Man successfully extradited from Oregon in two Gypsy Hill murders 

San Mateo County law enforcement authorities on Thursday announced charges in connection with a high-profile and decades-old homicide spree. The suspect was extradited from an Oregon prison and charged in two of the five 1976 Gypsy Hill killings, said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Rebecca Rosenblatt.

Rodney Halbower, 66, faces two counts of murder and special circumstances of murder during the course of a rape in connection with the sexual assaults and deaths of 17-year-old Paula Baxter and 18-year-old Veronica “Ronnie” Cascio, whose bodies were recovered in Millbrae and Pacifica, respectively.

The two girls went missing in the mid-1970s.

Cascio was last seen Jan. 7, 1976 in the Fairway neighborhood of Pacifica walking from her home to the bus stop at Bradford Way and Fairway Drive. Her body was found the next day at Sharp Park Golf Course.

Baxter was last seen Feb. 4, 1976 as she was leaving the parking lot of Capuchino High School in Millbrae. Her car was discovered the next morning on a nearby residential street, and her body was found two days later hidden in the brush of Latter Day Saints Church on Ludeman Lane.

The five Gypsy Hill homicides terrorized San Mateo County from January to April after the victims, ranging in age from 14 to 26, were all stabbed to death. Bodies were also recovered in Daly City and South San Francisco.

Investigators noted the similarities between the slayings and the time frame in which they occurred.

A break in the cold case came last year when DNA evidence in a Reno, Nev. homicide from 1976 linked to the Gypsy Hill incidents. That case involved 19-year-old University of Nevada-Reno student Michelle Mitchell, who was last seen Feb. 24, 1976.

About 8:10 p.m. that day, investigators believe her car broke down at the intersection of Ninth Street and Evans Avenue in Reno. Someone reportedly assisted her in pushing her car into a parking lot near the university’s agricultural building.

Her body was found later that night in the garage of a nearby home.

In the 1976 cases, Cascio was the first victim, followed by 14-year-old Tanya Blackwell, who disappeared Jan. 24. Her body was located months later on Gypsy Hill Road in Pacifica.

Baxter was the next victim, on Feb. 4, followed by Carol Lee Booth, a 26-year-old South San Francisco woman. She disappeared March 15 and her body was discovered May 4.

The fifth Peninsula victim was 19-year-old Denise Lampe, who left Serramonte Mall in Daly City on April 1 and was never seen alive again.

Her body was found that evening inside her vehicle, a 1964 Mustang, that was parked in the same location at the mall, between a Macy's store and Denny's restaurant.

Investigators believe Halbower is responsible for more than the two Gypsy Hill homicides, Rosenblatt said, and an investigation is ongoing.

Halbower became a suspect after a prison transfer from Nevada to Oregon on an attempted murder charge, according to the FBI. He was required to give a DNA sample due to the transfer.

His indictment comes from a collaborative effort of the FBI, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, Pacifica Police Department, South San Francisco Police Department, Daly City Police Department, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office in Reno and Reno Police Department.

Halbower was scheduled to be arraigned on the charges at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Rosenblatt said. However, he did not enter a plea, San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Karen Guidotti said. He was appointed an attorney and his case was continued until Jan. 26. He is on no-bail status.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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