Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Disappearance and Murder of 17-Year-Old Chelsea King


John Albert Gardner
John Albert Gardner
On Sunday, February 28, 2010, Gardner, who sometimes made his home in Lake Elsinore, about 75 miles north of Poway, was tracked to a Mexican restaurant in Escondido. He was swiftly arrested at 4:30 p.m. on suspicion of first-degree murder and forcible rape as he exited the establishment. Several armed deputies had surrounded the eatery and were waiting for him to come out so they could apprehend him without incident or danger to the public. According to the California sex offender registry, Gardner had been convicted of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14 in 2000. In that case, the child had been a 13-year-old female neighbor of Gardner's who had skipped school on the day of the incident, and Gardner had lured her inside his house under the guise of watching the Robin Williams movie Patch Adams. He was sentenced to six years in prison for molesting her. According to court records, he had shown no remorse for assaulting the girl.

Although police still did not know what had happened to Chelsea or her whereabouts, detectives believed that Gardner was the link or key to finding her. However, according to San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, it appeared that Gardner was not going to cooperate with investigators.

"During the course of this extensive investigation, evidence was discovered that linked Gardner to Ms. King in such a manner as to warrant his arrest," Gore announced on Good Morning, America the following day. "We questioned Mr. Gardner into the evening, but so far we do not know where Chelsea is. It is a step in the right direction. We're confident that we have the right man in custody. Now we've just got to find Chelsea."

Officials said after the arrest that Gardner may have assaulted a 22-year-old female jogger on December 27, 2009, in the same park where Chelsea disappeared. The jogger, who was visiting from out of state, had managed to fend off her assailant.

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