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Between 1976 and 1984, the Golden State Killer raped and murdered his way across central California. With a count of 13 murder victims and at least 50 rapes, he is one of the most prolific serial criminals in the history of the Golden State. After decades of mystery, the Golden State Killer, AKA Joseph James DeAngelo, was caught thanks to DNA. He was arrested on April 24, 2018. Here are the 10 craziest things about the case.
1) Multiple Personalities
DeAngelo wasn’t always called the Golden State Killer; law enforcement and the press have given him as many monikers over the years. His early crime sprees included break-ins in Visalia, leading to the perpetrator nickname of Visalia Ransacker (VR). He then escalated to rape in the Sacramento area, where he was known as the East Area Rapist(EAR). Eventually he moved onto murder, and was nicknamed the Original Night Stalker (ONS). Law enforcement didn’t realize EAR and ONS were the same criminal until DNA analysis linked the crimes in 2001. The VR crimes were speculated to belong to EAR/ONS as well, but weren’t officially linked until his arrest.
Some speculated that the confusing naming convention made publicity and investigation difficult. True crime author and investigative journalist Michelle McNamara renamed EAR/ONS, giving him the currently used moniker of Golden State Killer.
2) The Celebrity Connection
One of the most outspoken voices who brought much-needed attention to the case, as well as assistance (and in the case of lead investigator Paul Holes, collaboration) to law enforcement, was writer Michelle McNamara. McNamara wrote articles for newspapers and her blog on the GSK, and eventually a book called I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. She passed away just before her book was completed; it was then finished by her research assistants, Paul Hayns and Billy Jenkins, and her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt. Her book became a New York Times bestseller. While the majority of the book focuses on the crime, large parts of it are biographical. The book is being turned into a miniseries on HBO.
DeAngelo didn’t go after his victims when they were alone. He frequently broke into houses with families or a couple inside. If a couple was present, he would tie up the male and stack dishes on top of him. If the victim struggled or tried to get free, he would hear the dishes rattle or break.
4) Hungry Man
The GSK didn’t leave immediately after committing his crimes. He wandered around the houses looking at family mementos and frequently cooked and ate food from the kitchen. After one of the murders, he ate his victim’s Christmas dinner leftovers.
Before attacking his victims, the GSK did extensive research. He watched from outside multiple homes in a neighborhood, learning schedules, floor plans, and putting together his plan of action. He broke into homes a few times before committing the crimes, often to do prep work such as unscrewing porch lights, leaving windows unlocked, or disabling his victim’s weapons. His victims often received hang-up calls before the attacked.
6) The Town Hall
At the height of his rape spree, concerns over safety led police to host town halls where they would discuss safety, prevention, and police efforts to catch the rapist. At one town meeting, a man stood up and said he would never let his wife be raped while he was at home. Seven months later, that couple became the 21st set of EAR victims.
7) He kept in touch with his victims.
The GSK was known to call his victims months and years after attacking them. Sometimes he would breathe heavily, and sometimes he threatened to come back and murder them.
On April 24, 2018, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department arrested Joseph James DeAngelo for murder related to the GSK crimes. As of July 2018, he has been charged with killing 12 people. The sexual assault charges fit the letter of the law but are past the statute of limitations. Law enforcement sought out the GSK for over 30 years; DeAngelo was never mentioned during the investigation.
Law enforcement found DeAngelo by uploading his DNA to ancestry site GEDmatch. They narrowed down the results to a handful of men, and eventually used DNA from the handle of DeAngelo’s car and a discarded tissue to confirm his identity.
DeAngelo has pled not guilty, and the case is moving towards trial.
DeAngelo served in the Navy for nearly 2 years during the Vietnam War, and as a police officer in Exeter, California, where he worked in the burglary division. He was dismissed for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent.
10) Beginning of a Trend and the Zodiac Killer
DeAngelo’s arrest marked a turning point for cold case investigations. Since his arrest, multiple cold cases have turned to genealogy sites like GEDmatch, resulting in arrests. While law enforcement has used familial DNA for years to catch murderers (BTK was caught from a DNA sample retrieved from his daughter’s pap smear), it is the first time law enforcement has turned to open sourced DNA matching websites like GEDmatch. California law enforcement is even using GEDmatch to attempt to finally unmask the Zodiac Killer.