Santa Rosa slaying victim sought new start away from husband accused of killing her
Jessica Carlson didn’t keep concerns about her husband, Dalton Carlson, to herself.
Months before she was found dead Saturday in her west Santa Rosa home, she had begun talking and texting with friends and family, worried his drug use was spiraling out of control. She’d recently used the term “toxic psychosis” in a conversation with a friend to describe her husband’s violent, out-of-control behavior when he was coming down from a high.
But she was also optimistic, buoyed by a “peaceful contact” restraining order granted by a Sonoma County judge and dreams of moving to Oregon.
“She seemed like she was OK, maybe a little concerned, but she was dealing with him,” said her father, Robert Binkley, of Salem, Oregon.
Wednesday afternoon, Dalton Carlson, 32, is scheduled to face two murder charges in a Sonoma County Superior courtroom for the killings of his wife and his father, Dale Carlson, 57, of Santa Rosa. They died in separate, brutal attacks in their homes sometime Thursday or early Friday.
Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Josh Ludtke declined to say how they died, but he said the assaults involved more than one weapon. Detectives were still analyzing the large volume of evidence collected from two separate, gruesome crime scenes as well as two vehicles, including his father’s Hyundai sedan he may have driven from one crime scene to the next.
He said the motives behind the killings remain unclear.
“There are a lot of people who said Dalton is troubled and is a scary guy and involved in drugs,” Ludtke said. “Even if we have enough information for probable cause to arrest, that doesn’t always give us closure as to why.”
Dalton Carlson had seemed like “a happy-go-lucky party guy,” said a longtime friend of Dalton and Jessica’s, Rivers La Barge, 41, of Forestville. La Barge said he’s known them since the mid-1990s when they were teenagers hanging out at Aroma Roasters in Railroad Square and partying at Russian River beaches.
Carlson first married Dalton Carlson’s half-brother, and the couple had two daughters. But she fell in love with Dalton Carlson, got divorced and they married in 2009.
Dalton Carlson grew marijuana for sale, and Carlson worked as an in-home service provider for developmentally disabled adults. Her daughters, now about 15 and 18 years old, spent time living with Carlson and their father’s family.
La Barge said Jessica and Dalton seemed happy until about six months ago. Jessica Carlson had grown up and was trying to be responsible, he said, determined to take care of the family. Dalton Carlson still seemed focused on finding the next party, he said.
“He was trying to fix himself by doing more drugs. It went down hill, and this is the worst ending we could have anticipated,” La Barge said. “It’s so far beyond what you’d think a happy-go-lucky party guy would do.”
La Barge and his wife, Sterlene Twitty La Barge, had been encouraging Jessica Carlson to make a break. The couple are planning a move to Oregon and asked her to join them, most recently about a month ago when they were all together at Carlson’s house.
“We saw her trying to stabilize her life, and Dalton was really an unstable factor,” Sterlene Twitty La Barge said. “She was trying to separate herself from that part of him, and she still loved him.”
In early December, Dalton Carlson had moved out of their Glenbrook Drive house but returned while she was out, kicked down the door and took their two pit bulls. That led to a police report. Sometime in January, Dalton Carlson took her phone and started calling numbers he didn’t recognize, demanding those who answered to identify themselves.
One of those people was Carlson’s father, Binkley.
“He wanted to know who I was, I said, ‘Dalton, this is your father-in-law,’” Binkley said.
Dalton Carlson hung up.
By then, Carlson had already had her daughters move out of the house. It was too tense for them, family and friends said. She sought a restraining order and got it Feb. 15. They hadn’t paid rent, and the landlord began the eviction process. The power and water had been cut off, police said - it was unclear for how long.
On Thursday, Jessica Carlson showed up at noon to the Piner Road home of Daniel and Wendy Hawkins. The Hawkins have learning disabilities, and they received help from Carlson with managing their household, such as tracking bills and traveling to appointments. She’d been working with them for about six months.
Daniel Hawkins, 32, described her as a caring and compassionate presence in their lives who was extraordinarily attentive. Carlson often brought coloring books, and they would all sit down at a table to draw and talk. The conversations included household logistics but also life and marriage. Hawkins said he had the impression she wasn’t always happy at home.
And when she arrived Thursday, she was unusually distracted, he said. She kept checking her phone and running outside to take calls.
“In the back of my mind I’m wondering, ‘Was she having trouble with her husband?’?” Hawkins said.
She left a few hours early that day, saying she had something to do, and walked out the door about 2:30 p.m.
“It’s horrible an amazing woman like her could be killed, someone like her who cared so much about others,” Hankins said. “It’s a life gone.”
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.