In 1973, California’s Exeter police department handed young, athletic, Joseph DeAngelo a badge and a gun, trusting him to be a servant of the public. However, he turned out to be a a number one public enemy.
Officials confirmed yesterday that DeAngelo’s DNA was positively matched to the terrifying crimes attributed to “the Original Night Stalker” also known as the “Golden State Killer,” the East Area Rapist, and the “Visalia Ransacker.” Yet, in 1986, the murders and rapes suddenly stopped. Detectives didn’t have a clue why.
Suddenly, thirty-two years later, officials got a breakthrough. With “light speed,” the pieces fell into place. He was charged on Wednesday with eight counts of murder, but is believed to have killed 12 people and raped nearly 50 women.
Between 1974 and 1975, in San Joaquin Valley, ten miles west of where he patrolled as a cop, detectives were baffled by the “Visalia Ransacker.” DeAngelo used his law enforcement tricks of the trade to efficiently plunder homes in the area.
In August of 1976, he transferred to Auburn. Investigators started looking for the “East Area Rapist” when a “string of sexual assaults and killings” started that same year. Encouraged by the success he had eluding his co-workers, he got ever more bold and brutal as he perfected his techniques.
In his off-duty hours, DeAngelo stalked the Sacramento, California night. Since all this happened so long ago, nobody on the force today remembers working with him. All personnel records, even police reports, were written on paper and have long been shredded through expiration of record retention requirements.
In 1979, they kicked him off the police force for shoplifting a hammer and a can of dog repellent. The items were totally missed as clues to what he was up to. That is when DeAngelo went on the ten-county spree that got his nickname changed to the “Golden State Killer.”
Burglaries didn’t leave much DNA evidence so authorities are relying on similarities of “modus operandi” to link DeAngelo to the Visalia home invasions. That’s okay though because they have lots of DNA from his other crimes.
DeAngelo meticulously planned his gruesome attacks. He would go into the home he targeted ahead of time, “learning the layout, studying family pictures, and memorizing names.”
He liked to wake up sleeping couples with a blinding flashlight in the face. All the victims could see was a black ski mask but he knew everything about them.
He would typically tie up the husband, pile dishes on him, and warn that if he heard the dishes fall he would kill the wife, as he hauled the woman off to the next room to be raped.
After performing the brutal act, he would “ransack the house, taking souvenirs, notably coins and jewelry before fleeing on foot or bicycle.”
He beat one couple to death with a fireplace log. After fatally shooting one pair, he ate their leftover Christmas dinner and left the turkey carcass on the back porch.
Patrice Harrington hung up the phone just after 11 p.m. after talking with her sister one August night in 1980. As she did, DeAngelo “blitzed” her with a macramé cord. He tied both her and her newly-wed husband up in their bedroom, then hauled her to another room and raped her. The bodies of both were found two days later.
In 1986, the crimes bewilderingly stopped. The last known victim was an 18-year-old woman from Irvine who was raped and murdered in 1986. Serial killers usually don’t stop until they are dead or go to jail.
Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones relates “we have no indication of any crimes with a similar or at least a close enough link to his MO and other things that he’s done in the past to link him to anything from ‘86 on.”
Until his trial, police are being tight-lipped about how they got a recent DNA sample that ties DeAngelo to the killings and rapes but they are convinced they have solid evidence. Reading between the lines in various reports, it seems that he was picked up on a minor charge, that led to further scrutiny.
“In employing this technology, there was a link between the DNA that we had and the potential for examining a universe of folks, for which our guy was a member,” Sheriff Jones explains.
Larry Pool worked the case which haunted him until he retired. For forty years he was obsessed with finding the killer. “I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the offender had been ID’d. It’s a relief I haven’t felt ever,” he relates. “Today, we know him by name, which is what we’ve been looking forward to for a long time.”
For the past 27 years, DeAngelo has been living in a three-bedroom home in Citrus Heights and working in a grocery distribution warehouse, until he retired last year.
Neighbors were shocked when his house was raided. The “nice old grandpa” who built remote-controlled planes and spent a lot of time working on his carefully groomed lawn “liked the F-word a lot,” but otherwise seemed harmless. He lived with his adult daughter and granddaughter.
Deputies watched the house for “several days” before they “took him by surprise” as he walked outside on Tuesday Afternoon.