RENO, Nev. -- Investigators searching the home of serial killing suspect Joseph Naso found more than 4,000 photographs of lingerie-clad or naked women, often posed to look lifeless, sources say.
Many of the hundreds of women appear unconscious and in unnatural poses, sometimes in bondage, and they include all age groups and races.
Detectives have spent the past year correlating the photos with Naso's extensive handwritten notebooks and other documents detailing fantasies of torturing women. Fewer than half the women have been identified, but most of them have been found alive.
Investigators believe that Naso, a self-employed photographer who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for decades, snapped the photos himself. Some prints date back to the 1960s, but most were taken fairly recently, sources say.
Nevada investigators seized the evidence last year while the 77-year-old Naso was in an El Dorado County jail cell serving a probation violation sentence. He was arrested upon his release in April on suspicion of killing four Northern California women in the 1970s and 1990s.
Naso has yet to enter a plea to the murder charges, and a Marin County, Calif., judge on Friday agreed to let him represent himself in court proceedings.
Naso had never been charged with a violent crime until his recent arrest, but he appears to have had a long-held fixation on lingerie and bondage. He was arrested for stealing 30 pairs of women's underwear and bras at an Oakland, Calif., department store in 1995, and a former neighbor found him dumping stacks of bondage pornography in the trash outside his San Francisco apartment in 1981.
Investigators think that Naso, who lived for a time in New York state, may be tied to other disappearances and unsolved killings across the United States. He is believed to have targeted prostitutes, whom he strangled, dumping their bodies in rural areas.
In one instance, Naso took racy photographs of a wealthy woman he met at a Reno senior center and whom he planned to marry.
Mildred Gardner met Naso, then 64, in July 1998.
"We dated a few times and he wanted to become serious. He wanted to get married," she said in court documents. "Mr. Naso was sneaky but he was nice to me."
Buoyed by the marriage proposal, Gardner, 75 at the time, gave Naso $10,000 for a van she thought they would share. However, she later learned that he had put the title in his name only.
Naso then asked Gardner for $7,000 as a down payment on a home for both of them in Sacramento. She said he hoped to move his adult son Charles, a diagnosed schizophrenic, to a mental hospital in the area.
However, she would learn later that she was left off the deed.
During their seven rocky months of dating, Naso apparently persuaded Gardner to pose for photographs wearing lingerie -- in poses similar to the thousands of pictures investigators would later find in his home.
Naso made the mistake of sharing the photos of Gardner with an employee of the senior center. The employee, who asked not to be named, recalled being appalled. Gardner looked uncomfortable in the pictures, the employee said.
"It didn't seem like something she'd do every day. She was not like that," the worker said. "I was speechless."
After that, Naso, a frequent visitor of the senior center, was told never to come back, the employee said.
As the couple's relationship continued, Naso grew increasingly short-tempered and angry, Gardner said in documents. He stole her .38-caliber revolver and tried to alienate her from her family, urging her to quit going to the senior center and church, she said. Every weekend, she said, he would load up his pickup with her furniture and take it to the Sacramento house.
In March 1999, Gardner said her family checked Naso's background and discovered his criminal past, which included an accusation of swindling.
"I am not going to Sacramento to live with him. I'm afraid he will become violent when he finds out," she said in asking the court for a restraining order against Naso. A judge granted the restraining order in 1999, barring Naso from her home, church and salon.
Gardner's family declined to comment for this story.
Gardner later sued Naso to recoup her $17,000, but she eventually dropped the case. She died in 2004.
(Staff writers Malaika Fraley and Karl Fischer and Reno correspondent Ricardo Lopez contributed to this story.)
(c) 2011, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).
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