Police have arrested a former police officer and Vietnam War veteran suspected of being the notorious California serial killer known as the Golden State Killer, authorities say. The serial killer, also known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and the Visalia Ransacker, committed 13 known murders, at least 45 rapes and numerous home burglaries between 1975 and 1986.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 72, of Citrus Heights was arrested Tuesday afternoon and booked into jail early Wednesday morning, April 25, on warrants charging him with two counts of murder, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department’s website shows. He was taken into custody about 2:30 a.m. and is currently listed as being ineligible for bail. According to jail records, DeAngelo is 5’11” tall and weighs 205 pounds. The FBI described the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer as being about 5’10” tall and between the ages of 60 and 75. . Authorities said he had not previously been a person of interest.
The Sacramento Bee reports that a relative’s DNA from a genealogy website helped catch DeAngelo. Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi told the newspaper investigators used DNA from one of the crime scenes to compare it to genetic profiles available online through various websites that accept DNA samples from people who want to know more about their family backgrounds.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said the break in the case came in the last six days and was the result of “DNA evidence that was examined at the Sacramento County crime lab. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said deputies had been conducting surveillance on DeAngelo and obtained “discarded” DNA that confirmed his identity. Jones said he was taken into custody by his deputies without incident. He said they waited for him to leave his house and then arrested him. Jones said DeAngelo seemed “very surprised” when he was arrested.
“It looked like he was searching his mind to execute a particular he might have in mind, obviously speculation on my part, but he was not given the opportunity. It happened almost instantaneously and he was taken into custody without incident at all,” Jone said.
“We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we also knew that needle was there,” Schubert said. “We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento.”
He was charged in Sacramento County with the 1978 murders of Brian Maggiore and his wife, Katie. Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten said DeAngelo was also charged with two counts of capital murder in the 1980 deaths of Charlene and Lyman Smith. He is additionally facing four counts of murder in Orange County in the deaths of Keith and Patrice Harrington, Manuela Witthuhn and Janelle Cruz. More charges are expected to be filed and prosecutors plan to work together to figure out where and when the first case will be tried.
Billy Jensen, who helped write the recently published book about the case, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” told The Daily Beast that DeAngelo is the suspect arrested in the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer case. He also posted a photo of a news article about DeAngelo on Twitter and called him the suspect. Writer Michelle McNamara worked with investigators on the case while writing her book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” which was not completed before her sudden death in April 2016. Jensen, researcher Paul Haynes and McNamara’s husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, teamed up to complete the book, which was released in February of this year.
Along with the dozens of rapes and hundreds of burglaries he is believed to be responsible for, the Golden State Killer has 12 known murder victims: Brian Maggiore, Katie Maggiore, Alexandria Manning, Dr. Robert Offerman, Charlene Smith, Lyman Smith, Patrice Harrington, Keith Harrington, Manuela Witthuhn, Cheri Domingo, Gregory Sanchez and Janelle Cruz. Another victim, Claude Snelling, was killed by a suspect known as the Visalia Ransacker. Authorities now say that DeAngelo is also suspected of that murder.
Here’s what you need to know about Joseph James DeAngelo and the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer case:
1. The East Area Rapist & Golden State Killer Began His Attacks With a Series of Burglaries & Rapes & His Final Victim Is Believed to Be an 18-Year-Old Woman Killed in 1986
The East Area Rapist, also known as the Golden State Killer, committed several of his attacks in the summer of 1976, according to the FBI. “Burglaries and rapes occurred in Rancho Cordova and Carmichael, California, both suburbs of Sacramento. The EAR/GSK gained entry into the homes of his victims by prying open a window or door while they slept. He would then shine a flashlight into the face of his victims, tie up the female victim and, if a male victim was present, tied him up as well. The EAR/GSK then ransacked the residence and raped the female victim. He often took small items from the residences including coins, cash, identification, and jewelry. Some victims reported receiving telephone calls from the suspect after the crimes,” the FBI said.
Authorities have also confirmed the Golden State Killer is also the Visalia Ransacker, who committed several crimes in 1975, according to the Visalia Times. The Visalia Ransacker is believed to have committed 85 burglaries and the September 11, 1975, murder of Claude Snelling.
His next killing occurred in 1978, according to authorities. “A couple was shot and killed while walking their dog in Rancho Cordova. Evidence left at the scene was indicative of the EAR/GSK. After this crime, the EAR/GSK committed rapes in Stockton, Modesto, Davis, and the East Bay Area of California. Between 1979 and 1981, he was involved in the rape and murder of several individuals, including couples, in Southern California. These victims were tied up in the same manner as the Sacramento area rapes and their homes were also ransacked. After July of 1981, no additional incidents related to the EAR/GSK were reported until the rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl occurred in Irvine, California, in May of 1986. This was the last known incident related to the EAR/GSK in California.”
The East Area Rapist is believed to be responsible for more than 150 residential break-ins across California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
His victims ranged in age from 12 to 41. The rapes, burglaries and murders terrorized several neighborhoods in California for years.
Brian and Katie Maggiore, were the first victims killed by the Golden State Killer, on February 2, 1978 in Rancho Cordova. The next killings, of Alexandria Manning and Dr. Robert Offerman, came on December 30, 1979, in Goleta. Charlene and Lyman Smith were then killed in Ventura County on March 13, 1980. Patrice and Keith Harrington were killed on August 19, 1980, in Dana Point; Manuela Witthuhn was killed in Irvine on February 5, 1981; and Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez were killed July 27, 1981, in Goleta. The Golden State Killer’s final known victim, Janelle Liza Cruz, was murdered on May 4, 1986.
“Everyone was afraid,” FBI Special Agent Marcus Knutson said in 2016 at a press conference. “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.”
Another investigator, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Paul Belli, said in 2016, “It was so impactful on so many people. Even now, all this time later, as we talk to other people, we always get the stories about what was going on in peoples lives. I’ve heard stories of fathers sleeping with guns by their bedsides, shotguns very close, things of that nature.”
He added that the killer was “an extremely prolific offender,” saying, “When you look at a number of the sexual assaults that occurred in Sacramento County, that takes a great toll on the families. A number of them were couples. Here you have somebody’s wife being rape in their home while the husband is home and unable to do anything about it. That’s very terrorizing. That can only be described to me as somebody who’s wanting to develop that terror and create that type of fear.”
The suspect’s first rape victim, Jane, told CNN that she was in bed with her 3-year-old son on June 18, 1976, after her husband left for work. She was abruptly awoken and saw a masked man in her bedroom doorway. He was holding a large butcher knife and shining a flashlight in her face. The man bound Jane with shoelaces and blindfolded and gagged her with torn sheets. He then moved her son off the bed and bound her ankles. “And then I knew what he was there for,” she told CNN.
During the initial Sacramento-area rapes and burglaries, the victims were exclusively women who were home alone or with their children. But in 1977, he began targeting homes where couples were home. He would tie up the male half of the couple and tell him that if he tried to help his wife or girlfriend, she would be killed, according to police.
He had several names over the years, along with the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer, his most recent name. He was also known as the Original Night Stalker and the Diamond Knot Killer. Police linked the various killings and rapes together through DNA and other evidence.
“We have his DNA,” Sergeant Paul Holes, of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, said last year. “If we find the right guy, we will know we got the Golden State Killer. This is a solvable case.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, authorities in Sacramento County had been hoping to find the killer using genealogy websites for a long period of time. Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi told the newspaper investigators from the prosecutor’s office and the county crime lab looked through “online family trees that appeared to have matches to DNA samples from the East Area Rapist’s crimes … They then followed clues to individuals in the family trees to determine whether they were potential suspects,” according to the newspaper.
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office began surveillance on DeAngelo last week and obtained DNA from something he discarded. They then compared that DNA sample to the original crime scene sample and obtained a match, Grippi told the newspaper. To verify it was DeAngelo who matched the suspect’s DNA, investigators got a second “more robust sample,” Grippi said. Those test results came back Monday night and warrants were then obtained to arrest DeAngelo.
2. DeAngelo Was a Police Officer, Who at One Point Was in Charge of Investigating Burglaries, Until He Was Accused of Shoplifting Dog Repellent & a Hammer at a Drug Store in 1979
Joseph DeAngelo was a police officer in California, from 1973 until 1979, when he was fired after being accused of shoplifting a can of dog repellent and a hammer at a Sacramento drug store, according to an article from a newspaper archive posted by Billy Jensen. He was a police officer in Auburn at the time.
A 1973 newspaper article from The Exeter Sun reveals that DeAngelo, then 27, was hired as a police officer in Exeter in August of that year. The newspaper article says he is a Bath, New York, native and is the son is the son of Joseph James DeAngelo Sr. and Kathleen Bosanko, who died in 2010. It is not clear if his father is still alive. DeAngelo served in the Vietnam War after graduating from Folsom Senior High School in June 1964.
In his late teens, DeAngelo moved to rural Auburn with his mother and stepfather, according to Doug Burgarel, a neighbor at that time. DeAngelo’s stepfather worked for Burgarel’s father at Sierra Crane and Hoist as a welder making indoor overhead cranes. The stepfather bought a piece of land from the Burgarals and built a home.
He lived with his mother and stepfather in Auburn, according to the Sacramento Bee. In 1970, he worked for Sierra Crane and Hoist with his stepfather. He went on to study at Sierra College, completing an associate’s degree with honors in police science. He then attended California State University at Sacramento and graduated with a degree in criminal justice, specializing in criminal law. Before being hired in Exeter, he interned with the Roseville Police Department, working in the patrol, identification and investigation divisions.
In 1976, while working in Exeter, DeAngelo was promoted to sergeant and put in charge of an anti-burglary team with another sergeant from a nearby department, according to a newspaper article from the time. DeAngelo “will investigate burglaries and attempt to prevent them by informing the public about burglary prevention methods,” according to the article. The team was called “Joint Attack on Burglary.”
After three years in Exeter, DeAngelo then started working for the Auburn Police Department in late 1976. The 1979 newspaper report by the Auburn Journal shows that DeAngelo was fired a month after his arrest.
“Auburn City Manager Jack Sausser said DeAngelo failed to answer any of the city’s investigations and did not request an administrative hearing so was dismissed Monday,” the newspaper wrote. Sausser told the newspaper, “There was justifiable grounds to remove him from the public sector.” DeAngelo did not comment about his arrest and firing at the time. Auburn Police Chief Nick Willick told the newspaper, “It is very important that the community have the utmost trust and faith in its officers’ integrity; when this trust and faith has been compromised, officers can no longer effectively function in the community.”
DeAngelo was arrested July 21, 1979, at the Pay N’Save Store off Greenback Lane in Citrus Heights, according to the newspaper. He was caught trying to steal the items by store employees and was then cited by Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputies. Two months later, in September 1979, the East Area Rapist stabbed a dog while prowling in a neighborhood, according to The Daily Beast.
“Dog repellant. Hammer. And refuses a hearing after shoplifting charge. Just took his punishment and left the force so no one would look deeper,” Jensen wrote on Twitter.
But the resignation did not end the case against DeAngelo, Auburn Journal archives show. The newspaper wrote several articles chronicling the shoplifting saga between August and October 1979. DeAngelo took the case to trial in October 1979. A clerk at the store testified that he found a hammer in DeAngelo’s pants while they struggled in a back room of the store. He then tried to escape. Another clerk testified that he saw DeAngelo take a can of dog repellant out of the waistband of his trousers. According to the news report, deputies arrived to find that the clerks had tied DeAngelo to a chair and said he was “in an emotional state.” The jury found DeAngelo guilty on October 31, 1979, and a judge sentenced him to six months of probation and a $100 fine.
DeAngelo, who testified during his trial and denied trying to steal the items, appealed his firing, but later dropped his appeal after being found guilty in criminal court.
“It is very possible that he was committing the crimes while he was a police officer, but we’re unsure if he did those while on the job,” Sheriff Scott Jones said at a press conference.
Exeter Police Chief John Hall told CNN, “It is absolutely shocking that someone can commit such heinous crimes, and finding out someone in a position of trust could betray that is absolutely unbelievable.”
In a statement, the Auburn Police Department said it will “do everything within its power to support this investigation and any prosecution that follows. We will pull out all the stops for our Sacramento-area law enforcement partners in this horrific and historic case.”
3. He Served in the U.S. Navy, Is Estranged From His Wife, Has 3 Children & Worked for More Nearly 3 Decades at a Grocery Store Distribution Center Before Retiring Recently
An archived article from a California newspaper shows that Joseph J. DeAngelo served in the U.S. Navy. DeAngelo was a damage controlman 2nd class on the USS Canberra, which was “expected to dock at San Diego … following service on the gun line off North Vietnam,” according to the 1967 newspaper article. Another article shows that he completed basic training in December 1964. The Navy has not confirmed any information about DeAngelo’s service.
According to the FBI “Most Wanted” page about the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer, profilers believed the suspect in that case had military experience. “He may have had an interest in the military, or had some military training, leaving him familiar and proficient with firearms,” the FBI wrote.
At least two of the victims of the East Area Rapist were bound with an elaborate “diamond knot,” also known as a knife lanyard knot, according to CBS News. Investigators have also believed that the suspect had experience as a diver, and another archived newspaper article listed DeAngelo as being affiliated with the International Diving Association, N.A.U.I., according to Billy Jensen.
According to archived newspaper articles and public records, DeAngelo appears to have been engaged to be married in 1970, but he did not marry that woman. He then married a different woman, Sharon Marie Huddle, in 1973. They have three children, all daughters, together, according to a family member’s obituary. Huddle, an attorney, and DeAngelo have been estranged for several years, but are still technically married, KCRA-TV reports. Neighbors said the DeAngelo was divorced and Fox 40 reported that they divorced in 1991, but they do not appear to have filed for a legal divorce.
According to public records, His first daughter was born in September 1981, his second daughter was born in November 1986 and his third daughter was born in May 1989.
The East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer was known to call and taunt his surviving victims after the attacks, according to police. In one call, the victim said a woman and children could be heard in the background, leading to speculation that the suspect was married with kids.
A neighbor told the Sacramento Bee that DeAngelo, who she knew as Joe, lived with his daughter and granddaughter. Cory Harvey told the newspaper she spoke to DeAngelo recently and he said he retired recently something he said he had been looking forward to for a long time. He told Harvey that he planned to do a lot of fishing in his retirement.
The Sacramento Bee reports that DeAngelo worked at a grocery store distribution center in Roseville for nearly three decades until his recent retirement. He was a mechanic, the company said.
“None of his actions in the workplace would have led us to suspect any connection to crimes being attributed to him,” Victoria Castro, a spokesman for SaveMart, the company that runs the distribution center where DeAngelo worked for 27 years. “We are working with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office on their investigation.”
DeAngelo’s brother-in-law, James Huddle, told Oxygen.com, “Oh my goodness. Wow. I’ll have to process this,” when learning about DeAngelo’s arrest. He said DeAngelo was a “good father” to his three daughters who was into guns and ammunition.
“He actually asked me about it once. He said, ‘What do you think of that East Area Rapist? What would you do, Jim?'” Huddle told Oyxgen. “(The case) was a big deal at the time. We were all concerned about our families.”
Huddle said DeAngelo never brought it up again. He said DeAngelo was into “normal” hobbies, like fishing and model airplanes, along with “guns and reloading ammunition,” and he never noticed anything sinister about his behavior.
Authorities confirmed at a press conference that DeAngelo has adult children and was married, and said some of his family members have been interviewed. Authorities have said rumors that DeAngelo was turned in by his family and that they provided a DNA sample are not true. But they did not provide any other details.
4. The FBI & Local Police Are Searching a Home in Citrus Heights Where DeAngelo Has Lived for More Than 2 Decades
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert called the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer investigation the “most prolific unsolved serial killing case probably in modern history,” according to Fox 40 News.
According to the Sacramento Bee, DeAngelo was arrested on warrants filed by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. Details of those warrants have not been released. The newspaper reports that the FBI and investigators from Sacramento County and Southern California were at a home in Citrus Heights, near the border with Roseville, where Joseph James DeAngelo, known as Joe DeAngelo to neighbors, has lived for at least two decades.
He lived in a quiet residential, middle-class neighborhood on Canyon Oak Drive, the Sacramento Bee reports.
“It’s terrifying to think this man could have hopped the fence, and come into my backyard. I have children,” Beth Walsh, who lives behind DeAngelo on an adjacent street, told the newspaper. “I’m glad to know they caught this guy.”
Another neighbor, Paul Sanchietti, called DeAngelo the “odd neighbor,” telling the newspaper, “He was aggravated or upset, his voice would carry, his swearing was alarming. But he seemed to calm down in the last few years.”
The neighbors said they believed they saw another person living at the house and said DeAngelo was working in his front yard as recently as Tuesday. A Toyota and a Volvo were sitting in his garage Wednesday morning, the newspaper said. Kevin Tapia, who grew up in a home behind DeAngelo’s, told the newspaper that DeAngelo had angry run-ins with his family.
“He had a lot of verbal altercations with my parents,” Tapia told the newspaper. He added that DeAngelo was extremely meticulous and had permanent markings on his driveway so he could be exact in parking his boat. Photos from the scene show the boat in his yard, with the name, “Scary,” on it.
Tapia said he talked to DeAngelo a week ago about a motorcycle mechanic.
There has been an increase in interest in the case with McNamara’s book being published and as the 40th anniversary of the first attack passed.
“Obviously, with the 40th anniversary, this is a time we want to take to acknowledge this serial offender who was probably one of the most prolific, certainly in California, possibly in the United States, but also to let the victims know that we’ll never give up,” Sergeant Paul Belli, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department detective assigned to the case, said at a press conference last year.
It is not clear why the killer stopped.
“We thought he would never stop, but then two months after the Maggiore homicides, the East Area Rapist left our jurisdiction. It was like he disappeared in thin air,” Carol Daly, a retired detective from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, told CNN.
Erika Hutchcraft, an investigator for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, told CNN, “These cases are some of the most horrific I’ve had to investigate. They’re not a one-time, you know, crime of passion, but these are almost passionless crimes. Very cold, very violent.”
5. Patton Oswalt Posted on Instagram ‘Think You Got Him, Michelle,’ While One of the East Area Rapist’s Survivors Told a Local Newspaper She Has Been ‘Crying, Sobbing’ Since Hearing the News & Is ‘Overwhelmed With Joy’
Patton Oswalt, who helped finish his wife’s book about the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer posted on Instagram Tuesday night, saying, “This is insane. It looks like they’ve caught the East Area Rapist, if that’s true they’ve caught the Golden State Killer. I think you got him, Michelle.” He called it, “One of the more surreal days of my life.”
According to the Amazon description of McNamara’s book:
‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,’ Michelle McNamara’s compelling investigation of the ‘Golden State Killer,’ who terrorized northern California from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, is one of the best true crime books to come along in a decade. It’s the story of two obsessions: McNamara’s obsession with the criminal, and whatever abhorrent obsession drove him to commit a series of horrific rapes and murders over ten years. The author, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, describes the crimes and examines clues in an effort to uncover his identity. Occasionally, she challenges convention by inserting herself into the narrative (at one point, she even writes directly to the Golden State Killer), and the book acquires even more personal weight when one takes into account the fact that McNamara, at the age of 46, died while writing it. Knowing all of this, and with each chilling description, McNamara’s obsession begins to become our own. She believed that the Golden State Killer would still be alive today. You will discover yourself hoping she’s right, so that you can see him captured and brought to justice.”
McNamara dubbed the killer and rapist as the Golden State Killer after years of research in a 2013 Los Angeles Magazine article. She wrote on her True Crime Diary blog that the new name was not well received by all, saying, “The displeased felt that sounded too glamorous, like he was a Hollywood star. But as my research takes me across California the more I feel the moniker, with its jarring juxtaposition, is apt.”
Billy Jensen tweeted, “There are still more than 200,000 unsolved murders in America since 1980. We have a long way to go. But we can help solve them together.”
Jane Carson-Sandler, who was the East Area Rapist’s fifth victim on October 5, 1976, told The Island Packet newspaper, two detectives she has kept in touch with over the years told her an arrest was made. “I just found out this morning,” she told the newspaper. “I’m overwhelmed with joy. I’ve been crying, sobbing. I just can’t tell you how I feel. After 42 years — wow!”
Carson-Sandler wrote a book about the case and spoke on news shows and podcasts about it in hopes of helping to catch her attacker. She wrote in the 2014 book, “Citizens were scared, frustrated, and angry that he could not be caught.”
Michelle Cruz, whose sister, Jenelle Cruz, was 18 when she was killed in 1986 by the Golden State Killer, told NBC Los Angeles, “I’m so excited and overwhelmed. I’m feeling very blessed today and now I will be able to breathe again.”