American serial killer Suzan Barnes Carson was born in 1941 and was also known as Suzan Bear Carson. Suzan and her husband, James Clifford Carson who was also known as Michael Bear Carson was arrested in 1983 and was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison for murdering three people in California. Clifford who was born in 1950 and Suzan committed their killing spree from 1982 to 1983 in Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.
James Carson obtained a master"s degree in Chinese studies in 1980. He was living in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and daughter but his wife took their daughter with her and left him after she noticed his behavior changing severely. James began dating recently divorced Suzan who was a mother of two boys. Suzan and James got married and did not take long after their marriage to become involved with mysticism and drugs. He changed his name to Michael Bear and wrote his daughter a letter telling her that God gave him a new name. Suzan also changed her name to Suzan Bear, but neither did James/Michael or Suzan change their names legally. James and Suzan became known as the Bears.
Suzan and James went to Europe in 1979 and returned to the United States in 1980. They did not change their lifestyle as they were still into drugs and mysticism while living in San Francisco in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood upon their return to the US. James/Michael"s former wife was afraid of him hurting her and trying to kidnap or win custody of their daughter, so she moved numerous times with her daughter while keeping them hidden. His former wife also stopped connections/contacting their mutual acquaintances.
- 1981, March: Keryn Barnes (22-years-old)
Aspiring actress Keryn Barnes from Georgia was sharing an apartment with James and Suzan Haight-Ashbury. Keryn was found hidden in a basement with her dead body wrapped in a blanket. Keryn"s skull was crushed, and her body had 13 stabbed wounds. Suzan and James were the primary suspects in Keryn"s murder because evidence points to her being killed by someone she knew. The Carson"s fled to Grants Pass, Oregon at a mountain hideout before Keryn"s body was found and stayed there until 1982 Spring.
The Carson"s later confessed to beating Keryn"s head with a frying pan and stabbing her to death. They killed her because Suzan believed that Keryn was a witch and she felt as though she had to kill the witch, Keryn.
- 1981, Clark Stephens
James and Suzan lived and worked as caretakers/guards on a marijuana farm in Alderpoint, California. The Carson"s fellow workers described them as anarchists that predicted that there will be a nuclear or apocalypse soon and that the couple advocated revolution. The Carson"s and fellow worker Clark Stephens were having an ongoing dispute in May 1982. James/Michael Bear murdered Stephen by shooting him, then dragged his body into the woods, burned his body and buried his burnt dead body under chicken fertilizer. Suzan and James/Michael fled from that area.
The Humboldt County Sheriff"s Office found Stephen"s driver"s license and burnt the body in the woods about two weeks later after Stephen"s friends reported Stephen missing. The Carsons were the main suspects in the murder of Stephen because they had an ongoing dispute with him. Detectives searched the Carson"s remaining items at the farm and discovered that the Carson"s wrote an anti-government manifesto that wished for President Ronald Reagan (president at that time) to be assassinated.
Detectives had a hard time tracking down the Carson"s due to the Carson"s taking precautions to not interact with government authorities for the year. An acquaintance of Michael/James saw him hitchhiking and knew that he was wanted for murder in Humboldt County, so the acquaintance informed police in November 1982 in Los Angeles of James/Michael"s location. The police made a drastic error resulting in James/Michael being freed from the police before they had a chance to question him. He left much evidence behind while fleeing including his mugshot, address and a gun in the police car which made officers/detectives realized that Michael is James Carson.
1983, March: Jon Charles Hellyar (30-years-old)
Jon Charles Hellyar was headed to Santa Rosa, California when he stopped near Bakersfield, California to pick up the Carsons who were hitchhiking. Suzan once again thought that Jon was a witch and that they had to kill him. Jon and the Carson"s were involved in a physical fight when he was driving near Santa Rosa in Sonoma County on U.S. Route 101, so the three of them exited the car after it stopped. Suzan repeatedly stabbed Jon as Jon and Michael/James fought/struggled over a gun. Michael took control of the gun and shot Jon on the side of the road at point blank range.
Passing motorists saw the violence and contacted the police who pursued a high-speed chase after the Carsons as they fled in Jon"s car. The Carson"s were arrested in March 1983 and initially confessed to murdering Jon Hellyar, Keryne Barnes, and Clark Stephens during a press conference they requested/called. The couple/Carson"s withdrawn their confession and pleaded not guilty but was convicted on June 12, 1984, of the murders. They received a sentence of twenty-five years in prison for killing Keryn Barnes. They also received sentences of fifty years to life and seventy-five years to life in jail for killing Charles Stephens and Jon Hellyar.
James Carson is serving his sentence at the Mule Creek State Prison while Suzan Carson is serving her sentence at the Central California Women"s Facility.
The Carson"s said that they were pacifists, vegetarian yoga practitioners and converted from their religion to a form of Muslim faith during a five-hour interview with KGO-TV, San Francisco Chronicle, and homicide investigators. They also described themselves as "vegetarian Muslim warriors," and said their crimes were part of a shared mission to kill whoever they think is a witch. The Carson"s were then called "The San Francisco Witch Killers" by the press.
They went on to saying that they murdered Keryn Barnes because she was "draining Miss Carson of her health and yogic powers" and because Keryn made a false conversion to their religion. The Carson"s said that they murdered Clark Stephen because he tried to attack Suzan sexually and killed Jon Hellyar because he called Suzan a "witch" and abused her sexually.
The Carson"s did not show any remorse while being convicted, in court or from the time they were imprisoned to 2015.
Suzan and James Carson claimed that they traveled through Europe and then back to the United States including parts of California and the American Southwest. They had a list of people they were targeting including Johnny Carson, president Ronald Reagan, celebrities and other political figures. The Carson"s were suspected of about a dozen other deaths through the U.S. and Europe.
Books/Media/Featured on/TV series/True crime documentary:
Title: Cry For War
Author: Journalist Richard D. Reynolds
Squibob Press, 1987
Episode 1: Hunting Humans
Episode 1: The Two Bears
The Devil You Know
Episode 2: A Serial Killer in the Family
Encyclopedia of Serial Killers
July 1, 1995.
Title: California Babylon
Authors: Lawson, Kristan and Rufus, Anneli
St. Martin"s Griffin, Revised Edition, October 2000.
Title: Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters
Author: Vronsky, Peter
Berkley Books, New York, p. 439., (2007)