A Cold Case Review into the Mind of Serial Killer Joseph Naso

Dawn Romano of the Contra Costa County Crime Lab describes the case of serial killer Joseph Naso, and how he was brought to justice.






My name is Dawn Romano. I’m the Forensic Supervisor and Technical Leader at the Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff Crime Lab. In 2010, Joseph Naso was on probation for petty theft. He actually had a history of stealing women’s lingerie and hosiery. In violation of his parole, he was selling ammunition at flea markets. So, they went to his house to conduct a search, and they ended up finding guns and ammunition, but they found a whole lot more.

They found hundreds of thousands of photos of women in lingerie, some of them naked, and a lot of them appearing as if they were unconscious or possibly dead. They then stumbled upon his notes that he had taken, which kind of looked like a rape diary detailing hundreds of sexual assaults all over the country from the time that he was 16. He was 76 at the time when they caught him. Just disturbing stuff like, “Girl in north Buffalo woods. I took her in the back of my car. She cried. I didn’t. I loved it.”

So, he actually had a ton of mannequins as well inside of his home. They were all wearing lingerie. Some of them had ligatures around their necks. And then on his kitchen table, investigators found a list. A list of 10 unnamed women in geographical locations, and they weren’t quite sure what that meant, but as they looked more and more into some unsolved murder cases in the area, they realized that that might be his top ten murder list. So, they tied at least 6 women to the list by the end of the investigation, and they are still actively looking for more, but they were able to tie them to the list by the location actually being the location in which he had dumped the body.


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He had pictures of many of these women in his safety deposit box or at his house. He had many of their obituaries in his safety deposit box. He had made entries in his logs stating that he “got even” with an old account at the date one of the women had gone missing. He said he was with a woman named Tracy on a date that she went missing.

So, they found little bits and pieces that tied women to Naso and to this list. Our laboratory had received a cold case grant in 2010 and our director at the time was really interested in cold cases, so he volunteered the lab to do all the DNA work in these cases.

In the end, that body was found in Marin County, California, so that DA’s office decided to try Joseph Naso for murder on all 4 women that they had found at the time. He decides to represent himself. He has a million dollars, and he refuses to spend a cent of it on his defense. He gets several public defenders who he argues with. He hires and fires multiple people. So, in the end he defends himself and he gets convicted of 4 counts of first degree murder.

The Marin County DA’s office wanted to go for the death penalty. Investigators had been working trying to link other cases at the time, but they didn’t have 2 cases ready for trial. So, in order to try for the death penalty, they presented these additional 2 cases.

Actually, in one of them, the woman was strangled and put into the San Francisco Bay. She washed up north of San Francisco. She was actually living in the apartment building that Naso was the manager of at the time. He was actually the number 1 suspect in the case in 1981 and they never tried him for it.

So, that additional evidence, as well as all the evidence in total, he got convicted, and he’s on death row right now.

The first sexual assault that’s listed in his log was 1950, and he was (I calculated) 16 years old at the time. He actually had been convicted of rape in Rochester, New York in 1958, and actually the investigators in that case told him to get out of town.

So, he goes to northern California. His brother lived in Oakland at the time, and so he came out to northern California, and did a series of odd jobs, stuff like that. But, the rapes continued throughout 1998, and he might have even had some into the 2000’s.
The homicides, from the 6 that we linked, were ‘73, ‘74, ‘78, ‘93, ‘94, and ‘81. What’s interesting about the log is that it wasn’t written while he was doing it. You could tell by certain entries that he would remember something, and he would say, “Going back to ten entries earlier, I remember this.” So, this was basically an old man recounting all of his various crimes.