SAN RAFAEL, Calif. – A strange coincidence? Or a glimpse into the twisted mind of a serial killer? Four California women who investigators believe were murdered by the same man all had alliterative names: Carmen Colon, Roxene Roggasch, Pamela Parsons and Tracy Tafoya.
The suspect, a 77-year-old petty thief and freelance photographer, was arrested this week, and now detectives are looking deeper into the deaths and whether the man had anything to do with New York's "Double Initial Murders" — the killings in the early 1970s of three girls, each with matching initials.
For decades, Joseph Naso was known only for small-time thefts. Then a routine search of his Reno, Nev., home led to the unsolved slayings dating back to the 1970s.
On Wednesday, he made his first appearance in a California court to face four counts of murder, plus special circumstances that make him eligible for the death penalty.
Balding, bespectacled and slouched, Naso said nothing as the judge postponed his arraignment until April 27 while the court determines who will be his defense attorney. Prosecutors noted that he has up to $1 million in assets, which would allow him to hire a private lawyer.
Authorities have released few details about the cases, which all involve women whose bodies were found in Northern California with little trace of their assailant. But their names alone already bear an eerie resemblance to the notorious slayings in the Rochester, N.Y., area in the early 1970s. The victims there were three young girls with alliterative names. And one of them also was named Carmen Colon.
Naso, a New York native, traveled frequently between the Rochester area and the West during that time and has claimed at least a half-dozen addresses around the country, authorities said.
His name, however, never surfaced in the investigation until he came under suspicion in California, said Bob Hetzke, chief deputy at the Wayne County Sheriff's Department in New York.
"It's safe to say that we're looking hard at him right now. There's some overlapping information that would apply to us — the fact that he was in the area at the time, the double initials," Hetzke said Wednesday.
Authorities acknowledged that a DNA sample taken from one of the New York victims didn't match Naso, and they have no other physical evidence that he was involved in those killings.
Still, they're not ready to eliminate Naso as a suspect and hope people who knew him will be able to help with their investigation.
"Of course, if anybody has any information on this fellow, we would love to talk to them," said New York State Police senior investigator Allan Dombroski, who declined to discuss the probe in detail because of concerns it could jeopardize the California cases.
Officials in Nevada have been tight-lipped, too, but said they believe there are more cold cases connected to Naso, who frequently traveled for work.
Nevada authorities formed a task force to investigate Naso immediately after last year's search of his home by probation officers supervising him following a 2009 grocery store theft.
Washoe County, Nev., Sheriff Mike Haley, who helped launch the task force, said his investigators were talking to people and law enforcement agencies throughout the country to identify other potential victims.
Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian, who is prosecuting the four California cases, confirmed Thursday that his office has been working with New York investigators on the "Double Initial Murders" but declined to discuss the probe any further.
According to public records, Naso has listed addresses in Minneapolis and throughout Northern California before moving to Reno in 1994. Authorities say he served in the Air Force for four years in the 1950s.
No one answered the door late Tuesday at his Reno home, a rundown, single-story, modular white house with a "Keep Out" sign on the front door. No one appeared to be living at the property, located in a working-class neighborhood.
Judith Naso, 73, who was married to him from 1962 to 1980, said Wednesday that she knew her ex-husband was being investigated about a year ago.
"I'm just so upset. Just upset," she said. She declined to comment further, saying the FBI had told her not to speak to reporters.
The woman's longtime neighbor, Gwendolyn Friend, said the former couple stayed in touch after the divorce and that Joseph Naso would visit his ex-wife at her Oakland, Calif., apartment at least twice a year.
Friend described Joseph Naso as "a strange, quiet guy" who would not always make eye contact when talking. He would always thank Friend for being there for his ex-wife, she said.
"He sounded pretty caring," she said. "But I guess you never know."
Friend recalled Judith Naso asking last year if Friend's husband could drive her to Reno after Joseph Naso was arrested and his car impounded.
"She told me that he was in jail," Friend said. "She just said, 'He's got himself into something.'"
Sonner reported from Reno, Nev. Associated Press Writer Ben Dobbin in Rochester, N.Y., and Terry Collins in Oakland, Calif., contributed to this report.
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