August 30, 2009 in Nation/World

Police scour scene of kidnap case

Search site grows; links to unsolved killings sought
Paul Elias Associated Press
 

ANTIOCH, Calif. – Police on Saturday searched the home and property of a California couple charged with kidnapping a little girl 18 years ago, looking for evidence linking them to other open cases in the area, including the unsolved murders of prostitutes.

Police also wrapped yellow crime scene tape around the property next door to the residence of Nancy and Phillip Garrido, who were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of abducting Jaycee Lee Dugard. The authorities called it a crime scene but declined to elaborate.

Neighbors identified the next-door house as belonging to Damon Robinson, who has lived there for more than three years. Robinson’s then-girlfriend in 2006 called police after she saw tents and children in the backyard. The responding officer failed to discover the encampment where authorities say Dugard was kept captive.

Robinson could not be reached. He earlier told the Associated Press that Phillip Garrido was the caretaker of the house until Robinson moved there in 2006.

Neighbor Janice Deitrich, 66, also said that Phillip Garrido would visit and help feed an elderly neighbor who lived in the house before Robinson.

Phillip and Nancy Garrido are suspected of abducting Dugard 18 years ago and subjecting her to torment in a squalid backyard compound. They pleaded not guilty Friday to a total of 29 counts, including forcible abduction, rape and false imprisonment.

The investigations are “preliminary,” said Jimmy Lee, a spokesman for the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department, east of San Francisco Bay, declining to say what past cases were being reviewed.

Police in Pittsburg are investigating whether Phillip Garrido, whose home is in nearby Antioch, is linked to several unsolved murders of prostitutes in the early 1990s. Antioch police are also looking into unsolved cases but declined further details.

About a dozen agents scoured the modest house and the acre of land it sits on Saturday afternoon as the temperature soared into triple digits.

Police spent most of the day searching the Garridos’ backyard, where Dugard is alleged to have lived in tents and shacks with her two daughters fathered by Phillip Garrido. One officer could be seen scanning the backyard with a metal detector while another dug a hole. A third used a chain saw to clear branches and investigators shuffled in and out of the property all day.

Officers from the Pittsburg Police Department, Antioch Police Department and the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department were on hand.

The quiet, working-class neighborhood where the Garridos lived had transformed into a media circus of television trucks, wandering journalists and the simply curious, who began driving down the street once a police checkpoint into the neighborhood was removed.

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