Sonoma County murder suspect charged with 2004 Jenner beach killings
Shaun Michael Gallon, the Forestville felon named more than a year ago as the lone suspect in the shooting deaths of a young Midwestern couple on a Jenner beach in 2004, has been charged by Sonoma County prosecutors with the two murders, marking a pivotal moment in a shocking case of violence that vexed sheriff’s detectives for years.
Gallon, 39, has been held in Sonoma County Jail since he was arrested in March 2017 in the slaying of his younger brother in their family home. His detention led to jailhouse interviews with investigators in the Jenner case, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, and just weeks later, in May 2017, then-Sheriff Steve Frietas identified Gallon as the gunman who killed Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and her fiance, Jason Allen, 26, as they lay in sleeping bags at secluded Fish Head Beach.
Gallon, who was known in the Russian River area where he grew up for strange behavior and run-ins with law enforcement, was interviewed by sheriff’s officials at the time but never detained in connection with the case.
Sheriff Rob Giordano said the Jenner killings were “horrific” for the Cutshall and Allen families and for Sonoma County - a cold case that defined careers for many of the hundreds of Sheriff’s Office personnel involved in the search for the gunman.
“Unfortunately, there are evil people in our community, not many, but he is one of those people,” Giordano said. “I’m just really glad he’s off the street now.”
On Friday, prosecutors filed documents in Sonoma County Superior Court charging Gallon with killing Cutshall and Allen. He was arraigned on those charges Monday morning in a brief court hearing. Prosecutors also charged him with one count of attempted murder in a separate case dating to 2004, when he is alleged to have left on top of a car a package bomb that exploded, injuring a Monte Rio woman. He did not enter a plea.
Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said prosecutors received an essential set of reports from the Sheriff’s Office on May 1, including documents from ?13 years of investigative work, and after reviewing the files they were able to charge Gallon with the killings.
“It was a very thorough investigation,” Staebell said.
Prosecutors, led by Chief Deputy District Attorney Spencer Brady, are still reviewing whether to seek the death penalty in connection with the double murder.
Details in a spate of criminal cases against Gallon dating to 2004 cast him as a darkly troubled man, a self-taught survivalist and weapons fanatic who in 2009 shot a man with a hand-fashioned bow and arrow. In addition to the bombing, Gallon now stands accused of shooting to death three people, including his brother, Shamus Gallon, in their family home in Forestville last year, and Cutshall and Allen on the Jenner beach 14 years ago.
His suspected motives remain unknown.
“There is no question that he suffers from mental illness,” Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi said.
Pozzi said she’s still not convinced Gallon was involved in the Jenner killings, and she may file a motion requesting the two murder cases and attempted homicide case be handled separately because they are unrelated.
“You can’t add weak cases together to strengthen them,” Pozzi said.
Cutshall and Allen were visiting the Sonoma Coast at the end of their summer working as Christian camp counselors in the Sierra Nevada foothills. They were supposed to return to Ohio and be married.
The couple was found Aug. 18, 2004 shot to death, likely as they slept on the sand, at close range with a .45-caliber rifle.
Their killings became one of Sonoma County’s most perplexing and unsettling crimes. Rotating teams of detectives over 13 years chased leads, tips and suspects - sometimes traveling across the world - and explored possible connections to other unsolved homicides from the Pacific Northwest to Arizona.
Gallon, who was 25 at the time of the killings, had grown up in Forestville and was known to sheriff’s deputies. Six days after Cutshall and Allen were murdered, he was arrested on an unrelated case of possession of stolen property and a weapons charge.
Detectives interviewed him early on in the Jenner killings but he was never detained in the case.
He was imprisoned in 2010 after being convicted in the bow-and-arrow attack in Guerneville, which launched an intense manhunt that unnerved the town for days.
Last year, Gallon’s mother, Susan Gallon, called 911 about 7:15 p.m. March 24 to report one of her sons was wounded from gunfire and her other son was leaving their River Road home in a van, armed with a rifle, sheriff’s officials said.
Deputies arrested Gallon in Guerneville and reported finding a .223-caliber rifle in the van.
At the jail, detectives told Gallon they wanted to speak with him about the Jenner case. Gallon responded several weeks later with a note saying he was ready to talk, according to sources knowledgeable about the case.
That launched a series of interviews with detectives, in which Gallon provided “information about the killings that no other person could have known,” Freitas said in a momentous May 5, 2017, press conference at the Sheriff’s Office.
Detectives also linked Gallon to the package bomb that exploded just before 8 a.m. June 10, 2004 in Monte Rio, two months before the killings at Fish Head Beach in Jenner.
Parvoneh Leval, then 27, found a box left on top of her boyfriend John Robles’ Honda Accord parked outside the Heller Street house they shared. She touched the box and it exploded, causing severe injuries to her right hand and forearm, sheriff’s officials said at the time.
A neighbor heard the explosion and a man yelling about a bomb, then ran to the scene and helped Robles administer first aid to Leval. Bomb squad teams combed the wooded neighborhood near the Russian River for more explosive devices, but found none.
Leval told a fire official the box had a note on it. It’s unclear whether she had time to read it before the explosion or if the note was destroyed.
Detectives at the time said they interviewed two unidentified men who had a confrontation with Robles the night before, but made no arrests.
Sonoma County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Spencer Crum said Gallon did not become a suspect in the package bomb case until after his 2017 arrest on suspicion of killing his brother. Crum declined to say what connected Gallon to the bomb case.
Gallon is scheduled to appear in court June 19 to set a preliminary hearing date.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.