After more than 40 years, Sacramento police arrested the man they believe to be the so-called “Golden State Killer” on April 24.
More than 40 years after the so-called “Golden State Killer” began terrorizing California, raping dozens of women and killing at least 12, authorities announced Wednesday that they had arrested 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in the case.
DeAngelo’s arrest offered a shocking, abrupt development in what had long been one of the most notorious unsolved string of crimes in U.S. history. The gruesome attacks unfolded across California for more than a decade, shattering families and communities, and then remained a mystery for a generation, with little sign the case would ever be solved.
The trail ultimately led authorities to DeAngelo, a former police officer living in Citrus Heights, Calif., a city outside Sacramento. Authorities said DeAngelo — who was an officer when at least some of the attacks occurred — was found through DNA evidence, though they declined to elaborate on what that evidence was or how it was obtained.
“The magnitude of this case demanded that it be solved,” Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a news conference in the California capital. “We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento.”
Sacramento County court records showed that DeAngelo was booked into jail early Wednesday morning on two counts of murder. No bail was set, and it was not known if he had an attorney.
The string of attacks — attributed to someone alternately dubbed the Golden State Killer, Original Night Stalker and East Area Rapist — was horrifying for the nature of the attacks and the sheer breadth of the violence. Between 1976 and 1986, the FBI said, the attacker killed a dozen people and raped 45. The victims were as young as 13 and as old as 41, they said, and included couples who were murdered as well as people brutalized in front of their loved ones.
Investigators had said they thought the Golden State Killer may have had a law enforcement background, and DeAngelo fit that bill. Between 1973 and 1979, DeAngelo served as a police officer in two different California police departments, said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
The timeline meant that DeAngelo was a law enforcement official when the attacks began, learning how to be a police officer at the same time authorities now believe he was beginning a reign of terror. It remains unclear whether this training and knowledge of law enforcement tactics played a role in how the case stayed unsolved for so long.
“Very possibly he was committing the crimes during the time he was employed as a peace officer,” Jones said Wednesday.
Jones said DeAngelo had worked for the Exeter, Calif., police department between 1973 and 1976. John Hall, the city’s police chief, said in an interview Wednesday that no one currently with the department was there at the same time. Still, he said, the idea that DeAngelo might have worked for the department was a blow.
“It’s absolutely shocking as well as disheartening and disappointing,” Hall said. “Not only did he commit these horrific crimes, but he did it while wearing the uniform and enjoying the public’s trust.”
The case remained an object of intense focus for many in law enforcement and the public over the years. In 2016, the the FBI made a renewed plea — and offered a $50,000 reward — for help in finding what they called “the violent and elusive individual.”
Beginning in 1976, the Golden State Killer is believed to have raped dozens of women in their homes — meticulously planning intrusions, sometimes ambushing entire families, and killing several victims toward the end of the bloodshed, all before vanishing in 1986. The attacker was also behind numerous residential burglaries in the state, the FBI said.