Police say this 72-year-old ex-cop is the Golden State Killer

He's believed to have killed at least 12 people, raped at least 45, and burglarized hundreds of homes during his reign of terror from the Sacramento area down the California coast and Bay Area to Southern California.

The killer terrorized communities across the state through the 1970s and ‘80s, first in Southern California, then in the Bay Area. He is believed to have killed at least 12 people, raped at least 50, and burglarized hundreds of homes across at least 10 counties during his reign of terror that stretched from the Sacramento area down the California coast and Bay Area to Southern California.

One of his signatures was the elaborate diamond knot he used to restrain his victims, which earned him one of his pseudonyms, the Diamond Knot Killer. He was also known as the "East Area Rapist" and the "Original Night Stalker"; the title “Golden State Killer” only recently took hold.

Advertisement

Police now say that man was known to friends and family as Joseph James DeAngelo, age 72. He was arrested at his home by Sacramento police around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday and charged with two counts of murder. He had been living in the neatly-appointed suburban home since 1983, the Sacramento Bee reports.

The authorities confirmed that DeAngelo has adult children, and that members of his family had been interviewed as part of their investigation. “They are as cooperative, and certainly it’s quite a shock to them, as you might expect,” Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones said on Wednesday.

DeAngelo was an officer with the Auburn police department until 1979, when he was charged with shoplifting a hammer and a can of dog repellant from a drug store, the Auburn Journal reports. Neighbors described him to the Sacramento Bee as a generally good neighbor who was so exacting he marked his driveway so he could park his boat perfectly in the spot, and prone to flashes of anger and loud cursing.

But it wasn't enough to lead them to suspect him of being one of the most prolific serial killers and rapists in U.S. history.

“He covered his trail very well,” Contra Costa County cold case investigator Paul Holes told NBC last month. “What he didn’t account for was DNA technology.”

Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert confirmed his hunch Wednesday in a press conference.

"The answer has always been in Sacramento," Schubert said. “There are things about that journey and that commitment that each of us knew: The answer was and was always going to be in the DNA.”

Advertisement

Sheriff Scott Jones said it was only in the last few days that his department narrowed in on the killer. After staking out his home in Citrus Heights, he said, “We were able to get some discarded DNA, and we were able to confirm what we thought we already knew.”

Paul Sanchietti, who lives down the block from the suspect, described DeAngelo as "the odd neighbor" who cursed loudly while working in his front yard, according to the Sacramento Bee.

It was always assumed the Golden State Killer was still alive, in part because he enjoyed getting in contact with his surviving victims and taunting them long after the attacks, according to police.

The serial murders were the subject of a true-crime book by Michelle McNamara, who was married to comedian Patton Oswalt until her death shortly before the book’s publication in April of 2016.

The book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” drew renewed attention to the 40-year-old case as it shot to the top of bestseller lists. A documentary about the killer was screened locally in Sacramento in 2016, and the cops put out a $50,000 reward for any information that led to an arrest.

In a press release at the time, the FBI said the killer would be a white male between 60 and 75 years old, around six feet tall with an "athletic build," and an interest or training in military or law enforcement and guns.

“I just found out this morning,” Jane Carson-Sandler, who was raped by the Golden State Killer on Oct. 5, 1976, told The Island Packet newspaper. “I’m overwhelmed with joy. I’ve been crying, sobbing.”

Cover image: Sketches of the Golden State Killer from different times during his reign of terror.