Beach campsite murder went unsolved 13 years. Now a killer faces charges, Calif. deputies say

Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and Jason Allen, 26, were discovered dead in 2004 at their campsite near the mouth of the Russian River in Jenner, California.
Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and Jason Allen, 26, were discovered dead in 2004 at their campsite near the mouth of the Russian River in Jenner, California. Sonoma County Sheriff's Office

It was supposed to be a three-day getaway to see the sights of Northern California, including a beautiful, secluded beach. But the young couple never made it back from their trip to Jenner, California.

On Aug. 18, 2004, a helicopter that had been dispatched to save a teenager stuck on a nearby cliff happened to spot the couple’s bodies. The helicopter crew realized something was amiss when — despite the deafening noise of the helicopter — two people in sleeping bags at a campsite didn’t rouse at all, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and Jason Allen, 26, were soon discovered dead at the campsite on the mouth of the Russian River, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Nestled in two separate sleeping bags, each had been shot to death at close range, deputies said.

The pair had been working at a Christian white-water rafting camp in El Dorado County, northeast of Sacramento, before making the short trip to coastal California. Cutshall was from Fresno, Ohio; Allen from Zeeland, Michigan. And for nearly 14 years, the young couple’s mysterious double-murder went unsolved — vexing local law enforcement, puzzling the community and leaving the victims’ families grasping for answers.

Shaun Gallon, 39 Sonoma County Sheriff's Office

But that all changed a year ago, when Shaun Gallon, a 39-year-old ex-convict living nearby, was arrested on March 24, 2017, for something else entirely: Gallon was suspected of killing his brother at their Forestville home, the sheriff’s office said.

Gallon had a checkered criminal past and was well known to investigators, who long considered him a person of interest in the deaths of Cutshall and Allen, the sheriff's office said. Gallon was previously sent to state prison after he was convicted of shooting a homemade arrow into a convertible in 2009, grazing a man’s head, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

But it took the 2017 murder arrest for detectives to question Gallon on the double-murder even further. Eventually, he gave deputies “information about the killings that no other person could have known,” Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said last year.

“We have located evidence that corroborates his statements,” Freitas told reporters at a press conference pointing to Gallon as the suspect in the case. “Based on what detectives have been able to learn, we feel confident that we have Jason and Lindsay’s killer in custody.”

Gallon had shot the pair as they slept, using a .45-caliber Marlin rifle, the sheriff's office said. Neither of them knew Gallon, and prosecutors haven’t speculated about a possible motive.

This month, Gallon was formally charged in Cutshall and Allen’s deaths, the Napa Valley Register reports. He’s also charged with murdering his brother, Shamus Gallon, 36, in 2007. In all three murders, Gallon used a rifle to kill his victims, records obtained by the newspaper said. Shaun Gallon also faces an attempted murder charge in a bombing from 2004.

During a Monday court appearance, Gallon did not plead one way or another, the Register reports. His next court hearing is set for June 19, and prosecutors are pursuing a single trial for all the charges.

"It was not our goal to have separate trials," Chief Deputy District Attorney Spencer Brady told Bay City News.

Gallon could face the death penalty, the Press Democrat reports, but prosecutors have not yet decided if they’ll seek it in the case.

“There is no question that he suffers from mental illness,” Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, adding that she may try to get separate trials for the various charges. “You can’t add weak cases together to strengthen them.”

Pozzi also told the newspaper that she’s not entirely persuaded Gallon had anything to do with the young couple’s 2004 deaths.

In Gallon's 20s — around the time when the couple was killed — he was convicted of weapons charges, theft, drunken driving, resisting arrest, and hunting abalone (an edible mollusk) without the necessary paperwork, the Chronicle reports.

Before they were killed, Cutshall and Allen were planning a wedding in Ohio, The Sacramento Bee reported. Both had studied at Appalachian Bible College in West Virginia — he pursuing a four-year degree with dreams of working at a Christian camp, she pursuing a two-year degree in Bible studies to work as a missionary.

“We would like to thank the heartfelt concern of the people of Jenner and Sonoma County,” the victims parents said in a statement last year when the sheriff’s office pointed to Gallon as a suspect. “We have appreciated your support for this case throughout our thirteen-year ordeal.”

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