On June 29, 2020, the long hunt for the identity of the Golden State Killer finally ended when Joseph James DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 murders in the first degree and 13 counts of kidnapping. He also admitted responsibility for dozens of rapes and uncharged crimes. In a ballroom at California State University in Sacramento, DeAngelo admitted to committing the crimes attributed to the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker in front of victims and their relatives.
In addition to pleading guilty to 13 first-degree murders, DeAngelo also admitted responsibility to dozens of rapes and crimes committed between 1975 and 1986. Because the statute of limitations expired on many of those crimes, he could not be formally charged with those offenses. This move comes as part of a plea deal reached with prosecutors in exchange for DeAngelo avoiding the death penalty, the Sacramento Bee reported.
DeAngelo has been held at the Sacramento County main jail in isolation since he was found and arrested in April 2018. The case stretched over many decades since his attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, with his identity a mystery until 2018.
According to the Sacramento Bee, DeAngelo was found when DNA from one of the crime scenes was uploaded into an “open-source” site GEDmatch and matched with a relative’s DNA on the site. The Sacramento County Sheriff, Scott Jones, told the outlet his investigators began surveillance outside DeAngelo’s home in Citrus Heights and collected his DNA from “something he discarded” to confirm his identity.
In August 2020, DeAngelo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, ABC News reported.
DeAngelo Is Responsible for 13 Murders, Around 50 Rapes & Nearly 100 Burglaries
DeAngelo has 13 known murder victims: the 10 attributed to the Original Night Stalker in Southern California between 1979 and 1986, the murder of the Maggiore couple in 1978 originally attributed to the East Area Rapist, and the murder of journalism professor Claude Snelling in 1975 attributed to the Visalia Ransacker.
DeAngelo’s crime spree is believed to have begun in 1975 with around 85 burglaries as the Visalia Ransacker, the Visalia Times reported. The outlet wrote that authorities confirmed DeAngelo is also responsible for the Ransacker crimes, as well as the murder of Snelling on September 11, 1975.
Between June 18, 1976, and July 5, 1979, DeAngelo was known as the East Area Rapist and committed around 45 rapes, the FBI said. The first victims were women living alone or with children in the house, but after about 15 attacks, DeAngelo began targeting couples. On February 2, 1978, DeAngelo shot and killed Brian and Katie Maggiore when they were out walking their dog.
From mid-1979 to 1981, DeAngelo was known as the Original Night Stalker in South California, where he was responsible for nine murders. No further crimes connected to DeAngelo occurred until May 1986, when one more murder took place in Irvine, California.
DeAngelo Was a Vietnam Veteran, a Former Police Officer & Was Living a Normal Life as a Father & Grandfather When He Was Arrested
DeAngelo was a native of New York who attended Folsom Senior High School, according to a 1973 article in The Exeter Sun. After his high school graduation in June 1964, he served for about two years in the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War.
The article also states that after his stint in the military, DeAngelo studied police science at Sierra College before getting a degree in criminal justice at California State University at Sacramento. He interned with the Roseville Police Department before being hired in Exeter as a police officer in 1973 at the age of 27. DeAngelo began his crime spree in Visalia, near Exeter, breaking into homes and earning the name “Visalia Ransacker.” He then moved to Auburn and was eventually fired from his job in law enforcement in 1979 when he was caught stealing dog repellent and a hammer from a drug store.
When he was arrested in 2018, the Press-Enterprise reported that neighbors said DeAngelo had been living in his house on Canyon Oak Drive since the early 1980s. DeAngelo was separated from his wife, Sharon Huddle, whom he married in 1973. The two had three kids together, all daughters, and DeAngelo was living with a daughter and grandchild at the time of his arrest.
The former police officer had just retired from his job at a Save Mart warehouse, where he had worked for 27 years. After his arrest, Oxygen reported that DeAngelo’s estranged wife issued a statement: “My thoughts and prayers are for the victims and their families. The press has relentlessly pursued interviews of me. I will not be giving any interviews for the foreseeable future. I ask the press to please respect my privacy and that of my children.” She has since filed for divorce.
Victims Are Torn About the Guilty Plea & Many Expressed Their Opinions About It
Victor Hayes was 21 when he and his girlfriend were attacked at home. He was tied up while his girlfriend was raped by DeAngelo, and in June 2020 he told the Los Angeles Times: “I’m grateful he’s been caught, but the fact of the matter is he’s already lived a full life.” Kris Pedretti, who was only 15 years old when she became DeAngelo’s 10th rape victim, told the Times: “It’s a step forward … but it’s not what I was hoping for. I already know he raped me, that he was guilty, but my deeper feeling is, ‘Why?’ What is so important that he does not want shown in trial that he is willing to do this? … What is it that he doesn’t want to be known?”
Gay Hardwick, another of DeAngelo’s victims who was raped while her husband Bob was threatened and tied up, told The New York Times: “My view has been he will never be able to serve a long enough sentence. He’ll never serve the sentence that the rest of us have served. [But] knowing that he has admitted responsibility is a big step toward closure for us.”