Ex-cop named as 1970s US serial killer and rapist

FBI sketches of the East Area Rapist or Golden State Killer, who police have identified as Joseph James DeAngelo (left).
FBI sketches of the East Area Rapist or Golden State Killer, who police have identified as Joseph James DeAngelo (above).
FBI sketches of the East Area Rapist or Golden State Killer, who police have identified as Joseph James DeAngelo (left).
FBI sketches of the East Area Rapist or Golden State Killer, who police have identified as Joseph James DeAngelo (above).

Police say they have cracked case that went cold in 1980s, leading to arrest of 72-year-old

SACRAMENTO • It was a rash of sadistic rapes and murders that spread terror throughout California, long before the term was commonly used.

The scores of attacks in the 1970s and 1980s went unsolved for more than three decades. But on Wednesday, law enforcement officials said they had finally arrested the notorious Golden State Killer in a tidy suburb of Sacramento.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who was taken into custody outside his home on Tuesday and charged with six counts of murder, had been living undisturbed a half-hour drive from where the 12-year rampage began. He was described as a former police officer, and his time in uniform partly overlapped with many of the crimes he is accused of committing.

The case was cracked in the past week, Sheriff Scott Jones of Sacramento County said on Wednesday, when investigators identified DeAngelo and were able to match his DNA with the murders of Ms Lyman and Ms Charlene Smith in Ventura County in 1980.

"We found the needle in the haystack and it was right here in Sacramento," said Ms Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento district attorney, who helped organise a task force two years ago that included investigators from across the state as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A DNA database showed links to other murders in Southern California, authorities said on Wednesday.

A series of rapes in an old gold mining area east of Sacramento in 1976 were first linked by authorities for their geographic proximity, the similar description of the rapist - a white male with blond hair who was just under 1.8m tall - and the peculiar and cruel rituals that he inflicted on his victims.

CAPTURED AT LAST

We found the needle in the haystack and it was right here in Sacramento.

MS ANNE MARIE SCHUBERT, the Sacramento district attorney who helped organise a task force two years ago to find the Golden State Killer.

His victims included women home alone and women at home with their children. The suspect went on to rape women with their husbands present and then murder them both. He is also thought to have burgled more than 120 homes. He became an infamous figure, sometimes known as the Golden State Killer and other times as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker.

His planning was meticulous and he seemed to know precise details about his victims' schedules.

They described the gravelly, angry whisper that he used as he tormented them. He wore gloves and a mask and was a predator with quirks: As his victims lay terrified, he would pause for a snack of crackers after raping them. He placed a teacup and saucer on the bodies of some of his victims and threatened them with murder if he heard the ceramic rattle.

With communities panicking - at one point his assaults averaged two victims a month - authorities hired a range of experts to help them break the case, among them a military special forces officer and a psychic. Then, when the rapes and murders appeared to end in 1986, the case went cold.

National interest was reignited this year with the publication of an exhaustive investigation into the serial killer's identity, I'll Be Gone In The Dark, written by Michelle McNamara, a crime writer who died in April 2016. The book, published in February, was completed after her death by a journalist and researcher recruited by her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt.

Mr Oswalt spoke about the reported capture on Wednesday in a video posted on Instagram. "I think you got him, Michelle," he said.

DeAngelo, whom authorities suspect of a total of 12 murders, was arrested by investigators using some of the same tactics employed by the suspect to stalk his victims - police surveilled his movements, studied his routines and pounced when he left his house.

DeAngelo, who has adult children, was twice employed as a police officer in two small California cities: In Exeter, in the Central Valley, from 1973 to 1976, and in Auburn, north of Sacramento, from 1976 to 1979, according to Mr Jones.

He was convicted in 1979 for shoplifting a can of dog repellent and a hammer from a store in Sacramento County. The incident led to his dismissal from the Auburn police force. The arrest came amid the rash of rapes in the area.

Ms Jean McNeill, a retiree who lives near where one of the murders took place, remembered the terror that the killer instilled in the neighbourhood. "I can remember thinking, 'It's getting dark and no one is home with me - I've got to be really careful'," she said.

"That's what made it so frightening. We didn't know when he was going to strike next."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2018, with the headline 'Ex-cop named as 1970s US serial killer and rapist'. Print Edition | Subscribe