Detective's Daughters Recall 'Trailside Killer' Case

Sep 3, 2013
Originally published on September 3, 2013 5:13 pm

Laura Gaddini Xerogeanes and Janet Gaddini Cubley were in seventh and fifth grade, respectively, when their father Robert Gaddini began work on the Trailside Killer case.

The two recall that the the investigation took a terrible toll on their father, who died of cancer shortly after the killer was caught.

“He was so busy with the case and working so tirelessly,” Janet told Here & Now. “We’d see him on TV and we’d know why he was in the distance more than usual … For me, it was the beginning of him disappearing, and then ultimately dying.”

The case continued to overshadow their lives. Laura eventually wrote to the Trailside Killer and visited him in in prison.

“I certainly was hoping to learn something about my father,” she said. “And I did have a secret desire to get a confession out of him.”

But it was a disappointing visit — she didn’t get a confession, and she didn’t learn about her father.

“It was a silly little drive,” Laura said.

But her sister views it differently.

“I have to say I am really proud of Laura,” Janet said. “At first I was a little bit, not upset, but I didn’t understand Laura. I think we can all understand something driving us to do something that we personally don’t understand ourselves.”


  • Laura Gaddini Xerogeanes, older daughter of homicide detective Robert Gaddini.
  • Janet Gaddini Cubley, younger daughter of homicide detective Robert Gaddini.
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And before the break, Joyce Maynard told us of being inspired to write her new novel "After Her" after meeting the two now-grown daughters of the late homicide detective, Robert Gaddini, lead detective for Marin County, California during the infamous Trailside Killer case. The real-life Trailside Killer, David Carpenter, stalked and killed women on hiking trails beginning on Mount Tamalpais. Robert Gaddini began the investigation in the summer of 1979.

It wasn't until May of 1981 after Carpenter moved on to Point Reyes and then Santa Cruz that he was finally caught by other officers, having killed at least seven people, perhaps as many as 11. Convicted, he never confessed. The case, of course, haunts, first and foremost, the families of the victims. But also, it haunted Detective Gaddini as the years went on and no one was caught. And it still haunts his grown children, so much so that one of them was driven decades later to go confront the killer on death row. And both daughters join us from KCRB in Sonoma County, California. Janet Cubley, welcome to you.

JANET CUBLEY: Yes. Thank you.

YOUNG: And Laura Xerogeanes, welcome to you as well.

LAURA XEROGEANES: Thank you, Robin.

YOUNG: How much a presence in your young lives was this story?

XEROGEANES: Well, it was pretty big. At that the time, I think I was in seventh grade and Janet was in fifth grade, and we did not have things like murders happen in the area. And newspapers and local network stations on TV were covering it. It seemed like daily, perhaps weekly. It just depended on how often the killings happened.

And I got a lot of feedback from my friends' parents, oh, I saw your dad on TV tonight and he said this, he said that. My parents were divorced, as the characters are in the book, and it was a little bit like getting to visit your dad a little more often even though he was less present during that time.

CUBLEY: He kept things so separate, Robin. He didn't let us into that world at all.

XEROGEANES: Yeah. We - he never talked about work with us, so getting a glimpse into his work life was also one of the experiences we had when he was on the case because he was on TV and in the newspaper.

CUBLEY: One of the things that stands up for me that is definitely a - that this case always makes me think about was really the time period for me when he was taken away from us even more because he was so busy with the case and working tirelessly. We'd see him on TV and we'd know pretty much why he was in the distance more than usual.

And then after they caught the Trailside Killer, not long after, maybe - I don't even know the exact time period. It could have been one year, maybe two, he did - he got diagnosed with cancer, and then a year later, he died. So for me, it was really the beginning of him disappearing and then ultimately dying.

YOUNG: How much do you think the case was a part of that? It's unimaginable being the person charged with trying to find someone, and it's, you know, years, you know, past. How much do you think it affected him?

CUBLEY: I have a very strong belief that emotions take a real, real large toll on people. And, of course, we'll never really know because he died while we were so young. But I have a very strong belief that it took a very, very large toll on him.

XEROGEANES: Yeah. And I would say that my belief is there would be a very good chance he would still be alive today if maybe he wasn't - didn't experience what he experienced with that case.

YOUNG: The Trailside Killer was eventually caught in another jurisdiction from your dad's. Laura, you visited him, David Carpenter, on death row. Why?

XEROGEANES: You know, Robin, I knew you were going to ask that. But, logically, I don't really have an answer but what I will tell you is that, you know, I felt a definite, like, visceral pull to do that. And I think I certainly was hoping to learn something about my father by visiting this man in death row.

YOUNG: And what was that interaction like?

XEROGEANES: Well, the strangest part was probably the San Quentin experience and going into death row and sitting in - literally look like a dog kennel with this man for a couple of hours and talking with him. I wanted to see if I could identify a killer when I looked at him. Would I know he was a killer just by looking in his eyes? I would say, no, not really. I would say he's, you know, he was 78 at that time. He wasn't that interesting, to tell you the truth. And I didn't really learn a lot about my father. It was a little bit anticlimactic, except I felt really glad I did it.

YOUNG: Had David Carpenter confessed?

XEROGEANES: As far as I know, no. And I did have a secret desire to get a confession out of him. It had no legal bearing on his case whatsoever. But I think if I got a confession, Robin, I think it would have been a little bit like, there you go, you son of a bitch. You think you're so smart. You didn't win after all. And it just had no, you know, just a silly little drive that was one of the other many things that maybe - I wasn't driven to go there for a confession, but I definitely thought about it while I was in there. I'm going to see if I can get him to, you know, confess.

YOUNG: Yeah.

XEROGEANES: Just an unrealistic, probably little girl...

YOUNG: I was going to say, it's to...


YOUNG: Right. It was the seventh grade on you. Janet, what did you think about your sister, Laura, doing that?

CUBLEY: Well, I knew she was going to do it because I could just tell that was something Laura was going to do. It came very much out of the blue. And my first reaction was, actually, I was not really in favor and I didn't know why at the time, but I think now, my initial reaction had to do with the fact that I felt like this man had so much to do with my father's death that I didn't understand why she would want to go see him.

XEROGEANES: And for those same reasons, that's why I went to see him.

CUBLEY: And, of course, I immediately - I was in support of her 100 percent and was very interested in her experience, and I think Laura was looking for a part of my father when she went there, and, of course, she didn't get it.

YOUNG: Well, did it, maybe, instead serve the purpose of taking some of the boogeyman out of this person who had been a nightmare and a headline in your family for so long so many years ago?

XEROGEANES: Well, that was a good one, Robin. Maybe you're in the wrong profession.


XEROGEANES: Yeah. That might have done it. I mean, he was this big, scary, intimidating person and - the killer, that is, and, you know, wow, I never thought of it that way. But going there, yeah, he definitely wasn't that when I visited him, and when I went to San Quentin, yeah, there is no boogeyman there. It was just a sick man.

YOUNG: Well, now, this new book from Joyce Maynard. Have you heard from families of the victims of the killer? Have you - what are you hearing from people where you are?

CUBLEY: Well, we haven't heard from any of the families from the victim. We did, however, hear from somebody who was a witness to one of the murders and one of the last people to see this victim alive. And she wrote a very emotional email that Joyce forwarded, talking about it was a mesmerizing experience for her working with my father on the mountain, and she stated that she thinks about him even to this day and that even after they worked together. So those kinds of stories coming forward really are wonderful for me and Laura.

YOUNG: This is where you'll find your father. Not on death row.

XEROGEANES: Exactly. Exactly.

CUBLEY: Yeah. You know, I have to say I'm really proud of Laura because when you told people you're going to San Quentin to visit a serial killer, most people's reactions are - really they're appalled and probably...

XEROGEANES: Disgusted.

CUBLEY: ...disgusted in you, personally. And that didn't stop Laura in - and I know it's hard. Sometimes you don't want to tell people what you're doing because you don't understand it yourself. You don't really know why you're going somewhere, and sometimes you don't really find that out until years later. And I think that it's a good lesson for me because, at first, I was a little bit not upset but I didn't understand Laura. But I think we can all understand something driving us to do something that we, personally, don't understand ourselves.


YOUNG: We're speaking to the sisters Janet Cubley and Laura Xerogeanes. They're the daughters of the late Robert Gaddini, the former head of Marin County homicide who investigated the real life Trailside Killer in Marin County. Joyce Maynard was inspired by their story and turned it into her new novel, "After Her." Janet and Laura, thank you both so much for speaking to us about the real life that you've lived at the time. Thank you.

CUBLEY: Thank you, Robin.

XEROGEANES: Thank you.


From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.