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Garrido home searched for evidence of other missing girls

Investigators are looking for ties between the couple and Michaela Garecht, 9, who was kidnapped in Hayward in 1988 and Ilene Misheloff, 13, who disappeared two months later in Dublin.

September 16, 2009|Maria L. La Ganga and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

ANTIOCH, CALIF., AND LOS ANGELES — Investigators on Tuesday launched an exhaustive search of the home of accused kidnappers and rapists Phillip and Nancy Garrido and a property next door in connection with the disappearances of two girls two decades ago.

Michaela Garecht, 9, was kidnapped in front of a Hayward store in 1988. Two months later, Ilene Misheloff, 13, disappeared after she was seen getting into a car on her way home from school in Dublin.

By 4:30 p.m., investigators from several Bay Area law enforcement agencies had finished searching the adjacent property and about half of the Garridos' lot, removing some items, said Hayward Police Lt. Christine Orrey.

Police and sheriff's deputies blocked off the street as they parked RV-style vehicles in front of the Garridos' ranch house and about 60 officers combed the nearly one acre property, Orrey said.

Dublin and Hayward police, Alameda and Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies and FBI investigators went in and out all day, wearing latex gloves, kneepads and face masks.

The backyard was so clogged with debris that at one point, investigators said, they had to tow an old green van away just to make room.

"Some have equated what they are looking at back there to looking for evidence in a landfill," said Dublin Police Lt. Kurt Von Savoye.

The property was already searched and some evidence removed by local police, sheriff's deputies and the FBI after Phillip Garrido, 58, and wife Nancy, 54, were arrested Aug. 26 and charged in connection with the kidnapping and rape of 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was snatched from her South Lake Tahoe neighborhood 18 years ago.

Authorities have said Dugard lived in a warren of tents in the backyard and bore Garrido two daughters.

Investigators initially brought in dogs trained to detect human remains, and on Aug. 30 recovered a bone fragment that proved to be human. It was still being analyzed Tuesday by the state DNA crime lab, according to Jimmy Lee, a Contra Costa County sheriff's spokesman.

Investigators plan to return today, equipped with a magnetometer and ground-penetrating radar capable of detecting human remains and burial sites deep underground, Orrey said. They are looking for any evidence of the girls, including clothing they were wearing when they disappeared, and are prepared to search for days and destroy structures as needed, Orrey said. So far, no structures on either property have been razed.

"We don't want to walk away from here thinking we left anything undone that would help us solve these cases," Orrey said.

No evidence previously taken from the properties links the Garridos to the kidnappings, but a gold-colored sedan removed from the Garridos' home by El Dorado County sheriff's deputies appears to fit the description of the car Ilene was last seen getting into and the car used by Michaela's abductor, investigators said.

Orrey said investigators are focusing on the Garridos because the girls were close in age and disappeared at a time when Phillip Garrido, who has been in and out of prison, had recently been freed. Michaela, a petite blond, also bears a resemblance to Dugard.

Orrey said her department had received more than 13,000 tips about Michaela's kidnapping. "This is one of the strongest leads we have pursued thus far," she said.

Dublin and Hayward investigators said they have not questioned the Garridos or Dugard. Dugard has been interviewed by the FBI but said nothing about the two missing girls, Orrey said.

Dugard and her family remained in seclusion Tuesday, a family spokeswoman said.

Both girls' parents were notified about the search and are hopeful their cases may finally be solved, Orrey said.

"We want to bring some closure for these families as to what happened to these missing children," she said.

The Misheloffs were caring for a sick relative in New Jersey and could not be at the scene Tuesday. Reached by phone, Ilene's father, Michael Misheloff, 65, said the family has kept her room untouched and marks the anniversary of her disappearance each year by organizing a walk past the site where she was last seen.

"It's just really very difficult right now," he said.

Michaela's mother, Sharon Murch, traveled to the Garrido home for the first time Tuesday. She brought daughters Libby, 24, and Johnna, 15, and appeared composed, saying Dugard's survival justifies her belief that she will one day be reunited with her daughter.

"To live with hope that is unfulfilled for so many years is very difficult," Murch said as she stood outside the house.

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maria.laganga@latimes.com

molly.hennessy-fiske @latimes.com

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