More than four decades have passed since a predator dubbed the Golden State Killer began his bloody 10-year rampage of murder and rape across California, leaving 12 people dead and more than 50 women sexually assaulted. But police vowed never to stop the hunt.
“This guy,” Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones tells WHO, “was one of the most prolific sexual offenders and serial killers in modern history.”
Now, after 40 years, police say the notorious case is finally solved.
Late in the afternoon on April 24 a SWAT team of federal and local officers arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year-old retired mechanic and former police officer, at his suburban home in Citrus Heights, California.
The following day he was charged with four savage murders—with more charges expected.
“There was a needle in the haystack,” Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert tells WHO. “And we found that damn needle.”
DeAngelo, who had been fired from the Auburn police department in 1979 after allegedly shoplifting a hammer and a can of dog repellent, is believed to have committed more than two dozen sexual assaults throughout Northern California between June 1976 and July 1978 before launching a murder spree that spread to Southern California.
Eight of the victims were married couples, and the killer was known to stack teacups or dishes on his male victims’ backs, then threaten to kill everyone if he heard a clatter while he sexually assaulted their wives.
He often wore a ski mask, enjoyed taunting law enforcement and had a penchant for taking souvenirs from his crime scenes. DNA evidence linked the same suspect with all the crimes, but police couldn’t zero in on him.
“Our task force had a list of 8,000 suspects,” retired Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigator Larry Poole tells WHO. “But no-one was ever identified.”
By 2018, the case had long gone cold, but Schubert put together a task force that began studying the last-remaining samples of DNA evidence taken from a 1980 double murder in Ventura County.
Using a novel and controversial technique, investigators compared the DNA markers available on the public genealogy website GEDmatch with their sample.
They found a match to a distant relative of the suspect and began investigating five men related to the GEDmatch user. One of them was DeAngelo.
Detectives focused on the divorced father of three adult children when their investigations revealed DeAngelo had been engaged to a woman named Bonnie in 1970: during the rape of a woman in 1978, the Golden State Killer sobbed and said, “I hate you, Bonnie.”
Police spent six days watching DeAngelo as he puttered around the meticulously tended yard at the home he shared with a daughter and granddaughter.
After retrieving and analysing two DNA samples from his rubbish, officers arrested DeAngelo as he opened his garage door around 5 PM on April 24.
“I have a roast in the oven,” he told officers before being taken to the Sacramento County Jail’s psychiatric ward, where he has been placed on suicide watch.
Many in DeAngelo’s quiet neighbourhood were stunned by the arrest.
Says Kevin Tapia, who lived next door to DeAngelo for more than 20 years: “Nobody thinks that their neighbour is a serial killer."
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