On the afternoon of April 5, 1984, a Pleasant Valley teenager, Tina Faelz, disappeared on her way home from school.
The 14-year-old had been the subject of bullying from fellow pupils at Foothill Highschool and decided to avoid taking the bus home, instead opting to walk alone. She was scheduled to have detention after her last class of the day but skipped them both in favour of going home early at around 2:30PM, likely to avoid her bullies.
She took a series of known shortcuts to her home in Valley Trails, just as she had been doing for the past several days, but this time she would not make it home.
Tina was found dead in a field near a drainage tunnel along Lemonwood Way by Interstate 680. her body riddled with 44 stab wounds. A truck driver who noticed the body called it into police just before two other children had the misfortune of stumbling upon the scene.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday, having to have my mom sit outside my bedroom door to have me fall asleep, as an eight year old, we didn’t know who it was and I didn’t know if I was next” her younger brother, Drew, told CBS (SF Bay Area) in late October.
Many other children in the area felt the same sense of unease and paranoia after the murder. They slept with baseball bats by their bedsides, dreading they would be next.
There were no suspects in the case until 2011, when DNA found at the crime scene was tested and lead police to an incarcerated man, and former Foothill High student, Steve Carlson. A drop of the suspects blood was found on the victim’s brown leather purse (discovered in a tree above) connecting him to the crime. He would have been sixteen at the time of the murder and according to Joshua Suchon, a local author and journalist who attended Foothill School a few years after the crime, penned a book on the case titled “murder in Pleasanton”, the suspect was a bully whom other kids and classmates nicknamed “Creepy Carlson” behind his back. Suchon told CBS that local kids had always been convinced Carlson had something to do with the slaying and that nobody was shocked at his arrest.
Carlson also lived across the street from the scene of the crime.
Although still a teenager, Steve Carlson had a handful of crimes to his name, including a statutory rape charge involving inappropriate acts with a 13-year-old, as well as drug charges. He would later go on to admit to having drug issues at an early age as well as an obsession with pornography and issues at home that often saw him whipped and physically punished.
Earlier that day he had been picked up and thrown into a dumpster by members of the Foothill High football team and was angry and embarrassed about it. He remained locked in the dumpster until he was eventually freed by a teacher. According to an article published in the San Francisco Chronical, penned by Josh Suchon on October 22, 2020, Steve Carlson had held a house party at his home on Lemonwood Way earlier that day, as his parents were out of town on vacation. The festivities ended in chaos and humiliation after his dad’s alcohol cabinet was ransacked by attendees and his parents’ room was left trashed, with the contents of his mother’s underwear drawer scattered around the house. Carlson was enraged and drunk and returned to school where he then had a run in with members of the football team.
Despite claiming to be innocent and denying his involvement in Tina Faelz murder, Carlson was convicted of first-degree murder in 2014. Although he was a minor at the time he was tried as an adult and sentenced to 26 years in prison. His sentence was reduced to Second-degree murder after an appeal in 2017 when premeditation of the murder could not be proved.
Some are sceptical that after three and a half decades of both denying his role in the murder and joking that he did it, that Steven Carlson has suddenly confessed and believe it may be an attempt at early release. According to reports Steve Carlson and Tina Faelz did not know each other personally, however, this article in the San Francisco Chronical states that at one-point Carlson was in an inappropriate relationship with one of her friends who was 13-years-old at the time.
A snippet of one in the series of letters Carlson penned to the parole board, addressing both the victim and her family reads:
"This letter of my deepest apologies is way overdue. I was living in denial for years- not being able to believe or take responsibility for brutally murdering you on that day of April 5, 1984. I want you and your family to know you did absolutely nothing to deserve what I did to you. That’s what makes this murder so callous and horrific. You were just minding your own business, having to walk home by yourself and having to walk through that scary drainage tunnel could have also been terrifying to a 14 year old girl only to be horrifically surprised by me attacking and brutally murdering you.”
In his letters Steve Carlson hinted that he blacked out and couldn’t recall the crime. One minute he was grabbing a knife from the kitchen of the family home and storming out of the house and the next, he claims, he was standing over the bloody body of fourteen-year-old Tina Faelz, murder weapon in hand, with no recollection of committing the brutal murder. He said he had spotted the victim walking alone in the field from his window. After killing her in a fit of rage he told police he hurled the knife away in that same field, but police failed to recover it despite an extensive search for evidence in and around the scene
Although those following the case are suspicious of Steve Carlson’s intentions for finally confessing to the crime over three-and-a-half decades later, the cold case has finally, officially been solved.