The Golden State Killer is a serial killer, rapist, and burglar who committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986. He is believed to be responsible for three crime sprees throughout California, each of which spawned a different nickname in the press before it became evident that they were committed by the same person.
In the Sacramento area he was known as the East Area Rapist, and was linked by modus operandi (MO) to additional attacks in Contra Costa County, Stockton, and Modesto. He was later known for his southern California crimes as the Original Night Stalker. His rape victims were women and girls aged between 13 and 41. He is suspected to have begun as a burglar (the Visalia Ransacker) before moving to the Sacramento area, based on a similar MO and circumstantial evidence.
During the investigation, several suspects have been cleared through DNA evidence, alibi, or other investigative methods. In 2001, DNA testing indicated that the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker were the same person and he was known as the EAR/ONS. The FBI and local law-enforcement agencies held a news conference on June 15, 2016 to announce a renewed nationwide effort, offering a US$50,000 reward for his capture. The case was a factor in the establishment of California’s DNA database, which collects DNA from all accused and convicted felons in California and has been called second only to Virginia’s in effectiveness in solving cold cases. To heighten awareness that the uncaught killer operated throughout California, crime writer Michelle McNamara coined the name ‘Golden State Killer’.
On April 24, 2018, authorities charged 72-year-old U.S. Navy veteran and former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo with eight counts of first-degree murder, based upon DNA evidence. This was also the first announcement connecting the Visalia Ransacker crimes to the Golden State Killer. Due to California’s statute of limitations on pre-2017 rape cases, DeAngelo cannot be charged with late-1970s rapes, but he was charged in August 2018 with 13 related kidnapping/abduction attempts. In November 2018, it was reported that the case could cost taxpayers $20 million and last 10 years.
DNA evidence links the Golden State Killer to eight murders in Goleta, Ventura, Dana Point and Irvine; two other murders in Goleta, lacking DNA evidence, are linked by modus operandi (MO). Investigators suspect the same killer in three other murders: two in Rancho Cordova and one in Visalia. The offender also committed more than 50 known rapes in the California counties of Sacramento, Contra Costa, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Alameda, Santa Clara and Yolo, in addition to hundreds of incidents of burglaries, peeping, stalking and prowling.
Visalia Ransacker (April 1974–December 1975)
It was long suspected that the training ground of the criminal who would become the Golden State Killer was Visalia, California (although the earlier crimes sprees of the ‘Cordova Catburgler’ or the ‘Exeter Ransacker’ are now suspected to be linked as well). From April 1974 to December 1975, the Visalia Ransacker is believed to have been responsible for one murder and around 120 burglaries. Most of the Ransacker’s activities involved breaking into houses, rifling through (or vandalizing) the owner’s possessions, scattering women’s underclothing, stealing coins and low-value or personal items, while often ignoring banknotes and other valuable items in plain sight.
In late April 2018, the Visalia chief of police stated that while there is no DNA linking DeAngelo to the Central Valley cases, his department has other evidence that will play a role in the investigation, and that he was “confident that the Visalia Ransacker has been captured.” Though the statute of limitations for the burglaries have expired, DeAngelo was formally charged on August 13, 2018 with the 1st degree murder of Claude Snelling in 1975.
East Area Rapist (June 1976–July 1979)
The Golden State Killer is believed to have moved to the Sacramento area, progressing from burglary to rape in mid-1976. The crimes initially centered on the unincorporated areas of Carmichael, Citrus Heights and Rancho Cordova, east of Sacramento. His initial modus operandi was to stalk middle-class neighborhoods at night in search of women who were alone in one-story homes, usually near a school, creek, trail or other open space that would provide a quick escape. He was seen a number of times, but always successfully fled; on one occasion, he shot and seriously wounded a young pursuer.
Most victims had seen (or heard) a prowler on their property before the attacks, and many had experienced break-ins. Police believed that the offender had a pattern of conducting extensive reconnaissance on several homes in a targeted neighborhood before selecting one for attack. As part of his surveillance, he was known to look in the windows of future victims and prowl in the yards of homes for several nights before attacking. On a few occasions, it is believed that in the run-up to attacks the offender entered the homes of future victims to unlock windows, unload guns and plant ligatures for later use. He frequently called them before the attack, sometimes for months in advance, to learn their daily routines; he would sometimes hang up, pretend to have the wrong number, or (in calls after the attack) threaten to harm the victims again.
Although he originally targeted women alone in their homes or with children, the offender eventually preferred attacking couples. His MO was to break in through a window or sliding glass door and awaken the sleeping occupants with a flashlight, threatening them with a handgun. Victims were then bound with ligatures (often shoelaces) which he found or brought with him, blindfolded and gagged with towels which he had ripped into strips. The female victim was usually forced to tie up her male companion before she was bound. The bindings were often so tight that the victims’ hands were numb for hours after being untied. He then separated the couple, often stacking dishes on the man’s back and threatening to kill everyone in the house if he heard them rattle. He moved the woman to the living room and often raped her repeatedly, sometimes for several hours.
The offender sometimes spent hours in the home ransacking closets and drawers, eating food in the kitchen, drinking beer, raping the female again or making additional threats. Victims sometimes thought he had left the house before he “jump[ed] from the darkness.” The offender typically stole items, often personal objects and items of little value but occasionally cash and firearms. He then crept away, leaving victims uncertain if he had left. The offender was believed to escape on foot through a series of yards and then use a bicycle to go home or to a car, making extensive use of parks, schoolyards, creek beds and other open spaces which kept him off the street.
The rapist operated in Sacramento County from the first attacks in June 1976 until May 1977. After a three-month gap, he struck in nearby San Joaquin County in September before returning to Sacramento for all but one of the next ten attacks. The rapist attacked five times during the summer of 1978 in Stanislaus and Yolo counties before disappearing again for three months. Attacks then moved primarily to Contra Costa County in October and lasted until July 1979.
|Friday, June 18, 1976||4:00 a.m.||Rancho Cordova||Sacramento|
|Saturday, July 17, 1976||2:00 a.m.||Del Dayo Dr., Carmichael||Sacramento|
|Sunday, August 29, 1976||3:20 a.m.||Rancho Cordova||Sacramento|
|Saturday, September 4, 1976||11:30 p.m.||Citrus Heights||Sacramento|
|Tuesday, October 5, 1976||6:45 a.m.||Citrus Heights||Sacramento|
|Saturday, October 9, 1976||4:30 a.m.||Rancho Cordova||Sacramento|
|Monday, October 18, 1976||2:30 a.m.||Del Dayo Dr., Carmichael||Sacramento|
|Monday, October 18, 1976||11:00 p.m.||Rancho Cordova||Sacramento|
|Wednesday, November 10, 1976||7:30 p.m.||Greenback Ln., Citrus Heights||Sacramento|
|Saturday, December 18, 1976||7:00 p.m.||Carmichael||Sacramento|
|Tuesday, January 18, 1977||11:00 p.m.||Glenbrook/College Greens, Sacramento||Sacramento|
|Monday, January 24, 1977||12:00 a.m.||Primrose Dr., Citrus Heights||Sacramento|
|Monday, February 7, 1977||6:45 a.m.||Crestview Drive and Madison Ave., Citrus Heights||Sacramento|
|Wednesday, February 16, 1977||10:30 p.m.||Ripon Court||Sacramento|
|Tuesday, March 8, 1977||4:00 a.m.||Robertson and Whitney Ave., Sacramento||Sacramento|
|Friday, March 18, 1977||10:45 p.m.||Rancho Cordova||Sacramento|
|Saturday, April 2, 1977||3:20 a.m.||Madison and Main Ave., Orangevale||Sacramento|
|Friday, April 15, 1977||2:30 a.m.||Madison and Manzanita Avenues, Crestview||Sacramento|
|Tuesday, May 3, 1977||3:00 a.m.||Glenbrook/College Greens, Sacramento||Sacramento|
|Thursday, May 5, 1977||2:40 a.m.||Orangevale||Sacramento|
|Saturday, May 14, 1977||3:45 a.m.||Greenback Ln. and Birdcage St., Citrus Heights||Sacramento|
|Tuesday, May 17, 1977||1:30 a.m.||Sand Bar Circle, Del Dayo Dr., Carmichael||Sacramento|
|Saturday, May 28, 1977||1:00 a.m.||Fourth Parkway, South Area, Sacramento||Sacramento|
|Tuesday, September 6, 1977||1:30 a.m.||Lincoln Village West||San Joaquin|
|Saturday, October 1, 1977||1:30 a.m.||La Riviera and Tuolumne Dr., Rancho Cordova||Sacramento|
|Friday, October 21, 1977||3:00 a.m.||Elkhorn Blvd./Diablo Dr., Foothill Farms||Sacramento|
|Saturday, October 29, 1977||1:45 a.m.||Woodson Ave., Sacramento||Sacramento|
|Thursday, November 10, 1977||3:00 a.m.||La Riviera Dr. near Watt Ave., Sacramento||Sacramento|
|Friday, December 2, 1977||11:30 p.m.||Brett and Revelstoke Dr. Foothill Farms||Sacramento|
|Saturday, January 28, 1978||10:15 p.m.||Winding Way, east of Walnut Ave., Sacramento||Sacramento|
|Thursday, February 2, 1978||9:00 p.m.||Rancho Cordova||Sacramento|
|Saturday, March 18, 1978||1:05 p.m.||Parkwoods, Stockton||San Joaquin|
|Friday, April 14, 1978||10:00 p.m.||Seamas and Riverside Aves., South Sacramento||Sacramento|
|Monday, June 5, 1978||2:30 a.m.||Northeastern Modesto||Stanislaus|
|Wednesday, June 7, 1978||3:55 a.m.||UC Davis, Davis||Yolo|
|Friday, June 23, 1978||1:30 a.m.||Northeastern Modesto||Stanislaus|
|Saturday, June 24, 1978||3:15 a.m.||Rivendell, Davis||Yolo|
|Thursday, July 6, 1978||2:50 a.m.||Westwood Division, Davis||Yolo|
|Saturday, October 7, 1978||2:30 a.m.||Concord||Contra Costa|
|Friday, October 13, 1978||4:30 a.m.||Concord||Contra Costa|
|Saturday, October 28, 1978||4:30 a.m.||San Ramon||Contra Costa|
|Saturday, November 4, 1978||3:30 a.m.||San Jose||Santa Clara|
|Saturday, December 2, 1978||4:30 a.m.||San Jose||Santa Clara|
|Saturday, December 9, 1978||2:00 a.m.||Danville||Contra Costa|
|Monday, December 18, 1978||6:30 p.m.||San Ramon||Contra Costa|
|Tuesday, March 20, 1979||5:00 a.m.||Rancho Cordova||Sacramento|
|Wednesday, April 4, 1979||1:00 a.m.||Fremont||Alameda|
|Saturday, June 2, 1979||11:30 p.m.||Walnut Creek||Contra Costa|
|Monday, June 11, 1979||4:00 a.m.||Danville||Contra Costa|
|Monday, June 25, 1979||4:00 a.m.||Walnut Creek||Contra Costa|
|Thursday, July 5, 1979||3:45 a.m.||Danville||Contra Costa|
A young Sacramento couple, Brian and Katie Maggiore (the former, a military policeman at Mather Air Force Base), were walking their dog in the Rancho Cordova area on the night of February 2, 1978, near where five East Area Rapist attacks had occurred. The Maggiores fled after a confrontation in the street, but were chased down and shot dead. Some investigators suspected that they had been murdered by the East Area Rapist because of their proximity to the other attacks’ location, and a shoelace was found nearby. The FBI announced on June 15, 2016, that it was confident that the East Area Rapist murdered the Maggiores.
Original Night Stalker (October 1979–May 1986)
Shortly after a rape committed on July 5, the East Area Rapist moved to southern California and first struck in Santa Barbara County in October. The attacks lasted until 1981 (with a lone 1986 attack), and took a darker turn as the rapist began to kill his victims. Only the couple in the first attack survived, alerting neighbors and forcing the intruder to flee; the other victims were murdered by gunshot or bludgeoning. Since the East Area Rapist was not linked to these crimes for decades, he was known as the Night Stalker in the area before being renamed the Original Night Stalker after Richard Ramirez received the former nickname.
|Monday, October 1, 1979||None (attempted murder; botched attack)||Queen Ann Lane, Goleta||Santa Barbara|
|Sunday, December 30, 1979||Robert Offerman, Debra Manning||Goleta||Santa Barbara|
|Thursday, March 13, 1980||Charlene & Lyman Smith||Ventura||Ventura|
|Tuesday, August 19, 1980||Keith & Patrice Harrington||Dana Point||Orange|
|Friday, February 6, 1981||Manuela Witthuhn||Irvine||Orange|
|Monday, July 27, 1981||Cheri Domingo, Gregory Sanchez||Goleta||Santa Barbara|
|Sunday, May 4, 1986||Janelle Cruz||Irvine||Orange|
On October 1, an intruder broke in and tied up a Goleta couple. Alarmed by hearing him say, “I’ll kill ’em” to himself, the man and woman tried to escape when he left the room and the woman screamed. Realizing that the alarm had been raised, the intruder fled on a bicycle. A neighbor (an FBI agent) responded to the noise and pursued the perpetrator, who abandoned the bicycle and a knife and fled on foot through local backyards. The attack was later linked to the Offerman–Manning murders by shoe prints and twine used to bind the victims.
On December 30, 44-year-old Robert Offerman and 35-year-old Debra Alexandra Manning were found shot dead at Offerman’s condominium on Avenida Pequena in Goleta. Offerman’s bindings were untied, indicating that he had lunged at the attacker. Neighbors heard gunshots but failed to respond, saying that they thought the shots were innocuous. Paw prints of a large dog were found at the scene, leading to speculation that the killer may have brought one with him. The killer also broke into the vacant adjoining residence and stole a bicycle, later found abandoned on a street north of the scene, from a third residence in the complex.
On March 13, 33-year-old Charlene Smith and 43-year-old Lyman Smith (who was about to be appointed as a judge) were found murdered in their Ventura home; Charlene Smith had been raped. A log from a woodpile on the side of the house was used to bludgeon the victims to death. Their wrists and ankles had been bound with drapery cord. An unusual Chinese knot, a diamond knot, was used on Charlene’s wrists; the same knot was noted in the Sacramento East Area Rapist attacks, at least one confirmed case of which was publicly known. The murderer was therefore given the name “Diamond Knot Killer”.
On August 19, 24-year-old Keith Eli Harrington and 27-year-old Patrice Briscoe Harrington were found bludgeoned to death in their home on Cockleshell Drive in Dana Point’s Niguel Shores gated community. Patrice Harrington had also been raped. Although there was evidence that the Harringtons’ wrists and ankles were bound, no ligatures or murder weapon were found at the scene. The Harringtons had been married for three months at the time of their deaths. Patrice was a nurse in Irvine, and Keith was a medical student at UC Irvine. Keith’s brother Bruce later spent nearly $2 million supporting California Proposition 69 authorizing DNA collection from all California felons and certain other criminals.
On February 6, 28-year-old Manuela Witthuhn was raped and murdered in her Irvine home. Although Witthuhn’s body had signs of being tied before she was bludgeoned, no ligatures or murder weapon were found. The victim was married; her husband was hospitalized, and she was alone at the time of the attack. Detectives noted that Witthuhn’s television was found in the backyard, possibly the killer’s attempt to make the crime appear to be a botched robbery.
On July 27, 35-year-old Cheri Domingo and 27-year-old Gregory Sanchez were the Original Night Stalker’s 10th and 11th murder victims. Both were attacked in Domingo’s residence on Toltec Way in Goleta (several blocks south of Robert Offerman’s condominium), where she was living temporarily; it was owned by a deceased relative and up for sale. The offender entered the house through a small bathroom window. Sanchez had not been tied, and was shot and wounded in the cheek before he was bludgeoned to death with a garden tool. Some believe that Sanchez may have realized he was dealing with the man responsible for the Offerman–Manning murders, and tried to tackle the killer rather than be tied up. Again, no neighbors responded to the gunshot. Sanchez’s head was covered with clothes pulled from the closet. Domingo was raped and bludgeoned; bruises on her wrists and ankles indicated that she had been tied, although the restraints were missing. A piece of shipping twine was found near the bed, and fibers from an unknown source were scattered over her body. Authorities believed that the attacker may have worked as a painter or in a similar job at the Calle Real Shopping Centre.
On May 4, 18-year-old Janelle Lisa Cruz was found after she was raped and bludgeoned to death in her Irvine home. Her family was on vacation in Mexico at the time of the attack. A pipe wrench, reported missing by Cruz’s stepfather, was thought to be the murder weapon.
The southern California murders were not initially thought to be connected by investigators in their respective jurisdictions. A Sacramento detective strongly believed that the East Area Rapist was responsible for the Goleta attacks, but the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department attributed them to a local career criminal who was later murdered. Investigating the crimes not committed in Goleta caused local police to follow false leads related to men who were close to the female victims. One person, later cleared, was charged with two murders. The cases were linked almost entirely by DNA testing, many years later.
Known physical characteristics
These physical characteristics are considered factual based on crime-scene evidence and nearly-universal agreement by victims and law enforcement:
- White male
- About 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) tall
- Slender, athletic build
- Size 9 to 9 1⁄2 shoe
- Type A blood
- Non-secretor: Sperm does not contain blood-group antigens.
- Physically agile and capable of sprinting, bicycling, and scaling fences
These physical characteristics are considered probable; a small percentage of victims described the perpetrator differently:
- 18–25 years old when the rapes began in 1976; authorities believe him to be between 60 and 75 years old in 2018.
- Blond or brown hair
- Blue or light-colored eyes
- Penis size “small” or “smaller than average”
According to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, microscopic paint chips were found at three crime scenes (two homicides and a rape). This suggests that the Golden State Killer may have worked in construction, possibly using a paint spray gun. Construction work had been ongoing near the 1979 Goleta murder scene, and a cold-case investigator contacted the developer in 2013 to identify subcontractors working at the site and obtain employment records.
After criminologists matched serological evidence found at the southern California murder scenes, a speculative psychological profile of the Golden State Killer was compiled based on a probabilistic analysis. According to Leslie D’Ambrosia, primary author of the profile, the Golden State Killer probably had the following characteristics:
- An emotional age equivalent to a 26- to 30-year-old at the time the murders began in 1979
- Engaged in paraphilic behavior and brutal sex in his personal life
- Engaged in sex with prostitutes
- Had some knowledge of police investigative methods and evidence-gathering techniques
- Sexually functional, capable of ejaculation with consenting and non-consenting partners
- Dressed well and would not stand out in upscale neighborhoods
- Lived or worked near Ventura, California, in 1980
- Good physical condition
- Skilled, experienced cat burglar, and may have begun as such
- Had a criminal record as a teenager which was expunged
- Had some means of income, but did not work in the early-morning hours
- Hated women for actual (or perceived) wrongs
- If married, probably had a submissive spouse who tolerated his sexually-deviant behavior
- Intelligent and articulate
- Probably began as a voyeur in his late teens or early twenties
- Neat and well-organized in his personal life, and drove a well-maintained car
- Peeped in the windows of many people who were not attacked
- Possibly unmarried, and did not enter into long-term relationships
- Self-assured and confident
- Would continue committing violent crimes until incapacitated by prison, death, or other intervention
- Would have been described by those who knew him as arrogant, domineering, manipulative, and a chronic liar
In addition to outlining the Golden State Killer’s characteristics, the profile speculated that he might have been incarcerated after Janelle Cruz’s murder or killed in the commission of a similar crime. The profile recommended that law-enforcement agencies investigate attempted late-1980s hot prowl burglaries, which resulted in the death of a lone male offender. It indicated a slight chance that the Golden State Killer committed suicide, and that he was unlikely to be confined in a mental institution.
According to the profile, teleprinter bulletins were broadcast to law-enforcement agencies throughout the United States after the original homicides. The bulletins requested information on similar home invasions involving sexual assault, murder, bludgeoning, multiple victims, and bondage. As of 2015, no similar crimes had been reported. The profile posited that the Golden State Killer could have continued committing his crimes in another country whose records were not linked.
Letters and other writings
“Excitement’s Crave” (December 11, 1977)
In December 1977, letters containing a poem entitled “Excitement’s Crave” by an individual claiming to be the East Area Rapist were sent to the editor of the Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento mayor’s office, and the KVIE TV station. December 11 is the date that a masked man (probably the Golden State Killer) eluded pursuit by law-enforcement personnel after alerting authorities by telephone that he would strike on Watt Avenue that night. Although the authenticity of the poem has never been proven, his evasion of the police that morning may have inspired him to write it.
All those mortal’s surviving birth / Upon facing maturity,
Take inventory of their worth / To prevailing society.
Choosing values becomes a task; / Oneself must seek satisfaction.
The selected route will unmask / Character when plans take action.
Accepting some work to perform / At fixed pay, but promise for more,
Is a recognized social norm, / As is decorum, seeking lore.
Achieving while others lifting / Should be cause for deserving fame.
Leisure tempts excitement seeking, / What’s right and expected seems tame.
“Jessie James” has been seen by all, / And “Son of Sam” has an author.
Others now feel temptations call. / Sacramento should make an offer.
To make a movie of my life / That will pay for my planned exile.
Just now I’ d like to add the wife / Of a Mafia lord to my file.
Your East Area Rapist
And deserving pest.
See you in the press or on T.V.
Homework pages and punishment map (December 9, 1978)
During the investigation of the 42nd attack in Danville, investigators discovered three notebook leaves near the scene where a suspicious vehicle had reportedly been parked, although whether they originated from the East Area Rapist has not been proven. The first leaf appears to be an essay on General George Armstrong Custer. The second contains a journal-style entry where the author writes about a teacher who made his or her students write lines, which the author found humiliating:
Mad is the word, the word that reminds me of 6th grade. I hated that year … I wish I had know what was going to be going on during my 6th grade year, the last and worst year of elementary school. Mad is the word that remains in my head about my dreadful year as a 6th grader. My Madness was one that was caused by disapointments that hurt me very much. Dissapointments from my teacher, such as feild trips that were planed, then canncled. My 6th grade teacher gave me a lot of dissapointments which made me very mad and made me built a state of haterd in my heart, no one ever let me down that hard before and I never hated anyone as much as I did him. Disapointment wasn’t the only reason that made me mad in my sixth grade class, another was getting in trouble at school espeically talking thats what really bugged me was writing sentances, those awful sentance that my teacher made … me write, hours and hours Id sit and write 50-100-150 sentance day and night I write those dreadful Paragraphs which embarrased me and more inportant it made me ashamed of myself which in turn, deep down in side made me realize that writing sentance wasn’t fair it wasn’t fair to make me suffer like that, it just wasn’t fair to make me sit and wright until my bones aked, until my hand felt every horrid pain it ever had and as I wrote, I got mader and mader until I cried, I cried because I was ashamed I cried because I was discusted, I cried because I was mad, and I cried for myself, kid who kept on having to write those dane sentances. My Angryness from Sixth grade will scar my memory for life and I will be ashamed for my sixth grade year forever
The last is a hand-drawn map of what appears to be a suburban neighborhood, with the word “punishment” scrawled across the reverse side of the paper. Investigators were unable to identify the area depicted in the map, although the artist clearly had knowledge of architectural layout and landscape design. According to Detective Larry Pool, the map is a fantasy location representing the Golden State Killer’s desired striking ground.
“I’m the East Side Rapist” (March 18, 1977)
On March 18, 1977, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office received three calls from a man claiming to be the East Area Rapist; none were recorded. The first two calls, received at 4:15 and 4:30 p.m., were identical and ended with the caller laughing and hanging up. The final call came in at 5:00 p.m., with the caller saying: “I’m the East Side Rapist and I have my next victim already stalked and you guys can’t catch me.”
“Never gonna catch me” (December 2, 1977)
A man claiming to be the rapist called the Sacramento Police, saying: “You’re never gonna catch me, East Area Rapist, you dumb fuckers, I’m gonna fuck again tonight. Careful!” The call was recorded and later released. Similarly to the previous call, the East Area Rapist attacked his next victim the same night.
“Merry Christmas” (December 9, 1977)
A previous victim received a phone call during the 1977 Christmas season which she attributed to her attacker. The caller said, “Merry Christmas, it’s me again!”
“Watt Avenue” (December 10, 1977)
Shortly before 10:00 p.m. on the night of December 10, 1977, dispatchers from the County of Sacramento’s Sheriff’s Department and the City of Sacramento’s Police Department received identical calls saying: “I am going to hit tonight. Watt Avenue.” Both were reportedly recorded, and the caller was identified as the same person who placed the December 2 call. Law-enforcement patrols were increased that night in response, and at 2:30 a.m. sheriff’s deputies spotted a masked man bicycling on the Watt Avenue bridge; he eluded them. He was located again at 4:30 a.m. by city police. He discarded the bike, which was determined to have been stolen in Redding, California, and fled on foot.
“Gonna kill you” (January 2, 1978)
The first known rape victim received a wrong-number call asking for “Ray” on January 2, 1978. The call was recorded, and police suspect that it may be the same caller who made a threatening call to her later that evening. That call was also recorded and identified by the victim as the voice of her assailant. The caller said, “Gonna kill you … gonna kill you … gonna kill you … bitch … bitch … bitch … bitch … fuckin’ whore.”
Counseling service (January 6, 1978)
A volunteer for the Contact Counseling Service answered a call from a man claiming to be the East Area Rapist, who said: “I have a problem. I need help because I don’t want to do this anymore.” After a short conversation the caller said, “I believe you are tracing this call” and hung up.
Later calls (1982–1991)
In 1982, a previous victim who was working at a Denny’s restaurant received a call at work from the rapist during which he said that he would rape her again. According to Contra Costa County District Attorney Paul Holes, the rapist must have gone to the restaurant and recognized one of his victims working there.
In 1991, a previous victim received a phone call from the perpetrator and spoke with him for one minute. She could hear a woman and children in the background, leading to speculation that he had a family.
Final call (2001)
On April 6, 2001, the day after an article was published in the Sacramento Bee confirming that the Original Night Stalker and the East Area Rapist were the same person, a victim of the rapist received a call from him; he asked, “Remember when we played?” before hanging up.
Unconfirmed call (2004)
Even though the caller didn’t speak, it’s worth mentioning the series of hang-up phone calls that the sister of murder victim Janelle Cruz received in the Spring of 2004. At the time, a massive push to get Proposition 69 wrapped up was being undertaken by Bruce Harrington, the brother of murder victim Keith Harrington. Bruce’s primary goal was to use the law of the land to force the California prison system to do a massive DNA sweep to look for his brother’s killer. Proposition 69 was successful, but unfortunately, the Golden State Killer was not found.
Michelle Cruz, the sister of murder victim Janelle Cruz, participated in a press conference around this time. Afterward, she received five or six hang-up phone calls a day for a period of two weeks or so. When she answered the phone, the caller wouldn’t speak, but the caller wouldn’t hang up, either. Whether this was the offender of not is unknown, but that was the style of his hang-up phone calls, and the fact that he made calls like that wasn’t widely known at the time.
Before officially connecting the Original Night Stalker to the East Area Rapist in 2001, some law-enforcement officials (particularly from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department) sought to link the Goleta cases as well. The links were primarily due to similarities in modus operandi. One of the already-linked Original Night Stalker double murders occurred in Ventura, 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Goleta, and the remaining murders were committed in Orange County—an additional 90 miles (140 km) southeast. In 2001, several rapes in Contra Costa County believed to have been committed by the East Area Rapist were linked by DNA to the Smith, Harrington, Whithuhn, and Cruz murders. A decade later, DNA evidence indicated that the Domingo–Sanchez murders were committed by the Golden State Killer.
On June 15, 2016, the FBI released further information related to the crimes, including new composite sketches and testimony from victims and local and federal investigators. A press conference was held in Sacramento, where local law-enforcement agencies and the FBI announced a US$50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the Golden State Killer. The initiative included a national database to support law enforcement investigating the crimes and handle tips and information.
During the investigation, several people were considered and eliminated as suspects:
- Brett Glasby, from Goleta, was considered a suspect by Santa Barbara County investigators. He was murdered in Mexico in 1982 (before the murder of Janelle Cruz), eliminating him as a suspect.
- Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, a high-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Schneider was a career criminal, living in Orange County, California, when the murders of the Harringtons, Manuela Witthuhn, and Janelle Cruz were committed. During the late 1990s, while being an inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California, Schneider provided a DNA sample which cleared him.
- Joe Alsip, a friend and business partner of victim Lyman Smith. Alsip had visited the Smiths’ home the day before Lyman and Charlene Smith were murdered, and Alsip’s pastor said that he had confessed to him during a family-counseling session. Although the reported confession was considered dubious by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, Alsip was arraigned for the Smith murders in 1982. After the preliminary hearing the charges against him were dropped, and his innocence was confirmed by DNA testing in 1997.
In November 2002, journalist Colleen Cason wrote a newspaper series about the murders for the Ventura County Star. According to Cason, Detective Larry Pool of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department visited California’s Death Row at San Quentin in an attempt to locate the Golden State Killer; Pool suspected that the killer had been captured and sentenced to death for another violent crime. However, no genetic samples collected from Death Row inmates matched the DNA of the Golden State Killer.
Joseph James DeAngelo
On April 24, 2018, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department arrested 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in connection with the crimes. DeAngelo, a former police officer in Auburn and Exeter, California, was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances. On May 10, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office charged DeAngelo with four additional counts of first-degree murder.
Identification of DeAngelo had begun four months earlier when officials uploaded the killer’s DNA profile from a Ventura County rape kit to the personal genomics website GEDmatch. The website identified 10 to 20 distant relatives of the Golden State Killer (sharing the same great-great-great grandparents), from whom a team of five investigators working with genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter constructed a large family tree. They identified two suspects in the case (one of whom was ruled out by a relative’s DNA test), leaving DeAngelo the main suspect. On April 18, a DNA sample was surreptitiously collected from the door handle of a car DeAngelo had been driving at the Roseville Hobby Lobby. Soon after, a sample was collected from a tissue found in DeAngelo’s curbside garbage can. Both samples were consistent with the Orange and Ventura County suspect profiles. After DeAngelo’s arrest, some commentators raised concerns about the ethics of the secondary use of personally identifiable information.
DeAngelo was born on November 8, 1945 in Bath, New York, to Joseph James DeAngelo Sr. and Kathleen Louise DeGroat, and he has two sisters: Rebecca and Connie and one brother: John. When he was 9–10 years old he witnessed Connie being raped by two Airmen at an airforce base warehouse in Germany. He attended ninth grade at Mills Middle School in Rancho Cordova, California. He graduated from Folsom High School in June 1964. DeAngelo joined the U.S. Navy in September that year, and served for 22-months during the Vietnam War as a damage controlman on the cruiser USS Canberra, and received National Defense Service, Vietnam Service and Vietnam Campaign Medals.
From August 1968, DeAngelo attended Sierra College, graduating with an associate degree in police science with honors in June 1970. He was engaged to Bonnie Colwell in May 1970; they were classmates at Sierra College, but they never married. Colwell purportedly called off the marriage. Investigators believe this might be connected to the offender reportedly saying, “I hate you, Bonnie!” during at least one of the attacks.
In 1971, he attended Sacramento State University, where he focused on criminal law and received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He then went on to do post-graduate work, before undergoing training (Kings County Public Safety Academy) at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, and completing a 32-week police internship at Roseville Police Department.
He was then a police officer in Exeter (a town of about 10,000 people near Visalia, having relocated from Citrus Heights) from May 18, 1973 to August 1976. He married Sharon Marie Huddle on November 19, 1973. Huddle went to college in Fresno, California. Afterwards, she attended law school in Sacramento, California. She became an attorney in December 1982. They had three daughters and separated in 1991.
By 1976 he had been promoted to sergeant and was in charge of the Exeter Police Department’s “Joint Attack on Burglary” program. He then served in Auburn (part of Greater Sacramento) from August 1976 to July 1979, when he was caught shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent and was sentenced to six months probation in October that year.
His employment history for the next decade is unknown. From 1990 until his retirement in 2017, DeAngelo was a truck mechanic at the Roseville distribution center for Save Mart Supermarkets. DeAngelo was living in Citrus Heights with a daughter and granddaughter at the time of his arrest. His brother-in-law, James Huddle, said that DeAngelo casually brought up the East Area Rapist in conversation around the time of the original crimes. Neighbors reported that DeAngelo frequently engaged in loud, profane outbursts.
DeAngelo cannot be charged with rapes due to the statute of limitations expiring for those offenses, but he has been charged with 13 counts of murder and also is being charged with 13 counts of kidnapping. DeAngelo returned to court on July 12, 2018. Appearing again before Judge Michael Sweet, DeAngelo was shackled inside the courtroom holding area throughout the duration of the proceedings. Later, on August 13, 2018, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference to announce that they will be charging DeAngelo for the September 11, 1975 murder of Claude Snelling in Visalia.
On August 21, 2018 at 11:00 AM, a coalition of district attorneys appeared together to issue statements to the press. Presenting together were: Contra Costa County DA, Diana Becton; Orange County DA, Tony Rackauckas; Sacramento County DA, Anne Marie Schubert; Santa Barbara County DA, Joyce E. Dudley; Tulare County DA, Tim Ward; Ventura County DA, Gregory D. Totten; SADA Sophie Alexandria Fresson, Lisa Bartlett, Supervisor of the 5th District (where the Orange County murders took place). This group of officials is in charge of prosecuting the case against DeAngelo, the alleged Golden State Killer. He was arraigned in Sacramento on August 23, 2018. Several DAs involved in the case were present in the courtroom, and members of the public were allowed to attend. In the gallery were several survivors, family members, and witnesses who will be participating in the upcoming series of preliminary hearings, many of whom gave interviews to the media at the conclusion of court business. On December 6, 2018, a hearing was held in Sacramento, and Joseph James DeAngelo appeared in Sacramento Superior Court before Judge Michael Sweet at 1:30 PM local time.