By Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP) - The FBI said Thursday it is launching a task force to re-examine a series of unsolved murders of young women that happened along the San Francisco Peninsula nearly 40 years ago that law enforcement think might be linked to a similar woman’s killing in Nevada.

The multi-agency task force will be looking at ties between the slayings of five women in San Mateo County dubbed the “Gypsy Hill Murders” in 1976 with the murder of Michelle Mitchell, a University of Nevada-Reno nursing student who also was killed that same year, FBI Special Agent in Charge Gerald Bessette said.

“We have reason to believe their deaths are linked to each other based on forensics evidence between a number of the cases, time frame of the murders and the method used by the offender to commit these crimes,” Bessette told reporters at a news conference in Redwood City, Calif. “No tips or observations are too small for us. Every piece of information helps.”

FBI spokesman Peter Lee said law enforcement officials think the same individual may be responsible for the killings. The FBI task force will be knocking on doors near the crime scenes in the San Francisco peninsula to try and jog the memories of neighbors.

All of the victims were college-aged women, and many had experienced car problems and were by themselves before they disappeared, Lee said. Almost all of the victims were confirmed to have been raped before being killed, Lee added.

Between January and April 1976, Veronica Ann “Ronnie” Cascio, Tatiana Marie “Tanya” Blackwell, Paula Louse Baxter, Carol Lee Booth and Denise Lampe were murdered in San Mateo County.

In February, 1976, Mitchell’s car broke down across from the University of Nevada-Reno School of Agriculture. She called her mother for a ride, but she could not be found when her mom arrived 10 minutes later. Her body was discovered in a garage just half a block away by a couple returning home from a night out. Mitchell’s hands were tied behind her back, and her throat was slashed.

Cathy Woods, a mental patient at the Louisiana State University Medical Center, was convicted of Mitchell’s murder. The new examined evidence does not connect Woods to the killing, Reno police Deputy Chief Mac Venzon said Thursday.

“It doesn’t necessarily exclude her, either,” Venzon added as authorities believe she may have had an accomplice.

Venzon said they do not have leads on who that accomplice might be.

“We are asking for people in the Bay Area and the Reno area if they have any recollection or anything else that would jog their memory,” Venzon said.

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