Alleged serial killer on trial linked to skull found in Nevada County |

Alleged serial killer on trial linked to skull found in Nevada County

Nicole Baptista
and Coleen Bidwill
Special to The Union

It might have been difficult to find a bigger Bob Dylan fan than Sara Dylan. Not his former wife, but a fan so devoted the woman legally changed her name and hitchhiked worldwide to follow his tours.

But for Dylan, born Renee Shapiro, her curtain call came early.

Through the help of her biological mother's DNA, police in 1998 were able to match her DNA to a skull found in Nevada County. She was last seen alive at a Bob Dylan concert in Hawaii in 1992.

The startling revelations came to light at the first day of the trial of alleged serial killer Joseph Naso, which is currently under way in Marin County.

Naso, 79, was formally charged with the murders of Tracy Tafoya, 31, who was found in 1994 in Marysville in Yuba County, Carmen Colon, 22, who was discovered in Port Costa in Contra Costa County in 1978, Roxene Roggasch 18, of Oakland, who was found in Fairfax in 1977, and Pamela Parsons, 38, who was discovered in Yuba County in 1993.

On that first day of the trial, which began in mid-June, Marin County Deputy District Attorney Rosemary Slote mentioned Dylan during her opening statements while a "List of 10" flashed across a large screen for the court to see.

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One by one, she underlined five descriptions with a red line and announced who they presumed each person to be.

While prosecutors presume Dylan is the No. 8 entry "girl in Woodland, Nevada County" from Naso's "List of 10," a hand-written note listing descriptions relating to victims, they did not formally charge him for her death.

The skull was discovered to be Dylan's only around six months ago, and putting forth charges would mean enduring another preliminary hearing, which would push back the trial.

Dylan's passport and driver's license were also found in a safe deposit box in Reno, belonging to Naso, whose trial began June 17 at Marin County Superior Court.

Despite a quick gasp in the courtroom after the first post-mortem photo, silence hung in the air through photos of the victims, both before and after their deaths, half-naked women in nylons and lingerie and close-up entries of Naso's "rape journal."

Marin County Public Defender Pedro Oliveros is serving as Naso's advisory counsel and occasionally turned and quickly glanced at the screen. But for Naso, in a dark suit and blue tie, his eyes rarely faltered from Slote and Deputy District Attorney Dori Ahana, with his hands crossed on the table.

He never once looked back.

Slote graphically detailed the accounts in each woman's murder, all of which were cold cases until Naso's arrest in 2010.

Defense opener

"This case is about me, my life," Naso said, facing a jury of 21, attempting to tell his side of the story. "I am not the monster that killed these women. I don't do that. I date . . . I dance . . . but I don't kill people."

Naso, who is representing himself, said he took a course in business law in college, "did well in previous civil proceedings" and "did his homework."

He referred to the prosecution's opening statements as a "character assassination," saying, "I want to tell you about myself, who I really am.

"[The prosecution] doesn't even have circumstantial evidence," Naso added.

In regard to the four women being prostitutes, Naso said, "I have no issue with prostitutes. I have a high regard for prostitutes. There may be prostitutes in this courtroom.

"There is no evidence that I dated any of these prostitutes or evidence that I was with them the last time they were seen alive," Naso said.

He also claimed that the DNA linking him to that found on Roggasch's pantyhose is not his. "It's a theory."

"There is no evidence that I am familiar with Marin County or I was ever seen in Marin County," he said. Roggasch's body was found in Fairfax, Slote said.

Naso only admitted knowing Pamela Parsons, who modeled for him once. "I'm sorry about her demise, but I didn't do it," he said.

He said he picked her up on the side of the road and took her to his house. She offered sex, he said, but he only took "glamour pictures," Naso said.

"She was alive when she came in and alive when she left," Naso said.

Naso also admitted to two "sexual incidents" — one in 1958 in which he was charged with second-degree assault and sentenced to probation and another in 1961, which was dropped due to lack of evidence, he said.

His "rape journal" isn't proof of his actions, Naso said.

"That's the way I talk. I have brain sex," he said. "When I say I picked up a nice broad and raped her, it had nothing to do with forcible rape. I've never had any complaints with any of my dates except for the two.

"There is nothing in my journal about killing," he said. "The prosecution is based on opinions, theories and so-called experts' testimony."

Naso spent three hours talking about his passion and talent for photography, his years in the service and the thousands of subjects he's photographed over the years, including the weddings for "three sisters of the same family."

He attempted to relate his friendly nature to the jury by recalling an elderly woman he'd met at the Berkeley Flea Market, where he frequently sold various items, who asked him to drive her to Colusa.

He agreed and once brought his son along, always sleeping in the car while she stayed in a hotel during each of their multiple trips, he said.

"Her name was Marla, and she told me that Yuba City was where all the action is," Naso said. "I bought a house there for $65,000."

He also mentioned his disabled son, whom he described as having a "horrible affliction."

Naso displayed more than 50 photographs, ranging from family portraits to "sexy" images of women in lingerie.

"I was always interested in girly magazines as a boy even," Naso said.

The case

The Nevada Department of Public Safety charged Naso with four counts of murder, crimes of sexual assault, rape, violation of parole, possession of firearms and identification theft after two searches of his Nevada home in April and May of 2010.

"Naso lived alone … in Reno and was on felony probation for theft in El Dorado County," Slote said.

Due to the California Nevada Interstate Compact Agreement, which allows officers to conduct spontaneous checks in both states, officer Wesley Jackson showed up at Naso's house and conducted a random search.

"The house was cluttered and the bedrooms were locked from the outside," Slote said.

Naso later claimed that only one bedroom was locked but that his master bedroom was open.

A plastic container of ammunition and knives were found. A bullet and a small advertisement for the sale of a gun were also found in his pocket. All violated his parole, Slote said.

Officer Robert Jacobs was called to the scene and discovered Naso's "List of 10" and soon arrested Naso for probation violations. The list was believed to label places where women's bodies were discarded and later discovered.

Police seized more than $152,000 in cash, weapons, women's clothing, newspaper clippings, mannequin legs, dolls, bullets, a $30,000 coin collection, knives, 5,000 photographs — and what Richard Brown, lead investigator with the Nevada Department of Public Safety, called a "rape journal."

Many of the photographs found in Naso's possession are believed to be of unconscious or deceased women, according to Brown.

During the preliminary hearing in January 2012, he described the dark bruising and prominent veins on some victims as "marbling" — a part of the decomposition process.

The search warrant also led to the discovery of the "rape journal," which contains graphic depictions of sexual assault.

One was labeled "Rochester 1958" and described "picking up a gorgeous chick at a bus stop," where he "headed for the cemetery and started to kiss and molest her."

He went on to write: "I had to force her down and hold her skirt up . . . her girdle down . . . it was hard work."

Naso was arrested for the woman's rape in 1958.

The journal entries are explicitly violent and graphic. He ends the note with: "To this day I love her. I wish I could have married her."

Another entry described offering a young girl a ride home in 1961. It reads: "She fell for it . . . I forced her down on the back seat. . . . She was scared."

He was also arrested for that incident, though the case never came to fruition.

Helen French's name was also noted in the "rape journal." Naso allegedly attempted to rape French during a photo session in the 1980s. French will be testifying in the Marin County trial.

Naso refers to his journal as a "dream diary," detailing his fantasies. He also said the word rape was written loosely, "how guys talk."

Police also located two safety deposit box keys in his upper dresser drawer.

Naso was recorded after his arrest asking his ex-wife to tell their son to break into his home and remove the keys before police found them, Slote said. The audio will be played for the jury, which is made up of more women than men.

The US Bank and Wells Fargo safety deposit boxes contained a small black purse, personal documentation of other women, passports, driver's licenses, newspaper articles and more.

Naso lived in close proximity to all the victims at the time of their murder.

Though Naso will not be formally charged with Dylan's murder, she is one of many cold cases that authorities across the country revisited after Naso's arrest.

The four women all have both first and last names beginning with the same letter; Dylan is the only link so far that differs.

Nicole Baptista is editor of the Novato Advance.

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