In 2001, DNA testing advances revealed what some had already suspected: the East Area Rapist (EAR) and the Original Night Stalker (ONS) were one and the same. Despite these advances, law enforcement still didn’t have any leads as to the identity of the person responsible. Often referred to as EAR/ONS, the killer avoided the level of notoriety that other serial murderers received.
Michelle McNamara released her powerful article “In the Footsteps of a Killer” on February 27, 2013, in which she referred to the EAR/ONS serial killer and rapist as the Golden State Killer. The name stuck, and it helped bring more attention to the crimes committed and the vast area of California where he operated. In 2018, a suspect was identified and arrested after investigators uploaded his DNA profile to a genealogy website (more on that here).
However, long before McNamara coined the name Golden State Killer and before DNA confirmed the link between EAR and ONS, the Sacramento area of California knew the individual responsible for 50 terrible sexual assaults as the East Area Rapist. These attacks are explored in the HBO docu-series “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” based on McNamara’s book of the same name.
Here’s what you need to know about the East Area Rapist:
He Is Responsible for 50 Rapes in Sacramento & Nearby Counties Between 1976 & 1979
The Golden State Killer, when he was known as the East Area Rapist, began attacking mostly lone women in their homes in a small area of Sacramento. Between June 18, 1976, and March 18, 1977, the EAR attacked and raped 15 women and girls in their homes. These attacks were concentrated mostly in the Rancho Cordova and Citrus Heights areas of Sacramento.
The following attacks, up to the 32nd attack on April 14, 1978, also took place mostly in the same parts of Sacramento. However, what changed with these attacks was that the EAR began to target couples in their homes. In the months that followed, the EAR continued to primarily attack couples in their homes but his geographic area changed and he focused mostly on Contra Costa County. The final rape attributed to the EAR occurred on July 5, 1979.
No one knew what had happened to the serial rapist until decades later when DNA confirmed he’d moved to southern California, where he became known as the Original Night Stalker.
Many Survivors Spoke About Their Experiences With the East Area Rapist & the Terror That Accompanied His Nighttime Attacks
Here is an interview with an unnamed survivor from Sacramento, released by the FBI in 2016:
Investigators looking into the EAR attacks quickly found a modus operandi that was as chilling as it was consistent. Many victims spoke of the days, sometimes weeks before the attacks: prowlers in the area, phone calls with only silence on the other end and break-ins. The investigators discovered that the EAR would conduct intensive surveillance of possible victims, learning their neighborhoods and day-to-day routines. Prior to an attack, the EAR would often break into the house to empty the homeowners’ guns, unlock doors and windows and plant ligatures.
His attack pattern was the same. He would come in through a window or sliding glass door and wake up his victims with a flashlight to their eyes, threatening them with a knife or handgun. Couples would be bound separately and taken to different rooms; the EAR would stack dishes on the man’s back and threaten him if he heard them rattling. He would then alternatively attack the woman and ransack the home, eating their food and taking small items with him when he left. After raping his victims, many reported that he would cry or sob.
When he disappeared in the night, the victims would be left to pick up the pieces, and every investigation came up short. It wasn’t until DNA testing in 2001 linked the EAR to the Original Night Stalker that at least some questions were answered.