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Read a 2014 Sonoma Magazine story on the 10-year anniversary of the killings and the life-changing effect they had on Sheriff Steve Freitas here


For past coverage of the slayings go here

A Forestville man with a violent criminal history and extensive knowledge of the Sonoma Coast was named the lone suspect Friday in the 2004 slayings of a young Midwestern couple on a beach near Jenner, marking an extraordinary turn in one of the Bay Area’s most mysterious and unsettling crimes.

Shaun Michael Gallon, 38, shot and killed Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and her fiance, Jason Allen, 26, as the couple lay in sleeping bags on the remote beach 13 years ago, Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said at a morning news conference.

Gallon, who had been interviewed by detectives early on in the case and later served time in prison, has been held in Sonoma County Jail since late March on suspicion of killing his younger brother in their home. After his arrest, he provided detectives with information about the slayings of Cutshall and Allen that “no other person could have known,” Freitas said.

“We have located evidence corroborating his statements,” Freitas said. “We are confident we have Jason and Lindsay’s killer.”

Gallon was a stranger to the couple and had no apparent motive, authorities said.

“There doesn’t appear to be a struggle leading up to the shooting — no fighting, no indication of robbery or sexual motive. So all we have is a random act of violence,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

The announcement re-opened a notorious Sonoma County cold case in chilling fashion, juxtaposing a jailhouse photo of Gallon with images of the smiling couple overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge shortly before they were killed. The wrenching crime, coming at the end of the couple’s summer stint as Christian camp counselors in the Sierra Nevada foothills, pitched two deeply religious families from Ohio and Michigan into a prolonged nightmare and stamped an iconic stretch of the coast with a deep sense of loss and insecurity.

Detectives for years searched far and wide for the killer, but in the end, say they found their man in a familiar place. Gallon, who was 25 at the time of the Jenner slayings, grew up and went to high school in Forestville. His extensive criminal history made him well-known to authorities even before he went to prison in 2010 after shooting an arrow into an occupied car in Guerneville, sparking an intense manhunt that unnerved the town for days.

Speaking by phone Friday from the Ohio church where he serves as pastor, Chris Cutshall, Lindsay’s father, said sheriff’s officials called him several days ago to relay they had new evidence pointing to Gallon in the slayings. He said it confirmed his long-held suspicions that Gallon was the killer. Cutshall said he and his wife, Kathy, have been hit with a wave of emotions, from sadness to relief.

“We’ve believed that all along, that it was random and senseless,” Cutshall said.

His daughter and Allen were visiting the North Coast on their final weekend in California in August 2004 before returning home to be married.

Gallon was a person of interest early in the investigation after residents reported he “might be a person capable of doing that,” Crum said Friday.

“He was definitely on our radar from early on,” said Crum.

Gallon was arrested six days after the murders on an unrelated case of possession of stolen property and a weapons charge. Crum said Gallon was interviewed by homicide detectives but never detained.

Over the years, detectives explored possible links between the Jenner slayings and other unsolved cases, particularly a half-dozen slayings of couples in remote locations from the Pacific Northwest to Arizona.

Their known list of interviews in the Jenner case included a Wisconsin drifter, a Bodega Bay surf shop owner, a former counselor at the camp where Cutshall and Allen worked that summer and a Petaluma man whose devil-like drawings on driftwood, combined with the couple’s openly devout religious beliefs, fueled speculation that they were targeted for those convictions.

Sheriff’s detectives also focused on Joseph Henry Burgess, a drifter who was wanted in connection with the 1972 slayings of a young couple on a beach in Canada — a case that bore many similarities with the Jenner slayings. Burgess was killed in 2009 in a gun battle with New Mexico sheriff’s deputies that left a deputy dead.

But detectives also left open the possibility that whoever killed Cutshall and Allen was someone closer to home, based on the simple fact that the beach where the couple were slain is not easily found or accessible. Its remoteness also is part of its charm.

The spot, known to locals as “Fish Head” or “Driftwood” beach, would have made for an alluring place to bunk down on a late summer night. The couple, who were directed to the beach by the Bodega Bay surf shop owner, described the beauty they witnessed in a visitor’s journal later recovered as evidence.

The couple’s bodies were discovered five days after they left the rafting camp in El Dorado County. Each was shot once in the head at close range with a .45-caliber rifle.

Detectives at the time said they faced daunting odds cracking the case. No witnesses came forward, the location yielded little evidence and there was no clear motive.

The break came 13 years later, after the night of March 24, when Gallon allegedly shot and killed his younger brother, Shamus Gallon, 36, at their mother’s home on River Road in Forestville. The mother called 911 to report the shooting and that Shaun had driven away in a minivan with a rifle.

Deputies arrested Gallon a short time later at a Guerneville gas station. The rifle was found in Gallon’s possession, but Freitas on Friday said it is not the same one used in the Jenner slayings.

Gallon’s Facebook page reveals an obsession with religion, violence and conspiracy theories. Photos depict him with homemade spears and arrows, wearing a gas mask and donning a dark cape with his face half-concealed with black paint.

Photos of Gallon at a beach show him wearing a wetsuit with abalone in his hands.

Following his arrest in March, Gallon pointed detectives to “articles of evidence” tying him to the Jenner slayings, Crum said.

“We found evidence that only the person involved in that crime would know existed, and where it existed,” Crum said.

Crum declined to say whether that included other journal writings, a beer bottle or other evidence authorities detailed in 2006 in an effort to generate leads. Crum said detectives are still searching in the Forestville and Guerneville areas for evidence tying Gallon to the beach slayings. He would not say whether that includes the rifle used in the killings.

Officials previously identified that weapon as a Marlin rifle, either a lever-action type known as the Model 1894, or the Model 45, which is semi-automatic and more commonly referred to as a “camp carbine.” The rifles are unique because they use ammunition that also can be used in handguns.

Crum said he would not speculate why Gallon would wait until now to reveal his alleged involvement in the Jenner killings. Crum said detectives do not suspect that Gallon’s mother or his brother had any inkling of his alleged role in the murders.

However, detectives are looking into whether Gallon may be connected to other killings or acts of violence over that period of time, Crum said.

Gallon has yet to be arrested or charged in the Jenner murders. Freitas said sheriff’s detectives will be forwarding their findings to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch “soon.”

Sheriff’s deputies have had 13 contacts with Gallon since 2003. The calls included misdemeanor issues involving trespassing and suspected drunken driving as well as felonies, including the arrest in a 2009 that led to his conviction for assault with a deadly weapon for shooting a homemade arrow at two men in a vehicle.

At the time of that attack, Gallon, 30, was living with his brother at an apartment on Mill Street. He avoided capture for five weeks before he turned himself in at the Sheriff’s Office.

Officials at the time described Gallon as a self-taught survivalist who is familiar with the Russian River and Sonoma Coast.

He was sentenced in early 2010 to three years behind bars for the incident.

Staff Writer Julie Johnson contributed reporting. You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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