In 1983, a pair of married serial killers held a bizarre jailhouse “press conference” in exchange for their confessions.
Michael “Bear” Carson and Suzan Carson declared they were vegetarian Muslim “warriors” in a “holy war against witches” during the five-hour tirade. Then they copped to their killing spree, which began in 1981 with an aspiring 23-year-old actress who gave them a place to stay.
Back then, the Carsons smiled for TV cameras as they admitted to butchering their victims for “religious reasons.”
“Witchcraft, homosexuality, and abortion are causes for death,” the bearded, long-maned Michael, then 32, told two San Francisco reporters during the presser at Sonoma County jail.
Michael called his 41-year-old wife a “a yogi and a mystic with knowledge of past, present and future.” He accused his beautiful young victim, Karen Barnes, of faking a conversion to Islam and “draining” Suzan of her powers.
They had no choice but to kill, Michael said. They were “disgusted” by the American way of life and acted in self-defense.
“It was part of the Koran,” Michael told reporters.
The cultish killings were the stuff of nightmares. After breaking into Barnes’s apartment, Michael bludgeoned her in the head with a skillet, and the couple took turns stabbing her 13 times in the head and neck.
In 1982, they gunned down Clark Stephens, a co-worker on a marijuana farm, before covering his body with chicken manure and lighting it on fire.
The Carsons later told police Stephens was a “petty witch” and “demon” who wanted to “live off [Suzan’s] life.”
A year later, they murdered 30-year-old Jon Hellyar, a do-gooder who saw them hitchhiking and decided to give them a lift. The fiends shot and stabbed Hellyar before leaving him to die on the side of the road.
Before the couple’s arrest, police found their manifesto titled “Cry for War” abandoned in some woods. Inside the tome was a hit list that included President Ronald Reagan and TV personality Johnny Carson.
The husband-and-wife slayers—called the “San Francisco witch killers”—were each sentenced to 75 years to life for the murders. Authorities, however, believed they slaughtered at least nine other people.
This year, the “witch killers” became eligible for parole following a federal court order to relieve California’s overcrowded prisons. About 1,400 elderly inmates who have served more than 25 years are up for hearings.
But on Wednesday, a parole board denied Suzan Carson’s early release—much to the relief of the victims’ families who traveled to the Chino, California, women’s prison to speak against any hope for her freedom.
“I’m so thrilled,” said Lisa Long, Barnes’s sister, who came from Jonesboro, Georgia, to attend the hearing. “I was terrified they may let this crazy monster out… due to her being a little old lady.”
“I don’t care how old Suzan is,” Long added. “She’s dangerous.”
Long told The Daily Beast that Suzan shows no remorse for her crimes. “She killed people in the name of Allah. She was doing Allah’s work.”
Jon Hellyar’s sister, Dianne, also rallied against Suzan’s release.
“There’s no way they’d put her back on the streets,” Hellyar told The Daily Beast. “I just don’t see how she could be rehabilitated. She has no remorse, no nothing.
“There was never any closure for my family,” she added. “I always hurt for my brother. I would imagine what he was going through.”
Suzan did not appear at the hearing. Before the proceedings, her attorney Laura Sheppard told the Associated Press her client refused to meet with her and “doesn’t seem interested in attempting to seek parole.”
Michael Carson canceled his parole hearing in June, citing his refusal to ditch his violent religious ideology. He’s eligible again in five years.
“I know this is absurd,” Michael wrote prison officials from Mule Creek State Prison, according to the AP. “No one is going to parole me because I will not and have not renounced my beliefs.”
His daughter, Jennifer Carson, now an advocate for children of prisoners, joined the victims in their fight to keep the killers behind bars. She launched a Change.org petition calling for Suzan to serve her full sentence.
“She’ll pass away in prison. She’ll spend the rest of her life in prison, and that’s what should happen,” Carson told The Daily Beast.
“It’s not vindictive, but it’s for safety and accountability to the public,” she added. “As long as [Suzan] can lift a hand... she could harm somebody.”
Jennifer Carson was only 4 when her father fell under Suzan’s spell.
Before that, Michael was a stay-at-home marijuana dealer in suburban Phoenix with a degree in Chinese philosophy. His real name was James Clifford Carson before he jettisoned his life for the warped crusade.
Jennifer adored her hippie father, who doted on her as her mother supported the family by working as a teacher.
“When my mom met [my father] he was a nice Jewish boy,” Jennifer told The Daily Beast. “No one could have foreseen this—especially how weird it got. Typically your Jewish father doesn’t convert to Islam, then to radical Islam, and change it to some weird religion where they grow pot and kill gays.”
After Michael split from Jennifer’s mother, he met Suzan at a Thanksgiving party. The daughter of an Arizona newspaper executive, Suzan had schizophrenia and was divorced from her businessman-husband. The couple had two children, Jennifer said.
“She was living this posh, country club lifestyle before she started using LSD and got involved with my father,” Jennifer told The Daily Beast.
The crazed couple fed off each other in their drug-addled journey. They lived off Suzan’s trust fund and traveled the world formulating their own version of Islam, until ending up on the streets and homeless.
Jennifer said she and her mother were forced into hiding to protect themselves from Michael and his new wife. “It’s not rational. It’s absolutely nuts. They were dropping acid daily,” she said.
The last straw came when Jennifer visited her father, and Suzan psychotically clawed at her to the point of drawing blood.
“I had asked her to rub my back before I went to bed,” Jennifer recalled in an interview with Crime Watch Daily, “and she scratched my back and said she was going to get the demon out of me.
“But more frightening to me than the injury was what she was saying: ‘You can fool your father but I know that you’re the devil, and I am going to get this demon out of you,’” Jennifer said.
Years later, Michael would write to his daughter, even during his murder spree. “I have little postcards [from those years] saying he missed me,” she told The Daily Beast.
She believes Suzan was the ringleader but that Michael was susceptible to being led astray by anyone he dated.
As a child, Michael was bedridden with a rare bone disorder and grew very close to his mother. He’s had an obsession with women in his life ever since, Jennifer said.
“If he had fallen in love with a televangelist, he would become one. If she had joined ISIS, he would have. He was that much of a follower,” Jennifer said. “He was drawn to extremists, people he found really exciting.”
Suzan was his leader. He said as much during the “press conference” organized by authorities in exchange for incriminating information.
“Suzan ordered each killing,” Michael announced as he sat next to his grinning bride.
The years-older Suzan believed she was a psychic, even as a child, according to authors interviewed for an Investigation Discovery documentary. But after she married, she embraced the counterculture of drugs and free love, and soon replaced the “s” in her name with a “z.”
When Suzan’s husband had enough, Suzan went hunting for a new man to do her bidding. She met James Carson and immediately started calling him Michael, named after the angel in the Bible who defeated Satan.
The couple traveled Europe and the West Coast using “Bear” as their surname. They moved into their first victim’s apartment after meeting her at a party in San Francisco’s former hippie nexus, the Haight-Ashbury district.
In March 1981, a plumber checking out Barnes’s basement apartment discovered her body lying in a pool of blood. When cops arrived, they found mysterious symbols painted on the wall, along with the word: Suzan.
For the next two years, police chased leads on the elusive couple and sinister crime. The “witch killers” were finally nabbed after brutally murdering Hellyar in broad daylight on a Napa Valley roadside. Suzan signaled for Michael to do the deed, suggesting Hellyar sexually assaulted her.
“They got my brother’s gun that was under his seat, and they shot him,” Hellyar’s brother Danny told 10 News this month.
He said a UPS driver witnessed the attack and called police. Hellyar’s last words were, “Help me brother,” because he knew Danny was also a UPS driver. “He may have thought that it was me that saw him, so it was touching in that way,” Danny told 10 News.
Suzan and Michael fled in Hellyar’s truck and crashed into a ditch. Cops caught them after they fled into nearby woods.
Jennifer Carson told The Daily Beast she had nightmares for years after reading the gruesome details of her father’s crimes. At age 22, she finally confronted him for the first time in prison, and said her final goodbye to him.
“The likelihood of having a parent as a serial killer is less likely than being struck by lightning,” she said. “There’s moments where it’s like: Is this a Lifetime movie? But this is real.”