Detectives to search 'suspicious' locations visited by killer - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Detectives to search 'suspicious' locations visited by killer John Gardner

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By David Gotfredson

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (CBS 8) -- Detectives are planning new search operations in the East County to check out "suspicious" locations visited by serial killer John Gardner while he was being tracked with a GPS device in 2008.

Investigators want to assure themselves and the public that they have followed all leads, which could point to the remains of additional victims in remote locations.

Gardner was sentenced for the murders of North County teenagers Amber Dubois and Chelsea King on May 14, 2010. Detectives interviewed him in jail for two and a half hours that same day.

"He did speak about other cases," Sheriff's Homicide Lieutenant Dennis Brugos said during a post-sentencing news conference last year. "We still have to investigate those. He did not implicate himself in any other murders."

For weeks following the sentencing, investigators on the John Gardner Task Force chased down possible leads but eventually they had to close the case.

"The task force did explore the possibility of additional victims. It compared missing person reports with the (method of operation) of Gardner and we did not identify any additional potential victims," Lt. Brugos said during a telephone interview Wednesday.

Still, questions raised in a June 2010 report authored by the California Office of Inspector General remain unanswered.

The report cites "suspicious behavior" by Gardner when he was wearing a GPS tracking device in 2008, just seven months before he murdered Amber Dubois and left her body at a remote area near Pala.

An excerpt from the report is below:

Suspicious behavior

As we reviewed Gardner's GPS data, we noted disturbing activity in addition to the violations of parole conditions. While on its face this activity did not violate a law or a condition of parole, it appeared to be suspicious and should have led a reasonable parole agent to question Gardner.

We identified at least 13 locations that Gardner visited, several of which were situated in remote rural areas, which should have resulted in the parole agent closely questioning Gardner about his purpose for being in those areas.

For example, at approximately 3:00 a.m. on July 5, 2008, Gardner travelled to a remote mountainous region east of Escondido. From the GPS data alone we cannot determine why Gardner went to this location. Gardner was transient during this time, with no fixed address, and the department should have been interested in his whereabouts. Furthermore, at about 7:00 p.m. that day Gardner travelled to another remote mountaintop location 30 miles away and stayed there for about 20 minutes. These unusual travels to remote locations should have spurred a parole agent to question Gardner.

For the past six months, News 8 has tried to obtain Gardner's GPS data in order to identify those remote locations.  The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's parole division denied our request for numerous reasons, including the "individual privacy" rights of John Gardner.

"There are some privacy rights involving even a parolee and some facts can't be released," Lt. Brugos said.

Without the GPS data, the locations are only identifiable as somewhere in a 30-mile-wide area east of Escondido.

On Wednesday, Lt. Brugos confirmed to News 8 that, to his knowledge, no law enforcement agency has ever checked out those remote locations identified in the Inspector General's report.

"I think that we were doing so many other things at the time, it's just like anything else; you just prioritize what you're doing," Brugos said.  "If it looked like there were more missing people, or missing females, then it would have been a higher priority."

In the coming weeks, Sheriff's investigators will examine the GPS data and conduct new searches of those remote locations in the East County, Brugos said.

"I just spoke with the lead investigator (in the Gardner case) and he has been in communication with the search and rescue supervisor," Brugos said. "They are planning, as soon as time permitting, to check out those locations as best they can."

Brugos expects search dogs will be part of the effort.

"I think, generally, that's how they do it, with cadaver dogs and that type of thing," Brugos said.

John Gardner's trips into the East County in 2008 apparently did not violate the terms of his parole because he did not travel more than 50 miles away from Escondido.

Department of Corrections officials are still refusing to publicly release the exact locations.  Lt. Brugos, however, is promising to announce the results of the Sheriff department's renewed search efforts once they are complete.

"Our concern at this point is, if there were runaway girls from other areas of the country who happened to be in San Diego county or Riverside county, they may have been victimized by him," Brugos said.

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