Creation of a Monster, John Gardner

John Gardner discussed the rapes and murders of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King in a prison interview.
  • John Gardner discussed the rapes and murders of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King in a prison interview.

"The picture of stabbing her is just not a memory I’d like. I thought I’d like it, but I didn’t. I like the raping part. I don’t like the killing part, especially if it’s bloody.”

That was John Albert Gardner III speaking matter-of-factly in a five-hour prison interview about his 2009 abduction/rape/murder of 14-year-old Amber Dubois of Escondido. Gardner uttered the chilling words while speaking with San Diego author Caitlin Rother, whose book, Lost Girls, comes out in early July from Pinnacle, an imprint of Kensington Publishing.

Local author Caitlin Rother conducted the five-hour interview with Gardner for her upcoming book Lost Girls.

Local author Caitlin Rother conducted the five-hour interview with Gardner for her upcoming book Lost Girls.

A year after murdering Amber, Gardner — a severely disturbed registered sex offender — captured, raped, and murdered 17-year-old Chelsea King of Poway, who lived near the Rancho Bernardo–area home of Gardner’s mother, with whom John often stayed. Not long before murdering Chelsea, Gardner had told a psychiatrist that he was in danger of hurting himself or others, but the shrink just sent him home with more medicine. “Five days later, John went on a suicidal binge of methamphetamine and other illicit drugs, which landed him in the emergency room,” writes Rother.

The night he murdered Chelsea, he was wildly out of control, writes Rother, who interviewed the mother (a psychiatric nurse), several of Gardner’s former girlfriends, and family members who had not previously opened up to researchers. In the prison interview, Rother asked him why he raped Chelsea. “In my state of mind at that time, I wanted to have sex, and I was going to have sex,” he replied. Rother then asked him why he killed the teenager: “Witness. Can’t tell if you’re not there to tell. If someone else was there, I would have killed them, too.”

This thoroughly reported and well-written book draws a terrifying portrait of a man who was sweet and cuddly one day and a crazed killer the next. A perfect storm of nature and nurture doomed him psychologically, and perfect storms of being at the wrong place at the wrong time doomed his teenage victims.

In detail, Rother describes the “complex mix of genetic and environmental risk factors — including addiction, alcoholism, physical abuse, mental illness, mental disorders…a rotating series of father figures, repeated moves from house to house, financial instability (including multiple bankruptcies), molestation and incest” that ultimately turned him into a monster.

In his teens, Gardner was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, paranoia, and conduct disorder, but he was never considered schizophrenic. He was clearly bipolar — one sign of which was “a high sex drive which can go into overdrive during a manic state, delusions of grandeur and of superhuman powers or skills,” writes Rother.

One of Gardner’s high school lovers said that in bed, Gardner was known as the Energizer Bunny. “He could go over and over and over repeatedly, and that could go on for, like, hours. And there wasn’t anything sexually he wasn’t willing to do. He was really focused on pleasing his partner.”

But fidelity was another matter. He admitted cheating on this girlfriend more than 80 times. She learned that at a friend’s party, he had had sex with five different girls in the course of the evening. He became the father of twin boys by still another young lady.

And, yet, in the prison interview, he told Rother, “I’d need years of therapy to get over the anger I have toward women.”

He also had sex with his aunt more than once, although these did not appear to be mania-induced episodes. He claimed she was the aggressor. She said he was. Needless to say, Gardner’s family background was dysfunctional; it was hardly surprising that he had drug and alcohol problems, as other family members had.

In May of 2000, when Gardner was 21, he pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious acts and one count of false imprisonment. He confessed, “I unlawfully touched…a child under 14, by humping her with the intent to gratify my sexual desires. I also unlawfully touched…a child under 14 by touching her vaginal area with my hand.…” He also restrained her with violence.

But a forensic psychiatrist said Gardner “does not suffer from a psychotic disorder. He is simply a bad guy who is inordinately interested in young girls.” Gardner was a “danger to the community” but would not benefit from sexual offender treatment because he took no responsibility for his actions.

Gardner spent five years in prison. In 2003 he was placed in a prison mental health facility because he was a threat to himself and others. The next year he was talking about killing correctional officers. He also said he wanted to kill his attorney and the judge who sentenced him. He had a psychotic break. He completed parole in 2008, despite several term violations.

During parole, he was considered a “moderate-low risk sex offender — a group that has a 12.8 percent chance of reoffending in five years,” writes Rother. Moderate-low risk?

As the Amber/Chelsea story electrified San Diego and the worldwide media, many people asked why Gardner, with an egregious record known to law enforcement, was permitted to be a danger to society, and particularly young girls. Forensic psychiatrist Mark Kalish argued that the court in the 2000 case did have the information to foresee this tragedy. After all, a psychiatrist had told the judge that Gardner would be a continued danger to underage girls in the community. That psychiatrist had recommended the longest sentence possible under the law.

But others saw the situation differently. The State of California was in desperate financial shape. There wasn’t money to implement reforms. Chelsea’s Law, passed in 2010 to monitor sex offenders more closely, got off to a sputtering start for economic reasons but now may finally gain momentum.

Ultimately, Gardner was caught by DNA evidence — his semen was found on Chelsea’s panties. To avoid the death penalty, he confessed to both murders and is spending life in prison. Investigators haven’t found evidence of other murders he committed.

I doubt that there will be a better book on this tragedy than Rother’s. ■

Comments

In today's society people will do just about anything to get their 15 minutes of fame. By publishing this in a local paper-and the book due to be released- you have granted this monster his wish. Yes, he's messed up in the mind- but I'm sure he's proudly smiling, thinking how "everyone knows who I am Now". I feel sick- because I know the mothers of these precious girls will hear of this and they will have to relive their horror and sorrow all over again. It's really a shame, yet you have made him a celebrity of sorts by continuing to put him in the media.

The phenomenon you cite is relevant in some personality profiles. I do not know about Gardner. So what would you do? Ignore this important story? Already, greatly because of publicity about this case, renformsare in the pipeline, and certainly parents and young women are being more cautious. Best, don bauder

I think it is important to tell the story of John Gardner; it is educational. It has already led to reform efforts and may lead to more. Best, Don Bauder

Don, Enough of the tragic story about what he did to those innocent victims has already been told, that the animal was guilty and shall never go free again, ever. NO excuses for what he did, AT ALL. He should get NO more attention or any profit from it, ever. Boycotts can happen, unless any/all publishing profits go directly to the victims families. He is the example for keeping and using the death penalty in this state. Most local parents never want to see his face or hear about him ever again in this life, and wish his had ended like his victims did. May still happen in prison.

He was not even brought up on death penalty charges-he did the Amber Dubois deal to escape it, and while monsters like this POS certainly deserve the death penalty it has to go b/c it simply does not work-it is not applied evenly, uniformily or equally.

The fact that the death penalty was not considered was a police matter: was it better to finger the guilty so that the community was no longer terrified, or stall out the process? The book deals with this. Best, Don Bauder

I think there is a very high likelihood he will be killed in the joint, unless he is in adseg, he will simply not be safe in the general population.

Well, Peyer has been in the general population at SLO for about a quarter century is is still alive and breathing. Was his offense that much less than this creep? We are promised that he will die in prison, but with the pendulum swinging away from getting tough, and with prison costs out of control and the prisons overcrowded, don't bet that he'll leave the walls feet first.

Peyer was not a child rapist, just a run of he mill 1st degree murderer.

I didn't know that about Peyer. Best, Don Bauder

Agreed. He is not safe. Prisoners do not look kindly on sex murderers or even offenders. Best, Don Bauder

Yes, he is probably not safe in prison. He may have to be placed in solitary confinement. Best, Don Bauder

"Ignore this important story?" Certainly not: publish early before memories fade and rake in the proceeds. That's the way we roll.

This horrifying story must be squeezed for all the lessons it can convey. People must know about such monsters. Best, Don Bauder

He is a dirtbag coward who could only kill teenage females, despite being well over 200#. Biggest POS dirtbag I have ever seen. I have a feeling his life in the joint is not going to be easy, as a killer of teenage females who were the innocent daughters of people who will resemble many of his fellow inamtes.

Yes, like Jerry Sandusky, his life will be in jeopardy in prison. Best, Don Bauder

Some people were horrified when neighbors took out their ire on his mother. (I'd suppose she relocated very soon.) She was a psychiatric nurse for Pete's sake and didn't have any clue of his pathologies? Gimme a break! Had the Escondido cops contacted him, and he was in that area, when Amber went missing, he might have been sufficiently scared off to avoid any further attacks, hence saving Chelsea from the same fate. But they didn't contact him, and that's why not just a few people question the competence of that PD and any reason for its further existence. This whole wretched story of a screwed up kid who became a screwed up man and the mismanagement of his criminal history is an incredible tragedy. And it is all built of "what if" questions.

Good analysis. Do we have an adequate system for warning the public of sex offenders? No, we don't. Best, Don Bauder

Maybe not everyone can be warned, but they can still be protected. Why not castrate someone who has exhibited this type of uncontrollable behavior? Either surgically or chemically. Why can't they be monitored electronically? The technology exists. The same thing with Domestic Violence offenders. If someone is convicted of a serious injury on another person, they should have to wear a GPS device of some sort. And they should have to pay for it themselves, too.

I am not knowledgeable on this, but castration may not stop violent sex offenders. Best, Don Bauder

It's worse then people realize. The Megan's law website only list the felony sex offenders on the screens the public may see. Those convicted of misdemeanor sex crimes are excluded by statute. In addition there are various ways to go about getting yourself removed from public display by going through the courts. So instead of getting the full picture the public can be lulled into a sense of security, not knowing the next door neighbor likes to expose himself (314.1 Cal Penal Code) But the even scarier part, mere possession of Child Ponography in California is still a misdemeanor. (Cal PC 311.11)

JW, Kiddie porn is a felony, or a "wobbler", meaning it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on circumstances. There is also no good time custody credit with these charges in state court, and no one gets those credits in federal court. Most kiddie porn beefs are prosecuted at the federal level, at least the bigger ones because the penalties are harsher.

ALL people convicted of kiddie porn get a life time resistaration on the sex offenders list (PC 290).

No question -- the laws have to be put under a microscope. I will cite one example of the dilemma, though. While with the U-T, I was at my computer when suddenly photos of teenage girls in sex acts came on the screen. I had no idea where they came from. Had somebody in top management walked by, I would have been fired. Could the police have arrested me for possessing kiddie porn? Later, I suspected where those photos might have come from. I had done a scam column on a San Diego company that was involved in pornography. I had gone to the scammer's website. I might have gotten on a kiddie porn computer list, so to speak. Best, Don Bauder

Answer to SurfPup: KiddiePorn is so disgusting that it is even difficult to discuss it. Best, Don Bauder

When I went thru the police academy in 1985 they showed kiddie porn pics in the criminal law reviews, and all I can say is it is hard to imagine a human being would do such despicable acts to ANY child. And I am talking about disgusting acts with 3, 4, 5 year olds. Cannot even think about those pics without getting sick to my stomach, and angry, very angry.

Agreed: such an act is beyond despicable. Best, Don Bauder

Gov employment and compensation based on merit are never legit. ESPECIALLY t the upper management levels.

I'm not sure they are NEVER legit, but your point is well taken, SurfPup. Best, Don Bauder

Oh I COMPLETELY agree. Escondido PD pulled Gardner over with an OPEN container, driving the girlfriend's car w/ her young son in tow, while stalking young females. How is THAT not a crime???? I've also read that he was pulled over up in Temecula in his own car and he matched the description of a creep that threatened another girl with a gun. WHERE did he get the gun? (I believe he lived with his Grandmother up in Riverside for a while.)

It is obvious that many mistakes were made and the book deals with some of them. Best, Don Bauder

Certainly the Stephanie Crowe case was bungled. I don't know about the other case you mentioned. Best, Don Bauder

There has NEVER been a case bungled as bad as the Stephanie Crowe case, except maybe Dale Akiki. And NO ONE WAS FIRED, everyone of those Escondido cops should have been CANNED.

The Akiki case was bungled, and the tragedy is that the ultimate responsibility lay with DA Ed Miller, perhaps the best DA San Diego has ever had. Best, Don Bauder

I cannot blame his mother. I don't hold her responsible for the actions of her son, and there is no indication she knew he was as flipped out as he was. I feel empathy for her because of the monster her son turned out to be, and it is obvious to me that he has a mental disorder.

By "stuck in the joint" I assume you mean sent to prison. I don't know that these alleged sins of omission are punishable by incarceration. Best, Don Bauder

Would it be responsible reporting to name names as to who the psychiatrist were that did nothing.

Those names are in the book. I just didn't use them in the review. Often one can clutter up writing by naming all the characters. Best, Don Bauder

good writing tip Don

sociopathy in cases like this are only seen blatantly after the fact

Although sometimes sociopathy is immediately evident. Best, Don Bauder

if noticed during childhood...as they become adults they become quite clever at hiding it

That is why so many occupy high offices. Best, don bauder

ur pretty clever urself pooh bear...hahahahahahahaha

Some local politicians think I am a sociopath, too. The feeling is mutual. Best, don bauder

The names are in the book. In some cases, the book's author protects names, but this is not the case in this instance. So I disagree with you but appreciate hearing your opinion. Best, Don Bauder

Never knew what happened to Twister. Best, don bauder

I grew up in a house that was literally around the corner from where Amber was abducted. I went to High School with Carrie, her mother. I can't even find the words to express how much this tragedy has haunted me. It still does. I feel that both Gardner's mother and girlfriend were accomplices and should have been charged. AND that the judge should have thrown out the plea bargain.

I disagree about his mother being responsible. She most likely did her best, the guy was a nutcase lain and simple, he was still her son and I do no she willfully knew or assisted in any way.

If he had a GF she was a nut for staying with him. I almost threw up in my mouth reading the garbage about the dirtbags sex life, who gives a rats a$s about that.

In reading the book, I found it hard to heap too much blame on the mother, although, as so many mothers and fathers do, she rationalized her aon's actions. Best, don bauder

I have not read the book, maybe my position will change after I read it.

I recommend your reading it. I have always been far more interested in white collar crime than violent crime, but I found this book fascinating and readable.Best, Don Bauder

I have a major problem with the fact that this Gardner filth, who had a propensity for violence and abused drugs and alcohol, whose mother was fully aware of his SEXUAL OFFENDER status, allowed him to binge on substances while living in her home without notifiying the authorities of his whereabouts.By doing so may have kept Chelsea safe at least. I read elsewhere that he and his MATERNAL aunt were involved in a sexual relationship, weeks before he killed Amber. These are sick, white trash people.

The book covers Gardner's sexual relationship with his aunt. Best, Don Bauder

I think you should read the book and see if you would still make these statements. I am not criticizing your analysis -- just suggesting you read the book. Best, Don Bauder

Again, I disagree with you, Mindy. The fact your daughter walked there is a good reason for the book to get the widest possible audience. Best, Don Bauder

I do not think this book can be labeled profiting off others' grief. To repeat: the story of Gardner must be told as an educational tool for the public. Best, Don Bauder

I don't find that remark funny, Mindy. Best, Don Bauder

The book does say much about Chelsea and Amber. I concentrated on Gardner in my review. So don't blame the author for something that was my decision in writing the review. Best, Don Bauder

I doubt that Rother wrote the book to cash in on a tragedy. There's no money in writing a book like this. Rother's books sell for under $10. She might sell 10,000 copies if she's lucky. If she was interested in money her time would likely be better spent working full time as a reporter rather than researching and writing crime books.

Rother is not writing fiction in this book. I have read two of her other books; in each, she did a very thorough reporting job, as I believe she did in this book. Best, Don Bauder

Rother has become one of the leading non-fiction crime writers of the day. She is probably making relatively good money on those books, although I doubt she is getting rich. Best, Don Bauder

One thing for sure-she is getting lots of press/feedback here.

Yes, she is getting feedback here, and I understand in other media, too. Best, Don Bauder

UT had a story, but it wasn't really a review. Best, Don Bauder

I don't think Rother will make that much money on this book, although it deserves to gather a big audience. Best, Don Bauder

Gardner doesn't get The Reader in prison, and doubt he will ever read the book. How does he profit? Newspapers have dropped the story, which needed to be "completed" by threading events together. When Gardner gives his wack-job comments, it can only hurt him in his sphere of the cell block. Thanks Don for the great review.

People are finding it hard to get the book; it is flying off the shelves very rapidly. I'm sure Gardner doesn't get the Reader in prison and I hope he didn't read it in his earlier days. Best, Don Bauder

I just viewed the television documentary on this loser, and got really sick to my stomach from all of this I used to work for the california dept of corrections and many of these type of criminals are on all kinds of meds especially psycotropic medications I honestly know for a fact that alot of the so called pysch Drs over prescribe medications just to keep the inmate managable but really not even trying to rehabilitate any of them. But in Gardners case he should of never been let out period! he had all the classic signs and history to be deemed a very dangerous individual and it was missed completely! pretty crazy stuff my heart goes out to the families of chelsea and amber and I hope Gardner does not die because that would be way too easy for him I hope he lives a tormented life in prison and always be looking over his shoulder wandering when its his time to get taken out!

Yes, sex offenders should be shot on site. Truth is that it just won't happen. Our current solutions are not only not working but it seems the problem is getting worse. Is it really getting worse or is it the instant communication society making these problems more visable? In either case living the problem and allowing anger and sorrow to cloud our thinking makes little sense. There are quite a few other social maladies that, in the past, were deemed "uncurable" and reigned havoc on people and families. The individuals afflicted were locked in prisons and psychiatric units and deemed untreatable. Do not misunderstand me please! I have NO sympathy for fiends like this man. The pathology exists that victims turn into offenders in more than a few cases. So where do young men go, that in the beginning, when their thoughts and feelings about such abhorrent topics are coming into their minds and overwhelming them go for help without fear of ridicule and being branded for life? Is there a time and a place that is safe for them to seek help before they become monsters? NOPE, flat out NOPE! They are catch 22 in the extreme. Could lives be changed, the public made more safe, and this expotentially harmful malady be lessened with a change in perspective and treatment? Truth is that I do not know the answers or any answers here.

There is at least one person I would love to put in that prison for life WITH John Gardner. That is the guy that would not admit him when he told them he felt he was a danger to himself and others.

Why even give this man the time of day? He does not deserve to be in the public consciousness. He is of no value as a human being.

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