REDWOOD CITY -- Their hair was brown and parted down the middle.
It was one of many common threads between five females murdered on the Peninsula in 1976 -- they were young, and they were attractive. They were walking alone, to their car or to a bus. They were brutally stabbed multiple times. The FBI believes it was the same man.
And now, more than 40 years since the brutal string of killings that claimed five lives in four short months, federal and local authorities have formed a new task force to probe the Peninsula after tying a sixth victim, a Reno college student, back to the prolific killer,
Beginning next week, officers and agents from the FBI, the San Mateo and Washoe County sheriff's offices, and Daly City, Pacifica, South San Francisco and Reno police departments will recanvass Peninsula neighborhoods to ask longtime residents to dig deep into their memory for any recollection of suspicious activity during that first half of 1976.
Jerry Bessette, FBI San Francisco's assistant special agent in charge, added that residents who know someone who traveled to Reno during that time period may be particularly valuable to the case.
"No tips or observations are too small for us," Bessette said. "Every piece of information helps."
The new addition to the string of slayings took place in the middle of the San Mateo County killings, between January and April 1976. The brutal killings appeared to move counter-clockwise around the Peninsula from Pacifica to Daly City, as if a circle were being drawn, except for the Nevada case.
Michelle Mitchell, a University of Nevada-Reno student, is thought to have been contacted by the Gypsy Hill killer in the middle of this time period, on Feb. 24 near her school. Her yellow Volkswagen Bug had broken down, and witnesses reported seeing someone help push the car into a lot near the agricultural building about 8:10 p.m.
Her body was found later that evening in the garage of a nearby home.
The Peninsula killings occurred both before and after the Nevada killing, beginning in the first week of 1976.
Veronica Ann Cascio, 18, was abducted while walking to a bus stop at Bradford Way and Fairway Drive while en route to a friend's house. Her body was discovered by a young person out on a walk, near a creek on the Sharp's Park Golf Course. Within three weeks of the grisly discovery, 14-year-old Tanya Blackwell went missing while walking from her home on Heathcliff Drive in Pacifica to a 7-11 store on King Drive in South San Francisco, though it took nearly six months for her body to be discovered off Gypsy Hill Road in Pacifica.
On Feb. 4, the killer for the first time used one of his victim's vehicles to carry out the crime, abducting Broadmoor resident Paula Baxter as she left school play rehearsal at Capuchino High School in Millbrae. The 17-year-old baton instructor and high school majorette was found near a grove of eucalyptus trees behind the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Ludeman Lane, stabbed four times with her head bashed in by a piece of concrete.
March 1976 came to a close without a murder, until the body of 26-year-old Carol Lee Booth, known as "Beedy" to her friends and family, was found by two teenage boys in a shallow grave near Colma Creek. Though discovered in May, the homemaker had been reported missing in March and was last seen walking from a bus stop on El Camino Real, using a common shortcut through an open area
In April 1976, the killer carried out his crime in public for the first time-- raping, killing and leaving his victim in the heavily-trafficked Serramonte Shopping Center parking lot. Denise Lampe, a cosmetics salesperson at the Daly City mall where she was killed, was found between the Macy's store and a Denny's restaurant in her 1964 1/2 Mustang after failing to arrive at the home of a friend with whom she had just been shopping.
Almost all of the victims were confirmed to have been raped before being killed, Lee said. Of the victims whose sexual assault could not be confirmed, it was because their bodies were too decomposed at the time of discovery.
Authorities hope that the addition of the sixth victim to the case file and the deployment of the Gypsy Hill Task Force will at long last uncover the key details that will link them to their killer, whom the FBI says they are not calling a serial killer -- namely because of the impact such a term has on witnesses' capacity for recollection.
Authorities ask that all tips be directed to the FBI San Francisco field office at 415-553-7400, and callers are asked to press 0 and advise an operator they're calling in regards to the Gypsy Hill cases.
"If we're successful, it would be closure," said Doug McCool, a lead investigator on the Carol Booth case who retired in 2000 after 40 years with the South San Francisco police department and nearly 25 on the case. "I know my victim's mother would be elated."