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August 31, 2009

Property beside that of kidnapping suspect searched as probe widens

Armed with rakes, shovels and chain saws, about 20 officers on Sunday combed the backyard of a couple charged with kidnapping and raping Jaycee Lee Dugard, then used cadaver dogs to search an adjoining property where neighbors say one of the suspects had been a caretaker.

Armed with rakes, shovels and chain saws, about 20 officers on Sunday combed the backyard of a couple charged with kidnapping and raping Jaycee Lee Dugard, then used cadaver dogs to search an adjoining property where neighbors say one of the suspects had been a caretaker.

Sheriff's deputies and prosecutors from two counties and officers from two city police departments were using the dogs, shovels and other tools to inspect the neighboring yard, which sits behind a house with a chain-link fence.

“We do consider it a crime scene,” said Jimmy Lee, a spokesman for the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department.

Lee would not elaborate on what kind of evidence investigators were seeking or the nature of the possible crimes involving the second property. The link to the kidnapping case is that Phillip Garrido, the man charged with holding Dugard in captivity for 18 years in his backyard, had access when the house that sits on it was vacant three years ago.

“It looks like Garrido lived on the property in a shed,” Lee said.

Damon Robinson, who moved into the vacant house in 2006, and another neighbor say Phillip Garrido had served as caretaker of the home. That same year Robinson's then-girlfriend called police after she saw tents and children in the backyard, but the responding deputy did not uncover the backyard compound.

A third neighbor, Janice Deitrich, 66, said Phillip Garrido visited an elderly neighbor who lived there before Robinson.

Police in Pittsburg, a Bay Area city near where the Garridos lived, have said they are investigating whether Phillip Garrido may be linked to several unsolved murders of prostitutes in the early 1990s. Antioch police are also looking into unsolved cases but declined further details.

Authorities allege Dugard, who was 11 when she was kidnapped from her family's South Lake Tahoe home, was a prisoner in the backyard encampment. Dugard, now 29, gave birth to two daughters, ages 11 and 15, who authorities say were fathered by Phillip Garrido.

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