Episode 315:

Here Be Monsters!

The Gypsy Hill Killings


The Cruise Ship Survival Story of Moss and Tracy Hills


Episode 315: Here Be Monsters!

This week, Georgia and Karen cover the Gypsy Hill killings and the cruise ship survival story of Moss and Tracy Hills.

Listen on Apple Podcasts. Listen on Spotify

The Gypsy Hill Killings

The Gypsy Hill Killings Notes:

Header Image Source: Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash

Other Images:

Veronica Cascio, Tatiana “Tanya” Blackwell, Paula Baxter, Michelle Mitchell, Carol Booth, Denise Lampe (via East Bay Times)

Rodney Halbower mugshot (via Mercury News)


"The Gypsy Hill killings were a group of five homicides of young women and girls in San Mateo County, California during early 1976. The killer became known in the media as the “San Mateo Slasher." It was later proven that there were at least two different perpetrators.

On January 8, 1976 the body of 18-year-old Veronica Cascio was discovered in a creek on the grounds of the Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica. She had been stabbed 30 times. A transient was arrested but was released for lack of evidence.

A few weeks later, 14-year-old Tatiana Blackwell was reported missing after leaving her home in Pacifica to run an errand. A body, later identified as hers, was discovered off Sharp Park Road in the Gypsy Hills section of the city on June 6. She had also been stabbed multiple times.

Paula Baxter, 17 years old, went missing on Wednesday evening February 4th, after finishing a play rehearsal on the Capuchino High school campus, leaving her mired car behind. Her nude body was found on February 6th in Millbrae behind the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Ludeman Lane. She had been stabbed 4 times, sexually assaulted, and hit on the head with a piece of concrete. Her killing was forensically linked to Cascio's.

On April 1, 19-year-old Denise Lampe of Broadmoor was found dead after a search in the parking lot of the Serramonte Center. She had been stabbed 20 times.

Carol Booth, 26, was reported missing by her husband on March 15, and was discovered in a shallow grave near Colma Creek on Grand Avenue in South San Francisco on May 6.

Investigators have connected some of the homicides to each other. All the slain women were young brunettes and most had experienced car trouble prior to being murdered. All the bodies were found in wooded areas.

A lack of witnesses and forensic evidence stalled the investigations.

In March 2014, the FBI established a task force to re-examine the murders, after new DNA evidence cast doubt on the conviction of Cathy Woods, now 64, for Mitchell's murder. The DNA taken from a cigarette butt found at the Mitchell crime scene matched DNA taken from semen found at related crime scenes in San Mateo, California. This DNA was that of a man and therefore might exonerate Woods.

On September 8, 2014, the FBI named Rodney Halbower as a person of interest in the Gypsy Hill murders. Woods was released from prison on September 11 pending a new trial to take place on July 13, 2015. In March 2015, prosecutors dismissed the charges against Woods.

On January 22, 2015, Halbower was charged with two of the murders (Paula Baxter and Veronica Cascio). DNA evidence linked him to both. On November 8, 2017, Leon Melvin Seymour was charged with the murder of Denise Lampe, based on DNA evidence. On September 18, 2018, Halbower was convicted of the murders of Cascio and Baxter. Finally, on October 10, 2018, Halbower was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for the murders of Cascio and Baxter.

Halbower will most likely face a trial in Nevada for the murder of Michelle Mitchell in the near future.

The murders of Tanya Blackwell and Carol Lee Booth are both believed to have been committed by Rodney Halbower, but there was not enough evidence to charge him for their deaths...."

— Source: The Gypsy Hill Killings Wikipedia


The Cruise Ship Survival Story of Moss and Tracy Hills

The Cruise Ship Survival Story of Moss and Tracy Hills Notes:

Header Image Source: Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash 

Other Images:

The cruise ship Oceanos leaving Piraeus Harbor on June 1986 (via Wikipedia)

Passengers stumbling on the Oceanos (via NBC News)

Moss Hills, on board entertainer who provided critical support during the rescue effort (via OceanosSinking.com)

Tracy Hills, on board entertainer who provided critical support during the rescue effort (via OceanosSinking.com)


“MTS Oceanos was a French-built and Greek-owned cruise ship that sank in 1991 when it suffered uncontrolled flooding. Her captain and some of the crew were convicted of negligence for fleeing the ship without helping the passengers, who were subsequently rescued thanks to the efforts of the ship's entertainers who helped the Marines land on the ship from naval helicopters. All 571 passengers and crew survived, resulting in international media attention.

On 3 August 1991, Oceanos – initially delayed by a bomb threat – set out from East London, South Africa and headed for Durban. Captain Yiannis Avranas (born c. 1940) had been an officer for twenty years and a seaman for thirty. Oceanos headed into 40-knot winds and 9 m (30 ft) swells. Usually, there would have been a "sail-away" party on deck with the ship's musicians and British entertainers Moss and Tracy Hills. However, rough seas caused the party to be held inside in the Four Seasons lounge; most passengers chose to stay in their cabins.

The storm worsened as the evening progressed and when the first sitting of dinner was served, the waiters could hardly carry the trays of food without dropping something. Eventually Oceanos was rolling about from side to side so badly that crockery and cutlery began sliding off the tables and potted plants fell over.

While trying to make up time lost in the earlier delay, Oceanos encountered rough seas. Earlier repairs to the waste disposal system had not been completed, which meant that a vital ventilation pipe which ran through the watertight aft bulkhead and the non-return valves were not replaced. It is believed[by whom?] that after a series of freak waves slammed against the ship, the pipe's shell plating burst open and began filling the compartment with seawater. At about 9:30 p.m., a muffled explosion was heard and Oceanos lost power. The ship started taking on water, rapidly flooding the engine room. By the next morning rescuers found Oceanos adrift just off Coffee Bay, listing badly to its starboard side.

As no alarm or announcement had been given that the ship was in trouble, several passengers went to the bridge to look for the crew, only to find it unmanned. Moss Hills then used the radio phone to broadcast a mayday distress call until a ship answered. Of the sixteen rescue helicopters that came out to the ship, thirteen were South African Air Force (SAAF) Pumas, nine of which hoisted 225 passengers off the deck. They were assisted by the lifeboats of the Dutch cargo ship Nedlloyd Mauritius, which had responded to the distress call.

All 571 people on board were saved. Hills organized the orderly evacuation of passenger by the helicopters and is generally acknowledged as the leading hero of the event. Hills and fellow entertainer Julian Butler directed the efforts of the entertainment staff, which included Hills' wife Tracy and Robin Boltman, to assist the passengers. According to Boltman, "later in the morning, Captain Avarnasi (sic) even contacted me from shore to ask how things were going."

After many officers and crew had abandoned ship, women and children were given priority when loading the lifeboats by cruise director Lorraine Betts. Later, after the ship's list had become so severe that the remaining lifeboats were rendered useless, the remaining passengers had to be airlifted onto SAAF helicopters by means of a safety harness. Betts again insisted that women and children be rescued first…”

— Source: MTS Oceanos Wikipedia



Georgia's Episode Sources

San Mateo Times article by Janet Parker “Slayer Profile”

San Mateo Times article by Rick Sullivan “All-Out Search for Area Slayer”

San Mateo Times article “No Definite Link In Three Murders”

San Mateo Times article “Milbrae, Coed, 17, Missing”

Pacifica Tribune Staff article “Slain Girl was Tanya Blackwell”

KTVU Staff article “Feds link Reno murder to unsolved 1976 'Gypsy Hill Killings'”

Buzzfeed News article by Stephanie K. Baer 

Buzzfeed News article by Stephanie McNeal 

Associated Press Staff article “'Gypsy Hill Killer' Convicted Of Murdering, Raping Two Teens In 1976”

CBS 13 Sacramento article “Man Accused In Gypsy Hill Killings Has Spent Nearly 50 Years Jailed”

The National Registry for Exonerations “Cathy Woods”

San Mateo Daily Journal article by Anna Schuessler