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Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Saturday, 29 August 2009 00:02 UK

Shock and disbelief in Antioch

The home of alleged kidnapper Phillip Garrido
Neighbours say they had no idea what was happening in the house in Antioch

By Rajesh Mirchandani
BBC News, Antioch

The house at 1554 Walnut Avenue gives little away from the street.

It looks to be a tired bungalow in a quiet residential area of a dusty, down-at-heel town. It seems innocuous, forgettable. Until now.

Chain-link fences mark out the property, there are bars on the windows and a high fence guarding the backyard.

Over the fence you can see a large open-fronted shed. Behind it tall trees are visible, hiding whatever lies beyond. Now we know what that was.

There are no street lights. At night the darkness and silence feel eerie.

'Haunted'

When I arrived late on Thursday, several local residents were lingering outside. Some sat on the tailgate of a truck, in the sweaty heat of a summer night.

"Everyone called him creepy Phil," Nikko Deluna, a teenage neighbour told me.

He said all his friends knew Phillip Garrido was a convicted sex offender thanks to Megan's Law, which makes it possible for people to find out if sex offenders are living in their area.

Phillip Garrido appeared in court on 29 charges

Nikko said they used to joke about Mr Garrido's house being haunted and tell tall tales about hearing girls' voices there. "Maybe it really was those girls," he says now.

Most acknowledged that they rarely saw him and did not know any women lived with him.

Jesse Unpingco, a neighbour for 14 years, said: "Only once I saw two small girls in the back of his car. They looked really pale. I thought they were relatives or something, come to visit."

'Good neighbour'

Others in this area say that, on the few occasions they did see Phillip Garrido, he talked down to them and "it was like he was trying to get into your head", or that he preached religion.

But Helen Boyer, an elderly lady who lives next door, remembered him differently.

"He was a good neighbour," she told me. "He was always the first to come if I needed help."

She, like many, expressed disbelief about the shocking crimes police say Mr Garrido and his wife Nancy committed just yards from her home.

Disbelief, too, that no-one noticed and few acted on their suspicions. We now know one neighbour did raise the alarm, in 2006, but police failed to act.

People in Antioch - and around the world - are trying to make sense of this extraordinary story.

One neighbour summed it up, tears welling in her eyes. "I feel for him because he was a nice man," she told me, "but what he did was evil."



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