by Patrick H. Moore

The Alphabet Serial Killer Joseph Naso enjoyed one helluva run but even his luck ran out when a Marin County jury recommended the death penalty for the 79-year-old former photographer convicted of the decades-old killings of four Northern California women. Naso, who represented himself at the trial, asked the jury to spare his life but to no avail. He will be formally sentenced at a later date by Superior Court Judge Andrew Sweet.

Why the peculiar nickname Alphabet Murders? A brief history lesson is in order:

The first phase of the “Alphabet Murders” (also known as the “double initial murders”) took place in the early 1970s in and around Rochester, New York, where three young girls were raped and strangled. Each of the girls’ first and last names started with the same letter and each body was found in a town whose name started with the same letter as each girl’s name (Carmen Colon’s body was found in Churchville, Wanda Walkowicz’s in Webster and Michelle Maenza’s in Macedon).


The Rochester Victims

alph3Carmen Colon, 10, disappeared on November 16, 1971. She was found two days later, 12 miles from where she was last seen. Although her body was discovered in the town of Riga, the village of Churchville is the town’s center, and the town of Chili is nearby.

Wanda Walkowicz, 11, disappeared on April 2, 1973. Her body was found the next day at a rest area off State Route 104 in Webster, seven miles from Rochester.

Michelle Maenza, 11, disappeared almost eight months later on November 26, 1973. She was found two days later in Macedon, 15 miles from Rochester.


The Suspects

alph7While hundreds of people were questioned, the killer was never caught. One man, considered to be a “person of interest” (he committed suicide six weeks after the last of the murders), was cleared in 2007 by DNA testing. In the case of Carmen Colon, her uncle was also considered a suspect until his suicide in 1991.

Kenneth Bianchi, who at the time was an ice cream vendor in Rochester at vending sites close to the first two murder scenes, was also a suspect. If you recognize Bianchi’s name, it’s because he later moved to Los Angeles, and in tandem with his cousin Angelo Buono, Jr., committed the Hillside Strangler murders between 1977 and 1978. Bianchi was never charged with the alphabet murders, and has tried repeatedly to have investigators officially clear him but to no avail. There is circumstantial evidence that his car was seen at two of the murder scenes and he remains under suspicion.


The California Alphabet Murders

alph4The man convicted of the four California Alphabet Murders, which also date back to the 1970s, 79-year-old Joseph Naso, was  a New York native who lived in Rochester in the 1970s. He was arrested in Reno, Nevada on April 11, 2011. The California murder victims, like the New York victims, all had double initials: Roxene Roggasch, Pamela Parsons, Tracy Tofoya, and Carmen Colon (a different Carmen Colon than the Rochester, NY victim.) All four women have been described by authorities as prostitutes. Naso is also considered a “person of interest” in the New York Alphabet Murders . In his preliminary hearing in Marin County, CA, on January 12, 2012, his alleged “rape diary” was entered into evidence. It mentioned the death of a girl in the “Buffalo woods,” a probable allusion to Upstate New York. Naso was a professional photographer who traveled between New York and California extensively for decades.


Solving the Crime

alph6The four killings were cold cases until 2009, when probation officers in Reno, Nev., conducted a routine firearms search of Naso’s home, who was on probation at the time for a felony larceny conviction in California. Inside his house, a macabre collection of evidence was discovered that led to his conviction. Naso apparently was a collector of sorts who was obsessed with the collectings references to the murders that he had committed. Police found a “List of 10″ featuring references to the killings, photographs of women appearing drugged or dead, and a journal with detailed descriptions of rape and violence toward underage girls and women.

  • No. 3 on Naso’s list was “Girl from Loganitas,” who prosecutors believe was Roggasch. Her body was found near Lagunitas, a small town near the coast in Marin County. Court documents show Naso might have used his then-wife’s panty hose to strangle Roggasch in 1977.
  • No. 2 on the list was “Girl near Port Costa.” Colon’s decomposed body was found in 1978 near Port Costa in Contra Costa County. Authorities have said DNA evidence collected from her fingernails tied Naso to her slaying.
  • Parsons was found in 1993 in Yuba City, where Naso was living at the time with his son. Prosecutors presented evidence during the trial that Naso had photographed Parsons.
  • Tafoya was also killed in Yuba City while Naso lived there. Her body was found on the side of Highway 70 near Marysville Cemetery in 1994.

Investigators also found news clippings of the slayings in Naso’s safe deposit box.

alph5During the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecutors also presented evidence tying Naso to the unsolved killings of Sharileea Patton, whose body washed ashore in Tiburon in 1981, and Sara Dylan, a Bob Dylan groupie whose skull was found near Nevada County in 1992. Naso was not charged in those cases.

Naso was convicted of the murders on August 20, 2013. After hearing closing arguments from Naso, who said he “was not the monster that killed these women,” and from the prosecutors, who — in arguing for the death sentence — had presented grisly photos of the lifeless bodies, the jurors deliberated for a mere four hours before deciding on the death sentence. Naso will be formally sentenced at a later date by Marin County Superior Court Judge Andrew Sweet.

*     *     *     *     *

It should be noted that even if Judge Sweet agrees with the jurors and sentences Naso to death, it is rather unlikely that he will actually be executed. There are 725 inmates already on California’s Death Row and executions have been on hold since 2006, when a federal judge ordered an overhaul of California’s execution protocol.

It will take at least another year for prison officials to properly adopt the state’s new single-drug execution method and have it cleared by the judge.


3 Responses to Alphabet Serial Killer Joseph Naso Gets the Death Penalty

  1. Steve Daniels says:

    Kudos and Bravo to the probation agents who searched Naso’s house, found much incriminating evidence and took appropriate action.

    As a retired high-risk parole agent, I fully realize the integral part agents, both probation and parole play in public safety as well as holding violent offenders accountable. Their contribution to the justice system is often overlooked.

    • Lori says:

      Steve, I’m glad you pointed that out. I am on a committee with a member from the probation department and he is an invaluable font of knowledge for us. His work gives a much needed overview of several different systems within the public and private sectors. Because of this many difficulties and risks are known about court ordered treatment programs and other services so that individuals can be referred to more appropriate facilities for their individual needs.

      Many times the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing and the probation department keeps an excellent eye out in the community in addition to all of their other responsibilities.

      Thank you for your service to this often overlooked yet highly important profession.

  2. Jo-Anne says:

    Another interesting post

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