After reading yesterday’s news coverage of the shocking case of Jaycee Dugard, the 29-year-old California woman who has spent the last 19 years as the captive of a sexual predator who stole her when she was 11, I used Google Earth to take a look at suspect Phillip Garrido’s property in Antioch, California.
Jaycee joins a sad list of damaged women, victims of sexual slavers whose lives were destroyed by someone else’s evil needs. Colleen Stan, Natasha Kampusch, Elisabeth Fritzl … These cases shock and frighten me. Is it because I have a daughter? Perhaps. But I think there’s more to it than that. As someone who spends much of his time creating and absorbing “out there” fiction (sci-fi, horror, mystery, fantasy), I worry that I may become desensitized to real-life horror. But cases like this one, incidents of this horrendous level of child abuse, cause a gut reaction in me that proves that idea wrong.
That’s why I Google Earthed Garrido’s house. After reading that Jaycee and the two daughters she had by Garrido spent the last two decades living in a hidden area of his back yard, I wanted to see how this monster pulled that off. What I saw was a ramshackle property littered with tents and tarps and shacks and crap, a campsite hidden behind fences and shrubs. It’s an awful place. But what I also saw were other houses and businesses surrounding it on all sides, other families living just feet away from the place where a little girl grew up as a slave.
Some neighbours have been interviewed, saying they knew Garrido had issues, and they knew there was something strange about his property. One woman complained to police, saying she thought Garrido was allowing people to rent tent space in his yard. But officials didn’t know about the compound. Garrido, a registered sex offender on parole, was subject to home inspections and visits from the authorities. None ever noticed that his small back yard was only a fraction of his property, and that just over that six-foot fence was a rough prison, a lost girl and her two lost daughters.
How much do you know about your neighbours? I barely know mine. I wouldn’t recognize them at the mall. And I sure don’t know what’s going on in their back yards, or in their basements. We rarely do, do we? And when we do, we mind our own business, because we all have that fear that if we raise too much of a stink, we have to live with the fallout. Would you call police because you thought your neighbour might be up to something? What if you’re wrong? It’s a hard decision to make.
Police say Jaycee may not have left the property in 19 years, that the yard is the only thing she knows. I hope that isn’t true. But I suspect it is. And I hope the neighbours think about what was happening under their noses, and wonder what might have been. Because as hard as that decision is to make, a phone call from a concerned neighbour 19 years ago might have changed a little girl’s life.
That’s worth risking your neighbour’s anger, I’d say.
- UPDATE: The day after I wrote this, it emerged that police were, in fact, alerted by a neighbour to the strange happenings in Garrido’s back yard — but didn’t do anything about it. And a lot of other neighbours are coming forward now to say yeah, they thought something was up. To little, too late.