The April 1984 murder of 14-year-old Tina Faelz shocked the small, still mostly rural community of Pleasanton to its core. And when police failed for decades to bring anyone to justice, the pain for the family and the scar on the Bay Area town only deepened. Now, following a recent parole-hearing confession from the man convicted in her murder in 2014, Faelz's family and friends can finally find a bit more closure.
The Chronicle reported this week on the new confessional letters, written as part of a contrition requirement for parole consideration by convicted killer Steven Carlson. Now 52, Carlson was just a troubled 16-year-old who attended the same high school as Faelz when he randomly stabbed her to death in a culvert outside his home on Lemonwood Way.
His parents were out of town. He had just earlier that day been traumatized when a group of football players at Foothill High beat him up and tossed him in a dumpster, locking him inside with food and garbage and flipping it over. He was freed by a wood-shop teacher, and he says he spotted Tina Faelz walking home after he'd returned home to drink by himself.
Faelz, as the Chronicle reported via information that came out in Carlson's trial six years ago, was herself a victim of bullying, and that victimhood led her path to cross Carlson's that day. She was taking a shortcut home from school, on foot because a group of girls had been bullying her on the schoolbus — and the day she was killed those same girls had reportedly thrown rocks at her, and threatened violence.
Carlson wrote that he remembered "looking out my window and seeing someone walking on the dirt pathway, in the field that was across the street from my house. I remember being full of rage at the way all my classmates were laughin at me, and the damage my parents room was in and how my dad was going to whip up on me after they found out about the party I threw." (Carlson had thrown a small party while his parents were in Reno that week and it had ended up being a disaster.)
“Everything happen [sic] so fast,” Carlson wrote. “I remember going to kitchen and grabed a butcher knife."
Karin Reiff, Tina’s aunt, tells the Chronicle that the family had been confident for years that the boy who was called "creepy Carlson," next to whose house Tina's body was found, was likely her killer. But she said the confession was a satisfying way to close the door on the case.
Still, as the paper notes, there may be more to the story after Carlson has kept it to himself for 36 years — and the motive remains sort of vague. He claimed not to have known Tina Faelz, and to have acted in "blind rage," but reportedly he had had an inappropriate relationship with one of her friends a few years earlier, in junior high — and he likely knew that she knew that.
It's nevertheless a sad story on all sides. Faelz's mother would die of a heart attack before seeing Carlson convicted, the day before his trial was set to begin. Carlson would soon end up addicted to meth the same year of the murder, claiming it numbed him through the years of remembering this brutal crime. And he was already in police custody in Santa Cruz in 2011, where he was living homeless, when authorities matched his DNA to blood found on Tina's purse, which had been tossed in a tree near her body.
The case inspired a 2015 true-crime book, Murder in Pleasanton, by former Oakland Tribune reporter Joshua Suchon.
As Tina's brother, Drew Faelz, tells the Chronicle, "It is nice knowing that he’s admitting it, it’s 100% him. That part makes me feel better to get confirmation, but it doesn’t resolve anything."