John Albert Gardner was 30 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison. In 2009, he kidnapped, raped and murdered 14-year-old Amber Dubois in San Diego County. One year later, in a neighboring town, he raped and killed 17-year-old Chelsea King. He attacked another woman in the area but she was able to escape and identify Gardner as her attacker. He confessed to all three crimes.
The disappearance and murders of the two teenagers is detailed in Caitlin Rother’s book Lost Girls. Rother interviewed Gardner and his mother, psychiatric nurse Cathy Osborn, at length. Osborn says she was desperate to find help for her son who at age 6 started fires and soon after started taking mood-altering medication. By age 10, Gardner stayed in a mental hospital for children for 60 days. Osborn realized, “My child is not ever going to be functioning close to normal.” At age 21, Gardner was convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. He served five years in prison and then returned to Osborn’s home, which upset her coworkers at Scripps Mercy Hospital’s behavioral health unit. According to the Los Angeles Times, Osborn claims that “in the days before King’s murder, she had made multiple calls to psychiatric facilities seeking help for her son. For sexual offenders, there are few programs available.” Lost Girls writer Rother asked Osborn for documentation to support the claim that she made those calls, but according to Rother: “Cathy could not or would not produce phone records to prove it …”