Originally appeared in The Times-Standard newspaper.
Jens and Carole Sund were heading into what they thought would be the best years of their marriage, having lived according to the pages of her thick daily planner.
Their four kids — three adopted and one natural — were growing up and meeting the list of goals she had meticulously laid out. They were rewarded for their efforts, according to the planner, as they became more self-sufficient.
There were dozens of birthdays Carole, 42, kept track of each month. And at the front of the planner, a photo of daughter Juli, sitting on a roof, drawing attention to herself as any proud high school cheerleader would.
Jens has taken over the planner, realizing what a good team they had made by balancing opposite personalities. He said she was a lot like her father, Francis Carrington, who owns a ranch along the Mad River and completes work before seeking pleasure.
"It won't be the same," he said last week. "I'm not going to run things like she did."
From his office at the Carrington Co. on H Street, Jens was flipping through the planner early Wednesday morning, looking like he hadn't slept in days. He yawned repeatedly.
Much of Jens' time over the last week has been spent preparing for public and private memorial services in Eureka, Modesto and Sonora. There was a call from a man working on the headstone for his slain wife and daughter.
"Why don’t you just go ahead and sandblast it, you don't need me," Jens told the man.
Then he scrawled a picture of the old-fashioned monument on a piece of paper. It will say "Sund" at the top followed by lines from adopted daughter Regina's poem and parting words from Jens. A little space has been left over if he decides to be buried there.
"Carole had left no instructions. I figured I was 35 years away from figuring anything like this out," he said. "I thought we would scatter the ashes somewhere on the ranch, but Gina wanted a headstone — something she could look at."
Carole had planned the fateful trip to Yosemite National Park two months in advance. In mid-February, she left a recent gift of pepper spray in her car and got on a plane bound for San Francisco along with 15-year-old Juli and family friend Silvina Pelosso, 16. They picked up a flashy red rental car at the airport.
The last time Jens talked to his wife was the day after Valentine's Day when the final pictures of the smiley trio were taken. Carole said they were planning to go through the park again, but had concerns about construction at the entrance. The conversation lasted less than four minutes.
Jens doubts rumors that Juli met somebody on the Internet and told the person they were staying at the Cedar Lodge in El Portal. Silvina and the other kids also used the Internet a lot. After the investigation began, Jens said, the FBI took the computer, analyzed it and gave it back. They also examined Juli's personal phone book and other things.
After reporting the trio missing, Jens and his friends and relatives launched a panicked search on their own. They had five cars, all with cellular phones, combing the tourist-ridden highways. Since Jens said they were looking for cliffs and sharp turns — places where the trio may have driven off — they never found the charred car containing Carole and Silvina's bodies off a logging road in Long Barn.
Yet they were so close. It took a target shooter on a routine morning walk to find the crime scene that shocked the world.
Jens was on a road right below the brush-covered hill where Juli's body was found overlooking Don Pedro Reservoir, west of the park, about a month later. And one of the relatives had landed an airplane equipped with pontoons on the lake.
When asked what he thinks happened in the case that is being treated as a multi-perpetrator kidnapping/carjacking by the FBI, Jens said simply: "Sure, the guys grabbed them and killed them for a hundred bucks."
He figures that's about how much cash Carole had at the time. Her credit card wallet was found on a Modesto street less than a week after the trio disappeared, but none of the cards showed fresh charges.
Jens has been getting about 25 condolence letters a day from people around the country who have wives, daughters, and granddaughters and who have taken family friends to Yosemite, thinking it was safe. And checks for the memorial reward fund help families of missing persons make sizeable reward offers have been averaging $75.
"The nation wants to know what happened, not just our family. There are so many people who are just incensed over this thing," he said.
The Sund's home in Eureka is a lot quieter now as Jens thinks about the tarnished golden years. Carole’s voice remains as their answering machine's announcement. But everyone knows she won't be returning calls.
Postscript: Serial killer Cary Anthony Stayner was later convicted of the 1999 crimes.
Originally appeared in The Times-Standard, Eureka, California. Illustration by Anne Blix.