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5 Unsolved Killings Get New Probe

Investigation may be able to link a Wisconsin prisoner charged in the 1978 double slaying in Mojave Desert to other old cases, authorities say.

June 18, 2003|Lance Pugmire and Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writers

A Wisconsin prisoner charged this week with killing two Canoga Park teenagers in the Mojave Desert in 1978 is being investigated for at least five other unsolved slayings in California and Arizona that occurred about the same time, San Bernardino County's lead homicide investigator said Tuesday.

Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Dean said "the time frame and circumstances" of three unsolved killings in San Bernardino County, and two in Arizona, coincided with the travel pattern of William Floyd Zamastil, 51, who is serving a life sentence for murdering a Madison, Wis., woman in 1978.

"My intent is to interview [Zamastil] about it once we get him in custody," Dean said, but declined to give specifics about the five cases.

After his arrest in Wisconsin 24 years ago, Zamastil allegedly gave tape-recorded confessions to "about a half dozen" other killings, said Ed Borski, the retired chief of detectives for the Sauk County, Wis., Sheriff's Department.

Borski said he contacted law enforcement authorities from San Bernardino County and areas where Zamastil claimed to have killed, and held a meeting in Las Vegas where he played the tapes for the detectives.

"I made tapes of those interviews with Zamastil's consent -- he used to call me from his jail cell, inviting me to come up and talk," Borski said.

"I don't know why the respective district attorneys didn't try to bring him back -- maybe it was the fact that he was in custody here on a life sentence-plus-20-years conviction."

The San Bernardino County district attorney's office in 1984 charged Zamastil for one of the Barstow murders, but never extradited him from Wisconsin, where he already was serving a life sentence.

On Monday, the district attorney's office amended the 19-year-old murder charge, alleging Zamastil clubbed to death and robbed Canoga Park siblings Jacqueline, 18, and Malcolm Bradshaw, 17, then dumped their bodies in the Mojave Desert. Three special circumstances make Zamastil eligible for the death penalty.

The Bradshaws were hitchhiking home from Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 1978, when a man fitting Zamastil's description was seen driving them away from a Barstow gas station. The Bradshaws were never seen alive again. Their decomposed and partially clothed bodies were found by a sheepherder on March 26, 1978 -- 13 miles south of Barstow near a truck stop where Zamastil once worked, authorities said.

Law enforcement sources said Tuesday they are seeking to determine whether Zamastil sexually assaulted the victims.

He was convicted on two charges of sexual assault in the Wisconsin murder.

San Bernardino County prosectors said they expect Zamastil to fight extradition.

San Bernardino County Assistant Dist. Atty. Mike Risley said he was uncertain why the county's former district attorney, Dennis Kottmeier and the prosecutor in the case, Betty Haight, did not attempt to extradite Zamastil. Neither Kottmeier nor Haight could be reached for comment Tuesday.

"It's fair to say this case was put on the backburner," Risley said. "Now that the case has been properly brought back to our radar by Sgt. Dean, we are moving at the fastest speed possible."

Borski said he planned to join his former partner in Wisconsin, Virgil "Butch" Steinhorst, at the Sauk County Sheriff's Department offices today to review the Zamastil case files with a captain who maintained contact with San Bernardino County detectives. The file should include the confessions, Borski said.

"I'm glad someone is going after this again," Borski said.

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