Owens Valley sisters Beverly Reilly and Kathy Yeager had looked forward to spending the holidays in the high country at Santa Margarita Ranch, a piece of country they loved.
Reilly described it as “the most beautiful place’’ Dec. 22 on her Facebook profile, noting that she hoped to take a friend to her daughter’s ranch home there.
Just three days later, Reilly, 64, and her sister, Yeager, 61, were shot to death at the ranch, victims of what authorities are describing as a random act.
Only Reilly’s husband survived after escaping the alleged killer.
Andrew Wesley Downs, 20, of Atascadero has been charged with the double homicide.
The killings have left family and friends of the outdoorsy and animal-loving sisters with only their memories.
From Lone Pine and Independence, the two towns where the women lived, to the Central Coast, those who knew them have been left shocked by their sudden, violent deaths.
The women were active with animals — one branching into county fairs and the other into horse riding.
“There was nothing Bev couldn’t do,” said longtime friend Carl Lind of Bishop. “And her sister was the exact same way.”
Photos from an October trail ride at Santa Margarita Ranch that Reilly posted on Facebook show her atop a horse wearing a cowboy hat alongside her husband, Dennis, their daughter and others.
The pictures show the family trekking dusty hillsides under the shade of oak trees as they look for herds of cattle.
The sisters spent their lives working with their hands. They fished and hunted. When they went camping, they’d cut their own firewood after deep hikes into the mountains, said Debbie Freitag, 57, of Tehachapi.
Freitag, the youngest of the three sisters, said she remembers digging in the dirt and looking for arrowheads on the long afternoons of childhood after they moved from Los Angeles to Lone Pine in the Owens Valley, when she was 3 years old.
Reilly, a mother of one, grew up to compete in endurance horse racing, completing the 100-mile Tevis Cup Ride from Lake Tahoe to Auburn in 24 hours during the 1980s.
“She used to sit on the arm of my grandmother’s rocking chair and pretend it was a horse,” Freitag said of her big sister’s younger days.
Yeager, a mother of three and grandmother to five, traveled to county and state fairs with her late husband, Robert Yeager, an agriculture teacher. He died in the 1990s.
Yeager made blankets from yarn she spun from sheep’s wool her husband’s students had given her, Freitag said.
Both women found comfort in quilting, Freitag said. Reilly worked with pottery. Yeager liked to garden.
Reilly worked as a receptionist for the Lone Pine office of Bishop Veterinary Hospital for about 20 years and assisted at the animal clinic.
Yeager was enjoying her early retirement after working with a grocery store chain, Freitag said, and had hoped to spend many more years with her grandchildren.
Reilly was devoted to daughter Alie McKee, a Cal Poly graduate who married and stayed in the area.
“Alie and her mom were best friends,” Freitag said, noting that they often talked three or four times a day.
Yeager had the same type of relationship with her adult children, Freitag said, spending weeks at a time visiting them at their homes in Alaska, Colorado and Kansas.
Much of the family couldn’t be reached for comment.