'Golden State Killer' suspect arrested in one of worst unsolved crime sprees in U.S. history
More than 40 years after the so-called "Golden State Killer" began to terrorize Californians, raping dozens of women and killing at least 12, authorities announced Wednesday that they had arrested 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in the case.
News of DeAngelo's arrest marked a sudden development in what had been one of the most notorious unsolved crime sprees in U.S. history, one that stretched over a decade and terrorized scores of people across California.
Police said DNA evidence helped lead them to DeAngelo, a former police officer who had been living in Citrus Heights, California, a city outside Sacramento. They did not elaborate on what the DNA evidence was or how it was obtained.
"The magnitude of this case demanded that it be solved," Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a news conference in the California capital. "We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento."
Sacramento County court records showed that DeAngelo was booked into jail early Wednesday morning on two counts of murder. No bail was set.
The string of attacks — attributed to someone alternately dubbed the Golden State Killer, Original Night Stalker and East Area Rapist — was horrifying for both the nature of the attacks and their grim sweep. Between 1976 and 1986, the FBI said, the attacker killed a dozen people and raped 45 people, attacking people who were as young as 13 and as old as 41.
Police say the Golden State Killer has been caught. Who is the suspect Joseph James DeAngelo? https://t.co/Cd1sDkP366— TIME (@TIME) April 25, 2018
Authorities had said they suspected the Golden State Killer may have either had a background or interest in law enforcement techniques. On Wednesday, police said DeAngelo fit that bill. He had served as a police officer in California between 1973 and 1979, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said, a period that overlapped with the beginning of the attacks.
The case, which involved one of one of the most prolific and elusive serial killers in modern American history, had remained an object of intense focus for many. In 2016, the the FBI made a renewed plea - complete with a $50,000 reward — for help in finding what they called "the violent and elusive individual."
"Everyone was afraid," Special Agent Marcus Knutson, who was born and raised in Sacramento and was heading up the FBI's portion of the investigation, said in a 2016 statement. "We had people sleeping with shotguns, we had people purchasing dogs. People were concerned, and they had a right to be. This guy was terrorizing the community. He did horrible things."
The Sacramento District Attorney had said a "major announcement" was coming in the case at noon Pacific time Wednesday, following reports from several local news organizations reported that a man had finally been arrested in connection with the case.
Beginning in 1976, the Golden State Killer is believed to have raped dozens of women in their homes — meticulously planning his intrusions, sometimes ambushing entire families, and killing several of his victims toward the end of his spree, before vanishing in 1986. The attacker was also behind numerous residential burglaries in the state, the FBI said.
Jennifer Carole was sleeping in her Santa Cruz home when the text came in at 7:11 a.m. on Wednesday. When she woke, she could hardly believe it.
"Could this really be him?" a friend had typed out and sent a link to a news article.
It was. Almost four decades after her father, Lyman Smith, and stepmother, Charlene Smith, were found murdered in the their Ventura, Calif., home, it appeared the culprit had been caught. Carole was torn by conflicting emotions.
"This is a hard one," Carole said. "There aren't really words for this. I have feelings all over the place. There's tremendous relief because I'm a single mom myself. In my mind, I had him dead as a way to cope, so his capture is stirring up all kinds of emotions."
"This really is the most prolific unsolved serial murder case in modern history." Trace Gallagher reports on the arrest of a suspect in the decades-old 'Golden State Killer' case. https://t.co/6fz8xXBQWB pic.twitter.com/uhozOXyg43— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 25, 2018
Carole said it was a chilling feeling to know the killer had been in the Sacramento area the whole time. Her mother and father had lived in the area for some time.
In March 1980, Carole's brother had gone to their father's home to mow the lawn. He grew suspicious when the home's alarm didn't go off when he entered and went to the bedroom to check on his father and stepmother, Carole said.
The sheets were pulled up over their bodies, covering them, Carole said. Her brother pulled back a corner, just enough to see a distinctive tattoo his father had and realize something was very wrong. He called 911.
Jennifer Carole, now 56, was in high school at the time and just turned 18.
"I hope to god he confesses," Carole said.
Since his disappearance, investigators and amateur detectives have searched for the man across the United States and inquired as far away as Australia.
"He was young — anywhere from 18 to 30 — Caucasian, and athletic, capable of eluding capture by jumping roofs and vaulting tall fences," the crime writer Michelle McNamara wrote in a Los Angeles Magazine profile of the old cases.
"To zero in on a victim he often entered the home beforehand when no one was there, learning the layout, studying family pictures, and memorizing names," she wrote. "He disabled porch lights and unlocked windows. He emptied bullets from guns. He hid shoelaces or rope under cushions to use as ligatures.
"These maneuvers gave him a crucial advantage because when you woke from a deep sleep to the blinding flashlight and ski-masked presence, he was always a stranger to you, but you were not to him."
Police first dubbed the man the East Area Rapist, as he would not begin killing until later in his spree.
The first known attack, Katie Mettler wrote in The Post, took place in the middle of the night in the summer of 1976, when the man snuck into a home in east Sacramento County, raped a young woman and left.
He raped again a few weeks later, then again and again. After a year, two dozen women had been attacked in the Sacramento area — shattering. A sheriff's department spokesman told the Associated Press that some residents had started "sleeping in shifts," because the man would strike even if others were home.
His 44th suspected victim was a 13-year-old girl in the Walnut Creek area in 1979, the Mercury News reported. He allegedly raped her at knifepoint while her father and sister slept down the hall. He told her he'd kill her family if she told them, and departed through the backyard, past her playhouse.
"He liked to 'bomb' a neighborhood, as one investigator put it," McNamara wrote in her profile, "sometimes targeting houses just yards from one another. He was nervous and fidgety yet brazen. Once, he walked away from a crime scene without his pants on, and when a dog chased him into a backyard, he waited patiently until he was sure the dog wouldn't bite and then reentered the house."
The rapist likely began to kill in 1978, Mettler wrote in The Post, with an atypical attack in which he began chasing Brian and Katie Maggiore while they were waking their dog down a street in Rancho Cordova, and shot them to death. Detectives speculated that this first killing may have been unplanned — a desperate attempt to conceal his identity.
So perhaps Brian Maggiore, who was base police at Mather Air Force Base, recognized DeAngelo (a police officer in a neighboring town) as he was prowling, which is why Brian and Kate were executed? #goldenstatekiller https://t.co/WXqijoAI3O— Georgia Hardstark (@GHardstark) April 25, 2018
The next 10 homicides, which all took place near Los Angeles, more resembled his traditional style.
In December of 1979, Santa Barbara sheriff's deputies found Robert Offerman, a 44-year-old osteopath, dead in his condo, along with his girlfriend, Debra Alexandria Manning. Both had been bound and shot, and she was lying nude on the waterbed.
"As detectives processed the crime scene, they stepped around a turkey carcass wrapped in cellophane that had been discarded on the patio," McNamara wrote. "The killer had opened the refrigerator and helped himself to Offerman's leftover Christmas dinner."
Charlene and Lyman Smith in Ventura were the next victims, three months later — both tied up and been beaten to death with a fireplace log.
Another couple was bludgeoned to death in the fall of 1980. A fifth woman was killed in February of 1981, and then Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez that July, while they were house-sitting in Goleta.
It would be decades before DNA tests linked all of these crimes, and investigators realized that the East Area Rapist of Sacramento was the same man called "Original Night Stalker" near L.A. — all the work of the Golden State Killer.
By the time the DNA was processed, his spree was long over and the killer's trailer had gone cold. His last known victim was 18-year-old Janelle Cruz, raped and bludgeoned to death in Irvine in 1986.
The killer was "the worst unidentified violent serial offender in modern American history," McNamara wrote in her profile, and the case was all but abandoned until the 21st century, when public interest in the Golden State Killer was rekindled by a collection of retired detectives and amateur sleuths — including the author herself.
If they've really caught the #GoldenStateKiller I hope I get to visit him. Not to gloat or gawk — to ask him the questions that @TrueCrimeDiary wanted answered in her "Letter To An Old Man" at the end of #IllBeGoneInTheDark . pic.twitter.com/32EHSzBct5— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) April 25, 2018
McNamara coined the term "Golden State Killer" in that 2013 profile, and in subsequent years transformed from an amateur crime blogger into a widely cited expert on the case, pursuing the investigation with the help of old police files, friendly investigators and the trust of many rape survivors.
She then watched as interest in a rediscovered serial killer exploded. "Help us catch the East Area Rapist," the FBI pleaded in 2016, as authorities announced a $50,000 reward for new leads and posted maps showing the locations of his crimes around Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco — more than 200 in all, The Post wrote.
"This serial offender was probably one of the most prolific, certainly in California and possibly within the United States," Sgt. Paul Belli, a Sacramento County Sheriff's Department detective said at the time.
The same year, McNamara was poring over old files and preparing a book about the murder. "She fell down a wormhole," a childhood friend of the writer later told Vulture.
Michelle McNamara died before she completed 'I'll Be Gone in the Dark,' her book about the Golden State Killer. Her husband, Patton Oswalt, didn't want her work to be in vain. https://t.co/D1DAie0qDy— New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks) April 25, 2018
"Ms. McNamara believed she was close to tracking him down, and was working long days and nights, her obsessive determination overwhelming her mounting anxiety," the New York Times wrote in October 2016, after the 46-year-old writer, wife and mother took a Xanax to help her sleep and never woke up.
Several months later, McNamara's husband, Patton Oswalt, told the Associated Press that the Xanax, combined with other medication in her system reacted with a previously unknown artery condition and killed her.
On Wednesday, as Oswalt and the rest of the world heard about the arrest in California, he address his late wife in an Instagram video.
"If that's true, they caught the Golden State Killer," Oswalt said. "I think you got him, Michelle."