Friday, July 10, 2009

Memorial to Slain Hikers

In July of 2006, I was in Bolivia. My wife came along on the trip that I was guiding and we had just returned from a series of high altitude ascents in the Condoriri region of the Cordillera Real. We were back in La Paz and Krista was assisting me as I prepped for the next stage of the trip, a short expedition to Illimani (21,122').

A normal part of returning to civilization is the obligatory email check. Usually, when I come out of the field my email is full of the normal stuff, junk-mail and correspondence with friends. Bad news seldom comes in emails. Instead, it tends to come over the phone. But we were nearly unreachable, so the bad news came in an email...

Our friends, Mary Cooper, 54, and her daughter, Susanna Stodden, 27, had been brutally murdered on July 11th, 2006 while hiking on the Pinnacle Lake trail in the Mount Pilchuck area of the Mountain Loop Highway.

Mary Cooper and Susanna Stodden
Family Photo

Three years later, there are still no solid suspects and no known leads. Most murders are relatively easy to solve. It's usually a relative or the victims have well-known enemies. Mary was a librarian with the Seattle School District and Susanna had taken the summer off before starting a new job at the University Child Development School in Seattle. All of their relatives were cleared of the crime and these women simply didn't have enemies. It didn't take long for the Snohomish County Sheriff's office to site the case as a random killing.

I grew up just a few houses away from the pair and in 2006, this news hit my wife and I like a freight train. But it hit more than just those who knew the victims. This senseless crime impacted the entire outdoor community of the Pacific Northwest. Suddenly, the wilderness that we all value so much had something far more dangerous lurking in it than the normal objective dangers that we face every time we're in the field. Somebody was out there who randomly killed two women for no known reason...and this person is still out there...

On the surface, the outdoor community has recovered. It doesn't appear that anybody is staying out of the woods anymore because of this. But this incident is still buried in the community's psyche. There are deep scars there, and occasionally they can be seen on the surface. The Pinnacle Lake murders are commonly referenced by hikers, climbers and backcountry skiers on websites like, and Every time a body is found in the wilderness, or an article gets posted about somebody doing something stupid with a gun (like mistaking a woman for a bear and shooting her), or an argument about guns in National Parks comes up, it seems like this incident is brought back into the light.

The scar of an incident like this will always exist in our community. Think about how deeply the Peter Absolon rock trundling incident impacted both Lander and the climbing community as a whole. Granted this was only two years ago and it is a completely different thing, but the scars of that particular incident run so deeply that it was referenced as recently as this week on There was closure to the Absolon incident when the rock trundler pleaded guilty, but it still haunts the community. There has been no closure to the Pinnacle Lake murders and as such there is the possibility that these scars will be there for a very long time.

Tomorrow evening, on July 11th, -- the third anniversary of their murders -- a group of Mary and Susanna's friends and family will have a memorial ceremony at Green Lake in Seattle. They will meet at the Green Lake Community Center at 7:50 and begin walking clockwise around the lake at 8:00. The family would be honored by any members of the outdoor community that would like join them on their memorial walk around the lake.

--Jason D. Martin

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