August 2004. In a few months the U.S. presidential election would be decided. Pundits claimed America was divided between red and blue states. It made a good story. In the south and Midwest, God-fearing families wanted to protect marriage and bring back school prayer. On the coasts, between episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, liberals lamented that the work of the Warren Supreme Court was unraveling. Evolution vs. creationism, old enemies, went another round.
Lost in the din about America's future was news of the murder of two young camp counselors. Lindsay Cutshall and Jason Allen were found on a beach near Jenner, California on August 18, 2004. They were still zipped into their separate sleeping bags. There was no sign of a struggle. A peaceful-looking scene on a gorgeous stretch of beach, except for the fact Cutshall and Allen had been shot in the head at close range with a powerful .45-caliber Marlin hunting rifle. The couple didn't hunt. They loved nature, especially rafting and rock climbing. They loved each other; in fact, their wedding was less than a month away. Most of all they loved God.
Cutshall, 23, and Allen, 26, worked at Rock-N-Water, a Christian adventure camp in nearby Coloma, California that describes itself, according to its website, as a “group of christians who want to infect young people with the joy of God's Living Word.” Cutshall and Allen's religious beliefs might not have invited much thought but for a quiet press release issued by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department. They were looking for a car seen parked nearby during the timeframe of the murders. It was described as a dark-colored sedan with tinted windows that appeared to be a 1980s or early ‘90s model. The next line was non-committal. And chilling. “The rear window may have a black-and-white decal of a crescent-shaped pollywog-like creature with legs, such as something that could perhaps be referring to evolutionary theory,” according to the press release.
August 2004. Across the country debate raged over intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution. On a damp, secluded beach two evangelical Christians are methodically executed. A suspicious car seen in the area carries a decal promoting Darwinism. Had someone taken their belief in science too far?
Chris Cutshall, Lindsay's father, certainly seemed to think religion could be the motive for murder. On August 20th he talked to the Coshocton Tribune about his daughter:
“She's a confident person - sometimes overly confident,” he said. “That's gotten her in trouble a couple times. I hope that wasn't what happened here.”
What if it wasn't?
Look again at the mystery decal, the one that could be referring to evolutionary theory, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department. Remember that Cutshall and Allen were both trained rafting guides. Do you see a kayak being carried by a couple of paddlers?
Most outdoor camps have logos of some kind. An online search shows that many rafting camps have logos that include kayaks, canoes or rafts. In fact, Cushall and Allen's camp, Rock-N-Water, uses this logo on their website:
There's a report of a suspicious car in the area during the timeframe of the murders. The car's color isn't specified, so one assumes the sighting was late at night, and probably fleeting. Still, a detail is recalled. An impression, probably, an object illuminated momentarily by headlights. A crescent-shaped, black-and-white decal.
It's important to note no one from Rock-N-Water has been named a suspect in the Cutshall and Allen murders. No acquaintance in the rafting community, someone who might have a rafting decal on the back of their car, for instance, has been publicly suspected either. Media reports indicate family members think a religious dispute is at the heart of this tragedy. It's possible Cutshall and Allen approached the wrong stranger with their missionary zeal.
It's also possible the answer lies closer to home. That the origin of violence was not opinions about God and religion, but something more human and messy: jealousy, paranoia, anger. Cutshall and Allen seemed like low-risk victims who surrounded themselves with people of faith, but what if among them lurked a fellow Believer who masked a sinister rage?
This case remains unsolved.