Gypsy Hill killings
|San Mateo slasher|
|Other names||The San Mateo Slasher|
|FBI, local police|
|Wanted since||January 8, 1976|
Span of killings
|Location(s)||San Mateo County|
The Gypsy Hill killings or Gypsy Hill murders are a group of five unsolved homicides of young women and girls in San Mateo County, California during early 1976. The culprit was dubbed the San Mateo slasher.
On January 8, 1976, the body of 18-year-old Veronica Cascio was discovered in a creek on the grounds of the Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, having been stabbed 30 times. A transient was arrested, but released for lack of evidence.
A few weeks later, 14-year-old Tatiana Blackwell was reported missing after leaving her home in Pacifica to run an errand. A body, later identified as hers, was discovered off Sharp Park Road in the Gypsy Hills section of the city on June 6. She had also been stabbed multiple times.
Paula Baxter, 17 years old, went missing on February 2, leaving her mired car behind. Her nude body was found on February 4 in Millbrae behind the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Ludeman Lane. She had been stabbed 4 times, sexually assaulted and hit on the head with a piece of concrete. Her killing was forensically linked to Cascio's.
The five victims were:
- Veronica “Ronnie” Cascio
- Tatiana Marie "Tanya" Blackwell
- Paula Louise Baxter
- Carol Lee Booth
- Denise Lampe
- Michelle Mitchell
Mitchell, 19, was last seen alive in Reno, Nevada on February 24, 1976 when her Volkswagen Beetle broke down at the intersection of 9th Street and Evans Avenue while running an errand. Witnesses reported seeing someone help push her vehicle into the parking lot across from the UNR agricultural building on Evans Street. Her body was discovered that evening in a garage on East 9th Street, hands bound and throat slashed. Three years later, Cathy Woods, a mental patient at the Louisiana State University Medical Center, confessed to murdering a woman named Michelle and was charged and convicted of the crime.
- Idell M. Friedman
Friedman, 21, an employee of an import firm, was found assaulted and stabbed to death with an 8-inch-knife in her 116 Fairmount Street, San Francisco apartment. Friedman was murdered on March 17, 1976, and therefore only two days after Gypsy Hill victim Carol Lee Booth was reported missing. Friedman's naked body was lying on the kitchen floor of her ransacked apartment and she was found by a co-worker who became concerned when she failed to show up for work.
Investigators connected some of the homicides to each other. All women were young brunettes and most had experienced car trouble prior to their deaths. All were also found in wooded areas.
A lack of witnesses and a dearth of forensic evidence stalled investigations.
In March 2014, the FBI established a task force to re-examine the murders, after new DNA evidence cast doubt on the conviction of Cathy Woods, now 64, for Mitchell's murder. The DNA, from a cigarette butt found on the scene matched semen from at least one of the related crime scenes in San Mateo, California and was revealed to be that of a male. On September 8, 2014, the FBI named Rodney Halbower a person of interest in the slayings. Woods was released from prison on September 11 pending a new trial to take place on July 13, 2015.
On January 22, 2015, Halbower was charged with two of the murders (Paula Baxter and Veronica Cascio) after DNA evidence linked him to both cases.
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- Michael Newton (1 January 2006). The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Infobase Publishing. p. 460. ISBN 978-0-8160-6987-3.