69-Year-Old Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murders Tied to ‘Gypsy Hill Killings'

A 69-year-old career criminal thought to be the "Gypsy Hill Killer" was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday for raping and killing two teenage girls more than 42 years ago.

The victims were part of the so-called Gypsy Hill Killings from 1976 in San Mateo County that left five young women brutally murdered. 

Rodney Halbower had dozens of outbursts and repeatedly interrupted the judge during his sentencing on Wednesday, which led to an emotional response from the victims' family. Halbower's life sentence also is without parole.

The victims, 17-year-old Paula Baxter and 18-year-old Veronica Cascio, were both in high school. In 1976, both were found stabbed to death in San Mateo County.

"Paula was larger than life," friend Steve Bischoff said.

Bischoff discovered Baxter's body behind a church in Millbrae.

"Justice would be he loses his life and we get Paula and Veronica back, but that's not possible," Bischoff said of the sentencing. "This is what the law allows."

Retired Millbrae Police Sgt. Ron Caine said he was the first to investigate Baxter's death.

"I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week for four months and got nowhere," Caine said.

The big break in the case came just a few years ago thanks to improvements in DNA science.

Samples collects at two crime scenes back in 1976 led investigators to Halbower, who was serving a 30-year sentence in Oregon for another attempted murder and assault.

"We got notifications from Oregon they had someone in custody who was probably match to Paula and Veronica murders," San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher said.

Authorities believe Halblower may be connected to other Gypsy Hill Killings in San Mateo, but prosecutors chose to pursue the cases with the strongest DNA evidence. Families of the other victims said they are relieved to learn Halbower will never be released from prison.

Because the crimes took place in 1976, the judge had to sentence Halbower based on 1976 laws. At that time there was no death penalty in California.

Halbower may also face another trial for murdering a young woman in Reno, also in 1976.

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