Ex-policeman charged over 'Golden State' serial killings
(Image: AP: Suspect Joseph James DeAngelo (L) and police officers at his house on 25 April 2018)
A former US police officer was accused on Wednesday of being one of California's most feared serial killers and rapists in the 1970s and '80s.
Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested at his home on Tuesday after DNA linked him to crimes attributed to the so-called Golden State Killer. He has been charged with eight counts of murder and could face dozens more charges, authorities say.
The culprit also known as the East Area Rapist, among other names, is suspected of at least 12 slayings and 50 rapes in 10 counties from Northern to Southern California. The armed and masked prowler sneaked in through windows at night and surprised sleeping victims who ranged in age from 13 to 41.
When encountering a couple, he was known to tie up the man and pile dishes on his back. He threatened to kill both victims if he heard plates crash to the floor while he raped the woman. He then ransacked the house, taking souvenirs, before fleeing on foot or bicycle.
Despite an outpouring of thousands of tips over the years, DeAngelo's name had not been on the radar of law enforcement before last week, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said.
"We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we also knew that needle was there," she said. "It was right here in Sacramento."
A break in the case and the arrest came together in "light speed" during the past six days, Schubert said, though authorities refused to reveal what led to DeAngelo.
Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten said that before prosecutors decide whether to seek the death penalty, there will be a "solemn and formal death review process that typically takes many months before a decision is made".
DeAngelo, who served in the Navy, was a police officer in Exeter, in the San Joaquin Valley, from 1973 to 1976, at a time a burglar known as the Visalia Ransacker was active, Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones said.
He transferred to the force in Auburn in the Sierra foothills near where he grew up outside Sacramento. About 50 crimes, including two killings, were attributed to the East Area Rapist during the three years DeAngelo worked in Auburn.
DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn department in 1979 after being arrested for stealing a can of dog repellant and a hammer from a drug store, according to Auburn Journal articles from the time. He was convicted of the theft and fined $100.
Ten slayings occurred after he was fired and all took place in Southern California.
DeAngelo worked for 27 years in a distribution centre for Save Mart Supermarkets in Roseville, a Sacramento-area suburb. He retired last year, said Victoria Castro, spokeswoman for The Save Mart Companies.
Although it's unusual for serial killers to stop, Jones said they had no reason to think DeAngelo continued to commit crimes after 1986, when the last rape and killing occurred in Orange County.
"We have no indication of any crimes with a similar or at least a close enough link to his MO and other things that he's done in the past to link him to anything from '86 on," Jones said.
Jones said he always thought the rapist was alive, but might be in prison.
For the prosecutors and investigators, the arrest not only marked a significant professional achievement but also a personal one that had touched their formative years and early careers.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley was a college student volunteering at a rape crisis centre and "sat with survivors who had been assaulted by this guy".
The wave of horrifying crimes brought an end to a more innocent era in the Sacramento suburbs when children rode bicycles to school, played outside until dark and people didn't lock their doors, Schubert said.
"It all changed," said Schubert, who was 12 at the time. "For anyone that lived here in this community, in Sacramento, the memories are very vivid. You can ask anyone who grew up here. Everyone has a story."
Jane Carson-Sandler was one of the first victims when she was sexually assaulted in 1976 in her home in Citrus Heights, the same community where DeAngelo was arrested at home.
She said she received an email on Wednesday from a retired detective who worked on the case telling her they identified the rapist and he was in custody.
"I have just been overjoyed, ecstatic. It's an emotional roller-coaster right now," Carson-Sandler told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "It's just so nice to have closure and to know he's in jail."