The 42-year hunt for one of California’s most prolific serial killers came to an end Wednesday with the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo of Citrus Heights, California. Authorities say they believe the 72-year-old former police officer is the infamous East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer that terrorized California from 1976 to 1986 — and they have the DNA evidence to prove it.
District attorneys from five counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Orange, Sacramento, and Ventura) attended a press conference Wednesday to announce the suspect’s arrest on two charges of first-degree murder. Coincidentally, it was National DNA Day.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert opened the conference with an emotional account of how the East Area Rapist had personally impacted her life as a young girl growing up in Sacramento. His spate of crimes — at least 51 rapes and 12 homicides — transformed safe suburban communities like hers into armed and dead-bolted islands of fear.
Like Zodiac, the Golden State Killer seemed to enjoy the notoriety that came with being a serial predator. He taunted his victims, law enforcement, and the media, sending poems and letters to the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Mayor’s Office among others. Police say he sometimes stalked his victims for months before committing the crimes and would often call survivors after the attack with threats to return.
The Golden State Killer’s spree appears to have ended in 1986. The taunting phone calls continued for some years after. Then came two major breaks in the case. In 1996, authorities were able to extract a DNA profile of Sacramento’s East Area Rapist. In 2001, they were able to confirm that he was also responsible for a series of homicides in Rancho Cordova, Goleta, Ventura, Dana Point, and Irvine.
This was always a case that hinged on DNA evidence, Schubert said Wednesday.
“We all knew as part of this team that we were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we also all knew that the needle was there. We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento.”
DNA may have ultimately solved the case, but it was the tireless efforts of law enforcement and amateur sleuths that led authorities in the right direction.
In 2016, Schubert’s office assembled a task force aimed at cracking the case once and for all. FBI involvement, the work of the late true crime writer Michelle McNamara, and a recent documentary on Investigation Discovery further renewed interest, leading to valuable new tips. Over the past six days, information began pointing to DeAngelo, authorities said. They were able to obtain a discarded item containing the suspect’s DNA, which they then compared to the profile they had on file. It was a match.
The outcome of the Golden State Killer case underscores the importance of DNA technology in bringing killers to justice, as well as vindicating the innocent. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley said this case should bolster efforts to reduce California’s rape kit backlog. Bruce Harrington, a brother of one of the victims, similarly urged Californians to support robust DNA collection efforts through the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018.
With DeAngelo’s arrest, one of California’s most enduring mysteries appears to be finally be solved. The law enforcement community must now grapple with the unsettling revelation that the killer was once one of their own. DeAngelo was working as a police officer for the cities of Exeter and then Auburn during the commission of some of his crimes, according to the Daily Beast. He was fired from the Auburn PD in 1979 after stealing a can of dog repellent and a hammer from a drug store.
Read more about the Golden State Killer’s long reign of terror and Wednesday’s arrest at the Sacramento Bee.