UPDATE 1/22/2015: Murder suspect Rodney Halbower was moved from prison in Oregon to San Mateo County, California January 21, 2015, to face charges in the so-called Gypsy Murders case (link to press release to the right). He is still a person of interest for the 1976 Reno murder of Michelle Mitchell, for which another person was convicted and then released.
RENO, NV - The murder of Reno coed Michelle Mitchell shocked our community almost four decades ago.
The crime was believed solved a few years later with the arrest and two trials and convictions of a former topless bar manager Cathy Woods. Monday, September 8, 2014, her conviction was set aside, and a new suspect emerged--a 66-year-old prison Oregon state prison inmate.
Today Rodney Halbower is serving concurrent life sentences there and here in Nevada, but his criminal record dates back nearly 50 years to his home in Muskegon County, Michigan with theft, then burglary. Several escapes followed, one ending in his apprehension in Clearwater, Florida in 1970.
In November of 1975 he lived in Pacifica in the Bay Area, but apparently visited Reno. At 2:30 one morning, a 37-year-old woman walked home after completing a shift at a downtown casino.
In the 300 block of Flint Street she was accosted by a man wielding a knife. He forced her into an alley and raped her. A resident later testified he heard noises, looked out and asked if everything was OK. The woman said no. The man said yes and led her away.
A few blocks away on Humboldt Street, the woman got away from him. She made it home and called police. Halbower was seen fleeing the area and was quickly arrested. Held on $60 thousand bond, he made bail. The murders began weeks later.
The first victim of what would become known as the Gypsy Hill Murders, Veronica Cascio, disappeared January 7 walking home from a bus stop in Pacifica. Her body was found the next day. The murders of two other young women in the Pacifica-Millbrae area followed.
Then on February 24, Michelle Mitchell's car broke down near the university. She called her parents for help. They arrived and found her gone. Hours later her body was found in a nearby garage, her throat slit.
Nearly four decades later a cigarette butt found at her feet was found to contain Halbower's DNA -- that's according to tests by the Washoe County crime lab.
Two other women died in the following weeks in the Bay area.
Halbower was never questioned in any of the investigations, but he was convicted on the rape charge.
He escaped from Nevada prison once during a soft\ball game, and returned to Michigan, where he kidnapped his 7-year-old daughter.
Arrested, he returned to prison in Nevada, where he stayed until 1986 when he and another inmate climbed a wall, walked across a roof, but through a fence and escaped again.
A short time later he was in Medford, Oregon, where he stabbed a woman in a parking lot. Convicted of attempted murder there, Halbower was eventually returned to Nevada.
He has been serving concurrent terms in both states, but in 2011 he was transferred from the Maximum Security Prison in Ely to Oregon.
A DNA sample was taken during that transfer. Court documents filed Monday say it was that sample that eventually linked him to Michelle Mitchell's murder and at least two of those in the Bay Area.
Today Rodney Halbower is still described only as a "person of interest" in the murders, but with the DNA evidence it's assumed he'll soon be charged in both California and Nevada.