Unrooted and devoted, Renee Shapiro was known to travel the world fueled by the rhythm of a Bob Dylan song.
She reportedly declined rides with friends, hitchhiking her way along desolate highways on her way to Dylan’s shows.
The diehard fan legally changed her name to mimic Bob Dylan’s wife — but friends knew her simply as Sara Shapiro, the girl seen at nearly every Dylan concert from 1976 until her disappearance in 1992.
Shapiro is believed to be a victim of alleged serial killer Joseph Naso, who is charged with the murders of four other California women who also had names with double initials.
“She fit his pattern, basically,” friend Keith Gubitz said. “In his mind, it’s a double initial.”
Gubitz testified Aug. 5 at Marin County Superior Court and told the jury that he was supposed to meet Shapiro in Seattle at the end of Dylan’s tour in 1992. But she never showed up.
“I knew she was dead right then because nothing but death would have kept her from being there,” said Gubitz, who met Shapiro at a Dylan concert in 1990. “She was a nice girl. She wasn’t crazy. She didn’t do drugs; she just loved Bob.”
Dropping out of college six months before graduation, Shapiro moved in with her parents and worked and saved money before heading on the road for months at a time.
“She didn’t have a lot of money so she hitchhiked show to show, all around the world,” Gubitz said. “She was the only one that hitchhiked. We all had cars and bus tickets. To the best of my knowledge, she did it alone.”
Gubitz remembered meeting Shapiro for the first time on his first Dylan tour.
“Somebody pointed her out, saying who she was and what she did,” he said. “She always pulled out her ticket and told people of her 100 Bob shows a year since 1986.”
Questioned in the San Rafael courtroom, Gubitz identified items found in Naso’s possession as belonging to Shapiro — a pin, passport and business cards.
Gubitz recalled ending his 17-show stint in 1992. Once home, he looked up the Shapiro family in the phone book, found her father’s scrap metal business and made the call.
“Their first reaction wasn’t bad because she had gone missing before,” he said. “’She’ll turn up,’ is what they said.”
Five years later, with no sign of Shapiro, Gubitz called again.
“I don’t know why I did,” he said. “Maybe because I lost my mom at that time. Her mother started crying immediately.”
For years, Gubitz asked if anyone had seen the missing woman pictured in the photos he pinned at concerts. A man recognized her image as recently as 2006 when Gubitz posted her photo at the gas station where he worked, about one mile from Dylan’s home. It was the last time a stranger ever recognized her face.
“Sara was a storyteller more than anything,” Gubitz said.
“She’d get a ride and do just that … people helped her out. People would give her a room and a little cash.”
Six years after Shapiro disappeared, a logger working along Zeibright Road near the Tahoe National Forest in Nevada County found a sun-stained skull, which was missing its lower jaw.
Sheriff’s investigators concluded the victim had been dumped from a turnout on Highway 20, down a steep ravine.
After police searched Naso’s Reno home and safety deposit box in 2010, they found Shapiro’s personal items. It wasn’t until then that investigators linked the unidentified skull to Shapiro.
Through the help of her biological mother’s DNA, police were able to match her DNA to the skull found in Nevada County. Naso, however, isn’t being charged with Shapiro’s murder.
Doing so would mean enduring another preliminary hearing, which would push back the trial, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors believe Shapiro is the No. 8 entry “girl in Woodland, Nevada County” from Naso’s “List of 10,” a handwritten note listing descriptions relating to the victims.
“It’s still sinking in,” Gubitz said. “It’s a shock, a horror, a nightmare. But at the same time, I’m kind of relieved.”
The revelations, sadly, came only months after both of Shapiro’s adopted parents died.
“I’m sorry that her parents didn’t get to find out,” he said. “But her brother testified.”
Nicole Baptista is the editor of the Novato Advance; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s still sinking in. It’s a shock, a horror, a nightmare. But at the same time, I’m kind of relieved.”
Friend of Sara Sharpiro