SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) — A Nevada man’s arrest in a string of cold-case deaths in California has authorities investigating whether he’s connected to other unsolved killings across the country, including the “Double Initial Murders” of three girls in upstate New York in the early 1970s.
Joseph Naso of Reno, Nev., was being held on suspicion of murder Tuesday in the deaths of four women whose bodies were found across Northern California from 1977 to 1994
Like the victims in the “Double Initial” case, all four California women had matching initials for their first and last names: Carmen Colon, Roxene Roggasch, Pamela Parsons and Tracy Tafoya.
In another startling similarity, one of the New York victims also was named Carmen Colon.
Those revelations prompted New York state police to investigate whether more than just coincidence connects Naso, 77, to the “Double Initial Murders,” in which one 10-year-old and two 11-year-old girls were abducted, raped and strangled in the Rochester area, in one of the region’s most baffling unsolved crimes.
Meanwhile, a separate task force is looking into whether any other cold cases in the U.S. can be linked to Naso, a professional photographer who often traveled the country for work and may have killed in other states, Nevada law enforcement officials said at a news conference Tuesday.
Authorities learned Naso once lived in the Rochester, N.Y., area and traveled between there and the West in the early 1970s.
But the links to the “Double Initial” case so far stop there, said Trooper Mark O’Donnell of the New York state police. Authorities have found no other evidence tying him to the case, and a DNA sample taken from one of the New York victims did not match Naso.
Also, while some details of the two cases are similar, others are not — like the fact that the California victims were adults and the New York victims children.
Still, New York authorities say they’re not ready to eliminate Naso as a suspect, and they hope area residents who might know him will be able to help with their investigation, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported.
Naso was arrested in South Lake Tahoe late Monday after being released from El Dorado County Jail, where he was serving time on an unrelated probation violation. Authorities said he was on probation for a 2009 grocery store theft in California when a random search of his Reno, Nev., home in April 2010 turned up guns and ammunition.
The search also uncovered evidence that helped link him to the Northern California killings, said Nevada authorities, who soon after launched a task force to look into cold cases possibly connected to Naso.
“We think there are others out there we haven’t discovered yet,” Chris Perry, acting director of the Nevada Department of Public Safety, told reporters Tuesday. “Typically when you are talking about a person who has killed more than once, this doesn’t stop.”
Naso was being held without bail Tuesday in Marin County. Through guards, he declined a request from The Associated Press for a jailhouse interview.
Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian obtained permission from other jurisdictions to try all four of the Northern California cases. He said he planned to seek the death penalty against Naso, who’s scheduled for arraignment Wednesday on four counts of murder with special circumstances.
The first victim was Roggasch, whose body was found in Fairfax in Marin County in 1977, Berberian said. According to news archives, investigators interviewed a prostitute at the time who claimed her pimp kidnapped, tortured and killed the 18-year-old Roggasch, though no one was ever arrested in the case.
The second victim was Colon, whose body was found near Port Costa in Contra Costa County a year later, Berberian said. Parsons and Tafoya were separately found dead in Yuba County in 1993 and 1994 respectively, the prosecutor said.
Nevada and California authorities declined to release any details about the victims or their cases out of concern that it would compromise the ongoing investigation.
However, death records show Tafoya was 31 when she was killed. Parsons was a 38-year-old waitress whose body was found on a Marysville road, according to news archives.
Naso’s criminal history dates back to 1955 and his convictions are mostly related to petty thefts, authorities said.
Public records show Naso, a New York native, has listed California addresses in Sacramento, Piedmont, Oakland, San Francisco and Yuba City, as well as a Minneapolis address in the past. Investigators believe he moved to Reno in the mid-1990s, Perry said.
“The person has traveled around the country, has been engaged with law enforcement across the country, so we suspect — and have to suspect — that any cases that may emerge in the future have a rather long potential list of states that may been impacted,” said Washoe County, Nev., Sheriff Mike Haley, who helped launch the task force.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)