After four decades of carnage, the Golden State Killer has been caught...here's how it happened

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department has announced that the East Area Rapist has been captured and revealed his identity as 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo


                            After four decades of carnage, the Golden State Killer has been caught...here's how it happened
(Source: Getty Images)

Having evaded capture for over four decades, a breakthrough in DNA testing and profiling has finally allowed authorities to track and apprehend the infamous killer previously identified only as 'The East Area Rapist,' 'The Golden State Killer' and 'The Original Night Stalker.'

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department announced that 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo Jr had been taken into custody in connection with the 51 rapes and 12 murders that occurred in Northern and Southern California in the 70s and 80s.

Thousands of tips had been called in over the years, none substantial enough for a breakthrough. There was a twisted sense of wonderment over how someone's whose face had been seen by his victims and had only skirted capture by the skin of his teeth on numerous occasions managed to consistently outsmart the law enforcement. The answer, police found out to their dismay, was that it was because he was one of them.

Joseph DeAngelo (Source: Sacramento County Sheriff's Office)

During the heights of the rapes and murders, investigators had cautioned citizens to be wary because the scrupulous nature and surgical precision with which he scouted potential victims and then murdered them in cold-blood had given rise to a suspicion that the perpetrator had an 'interest in the military, or had some military training, leaving him familiar and proficient with firearms.' Their suspicion has been proven right.

DeAngelo was a former police officer and was booked at around 2 am on Wednesday morning into the Sacramento County Main jail in connection with two murders charges: that of Brian Maggiore and wife Katie, who were supposedly his first victims in 1978, and that of Lyman and Charlene Smith in 1980. 

Held without bail, he has since been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and authorities in Sacramento, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties - the killer's primary prowling grounds - are said to be preparing further charges against DeAngelo for all 12 of the murders in the Original Night Stalker case.

The killer had suddenly ceased his illicit activities in 1986, following which the trail for him had gone cold. But on June 15, 2016, the FBI and local law enforcement agencies held a news conference to announce a nationwide hunt and a $50,000 reward for his capture.

Their efforts seem to have finally paid off and possibly closed a cold case that grown increasingly scandalous over the years and attracted a slew of armchair, online sleuths who felt they could solve the mystery themselves.

The triumphant news was announced by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones at a press conference. Jones stated that DeAngelo's name cropped up on their radar only last week, following which they gathered evidence that suggested that he was indeed the killer.

He was subsequently placed under surveillance and authorities managed to collect a DNA sample that had been 'abandoned' by DeAngelo. Then they waited for him to vacate his home in Citrus Heights, outside Sacramento, before pouncing on him.

The police linking him to the crimes through DNA evidence is no fluke. The authorities' failure to capture him served as a motivating factor in the passage of a legislation that led to the establishment of California's extensive DNA database, which contains the DNA of all the accused and convicted felons in the state. The database has since been used to solve numerous cold cases across the country but had fallen short of fulfilling its greatest task. That is, until yesterday.

DeAngelo fits the FBI profile of the killer: 5-foot-11, sporting blond or light brown hair, and now between the ages of 60 and 75 years old, and public records show that he lived in the Sacramento area, Whittier, and Long Beach.

Police are now working to link DeAngelo to the rest of the crime scenes through his modus operandi - which involved binding victims with items from their home and then bludgeoning them to death - as well as DNA evidence, though it is unclear how many of the crime scenes had the latter. 

Details have begun to emerge on DeAngelo, painting the picture of a man who had long since given up his murderous days but still sometimes felt tempted to relive them by randomly calling his former victims to taunt them. 

A former police officer in both Auburn and Exeter, Jones said that DeAngelo had been committing the crimes while still employed at the departments. He was working for the latter between 1973 and 1976, and according to the Daily Beast, was investigating burglaries at the same time the Original Night Stalker was breaking into homes in the area.

McNamara's book brought attention back to the case (Source: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

He was fired from the Auburn Police Department in 1979 for a shoplifting offense - he had stolen a hammer and dog repellant from a Sacramento drug store. Auburn City Manager Jack Sausser said at the time that the 72-year-old was terminated after he 'failed to answer any of the city's investigations and did not request an administrative hearing.'

The Sacramento Bee reported that he was married to one Sharon Marie Huddle but later divorced her and that he has three adult daughters. Old newspaper articles also state that he was a member of the US Navy and served aboard the USS Canberra, a Baltimore-class cruiser, before leaving in 1967. He seemed to have built the semblance of a normal life and was working at a distribution center for Save Mart grocery stores before retiring last year.

The case was brought back to the attention of the mainstream media with the posthumous publishing of Michelle McNamara's 'I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer' on 27th February this year. McNamara had dedicated close to 10 years of her life poring through boxes of unexplored police evidence and relentlessly chasing down often pointless leads with the sole intention of finally unmasking the infamous serial killer.



 

Unfortunately, her crusade ended with her accidental overdose death in April 2016, but her life's work would not go unpublished. Her fellow researcher, Paul Haynes, and investigative journalist, Billy Jensen, used her comprehensive and exhaustive notes to complete the unfinished novel, which has since been garnering rave reviews all over. 

Finding the killer had been a personal obsession of McNamara's. She wanted justice for all the victims, and there's little doubt that his capture now would finally have set her mind at ease. Her husband, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, was elated at the news of DeAngelo's capture, calling the news 'surreal' and paying homage to his late wife in an Instagram video.

He tweeted: "I hope you got him, Michelle. I hope THEY got him," later writing in another tweet: "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 (McNamara's crime blog where she posted the latest updates) wanted answered in her 'Letter To An Old Man' at the end of #IllBeGoneInTheDark."

The killer would meticulously scout homes before breaking and entering (Source: FBI)

But Oswalt is not the only one reveling in DeAngelo's capture. Bruce Harrington, the brother of murder victim Keith and Patrice Harrington, appeared at Wednesday's press conference and thanked authorities for their 'tenacity' and 'unrelenting focus' in the case. He said: "For the 51 ladies who were brutally raped: Sleep better tonight. He isn't coming through the window. It's time for victims to heal. He is now in jail and he is history."

Equally relieved is Jane Carson-Sandler, the fifth victim of the Golden State Killer and who survived an attack in October 1976. She said that the masked man broke into her home after her husband left for work, bound and gagged her and her three-year-old son and then proceeded to rape her. Her strength is admirable, for she even went on to write a book on the experience.

She said she received an email from two detectives informing her of the rapist's arrest. Unable to hide her delight, she told Island Packet: "I just found out this morning. I'm overwhelmed with joy. I've been crying, sobbing. I just can't tell you how I feel. After 42 years - wow!"

A photo from one of the crime scenes (Source: FBI)

She also spoke to the Associated Press and said: "I have just been overjoyed, ecstatic. It's an emotional roller-coaster right now. I feel like I'm in the middle of a dream and I'm going to wake up and it's not going to be true. It's just so nice to have closure and to know he's in jail."

The Golden State Killer had a few peculiar habits and was described by a victim as a "hyperventilating, under-endowed man-child who cries for his mother,' because she heard him cry out for his 'mommy.' He would stalk middle to upper-class neighborhoods at night looking for women who lived in single-story homes, generally located near open spaces so he could make his escape if it came down to it.

As part of his surveillance, he would call his victims both before and after the night of the attack, sometimes hanging up, sometimes pretending to have the wrong number, and sometimes threatening them. While he took care to hide his face from his victims, he was described by survivors as wearing an open ski mask, having wide eyes, a wide mouth, and very few identifying features.

The trail for the killer had long gone cold (Source: FBI)

Having started out with rapes, he graduated to murder and is believed to have killed 12 people between 1979 and 1986 before appearing to drop off the face off the Earth. McNamara described him as having a passionate hate for nuclear families and some psychotic idiosyncracies, including forcing women to re-enact intimate sexual acts that he had spied through their windows during surveillance, on him, while forcing the partner to watch. 

He was also big on spite and enraged by domesticity, tearing up family photos, breaking picture frames, unplugging appliances, and stealing single earrings from pairs, with detectives corroborating that he often took small items such as coins, cash, ID cards, and jewelry during his burglaries.

A propensity for the theatrical also meant that he sent poems to the editor of the Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento mayor's office, and a local television station titled 'Excitement's Crave' after successfully evading capture by law enforcement earlier in the month and randomly left notes at some of his crime scenes. McNamara described these tendencies as the killer's craving to become "the star and director of the movie spooling in [his] head."

At the height of his spree, a paralyzing fear had gripped the suburbs of Southern California. Because the killer would gain entry into the homes by prying open a window while his victims slept, "East Siders hacked off tree limbs and uprooted shrubs around their houses. Reinforcing sliding glass windows with dowel rods wasn’t enough. That might keep him out, but they wanted more; they wanted to strip him completely of the ability to hide," McNamara wrote.

DeAngelo's capture should mean that his victims can now finally rest in peace (Source: FBI)

According to her book, floodlights were put up, couples slept in shifts, hammers were placed under pillows, and nearly 300 guns were sold in Sacramento County in the first half of 1977, and she wrote that after the 20th rape in Orangevale in 1977, a 10-mile corridor of the county felt like it was 'under siege.'

Neighbors in DeAngelo's quiet Citrus Heights Sacramento suburb are quite surprised at his arrest, though a few will admit that he had his issues. A few attested to his good qualities, though others spoke of his anger issues. One told the Bee that the 72-year-old had 'anger pouring out of him,' with another similarly saying that he used to regularly have temper tantrums, 'not at anybody, just (expressing) his self-frustration...usually because he couldn't find his keys." Yet another described him as 'nosy, curious about everyone's business' and caught him prowling in his backyard. Few will be disappointed with his incarceration.

If he is indeed proven to be the Golden State Killer, it will close the chapter on one of the country's most notorious serial killers. His victims — Katie Maggiore, Brian Maggiore, Dr Robert Offerman, Dr Debra Alexandra Manning, Charlene Smith, Lyman Smith, Keith Eli Harrington, Patrice Briscoe Harrington, Manuela Witthuhn, Cheri Domingo, and Gregory Sanchez - will finally rest in peace.