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Parole hearing brings back dark memories of the notorious "San Francisco witch killers"

In the early 1980s, Suzan and Michael Carson went on a religious, drug-fuelled mission to rid the world of “witches” in California.

suzanmichaelcarson2 Suzan and Michael Carson during their 1983 press conference. Source: d mg

THEY BRUTALLY MURDERED at least three people in California during the early 1980s, and confessed their crimes in a bizarre five-hour press conference.

Michael Bear Carson and Suzan Carson were two middle-class white Americans with happy upbringings and stable family lives, but found each other and bonded intensely over a twisted concoction of yoga, psychic mysticism and Islam.

They hitch-hiked around Europe, where they are suspected in several murders, and travelled along the west coast of the United States, on a drug-fuelled mission to save the world from “witches.”

They called themselves vegetarian Muslim warriors, and wrote a manifesto called Cry for War, in which they named Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Charles Manson as their “demonic” targets.

And this week, one of the notorious “San Francisco witch killers” was potentially condemned to die in prison, after being denied parole yet again.

A California parole board found Suzan Carson, now 73, unfit for early release and scheduled her next parole consideration for 2030, by which time she would be 88, a spokesperson said.

suzanmichaelcarson3 Suzan and Michael Carson Source: Discovery Channel

Carson and her husband (born James Clifford Carson) were convicted of killing three people in Northern California in the 1980s, and sentenced to 75 years to life.

“Witchcraft, homosexuality and abortion are causes for death,” said bearded, long-haired Michael Carson during a 1983 “press conference” arranged by investigators with San Francisco media that lasted five hours.

Authorities allowed the jailhouse interview in exchange for incriminating information about the three murders.

With his wife smiling by his side, Carson described her as “a yogi and a mystic with knowledge of past, present and future events.”

Lisa Long Various photos of Karen Barnes, first victim of the San Francisco witch killers Suzan and Michael Bear Carson, in 1981. Source: AP

Suzan Carson told reporters she ordered her husband to kill Karen Barnes, 23, in her San Francisco apartment early in 1981 because she falsely converted to their religion and was “draining” Suzan of her health and “yogic powers.”

On 7 March, Barnes’ landlord found her on the floor of her apartment, stabbed 13 times, and badly beaten around the head.

The couple fled San Francisco, and lived on a mountain top in Oregon, before moving once again to a secluded marijuana plantation in Northern California, where they encountered a farm worker named Clark Stephens.

A bitter feud between Stephens and the Carsons culminated in Michael shooting him dead in 1982, and the couple burning his body.

They drifted from place to place that year, at one point living in a tree house, before being evicted – as they were from almost everywhere – for their constant use of hallucinogenic drugs and bizarre, violent behaviour.

While hitch-hiking in California in January 1983, the Carsons were picked up by 30-year-old Jon Charles Hellyar.

Suzan said she felt there was something “demonic” about Hellyar, insisted he was another witch that needed to be disposed of, and the pair murdered him, before quickly being arrested and charged.

clarkstephens Clark Stephens, shot dead by the Carsons in California, 1982. Source: Discovery Channel

They confessed to all three murders in a press conference, and in 1984 were sentenced to 75 years to life.

Lisa Long, the sister of their first victim, Karen Barnes, welcomed Suzan Carson’s parole denial this week.

I am so happy we won’t have to worry about her for another 15 years. They are pure evil.

She had travelled from Atlanta, Georgia to testify at Suzan Carson’s hearing at a women’s prison in Chino, California, 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

Long said that Suzan Carson herself didn’t attend the hearing.

Carson’s lawyer Laura Sheppard said earlier that her client refused to meet with her and “doesn’t seem interested in attempting to seek parole.”

The Carsons qualified for parole consideration because dire prison overcrowding in California prompted a federal court to order hearings for about 1,400 inmates older than 60 who have served more than 25 years of their sentences.

Michael Carson, now 65, cancelled his parole hearing in June, saying he refuses to renounce his violent religious beliefs, writing to prison officials from his cell:

I know this is absurd. No one is going to parole me because I will not and have not renounced my beliefs.

He is scheduled for parole review in five years.

michaeljencarson Michael Carson with his daughter Jen, before he met Suzan Carson. Source: PA

The notorious killers’ chance at freedom had upset families of their victims, who say the Carsons have never expressed remorse for their actions, or abandoned their belief that they were on a “holy war against witches” during their killing spree.

Even Michael Carson’s daughter is helping the families and formally opposes her father’s release as well. “They are still dangerous,” she said.

Jennifer Carson said her college-educated dad was a stay-at-home father caring for her in 1970s suburban Phoenix, Arizona while her mother supported the family by teaching.

I remember those times as very happy times. But then his behaviour began to change.

She said her father changed dramatically after he met Suzan Carson at a party. The couple soon divorced their respective spouses and married each other.

Jennifer Carson said her father and Suzan were heavy drug users who created their own moral and religious code.

When they came together, she said, “It was like a match meeting dynamite.”

Contains reporting by the Associated Press.

Read: Two of US serial killer’s ‘victims’ turn up alive after 30 years>

Read: A former RTÉ newsreader, her ‘enchanting’ friend, and the world’s most notorious murder suspect>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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