In 2018, Tristan Beaudette was fatally shot while sleeping in a tent with his daughters in a scenic campground. Police and California state park officials had ample evidence that something nefarious was happening in this rugged part of southern California before Beaudette’s death, and they kept quiet. Rumors filled the vacuum, and theories circulated. Was Beaudette’s death premeditated, random, or was it connected to an armed survivalist who was blamed for the string of fatalities and bizarre shootings that plagued the area? At GQ, Zach Baron tells how this terrifying constellation of random unsolved violence has cast a shadow over the Agoura Hills/Calabasas area.
There is reason to suspect the area is still very dangerous. Local news outlets report that sheriff’s deputies have responded nine different times to claims of gunfire in the area. In September several Caltrans employees who are working on Calabasas Road, a few miles from the campground, discover the skeletal remains of what the coroner ultimately determines was a man; investigators can make out no further identification. One journalist in Malibu, Cece Woods, begins writing on her website The Local Malibu, accusing the LASD of orchestrating a cover-up related to the rash of shootings in the area in order to protect its reputation. “The city of Malibu never put out a public safety announcement, and I believe it’s because they don’t want to make the sheriffs look bad,” Woods tells the Hollywood Reporter. In the fall, in an unusually close runoff, the incumbent sheriff is defeated in an election that turns partially on the department’s handling of the case.
Meanwhile, there is someone, or multiple people, in the hills around Malibu Creek State Park, breaking into unoccupied buildings, stealing food and other supplies. In late July, the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center is burglarized; in September, it’s a commercial building owned by the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District. In October, Spectrum Development, an engineering consultancy, reports a third break-in: Surveillance footage from the site shows a man stealing food while carrying a rifle and wearing what sheriff’s deputies call “tactical gear.” The next day, residents report an ominous massing of SWAT vehicles, patrol cars, and other tactical units near the Spectrum Development offices. The manhunt, which begins at rush hour, lasts through most of the day, but the suspect is not found. That night, residents report again hearing gunfire.
Two days later, the Water District building reports a second break-in on its property; two days after that, a maintenance worker is driving through a park about a mile south of the Malibu Creek State Park campground when he meets a man who asks him for a ride out of the canyon. The park worker, noting the man’s resemblance to the suspect in the prior burglaries, refuses; instead he drives off and calls the sheriff’s department, prompting the second massive manhunt in the area in one week. Three helicopters hover over the park for most of the day, before darkness falls and the manhunt is called off.