James Clifford Carson
(aka Michael Bear Carson) and Susan Barnes Carson were
serial killers active in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1980s.
Involved in the counter-culture movement, their
crimes emerged from a shared missionary philosophy to exterminate
individuals they believed to be "witches". The pair reportedly kept a
list of targeted individuals including celebrities and political figures
such as Johnny Carson and then-president Ronald Reagan.
After their arrest in 1983, they held a news
conference confessing to murders including those of Karen Barnes,
stabbed to death in her home in Haight-Ashbury, Clark Stephens, murdered
and mutilated in Humboldt County and John Hillyar, murdered while
hitchhiking in the Napa Valley.
On 12 June 1984 the Carsons were convicted of one murder and sentenced
to serve twenty five years to life in prison. Later they were convicted
of two other murders and given 50 years to life. Their final sentence
was 75 years to life.
California Babylon by Kristan Lawson and Anneli
Rufus, St. Martin's Griffin; Revised Edition edition (October 2000)
The Cry for War: The Story of Suzan and Michael
Carson, Squibob Pr; 1st ed edition (January 1988)
Encyclopedia of Serial Killers (Paperback) by Brian
Lane, Berkley (July 1, 1995)
Susan & James Carson
(1981-1983) were 30-year old hippies from San Francisco who operated a
large pot farm in Humbolt County, California. They regularly took
hallucinogenic drugs, and during one of their trips, Susan had a vision
to change their names (to Suzan & Michael Bear) and declare allegiance
to the Muslim faith.
They became convinced some of their
old friends and acquaintances as well as regular visitors to the pot
farm were witches bent on doing the world evil, so they killed 3 people
by smashing their skulls, stabbing, and shooting. No evidence of sexual
motive or profit was present, and at their trial, they claimed self-defense
in ending spells put on them and in doing the world a favor by ridding
it of evil. They were sentenced to 25 years to life.
Valley woman recalls childhood with
her serial-killer dad
By Carey Peña / 3TV reporter
Monday, February 27, 2006
It was a dark family secret kept
hidden for years. Now, the daughter of a serial killer speaks out.
Jenn Carson lives here in the Valley. At the age of
31, she has finally come to the point where she can talk openly about
her father without shame or guilt.
She recently sat with 3TV to share her story of
Jenn's earliest memories are good ones. "I was
totally a daddy's girl," she said.
In the eyes of his adoring daughter, Michael Carson
could do no wrong.
"My father was brilliant," Jenn said. "He had a
master's degree and a degree in Chinese studies."
But brilliance would soon give way to madness.
"My mom just saw this person who she loved dearly
changing before her eyes," Jenn said. "I think she realized he was
headed for an explosion. One night we just packed the car and
Jenn was just shy of 5 when she and her mother fled
to California. In the meantime, her father remained in Phoenix where he
ended up remarrying.
"Suzan had been recently divorced. With two teenage
kids, she had lived a very normal country club Scottsdale life," Jenn
Fueled by drugs, Michael and Suzan started a downward
spiral that would end in a murderous rampage.
"When I was 7, the murder spree started," Jenn said.
"And he was convicted when I was 9."
Jenn's mom couldn't keep it from her any longer. It
was time to talk about the truth.
"She said, ‘Daddy’s gotten a lot worse and he is very,
very sick and he hurt a bunch of people and they are not alive anymore,'"
The first victim was Keryn Barnes, 22.
"He killed her by bashing her over the head with a
frying pan. And then stabbing her multiple times," Jenn said. "How could
the hands that changed my diaper stab a young woman to death?"
Barnes was stabbed more than 15 times. Police later
found her in a pool of blood in the kitchen of her San Francisco
The trial was all over the news in the early ‘80s.
The Carsons confessed to three murders in Northern
They claimed to be killing witches, homosexuals, and
abortionists in the name of Allah.
"Good is created and evil is a like a powerful
parasite," said Michael during a press conference. "It can only copy or
feed off of the light."
This remained a dark family secret for years.
"I was hiding it and it was destroying me," Jenn said.
Finally, when she was 19, Jenn decided she had to
look into her father's eyes at least once.
"It was like looking into the eyes of someone with no
soul," she said.
At that time, Michael was housed at Folsom Prison in
the so-called celebrity wing. Visitation was held in a big open room.
That's where Jenn came face to face with another well-known
killer -- an experience that would shake her to the bone.
"Eric Menendez gets up from the person he was
visiting," Jenn said. "And he comes and says ’hi’ to my father. And then
says ‘hi’ to me and he winks at me. And I'm like, am I in the twilight
Jenn now considers her dad to be pure evil.
"The definition of evil is hurting someone else for
pleasure," she said. "And I think that once you've crossed that line
there is no going back."
Jenn is all about moving forward. She's a courageous
young woman who refuses to be bound by blood or circumstance.
"All children can get through any experience and then
transcend that experience," Jenn said.
Jenn got her master's in counseling and now dedicates
her life to working with kids who have emotional and mental health needs.
She refuses to let her father's crimes define who she is.
And what about her dad? How much time did he get?
Michael, 54, was recently transferred to a prison in
L.A. County. Both he and Suzan will spend the rest of their life behind
Cry for War
Fascinating book by Richard D. Reynolds about Suzan
and Michael Carson, the so-called San Francisco "Witch" killers.
Follow the adventures of these nomadic killers as
they make their home in abandoned cabins, live out of dumpsters, deal
marijuana and preach their own version of Islam. They saw themselves as
Hassassins, tools of Allah. Most people saw them as insane. Ric Reynolds
gets inside their heads and tells it from their point of view.
You are prepared to hate them after the first chapter
which is from the point of view of the victim's friends. Then, as we
accompany them on their flight from justice and enter their minds, we
find ourselves seduced into liking them and actually rooting for them.
Such is the power of this book.
This is a book of the streets and the people who
inhabit them. It's a book of punk rockers, welfare mothers, Golden Gate
Park, pot farms, nomads crashing in abandoned cabins, and murder. Suzan
and Michael are pot dealers (and smokers) who are high on their own
insanity. They see themselves as Moslem assassins and their lives as a
holy war against "Witches" and other "infidels."
Richard Reynolds becomes Suzan and Michael as does
the reader. How many times have you become somebody else? How often has
it been someone repellant and still you loved the experience? Highly