When one goes out into the wilderness, either to camp for a weekend, take a brisk hike, or just to have a nice picnic in a field somewhere, they can be fairly sure that they’ll return to civilization mostly unscathed. That is, with the exception of a light sunburn, some bug bites, or if they’re very unlucky, a severe case of poison ivy.
Camping in our society has become little more than a vacation from the pervasive digital age and despite animals and the occasional natural disaster, it’s mostly safe. Recently, however, some California campers learned that even out in the wilderness, we cannot always escape the dangers of our modern world.
Melissa Tatangelo and her boyfriend were on a brief camping trip to Calabasas park in California. After a day of hiking and sun, the two exhausted lovers decided that, for whatever reason, they would forgo the tent and lie together in the back of their car’s cargo area. It was 5 a.m. when they awoke to the sound of something “thumping” against the car.
A Thump in the Night
The “large thump” stirred them from slumber for only a moment before they turned over and went back to sleep. When they awoke in the morning and went out to inspect the side of the car, they found a hole in the side of the vehicle.
Call the Rangers
Melissa called the park rangers, who came out to examine the bullet hole. What they determined, even from an initial investigation, was that bullet had been fired at a very close range to the car. What Melissa didn’t know at the time, was that she had come very close to being the latest in a string of recent unexplained deaths in the park.
One of those recent deaths involved Francisco Reynaldo Cruz, 52, who was found in a ditch across the road from Malibu Creek. Cruz had sharp force injuries to his chest and neck, as well as a blunt force injury to the head. Police speculated that he was killed elsewhere and dumped in the canyon, but many believe the murder is indicative of something far more troubling.
In the early summer of 2018, 35-year-old Tristan Beaudette, a chemist and father-of-two, was killed in his tent by a gunshot wound. He and his daughters, ages two and four, were camping at the time. Their mother was home studying and didn’t join them. Though neither of the girls were hurt, they both witnessed the shooting.
The small family had been camping out at Malibu Creek State Park near the 1900 block of Las Virgenes road in Calabasas. Beaudette was shot once in the upper chest, but no shells or gunshot residue could be found at the scene. As for a motive for this senseless act, police have yet to determine any. It seems that, like many of the killings in that region, it was completely random.
Yet, people are reticent to conclude that Beaudette’s murder was nothing more than a random attack. This is partly due to the rash of killings in that area in recent years. If the killer had a motive or reason to kill Beaudette but leave his children, then it may speak to a grudge. If not, it may mean that some mysterious killer is slaying random people in the popular park.
Police were brought in to investigate Beaudette’s death and though they closed the park for a time in order to do so, it has since been reopened. Nevertheless, deputy patrols have been increased in the area and 60 of the area’s campsites have been closed indefinitely, or at least until police figure out what is going on. Though many dispute the theory of a serial killer, there is sufficient evidence to give it credence.
Four Days Before
Beaudette’s shooting was reported four days after Melissa Tatangelo and her boyfriend had their car shot. Both were in fairly close proximity to one another and accompanied by a total of six other mysterious shootings going back to Nov. 3, 2016. Four of these took place within the jurisdiction of the California State Park system.
In November, 2016, James Rogers, a wildlife biologist, who was no stranger to living in the wilderness, was spending the night in a hammock in Malibu when he awoke to a strange sensation in his arm. The arm was bleeding and the pattern of wounds appeared to have been made by buckshot. He lived of course, but it was an unusual situation, to say the least.
Soundly Sleeping and Shooting
Six days after that, another man was also shot in Creek state park. Like Melissa, Rogers, and most likely Beaudette, the man had also been sleeping when he was shot at. He woke up at 3 a.m. with a similar stinging pain. He pulled out his earphones and looked down at his stinging arm. Before he could get out of the hammock, he struggled and fell to the ground.
A moment later and buckshot pellets starting falling out of his right arm. He didn’t know it at the time, but the buckshot was the same as James Rogers had been hit with days before. He was lucky to be mostly unharmed, but a pattern was clearly emerging.
As for biologist James Rogers, he went to the California State Parks department but never received any sort of follow-up. Even two years after the incident Rogers says that no official report has been made. He also believes that investigators never really took his concerns seriously.
Regardless of the obvious pattern, the police were remiss to ascribe them all to a single perpetrator. At least two cars have been hit by gunfire in recent months in the area of Malibu Canyon. Many readers might be asking themselves, why wouldn’t the police try and determine if the shooter was indeed one single cowardly killer, acting under cover of darkness?
The answer is actually quite simple. These local canyons aren’t just a haven for hikers and campers escaping city life, they also happen to be close to the homes of many Hollywood A-listers. They didn’t want to throw anyone into a panic, least of all celebrities who might draw more unwanted attention to the shootings.
Spree on the Way
At this point, it’s easy enough to extrapolate that this was some sort of spree, one that has gone from merely inconveniencing to outright deadly in only a few years. Anyone who has ever watched a crime drama will understand that this represents escalation on the part of a perpetrator or perpetrators.
The sheriff’s department and California State Parks have both received extensive criticism for not alerting campers to the shootings ahead of time. Melissa Tatangelo said that if she had known about the danger, she and her boyfriend would not have chosen to visit the campsite that weekend.
CeCe Woods, editor in chief of The Local Malibu, recently spoke to CBS2 stating that “If an alert had been issued to the public by the authorities, Tristan Beaudette may have made a different decision as far as his camping plans that night, and he may still be alive today.” Still, Beaudette’s death has changed things a bit.
Thus far the investigation is still ongoing and no further information has been released to the public. As always though, amateur sleuths and reporters have been coming up with their own theories. Some believe that the shooter is an expert marksman, practicing his prowess from hundreds of yards away. Although this doesn’t gel with Melissa’s close-range bullet hole.
Another speculation has the culprit being connected to drug gangs in the area. The theory is that they might be growing marijuana in remote parts of the state park. The most unusual theory involves a missing psychology student who disappeared in 2009 and is now allegedly living in the woods, shooting random people.