They might have found Jaycee Dugard and her two girls back behind that fence, perhaps in the soundproofed shed that federal agents knew about, the one Garrido called his recording studio.
But state agents never saw the file. They never even asked for it.
Had Garrido's most recent parole agent asked questions about a 12-year-old girl he came across last year during a visit to Garrido's Walnut Avenue house, he too might have unlocked a sordid, nearly two-decade-long mystery.
Instead, state agents classified Garrido at the lowest risk level for a sex offender. Later, parole agents ignored hundreds of alerts that the GPS device strapped to Garrido's ankle in 2008 failed to transmit a signal, along with GPS data showing he'd veered far from the 25-mile radius under his parole terms and often stayed out past his midnight curfew.
Four times -- in 1999, 2004, 2005 and last year -- California parole officials wrote to Nevada authorities, recommending they release Garrido from a lifetime parole term for the rape of a South Lake Tahoe woman he kidnapped in 1976.
Those were among myriad missteps and missed chances in a scathing report released Wednesday by the state watchdog agency that oversees the California prison and correctional system.
The 38-page report by the state Inspector General's Office chided parole officials who have repeatedly claimed Garrido complied fully with his parole conditions. The only reason Garrido had no violations: Parole agents didn't look hard enough, the report found.
Matthew Cate, secretary of corrections and rehabilitation, apologized at a news conference and pledged several changes in parole oversight of sex convicts. Cate, who did not dispute any of the report's findings, cited poor training for lapses in the case.
"We agree that serious errors were made over the last 10 years," he said. "The department needed to do a better job training their agents. There's no question about that. We absolutely regret the fact any mistakes were made." He would not explain how state parole agents could have missed Dugard during at least 60 home visits that agents made to the house since 1999, some of them unannounced.
Garrido spent more than a decade in federal prison on the kidnapping charge. He served 11 years of a 50-year federal sentence and was released on federal parole in 1988. After his federal parole term ended in 1998 -- seven years after Jaycee's abduction -- California parole agents took over under an agreement with Nevada, which had placed Garrido on lifetime parole for the rape.
David Shaw, the inspector general, called the federal parole file key. Along with information on the property, it may have influenced the state's assessment of Garrido and his level of supervision, the report found.
"We believe the state never requested the file," he said. "It's possible California agents went, 'Oh, kidnapping,' and never looked on." According to the review, the state parole agents met "parole supervision specifications" in just four three-month periods over the 11 years they supervised Garrido -- a 90 percent failure rate, Shaw noted.
Among those specifications are home visits, interviews with neighbors and drug testing. While under federal parole supervision earlier, Garrido failed drug and alcohol tests and violated his parole, returning briefly to prison in 1993. That information was in the federal parole file that state agents never sought.
State agents also failed to refer Garrido for mental health assessment, the report found.
The identity of the 12-year-old girl whom an agent met at the house last year is unknown, Shaw said. Neither of the two girls that Garrido fathered was 12 at the time.
Authorities say Garrido and his wife, Nancy, snatched Jaycee from the street outside her South Lake Tahoe home on June 10, 1991, and spirited her directly to the house to live in a carefully hidden backyard warren of tents, sheds and outbuildings.
The couple remain held without bail in Placerville, charged with 29 felony counts in Jaycee's abduction and a series of rape allegations.
The report also documented at least 30 times in which the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office or other local agencies were called to the home. Among them was a Fire Department call in 2002 for a report of a juvenile with a shoulder injury from a swimming pool accident.
"Had the parole agent obtained this information, he would have observed that the report included a juvenile and a swimming pool, neither of which were observed at the Garrido residence during the parole agent's home visits," the report said. "The pool and the juvenile were located in the concealed compound."
Only one of those calls came from a suspicious report of children living in the backyard -- the 2006 call from a neighbor that drew an apology from county Sheriff Warren Rupf for the deputy's failure to investigate in the backyard.
There is no indication that Jaycee ever attempted an escape, authorities say. She was reunited with her family shortly after the couple's Aug. 26 arrest and is cooperating with investigators, officials say.
Alert UC Berkeley police officers notified Garrido's parole agent of his presence on campus with two shy girls the agent apparently never knew about. The following day, Garrido brought his wife, Dugard and the girls into a Concord parole office, and questioning by Concord police unearthed Dugard's identity.
Just a few months earlier, a parole supervisor reviewed Garrido's file and recommended a classification assessment under a newer system for gauging sex offender risk.
The results, which came back after his arrest, declared him a "high-risk" offender.
Reach John Simerman at 925-943-8072.