Cold cases share similarities to alleged Naso crimes
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Among the files of South Lake Tahoe’s cold cases lies the murder of 17-year-old Kathleen Keohane in 1976.
Keohane’s body was found beneath the Truckee River Bridge. Her skull had been fractured with an unknown blunt object. No suspects and no motives were ever established in the case.
Then there’s the 1976 death of Marina Mitchell. Mitchell disappeared from the American River Canyon. Searchers scoured the area for weeks before her badly decomposed body turned up not far from where she was last seen. Due to few leads and seemingly no motives, foul play was ruled out. But investigators admitted they would likely never know how Mitchell died.
These two cases share similarities with the homicides allegedly committed by Joseph Naso. But no solid connection has been made, and Naso is not a suspect in either the murder of Keohane or the death of Mitchell.
Naso is currently charged with the murder of Roxene Roggasch, 18, Carmen Colon, 22, Pamela Parsons, 38, and Tracy Tafoya, 31, in Northern California in the 1970s and the 1990s. He has pleaded not guilty. Attempts to reach Naso Friday at the Marin County jail were unsuccessful.
The preliminary hearing wrapped up Friday, and a judge is expected to rule next week whether or not there’s enough evidence to go to trial.
District Attorney Vern Pierson would not say if his office is investigating the Keohane and Mitchell incidents specifically as having connections to Naso, though he did say a task force is looking into possible connections between Naso and some of the 30 or so cold cases in El Dorado County.
Perhaps the most obvious connection the cases have to Naso is the first and last initials of each woman’s name are the same. All the murders Naso is charged with were of women who have initials that are the same in their first and last names.
There’s also the timing. Mitchell disappeared two months before Keohane’s murder. And Keohane’s murder happened four months before the body of Roggasch was found near Fairfax, Calif. -the first of Naso’s alleged victims.
It isn’t known if Naso was in the area at the time. But, according to court documents, in the 1970s and 1980s Naso was a professional photographer who often traveled between Rochester, N.Y., where he’d grown up, and California for work. He moved to Yuba County in the 1980s. When Naso was arrested on burglary charges in South Lake Tahoe in 2008, he told officers “he was here visiting an old friend,” according to court documents.
Old newspaper clippings about Mitchell’s death reveal minor details that suggest a possible Naso connection. In a June 1, 1976, Tahoe Daily Tribune story, Mitchell’s fiance at the time, Steve Haslett, said a “strange-acting man” was hanging around their Strawberry cabin and taking photos of Mitchell.
According to the story, Mitchell and friends chased the man, who was driving a car with a Connecticut license plate until they lost sight. Multiple attempts to reach Haslett at several different phone numbers failed. Authorities at the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles said they don’t have a record of a vehicle registered to Joseph Naso in 1976.
“There’s nothing on there that matches anyone with that name or date of birth,” said spokesman Ernie Bertothy. “But I’m not sure we would still have that record around.”
The cause of death in Keohane’s murder, blunt trauma to the head, does not match the strangulation murders of alleged Naso victims Parsons and Roggasch. It is unclear how the other two alleged victims died.
According to a June 22, 1976 Tahoe Daily Tribune story, authorities in Mitchell’s case were skeptical she drowned in the shallow river, though a preliminary autopsy didn’t show any knife or gun wounds.
“We may never find out what she died from,” El Dorado County investigator Mike Mergen told the Tribune in 1976.
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