Is a cult responsible for the death of a high school student?

Kurt McFall

Kurt McFall

On September 8, 1984, Kurt McFall, a 17-year old high school student, drove from his home in Concord, California, across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. He told his father he was staying with a friend and would be home Sunday evening. Kurt never returned.

On Monday, two birdwatchers spotted a half naked body on a remote beach below the cliffs of San Francisco Bay. Kurt McFall was dead. Kurt’s father, Tom McFall, says he knew at once his son’s death was no accident:

“Kurt told a friend of his that he was involved in some kind of Satanic cult and that he wanted out, but he thought that they might try to kill him. He really feared for his life. It was a murder. It needs to be investigated. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kurt could’ve handled himself in that cliff area because he was an experienced mountain climber and he was a diver. So he would not have drowned in the water or fallen down the hill.”

In Kurt’s room, Tom discovered a knife made from a deer’s hoof, a necklace of stone and feathers, and drawings depicting witchcraft themes and violent fantasies. These seemed to prove that Kurt was leading a double life. The year before he died, Kurt had joined a group that enjoyed reliving medieval customs. They dressed in costumes and practiced sword fighting in the parking lot of an Oakland subway station.

Around the same time, Kurt also joined another organization that initiated him into a pagan religion. This new group frightened one of Kurt’s old high school friends. He later contacted Tom McFall and then began to fear for his own safety. He spoke on the condition that his identity not be revealed:

“Gradually, over a period of perhaps six months, his attitude towards other people changed drastically. He kind of moved from just studying with an interest in medieval religion, to actually adopting that religion as his.”

Kurt’s body found at base of cliff

Kurt’s body found at base of cliff

Kurt’s guide into the pagan religion was Gabriel Carrillo, who went by the ancient Welsh name, Caradoc:

“This is a religion that is also an art, a craft, and one that has techniques that are, at their essence, magical. I met Kurt because he had evinced an interest in magic. Kurt was real bright and real curious about just about everything.”

Kurt’s high school friend thinks Kurt got too deeply involved:

“His involvement with this group can be compared to a drug addiction, where you begin thinking that you’ve got it under control and you can take it whenever you want. But gradually, you lose that sense of knowing when to stop until you’re a junkie.”

Gabriel Carrillo:

“I do not make any attempt to control people’s lives. People are free to come and go at their own discretion, just as Kurt did. If anything, the emphasis that we have is on individuals taking control of their own lives.”

On Saturday, September 10th, Kurt stayed over at Carrillo’s apartment. They had dinner, went to a movie, and around midnight, Kurt went swimming at Ocean Beach, a few blocks from Carrillo’s home. According to Carrillo, Kurt had trouble sleeping and knocked on his door at about three in the morning. Kurt said he was going to go back to the beach. Kurt was never seen alive again. Carrillo thinks Kurt’s death was an accident:

“My best guess is simply that he took one too many chances. He might have gone swimming in the ocean and been pulled by the undertow. He might have gone climbing on the cliffs at Land’s End and slipped and fallen, or any one of a number of other things.”

Puzzling clues found in Kurt’s abandoned car

Puzzling clues found in Kurt’s abandoned car

The following evening, Kurt’s car was found abandoned on a golf course overlooking the ocean. There were a number of puzzling clues. Kurt’s driver’s license was on the floor.  His car keys were on the seat. A $20 bill was in the glove compartment. The prized suit of armor which Kurt had made for sword fighting was missing from the trunk. There were also beer bottles scattered in, and around, the car. Tom McFall thinks the clues were staged:

“The car has to be a phony scene that was set up, because Kurt did not drink beer. That’s also inconsistent with the autopsy report that shows that there was no sign of alcohol or drugs in the body when it was recovered. So that looked very suspicious.”

At 10:15 the following morning, National Park Service lifeguards recovered Kurt’s body.  It was lying in a cove less than two miles from Carrillo’s apartment, just below the cliffs at the golf course where Kurt’s car was found. Brian Cameron was one of the lifeguards:

“When we came upon the body, we noticed it was in fairly good condition, fairly pale, usually a sign of being in the water for an extended period of time. No obvious external trauma. He looked pretty clean, other than a few small abrasions on the body, but nothing obvious.”

Kurt had no shoes, socks or shirt.  His back and shoulders were covered with cuts and abrasions. The belt he wore was missing its buckle. Chief Petty Officer Ron Wilton with the U.S. Coast Guard:

“With the facts that we have in this case, it’s really anybody’s guess as to where he actually entered the water, where he came from. My guess would be — and that’s all it is, is an educated guess — that he simply fell off the cliff. And that’s what it appears to me.”

The coroner determined that Kurt died from multiple traumatic injuries and severe blood loss, but no one knows what caused those injuries. Perhaps Kurt died after stumbling over the edge. Or, perhaps he was pushed. The coroner ruled, “cause of death, unknown,” a determination unacceptable to Tom McFall:

“I went to the San Francisco coroner and I said, ‘What do you think happened to Kurt?’  And he said, ‘I think the most probable cause of Kurt’s death is homicide’. But he said he didn’t have enough to testify to that in a court of law. And so he sent his ruling up to homicide classified as ‘unknown.’ I can’t accept that.”

The police investigated further, but found no reason to change the ruling from “unknown” to “homicide.”  They declined to be interviewed for this story. Kurt’s father continues to believe his son was murdered:

“Kurt may have uncovered something in the organization and may have indicated to people that he was going to expose this. And I feel that all of these things probably contributed to them wanting to do away with Kurt.”

Gabriel Carrillo denies that he or his organization had anything to do with Kurt’s death:

“If I wanted to murder somebody, the last person I would murder would be somebody who was staying at my house and whose father knew that he was staying in my house.  I mean, the whole thing is stupid.”

Tom McFall hopes that someone will come forward with new evidence that could re-open the investigation.