'Golden State Killer' suspect arrested in one of the worst unsolved crime sprees in US history

An elderly former police officer was arrested and charged in four murders authorities attributed to the Golden State Killer, a serial criminal suspected of dozens of rapes and slayings that terrorised parts of California during the 1970s and 1980s.
The wanted poster for the man known as the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer.
The wanted poster for the man known as the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer.PHOTO: US FBI

NEW YORK (WASHINGTON POST) - More than 40 years after the so-called "Golden State Killer" began to terrorise Californians, raping dozens of women and killing at least 12, authorities announced on Wednesday (April 25) that they had arrested 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in the case.

News of DeAngelo's arrest marked a sudden development in what had been one of the most notorious unsolved crime sprees in US history, one that stretched over a decade and terrorised scores of people across California.

Police said DNA evidence helped lead them to former police officer DeAngelo, who had been living in Citrus Heights, California, a city outside Sacramento.

"We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento," District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a news conference in the California capital.

The string of attacks - attributed to someone alternately dubbed the Golden State Killer, Original Night Stalker and East Area Rapist - was horrifying for both the nature of the attacks and their grim sweep.

Between 1976 and 1986, the FBI said, the attacker killed a dozen people and raped 45 people, attacking people who were as young as 13 and as old as 41.

This case, which involved one of one of the most prolific and elusive serial killers in modern American history, had remained an object of intense focus for many.

In 2016, the the FBI made a renewed plea - complete with a US$50,000 reward - for help in finding what they called "the violent and elusive individual."

"Everyone was afraid," Special Agent Marcus Knutson, who was born and raised in Sacramento and was heading up the FBI's portion of the investigation, said in a 2016 statement.

"We had people sleeping with shotguns, we had people purchasing dogs. People were concerned, and they had a right to be. This guy was terrorising the community. He did horrible things."

The Sacramento District Attorney had said a "major announcement" was coming in the case at noon Pacific time on Wednesday, following reports from several local news organisations reported that a man had finally been arrested in connection with the case.

Beginning in 1976, the Golden State Killer is believed to have raped dozens of women in their homes - meticulously planning his intrusions, sometimes ambushing entire families, and killing several of his victims towards the end of his spree, before vanishing in 1986.

The attacker was also behind numerous residential burglaries in the state, the FBI said.

Since his disappearance, investigators and amateur detectives have searched for the man across the United States and inquired as far away as Australia.

Their efforts finally paid off early on Wednesday, the Sacramento Bee reported, when FBI agents and police from cities across California came to a Citrus Heights home, and arrested its 72-year-old occupant on two counts of murder.

Officials said on Wednesday that additional charges followed.

"He was young - anywhere from 18 to 30 - Caucasian, and athletic, capable of eluding capture by jumping roofs and vaulting tall fences," the crime writer Michelle McNamara wrote in a Los Angeles magazine profile of the old cases.

"To zero in on a victim he often entered the home beforehand when no one was there, learning the layout, studying family pictures, and memorising names," she wrote.

"He disabled porch lights and unlocked windows. He emptied bullets from guns. He hid shoelaces or rope under cushions to use as ligatures.

"These manoeuvres gave him a crucial advantage because when you woke from a deep sleep to the blinding flashlight and ski-masked presence, he was always a stranger to you, but you were not to him."

Police first dubbed the man the East Area Rapist, as he would not begin killing until much later in his spree.

The first known attack, Katie Mettler wrote in The Post, took place in the middle of the night in the summer of 1976, when the man snuck into a home in east Sacramento County, raped a young woman and left.

He raped again a few weeks later, then again and again, dozens of times. After a year, two dozen women had been attacked and a sheriff's department spokesman told the Associated Press that some residents had started "sleeping in shifts," because the man would strike even if others were home.

His 44th victim was a 13-year-old girl in the Walnut Creek area in 1979, the Mercury News reported. He allegedly raped her at knifepoint while her father and sister slept down the hall, told her he'd kill her if she told anyone, and departed through the back yard, past her playhouse.

Police rebranded him the Original Night Stalker after he began to kill in 1978, Mettler wrote. He found a married couple walking their dog in the Sacramento Area, chased them and shot them to death.

Future killings would be much more meticulous, and spread from Sacramento to southern California.

On Dec 30, 1979, police in Goleta found a husband and wife dead in their house - one shot through the heart and one in the back of the head.

"As detectives processed the crime scene, they stepped around a turkey carcass wrapped in cellophane that had been discarded on the patio," McNamara wrote in Los Angeles Magazine.

"The killer had opened the refrigerator and helped himself to (victim Robert) Offerman's leftover Christmas dinner."

Another couple were murdered in Ventura three months later, she wrote. Then yet another couple, in a gate community in Dana Point.

He left few clues, and only betrayed a few patterns as his violence escalated: he often ate from his victims' fridges; often took tokens from their personal belongings, like class rings.

He usually tied up the men before he killed them and almost always raped the women.

Police did not even realise the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker were the same person until DNA tests linked all the crimes in the early 2000s, McNamara wrote.

By then, his spree was long over - the last victim being 18-year-old Janelle Cruz, bludgeoned to death in Irvine in 1986 - and the trail had gone cold.