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Kidnapper hid secret for 18 years

Neighbors saw children in this complex of tents and outbuildings in Phillip Garrido’s yard but officials never looked.

Associated Press

Neighbors saw children in this complex of tents and outbuildings in Phillip Garrido’s yard but officials never looked.

ANTIOCH, Calif. — His neighbors knew he was a registered sex offender. Kids on his block called him "Creepy Phil" and kept their distance. Authorities visited his home and found nothing unusual, even after a neighbor reported children were living in tents in his back yard.

For 18 years, Phillip Garrido managed to elude detection as he pulled off what authorities are calling an unfathomable crime, kidnapping and raping 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard, keeping her as his secret captive for nearly two decades and fathering her two children.

The question about how he went unnoticed became more pressing Friday when Garrido came under suspicion in the unsolved murders of several prostitutes in the 1990s. Several of the women's bodies — the exact number is not known — were dumped near an industrial park where Garrido worked during the 1990s.

Authorities acknowledged that they blew a chance three years ago to rescue Dugard from the backyard sheds, tents and outbuildings concealed from the outside world.

A neighbor called 911 in November 2006 and described Garrido as a psychotic sex addict who was living with children and had people staying in tents in his back yard.

The investigating officer spent a half-hour interviewing Garrido on his front porch but did not enter the house or search the back yard, Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf said. The deputy did not know Garrido was a registered sex offender who was convicted in 1977 of kidnapping and raping a 25-year-old woman from South Lake Tahoe, the same town Jaycee Dugard lived in when she was snatched from a school bus stop.

The deputy told Garrido the tents could be a code violation.

"We missed an opportunity to bring earlier closure to this situation," Rupf acknowledged. "I cannot change the course of events but we are beating ourselves up over this and continue to do so."

"We should have been more inquisitive, more curious and turned over a rock or two."

It was not the only missed opportunity.

As a parolee, Garrido wore a GPS-linked ankle bracelet that tracked his every movement, met with his parole agent several times each month, and was subject to routine surprise home visits and random drug and alcohol tests, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Gordon Hinkle said.

The last unannounced visit by a team of local police agencies was conducted in July 2008. Paramedics also were summoned to the house five times since 1999, presumably to help Garrido's 88-year-old mother, who had dementia.

"There was never any indication to my knowledge that there was any sign of children living there," Hinkle said.

As it turns out, Dugard and her two children were living there as prisoners, authorities say. The heavily wooded compound was arranged so that outsiders could not see what was there. One soundproofed building could be opened only from the outside.

Neighbors knew there were children living there. Damon Robinson has lived next door to the Garridos for more than three years and his then-girlfriend in 2006 told him she saw tents in the back yard and children.

"I told her to call police. I told her to call right away," he said.

Dugard, now 29, was reunited with her family and said to be in good health, but feeling guilty about developing a bond with Garrido over the years. Her two children, 11 and 15, are with her.

"Jaycee has strong feelings with this guy. She really feels it's almost like a marriage," said Dugard's stepfather, Carl Probyn, who was there when little Jaycee was snatched from a bus stop in 1991.

Probyn has been in constant contact with Dugard's mother, his ex-wife, Terry Probyn, since she found out her daughter was alive on Wednesday. Dugard revealed her identity to Garrido's parole officer on Wednesday, but she has not spoken publicly.

After not seeing each other for 18 years, Dugard greeted her mother by saying, "Hi, mom, I have babies," Probyn said.

The authorities say they do not yet know whether she ever tried to escape or to alert anyone.

Garrido and his wife, Nancy, pleaded not guilty to a total of 29 counts, including forcible abduction, rape and false imprisonment.

Blue tarp-covered shelters where the victims lived.

Phillip and Nancy Garrido lived inside this home.

Kidnapper hid secret for 18 years 08/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 28, 2009 11:26pm]
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