Teenager Joseph Field answered the phone and quickly handed it to his father, as he and his Moraga family nervously awaited word of his sister Maureen, missing for three days.

"Hello, Mr. Field," a man said over a crackling connection 39 years ago. "Your daughter is dead and I'm the one who killed her."

"At that point, all hell broke loose," Field said. "My mom kept screaming, 'My baby! My baby! My baby!' And I just remember my parents holding each other in their arms for what seemed like forever."

She was the first victim of Phillip Hughes, later convicted of killing her, an Oakland girl and a Walnut Creek woman.

These tragedies were only three of many in a terrifying decade when a parade of monsters preyed on women in the region.

"From Santa Cruz to San Francisco to Contra Costa to Sonoma you see a spike in the number of female bodies recovered" then, said Paul Holes, Contra Costa's crime lab chief.

The discovery this year of an I-5 Strangler victim's bone at Lake Berryessa and the arrest of a Nevada man accused of four slayings reopened a window into a tragic time.

At least six of the most infamous serial killers of the 1970s committed at least one crime in Contra Costa County, and probably more, Holes says. Serial killing suspect Joseph Naso, arrested in April outside Reno, is No. 6, prosecutors say.

Crime of opportunity


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Serial killers are often sexual predators who target strangers, making their crime sprees difficult to solve, Holes said. They each have characteristic methods and a signature that completes their fantasies.

Many of Contra Costa's serial killings occurred in suburban areas, where families had moved to avoid violence.

"You had clusters of people killed in southern Contra Costa County in nice areas where people thought it was safe and maybe wouldn't lock their doors," Holes said.

It also was easier for 1970s serial killers to get away with murder.

DNA technology, fingerprinting science and interagency communication were in their infancy, hindering crime solving.

"Even cold cases unsuccessful five years ago, newer technology could help us now," said Holes, a cold case enthusiast.

White spiral binders lining his shelves bear the names of victims of unsolved crimes. The 43-year-old started working in Contra Costa's crime lab straight out of college about two decades ago and now manages the 30 scientists there.

Most forensic investigators in the lab focus on recent crimes, but a grant two years ago enabled Holes to hire a cold case investigator and DNA analysts. The money is running out, but he plans to continue reviewing cold cases.

"If you've seen when a (victim's) family finally gets information," Holes said, "it's not closure, but they are happy that they finally know."

Phillip Hughes

Joseph Field was 16 when his sister's killer called.

Three months later, Maureen Field's body was found at the foot of Mount Diablo.

"Whenever a situation like this happens with a murder in the family, it's like a bomb was dropped," Field said in a recent interview at his Walnut Creek comic book store.

Maureen Field was Phillip Hughes' first confirmed victim. The Moraga native and Campolindo High School graduate was Contra Costa's first serial killer of the 1970s and one of its most notorious.

"He started by killing small animals," Holes said. "In high school, he would break into houses while naked, stealing women's bras. He would return home, put them on and start stabbing the cups with a knife."

He was 24 years old in 1972 when he offered a ride home to Maureen Field, a former neighbor, at a Pleasant Hill Kmart. He stabbed and strangled her near Saint Mary's College in Moraga and dumped her body some 20 miles away at the foot of Mount Diablo near Clayton with the help of his wife, Suzanne Perrin.

Two years later, Hughes and Perrin kidnapped 15-year-old Lisa Ann Beery at knife point near her Montclair home and took her to an Oakland home where Hughes stabbed and raped the choir girl. Police found her body five years later buried on a Moraga hillside.

On March 19, 1975, Hughes, then a Pleasanton janitor, broke into the Walnut Creek house of 25-year-old Letitia Fagot, who worked at a bank with his wife, who had suggested he target her. Hughes strangled and beat Fagot with a hammer.

Perrin confessed to helping Hughes dispose of Beery and Field and to giving him the names of four co-workers as "possible victims for murder." Hughes sought girls resembling an ex-girlfriend who had spurned him, she told prosecutors, testifying in return for immunity.

Hughes was convicted in 1980 of the three murders and sentenced to three concurrent terms of 21 years to life in prison. He is at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo and has been eligible for parole since 1986.

Hughes, now 63 and remarried in prison, remains a person of interest in six other slayings.

One Lafayette killing appeared to be linked to Hughes, until Holes investigated.

Darryl Kemp

Jogger Armida Wiltsey's body was found Nov. 14, 1978, in brush near the Lafayette Reservoir trail. She had been strangled and had evidence of binding on her wrists.

Her murder was unsolved for decades, but the location and time had early investigators pointing to Hughes.

After Holes took over the county's forensic lab he noticed one of Wiltsey's fingernails had a speck of blood on it. DNA from it eliminated Hughes as a suspect.

Holes investigated further and found that a parole officer had alerted investigators to a "Darryl Kemp" found peeping into a Walnut Creek home days before Wiltsey's murder, but his girlfriend had an alibi for him.

In 2002, Holes matched DNA in Kemp's hair with the genetic makeup of the blood on the fingernail.

Kemp was serving a life sentence in Texas for three rapes. He was extradited to Contra Costa, where he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 2009.

Kemp, 75, awaits execution on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison.

It was Kemp's second death sentence. The first time, he was convicted of two rapes and of raping and murdering a Los Angeles nurse, in the 1950s.

His sentence, however, was commuted in 1972 to life in prison when the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. He killed Wiltsey four months after he was paroled in 1978.

Charles Jackson

In 2005, Holes helped solve the cold case murder of 11-year-old Moraga resident Cynthia Waxman. Police long suspected Hughes, but advances in DNA testing linked Cynthia's murder to another serial killer, Charles "Junior" Jackson.

Jackson, 64, died of a heart attack in 2002 while serving a life sentence at Folsom State Prison for the 1982 Montclair rape and stabbing death of Joan Stewart.

Jackson -- a former handyman who grew up in Louisiana -- spent most of his adult life in prison on rape, burglary, assault and child molestation charges and posthumously was linked to seven Oakland and Albany killings.

The Moraga fifth-grader was Jackson's only known child victim, which threw off investigators.

Cynthia's mother found the girl's body April 22, 1978, in a wooded area off Moraga Road behind Campolindo High School. She and a cousin had been playing with a kitten. Cynthia disappeared when her cousin went to buy food for the cat.

East Area Rapist

An entire file cabinet drawer in Holes' office is dedicated to one of the nation's most notorious but never identified serial rapists and killers: the East Area Rapist, also known as the Original Night Stalker.

Known for horrendous Northern and Southern California crime sprees in the 1970s and '80s, the rapist -- not the same as Richard Ramirez, called the Night Stalker -- terrorized Contra Costa.

The media dubbed him the East Area Rapist for crimes in eastern Sacramento in mid-1976. He moved down the Interstate 80 corridor, committing more rapes, and settled in Contra Costa, where he attacked at least nine women in the Concord, Walnut Creek, Danville and San Ramon areas in the late 1970s.

In many cases, he broke into houses where a man and woman were sleeping, shined a flashlight in their eyes, used a gun to force the woman to tie up her husband, and wrapped towels around their faces. He would pile dishes on the man's back and threaten to kill both of them if he heard the dishes fall.

A multiagency task force of 16 full-time investigators tried to identify a suspect.

"There are some crimes that strike to the heart of what scares all of us more than others," said former Sheriff Warren Rupf, a captain in investigations during the spree. "The victims were all asleep in their homes. How more vulnerable could you be?"

The East Area Rapist disappeared in 1979 after a couple of rapes in the San Jose area.

But in 2001, Holes linked the East Area Rapist's DNA profile with that of Southern California's Original Night Stalker. The Contra Costa rapist did not stop assaulting women; he had moved south -- and started killing.

He killed at least eight women and men in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties in the 1980s, and likely killed two more.

In 1986, the crimes stopped. He may have died, moved away or been jailed. Investigators are unsure.

'I-5 Strangler'

Roger Kibbe found himself in Contra Costa after being paroled to the Oakley area in 1972.

He started stealing women's underwear off laundry lines and cutting them up. When he began killing, he unnecessarily cut victims' clothing, Holes said.

Kibbe's first and only Contra Costa victim was Walnut Creek resident Lou Ellen Burleigh, 21, who disappeared Sept. 11, 1977, after agreeing to meet a man advertising a job at a cosmetics studio.

Kibbe, who confessed to the crime, got her into his van. Last month, DNA testing confirmed that it was Burleigh's remains found near Lake Berryessa in March.

Kibbe moved to the Sacramento area in 1982 and began killing prostitutes and stranded motorists along the Interstate 5 corridor. The press dubbed him the "I-5 Strangler."

"Classic anger displacement," Holes said. "His wife was nagging him at home. He'd take it, then drive and drive and some nights find a victim."

In 2008, a San Joaquin County criminal grand jury indicted Kibbe in six more murders, including Burleigh's. Kibbe was serving a 25-year-to-life prison term in San Quentin State Prison for killing an El Dorado County teen. In exchange for confessing to the murders, he took a plea deal for life in prison.

Kibbe, now 72, told investigators he had no other victims.

"We're not sure if we believe him or not," Walnut Creek police Sgt. Tom Cashion said in 2009.

Joseph Naso

Contra Costa's most recent serial killing suspect is Naso, a self-employed photographer who kept a trove of bondage photographs of women and written torture fantasies, police and sources say.

Marin County prosecutors in April charged the Reno resident with the murders of four women in Northern California -- two in the 1970s, two in the 1990s -- including Carmen Colon, found near Crockett in August 1978.

Coincidentally, one of Naso's alleged victims, Tracy Tafoya, is buried a few feet from a grave marker for more than a dozen victims of another 1970s serial killer, Juan Corona. The Machete Murderer was convicted in 1972 of butchering 25 day laborers in a span of six weeks.

Holes has a list of 15 unsolved slayings of women in Contra Costa in the 1970s.

"Definitely more serial predators committed crimes in Contra Costa," Holes said. "There are some where we have suspects, we have just not proved the case."

Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026.

Have a tip?
Contra Costa has 15 unsolved slayings of women in the 1970s. You can call the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office tip line
at 866-846-3592.

ABOUT THE SERIES
Today: At least six serial killers preyed on women and girls during the 1970s in Contra Costa.
Monday: "Missy" was only 13 when the notorious East Area Rapist assaulted her in Walnut Creek. She talks about the unsolved crime and the man who would later become a serial killer. Also, a Concord man endures the pain from the 1972 murder of his sister Maureen Field.