ANTIOCH — Neighbors thought Phillip Garrido was more than a little strange.
After his spontaneous bursts of opera singing that echoed through the small neighborhood on Walnut Avenue, eccentric is how they described him. Maybe a little suspicious, and kind of annoying with his proselytizing and tendency to push handmade religious literature on them.
None of that prepared them for the revelation he is suspected of kidnapping Jaycee Lee Dugard 18 years ago, fathering two daughters with her, and keeping Dugard and their children out of sight in a hidden backyard compound.
Dugard was snatched June 10, 1991, as the 11-year-old walked to a bus stop by a man and a woman in a gray sedan while her stepfather gave futile chase.
"It's crazy. I still haven't digested it," said neighbor Damon Robinson.
Garrido kept his criminal past secret from those around him. That past included a federal prison stint for a kidnapping conviction in the 1970s. He was granted parole in 1988, but a violation landed him back in prison from April to August 1993. In 1999, he was out on parole again for a rape conviction, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Details about that conviction were not available.
He kept all that as hidden as the tents, sheds and outbuildings that formed a secret compound in his backyard, where authorities say Dugard gave birth to their two daughters, now 11 and 15.
Robinson said he sometimes saw the girls in the back yard. He called the sheriff's office two years ago, but nothing came out of a visit by deputies, he said. The living quarters were so well concealed that Garrido's parole agent never sensed trouble in routine home visits to the house where he lived with his wife, Nancy, now suspected as an accomplice in the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, Garrido handed out religious fliers, and invited neighbors to sermons at a local tow yard. His personal blog, tied to a business named "Gods Desire," reveals a preoccupation with mind control, and he claimed to be able to control sound with his mind.
A UC Berkeley police office noticed Garrido on Tuesday as he tried to enter the UC Berkeley campus to pass out literature. Campus police were familiar with him because he had tried to get a permit for an event at People's Park.
His two young daughters gave him away when they wouldn't make eye contact with the officer, and an 18-year-old secret unraveled.
His neighbors now regret that they didn't know what was happening sooner.
"The suffering is incomprehensible," said Jay, a caregiver for a resident two houses away. "It's so surreal to think that this was happening 40 feet away."
In an interview with KCRA Sacramento, Garrido said that the kidnapping may have been disgusting, but he has turned his life around.
"Wait until you hear the story of what took place at this house," he said. "You are going to be completely impressed. It's a disgusting thing that took place with me at the beginning. But I turned my life completely around, and to be able to understand that, you have to start there."
Turning his life around kept him busy for "the last several years," Garrido said, adding the big surprise will come from Dugard.
"You're going to find the most powerful story coming from the witness, the victim — you wait. If you take this a step at a time you're going to fall over backwards, and in the end, you're going to find the most powerful heart-warming story."
Staff writers Paul Burgarino, Jonathan Lockett and Matt Krupnick contributed to this story. Robert Salonga covers public safety. Reach him at 925-943-8013. Follow him on Twitter: @robertsalonga.