By Ronnie Cohen
SAN RAFAEL, California (Reuters) - A 74-year-old woman who says she was raped in California over 50 years ago by the man accused of the serial "Alphabet Murders" could become a key witness in his trial, but said police at the time treated her as if she were to blame.
If the woman is called to testify in the trial of Joseph Naso, 78, who is accused of killing two Northern California prostitutes in the 1970s and two more in the 1990s, her testimony could help prosecutors show he has displayed a long pattern of sexual violence.
The woman now lives in the Midwest, but she was a student in Berkeley when she told police there in 1961 that a man -- who authorities have identified as Naso -- picked her up at a bus stop and raped her. She said police at the time suggested she was just trying to make her boyfriend jealous.
"It was different at that time," the woman told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity because she had not told her family of the ordeal. "It was still your own fault."
The woman, who at the time was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, said in dealing with police she felt alone and like she was the one they were accusing.
But she said that an investigator for the Marin County district attorney's office called in June and said he believed her 1961 assailant was Naso. She also was mentioned in court last month, when Naso and prosecutors were conferring about the exchange of evidence and Naso said he could not find a copy of the police report linked to the suspected rape case.
Naso, who has admitted a penchant for photographing women in nylons and high heels but denies killing anyone, is representing himself in the case. The serial killings have been dubbed the "Alphabet Murders," because of the alliteration of the women's first and last names.
Rosemary Slote, a deputy district attorney prosecuting Naso, said his record showed a 1961 Berkeley rape arrest, and confirmed prosecutors were considering calling the woman as a witness, but that also hinged on if the judge would allow it.
"If he was committing rapes in 1961 and over the years, it is relevant," she told Reuters. A trial date has not yet been set.
The woman, whose name lacks alliteration, said that on the day she was assaulted, at age 24, she had worked in Oakland and was waiting for a bus to return home when a stranger offered her a ride, which she accepted against her better judgment.
"I was just sitting naively at a bus stop," she said. "I knew lots of women in that era who were hitchhiking. I would never do that."
The woman said she got the license plate number of the car and told police. She remembered two officers later interrogated her about the rape in a tiny room. "'You were just trying to make your boyfriend jealous,'" she said police told her.
"They talked to him, and the only thing I knew was that he left town," the woman said.
Because of changes in sentencing laws, it is unclear how long Naso might have served in prison had he been charged with rape and convicted in the early 1960s, said Evan Lee, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings who has been following the Naso case.
Journals found in Naso's home in Reno, Nevada, detail suspected sexual assaults as far back as the 1950s, according to court documents. In one 1958 instance, he wrote that police told him to "get out of town."
During a hearing in January, Naso said his journal entries had been misconstrued. "I sometimes use the term 'rape' to mean I scored, I made out," he said.
Authorities said they began investigating Naso in connection with the Northern California slayings of four women after a 2010 search of his Reno home by probation officers turned up evidence tying him to the 1977 slaying of Roxene Roggasch.
The 18-year-old's body was found in a rural area near the Marin County town of Fairfax, and police say DNA from her pantyhose was matched to Naso.
Investigators also linked Naso to the murder of 22-year-old Carmen Colon, whose body was found in 1978 near the Northern California community of Port Costa. He also is charged in the 1993 killing of Pamela Parsons, 38, and the 1994 murder of Tracy Tafoya, both in Yuba County, California. All four women were prostitutes, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Naso listed each of those four women they believe he killed on a handwritten roster of 10 women and locations, nine in northern California and one in Florida. Investigations are continuing into the other women on the list.
Looking for DNA evidence, an investigator asked the woman who reported the 1961 rape if she still had the clothes she wore that day. She was wearing her favorite skirt and thought she might have saved it, though the suspected rapist broke the zipper.
"I couldn't find it," she told the investigator. "It was 50 years ago, after all."
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Cynthia Johnston)