El Dorado jury decides on death penalty for killer of three teenage girls

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 - 10:16 pm

In 2008, convicted killer Joseph Nissensohn was on the verge of release from a Washington prison, nearing completion of his sentence for fatally stabbing a woman in Tacoma and dumping her from his van after a drug-fueled night of sexual bondage in 1989.

Now Nissensohn, 62, is headed to California’s death row after an El Dorado County jury ruled this week that he should be put to death for three other murders, of 13- and 14-year-old girls in Monterey County in 1981 and a 15-year-old girl in South Lake Tahoe.

“Our thoughts are with the many victims of this man who have waited too long for justice to be served,” declared El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, whose office had worked to bring Nissensohn to stand trial for the California killings before he could walk free from prison in Washington.

On Oct 31, a jury in South Lake Tahoe convicted Nissensohn for the 1989 slaying of 15-year-old Kathy Graves, whose body was found on a forest trailhead in South Lake Tahoe a year after she went missing. The same jury also convicted him of killing Tammy Jarschke, 13, and Tanya Jones, 14, two girls who had disappeared from a foster home in Seaside. El Dorado authorities prosecuted both cases under an agreement with Monterey County.

On Tuesday, the jury voted to impose the death penalty.

In a statement, Pierson hailed the jury’s decision for “giving some small measure of closure” to family members of the three girls.

In prosecuting the “complex” murder case, Pierson said, “thousands of hours were dedicated to making sure Mr. Nissensohn was held accountable for his actions and, without a doubt, our community is a safer place without him in it.”

Nissensohn is due to be formally sentenced before El Dorado Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury on March 28.

He was previously convicted of killing Washington woman Sally Jo Tsaggaris, 46, in his van as Nissensohn’s girlfriend, Cheryl Rose, looked on from the front seat.

Rose, who later married Nissensohn, was a key witness against him in his 2010 preliminary hearing in El Dorado County. “I’d seen him kill someone. I knew what he was capable of,” Rose testified.

Rose died before the trial and her earlier testimony was read in court. She said she and Nissensohn left Washington after Tsaggaris’ killing and traveled to South Lake Tahoe, where they met a local girl, Kathy Graves. She said Nissensohn introduced the girl to LSD and marijuana and testified that the last time she saw Graves, Nissensohn was leading her from the van and into the woods.

Nissensohn was also connected to the murders, eight years earlier, of the two young teens in Monterey County. In 1981, Tanya Jones’ decomposed body was found tied to a tree near a remote area called Chews Ridge. Investigators later found Tammy Jarschke’s remains nearby.

Nissensohn had failed to show up at a coffee shop where he worked after the girls went missing on June 25, 1981. His car was towed after getting stuck on a road close to the crime scene.


Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.

Read more articles by Peter Hecht



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