  There was a major change that Sam Knott wanted but was not able to get passed into law, one that would allow women who were pursued by police to pull over when and where they felt safe.  It failed in the face of substantial police lobbying, and in fact, you are still required to pull over when so directed by a patrol vehicle as soon as you can safely do so.

Paul Pfingst used the deserved credit he got for winning Peyer’s conviction as a springboard to taking his boss’ job.  In 1994 he defeated Edwin Miller and served two terms as San Diego County District Attorney.  As district attorney his office won a highly publicized conviction of David Westerfield in the Danielle Van Dam murder case, but it was his office’s perceived mishandling of the murder of twelve year old Stephanie Crowe that contributed to his narrow defeat by Bonnie Dumanis in 2002.  He now works the other side of the fence, serving as defense attorney in high profile local cases.

Minus Sam, the Knott family and Wayne Bautista remain united around the singular goal of insuring that Craig Peyer dies in prison.  Peyer has been up for parole three times, and each time a phalanx of Knotts rallied community sentiment against him.   He had parole hearings in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and each time the testimony was loud and visceral.  He will not be eligible for another hearing until 2027, at which time he will be 77 years old and several Knotts will be considerably younger.   Following is a local Channel 10 clip from Peyer’s 2012 parole hearing that provides a sense of the power behind the Knotts’ advocacy:  http://www.10news.com/news/board-denies-parole-for-ex-chp-officer-craig-peyer

It is a reality that Peyer did more damage to the image and reputation of police officers than anyone else has done.  He was only the second officer in CHP history to be charged with a murder committed while on duty.  He is a perpetual reminder that sometimes police abuse their power, and sometimes they do it egregiously.  That is an issue that continues to percolate today, and will be a publicity live grenade as long as there are rogue cops.  In this environment, the chances of Peyer ever winning his freedom are somewhere near absolute zero. 

Not content with keeping Peyer on ice and changing police policies and practices, the Knotts also sued the state for monetary damages.  The state argued that Peyer alone was responsible for their loss, while the Knotts’ lawyer countered that the state and the CHP were responsible both for what they knew, and what they should have known.  A jury found for the Knotts family and awarded them $7.5 million in damages.  The state appealed and the Knotts ultimately settled for $2.7 million.

Final Resting Place of Sam and Cara Knott

Sam and Cara Knott are buried in the Singing Hills Memorial Park, an idyllic setting in the Dehesa Valley on the outskirts of El Cajon adjacent to the Sycuan Resort and Casino property.  This is the community in which Cara grew up and went to school.  In a very real sense, Cara and Sam are back home together for eternity.


Cara Knott Grave

The cemetery was dedicated in 1996 (Cara was obviously originally interred elsewhere), and it is nestled among typical brown and rocky Southern California foothills.  The parent company owns approximately 100 acres at the site, with about a third of that space dedicated to gravesites.  It is among the most beautiful cemeteries I have seen.

To reach the Knott graves, cross the footbridge on the west end of the parking lot and walk about 115 yards along the right side of the grounds.  Sam and Cara are buried next to each other a few yards from a tree.  One can safely assume that Joyce Knott will join them here someday.

 Cara Knott Grave

 

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...


Alpine

Alpine Historical Society

 

Anza Borrego Desert

Galleta Meadows

Anza Borrego State Park

 

Bankers Hill

Balboa Park Archery Range

Balboa Botanical Building

 

Balboa Dirt Bike Trails

 

Desert Garden

 

Bridle Trail

 

Centro Cultural de Raza

 

Florida Canyon

 

Free Tuesdays at the Park


Top of the Park


Japanese Friendship Garden


Marston Canyon & Footbridge

 

Marston House

 

Maple Canyon

 

Mingei International Museum

 

Museum of Man

 

Natural History Museum

 

House of Pacific Relations International Cottages

 

Old Cactus Garden

 

Palm Canyon

 

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

 

Spanish Village Art Center

 

Twilight in the Park

 

World Beat Center

 

 

Bonita

 

The Grave of Kathy Fiscus (Lost History)

 


Campo

Campo Stone Store Museum



Carmel Valley

Carmel Valley Cemetery

 

Carlsbad

Batiquitos Lagoon

Carlsbad Flower Fields

Hosp Grove

Leo Carrillo Ranch

Museum of Making Music

Self-Realization FellowshipHermitage & Meditation Gardens

 

City Heights 

City Farmers Nursery 

New Roots Community Farm

San Diego Peace Garden

Wat Sovannkiri Buddhist Temple

 

Chula Vista

Living Coast Discovery Center

Proctor Valley Rd.

Zorba's Greek Restaurant

U.S. Olympic Training Center

Upper Otay Lake


 

Coronado

Coronado Sand Dune's Secret Message

Hotel Del Coronado


Dog Beach


 

Cuyamaca 

Cuyamaca State Park

 

Dyar House Ruins 

Green Valley Falls

Stonewall Mine




Del Mar

Cinépolis

Four-o-clock Friday's

Exotic Bird Sanctuary

 

Downtown

Altitude Sky Bar

Chinese Historical District

East Village Tavern + Bowl 

Grant Hotel

Horton Grand Hotel


The Noble Experiment

Prohibition

Zombie Walk

Shout House

Syrah


William Heath Davis House


Encinitas

Good Morning

San Diego Botanic Gardens

 

El Cajon

Kuma Bonsai Nursery

Water Conservation Garden

Unarius

Summers Past Farms

Crestridge Ecological Reserve


Escondido


 Altipiano Vineyard & Winery

Cordiano Winery

Daley Ranch

Deer Park Winery & 
Auto Museum

Distinction Gallery

Deer Park Monastary

Dixon Lake

Elfin Forest

Grand Tea Room

Philosophical Library

Felicita Park

Grape Day Park

Harmony Grove Spiritualist Center

Harmony Grove

Kit Carson Park Hiking Trails

Orfila Winery

Lake Wohlford

Lake Wohlford Dam

Plan 9 Alehouse

San Pasqual Cemetery 

San Pasqual Indian Cemetery

Sikes Historic Adobe Farmstead

Street Life

Record Paradise

Questhaven Retreat

Questhaven Rd.

Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden

Phap Vuong Monatsery

Stone Brewery

Stone Farms


Fallbrook

Dinwiddie Preserve

Grand Tradition Gardens

Masonic Cemetery

Odd Fellows Cemetery

Palomares House & Park

Santa Margarita River & Ruins

 

 Golden Hill

 

Golden Hill Park


Villa Montezuma


Victorian Homes of Golden Hill

 

 

Hillcrest

 

Co-Habitat


Suspension Bridge


 


Imperial Beach

Mt. Olivet Cemetery


Suzie's Farm


Tijuana River Valley Regional Park Community Garden


Jacumba

Desert View Tower

Boulder Park

 

Carrizo Gorge Railyard

 

Coyote's Flying Saucer Retrievals & Repairs

 

Institute of Perception



 

Julian


Wolf Sanctuary

Downtown Julian

Golden Gem Mine

Julian Pioneer Cemetery

Eagle Mine

Three Sisters Falls


Kearny Mesa

 94 Aero Squadron Restaurant


99 Ranch Market


The Fruit Shop

 

La Jolla

Munchkin House 

Seal Beach

Secret Swings

La Jolla's Caves, Coves and Tidepools

Mount Soledad

Salk Institute

Scripps Coastal Reserve

Secrets of UCSD

Sunny Jim Cave

Pottery Canyon Natural Park


La Mesa


La Mesa's Secret Stairs

Mount Helix

McKinney House

Wat Lao Boubpharam Temple


 

Lakeside

Blue Sky Ranch



Linda Vista

Tecelote Park

 

Little Italy

Downtown Little Italy

Washington St. Skatepark

 

 Logan Heights

Chicano Park Murals

Technomania Circus

The Chrch

Writerz Blok



Mira Mesa

Camino Ruiz Trail

 

Misc.

Aesthetigeist Art Collective

Christmas Light Displays

Community Acupuncture

Haunted San Diego Events

Little Free Library

 Urban Ruins of HIghway 80

 

Mission Hills

Pioneer Park

Presidio Park

Presidio Park Historic Spots 

Topiary Garden


Mission Valley 
Adobe Falls


Mission Basilica San 
Diego de Alcala

 

Normal Heights

Folk Arts Rare Records

Herb Shoppe

 

Northpark

Ray St.

 

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach Farmers Market

Sunset Cliffs Caves & Coves


Sunset Cliffs Hiking Trails


Villa Surf Ruins

 

Villa Surf (Lost History)


 

Oceanside

Succulent Cafe

San Luis Rey Mission

 

San Luis Rey Pioneer Cemetery

 



Old Town

Casa de Estudillo

Cosmopolitan Hotel

Dia de los Muertos

El Campo Cemetary

La Casa de Machado y Stewart Museum

Mason Schoolhouse

Old Adobe Chapel

Seeley Stables

Whaley House

Victorian Village Heritage Park



Pacific Beach

Kate O Sessions Park 


Pala


Abandoned Homes of Pala

 

Mission San Antonio de Pala Cemetary

Oceanview Mine & Inn

 



Palomar Mountain

 Palomar Mountain

Palomar Observatory

The Weir



Point Loma

Cabrillo National Monument

  Fort Rosecrans Cemetery

Old Point Loma Lighthouse



Poway


Blue Sky Reserve & Lake Poway 


Meadowbrook Tunnels

Metate Meadows

Lightning Brewery


Old Poway Park


Old Pomerado Rd.


Poway Back-Trails

Meadowbrook BMX Trail

Midland Tunnel

Xpressive Arts Center BYOB Classes


Ramona

Black Canyon


Devil's Punchbowl


Lake Ramona


Mount Woodson Castle


Oasis Camel Dairy


Sutherland Dam

 

 

Rancho Bernardo

  Battle Mountain

Buddha's Peak

Lake Hodges

Lake Hodges Waterfall

Bernardo Winery

 

 

Rancho Penasquitos

Black Mountain Glider Port

Cara Knott Memorial Garden 


Eichar's Grave


McKamey Manor


Rancho de Los Penasquitos 


Rancho Penasquitos Waterfall 

 


Santee


Kumeyaay Lake & Campground


Santee Drive-In Theater


Old Mission Dam


Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center

 


San Marcos

Double Peak Park

Jack's Pond


Scripps Ranch

Ballast Point Brewery


Hendrix Pond

Lake Miramar


Evan's Pond

 

Seaport Village


B-39 Submarine


Berkely Ferryboat


HMS Surprise Ship


Medea Steam Yacht


USS Dolphin Submarine


Star of India


 

Serra Mesa

Murphy Canyon


 

Sorrento Valley

Pet Cemetery

Seabreeze Organic Farm

 

 

 

Torrey Pines

Blacks Beach

Mushroom House

Torrey Pines State Reserve

 

University Heights

Buchanan Canyon

The Massage Center

Soltan Banoo

Red Fox Piano Bar

Lips Restaurant

Rose Canyon


Valley Center

Bates Nut Farm

Lavender Fields

Metta Forest Monastery

Morning Star Ranch

Old Castle Ranch

Valley Center Historical Museum

Yellow Deli

 

Vista

Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum

Alta Vista Gardens

Butterfly Farm

Koral's Tropical Fruit Farm & Museum

Exotica Rare Fruit Farm

Indian Store

Yellow Deli

Rancho Guajome Adobe

 

 

Warner Springs

Chapel of St. Francis Assisi 

Santa Ysabel Mission

Sky Sailing

Warner Springs Town


 


Big Sur

Andrew Molera State Park

Ewoldsen Trail

The Henry Miller Library

Limekilns

Limekiln Waterfalls

Los Padres Beach

McWay Falls

Cafe Kevah & Nepenthe Restaurant

Partington Cove

Pfeiffer Beach

River Inn

Salmon Creek Waterfall & Cave

Spirit Garden

Soberanes Creek Watershed

Ventana


Carmel

California Market Restaurant

Point Lobos State Reserve


Catalina Island

Trans Catalina Trail System

 

 Los Angeles

Abandoned Zoo (Griffith Park)

Bronson Caves (Griffith Park)

Hidden Treasures (Topanga)

Murphy's Ranch (Pacific Palisades)

Korean Friendship Bell (San Pedro)

Lake Shrine (Pacific Palisades)

Malibu Hindu Temple (Malibu)

Mosaic Tile House (Venice Beach)

The Getty (Brentwood)

The Last Bookstore (Downtown)

Museum of Death (Hollywood)

Sunken City (San Pedro)

Witch's House (Beverly Hills)


Mendocino

Glass Beach (Fort Bragg)


Misc.


Highways 1, 101 & 46


Orange County

Mission San Juan Capistrano (San Juan Capistrano)

 

Riverside

Abandoned Homes of Salton City

Abandoned All-Boys Military School

Cabazon Dinosaurs (Cabazon)

Eagle Mountain Railroad (Bombay)

East Jesus (Niland)

Salton Sea (Salton City)

Salvation Mountain (Niland)

San Jacinto Mountains & Tram (Palm Spring)

Slab City (Niland)

Tios Tacos

 


San Luis Obispo

Bubblegum Alley

 Eberle Winery (Paso Robles)

Madonna Inn

 

Santa Barbara

Solvang


Santa Monica

Willet & Sespe Hot Springs (Ojai)

 

San Simeon

Hearst Castle

 
 
MyFreeCopyright.com Registered & Protected