The abduction of Jaycee Dugard in 1991 horrified, baffled and outraged America as few kidnappings in the country's history. Now, its remaining mysteries may at last have been resolved, with the full confession by the couple who snatched her off the street near her home in northern California and held her captive for 18 years.
The decision by Phillip and Nancy Garrido to tell all – disclosed this week by one of their defence lawyers – clears the way for a plea bargain that will almost certainly send both to jail for life, and avert the necessity of their victim testifying about her ordeal in a public courtroom.
Since Ms Dugard was finally freed in 2009, the outlines of the astounding story have gradually emerged: how the then 11-year-old fifth-grader was kidnapped while waiting for her school bus in South Lake Tahoe, and then driven more than 200 miles to the Garridos' home in the San Francisco suburb of Antioch.
There she was made to live in tents and makeshift sheds in the squalid backyard of the house, and there she was sexually abused and forced to father two daughters by Garrido – a convicted sex offender who, it transpired, was being regularly visited by unsuspecting parole officers.
"Essentially, they [the Garridos] confessed to the kidnapping," said Stephen Tapson, the lawyer who is representing Nancy Garrido, and who described the couple's statements as "full confessions". Details of the plea bargain are yet to be agreed, but prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 440 years, for Garrido, 59, and 241 years for his wife.
Almost as shocking as the events themselves was the failure of the system that allowed them to happen. Garrido had been convicted in 1977 of kidnapping and sexual assault, and had a record of violence and drug abuse. He was originally jailed for 50 years, but was released on parole in 1988, having served less than a quarter of his term.
In the early years of Jaycee Dugard's imprisonment, parole officers regularly came to the house but noticed nothing amiss. Later, neighbours reported other people seemed to be living at the Garrido house, but nothing was done. In 1994 and 1997, Jaycee gave birth to two girls. When they went out together, the Garridos presented them as part of the family, with Jaycee as their daughter, and the latter's two daughters as her younger sisters.
The truth only emerged in August 2009 when Garrido went to the authorities, accompanied by the two young girls, seeking permission to hold a Christian-themed event celebrating how he had conquered his old demons.
Police however were suspicious of his bizarre behaviour, and after several days of questioning, the true identity of the two young girls and Ms Dugard, who had now been missing for the best part of two decades and given up for dead, at last emerged.
The Garridos were arrested, but Ms Dugard was reunited with her real family, and allowed to keep custody of her daughters. In 2010 she received a settlement of $20m from the state of California.
Initially, both Garridos pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, rape and illegal imprisonment, and proceedings were subsequently held up by doubts over Phillip Garrido's mental condition. In the end though, he was deemed competent to face trial.
According to Mr Tapson, the 55-year old Nancy Garrido considers herself a mother to both Ms Dugard and the latter's daughters, now aged 16 and 13.
Ms Dugard had even been present at one interrogation session of Ms Garrido, apparently the first time the two women had met since 2009.
The victim has not spoken publicly about her ordeal and almost certainly will not have to do so in court. But Ms Dugard is writing a book, due to be published this year, in which the secrets of the missing 18 years of her life may finally be revealed.Reuse content