Crime & Justice

'We found the needle in the haystack': Suspected Golden State Killer arrested

A photo of accused rapist and killer Joseph James DeAngelo is displayed during a news conference on April 25, 2018 in Sacramento.
A photo of accused rapist and killer Joseph James DeAngelo is displayed during a news conference on April 25, 2018 in Sacramento.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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After a decades-long investigation, officials say they have arrested the man they believe to be the Golden State Killer, a brutal rapist and murderer responsible for one of California's most notorious unsolved crime sprees. 

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones announced that 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer, was arrested at his home in Sacramento. He was initially charged with eight counts of murder but could face dozens more charges, authorities said.

Sacramento County Sheriffs deputies leave the Citrus Heights, Calif., home of Joseph James DeAngelo, Wednesday, April 25 2018, who was a arrested on suspicion in a string of violent crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.
Sacramento County Sheriffs deputies leave the Citrus Heights, Calif., home of Joseph James DeAngelo, Wednesday, April 25 2018, who was a arrested on suspicion in a string of violent crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten said prosecutors would seek the death penalty.

DeAngelo has been charged with two counts of murder in the slayings of Brian and Katie Maggiore in Sacramento in Feb. 1978. He has also been charged with the murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith in Ventura County in March 1980. Authorities believe DeAngelo is responsible for additional rapes and/or murders in Orange, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

"We found the needle in the haystack — and it was right here in Sacramento," said Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert, recounting law enforcement's "journey for justice" in the haunting case.

DeAngelo has been booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail and is being held without bail. In the meantime, FBI agents and officials from other law enforcement agencies have continued to comb through DeAngelo's home in the Citrus Heights neighborhood of Sacramento.

On Wednesday morning, reporter Pedro Rivera of FOX40 TV posted pictures on Twitter of agents pulling Deangelo's cars, motorcycle and boat from the garage of his home on Canyon Oak Drive.

Authorities believe the Golden State Killer committed 12 murders, 51 rapes and more than 100 home burglaries between 1976 and 1986. 

The FBI released these three sketches of the suspect in the Golden State Killer case.
The FBI released these three sketches of the suspect in the Golden State Killer case.
FBI

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE SUSPECT

DeAngelo is a 72-year-old former police officer. He worked as a police officer in Auburn, California from 1976 until 1979. He was fired from that job after he was caught shoplifting a can of dog repellant and a hammer at a Sacramento drugstore. 

Prior that, DeAngelo was employed as a police officer in Exeter, a small town near Visalia, from 1973 to 1976.

Before his law enforcement career, DeAngelo served in the Navy and was stationed aboard the USS Canberra. In 1967, he returned to the U.S. after serving in North Vietnam, where he worked on the gun line. The Golden State Killer was known for his facility with knots.

DeAngelo is a graduate of Folsom High School, according to the Auburn Journal.

THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER

A Los Angeles Magazine article published by Michelle McNamara in 2013 featured this image: a composite sketch by police based on reports of the so-called
A Los Angeles Magazine article published by Michelle McNamara in 2013 featured this image: a composite sketch by police based on reports of the so-called "Original Night Stalker" or "Golden State Killer." Authorities announced a $50,000 reward Wednesday as they seek to make inroads in the decades-old cold case.
LA Magazine

Although DeAngelo has so far only been charged for killings that took place in Sacramento and Ventura counties, authorities believe he committed others across the state.

In the mid to late-1970s, an unknown man committed a spate of burglaries and rapes, as well as two murders in Northern California, where he was dubbed the East Area Rapist (EAR) by law enforcement. From 1979 to 1986, he committed several rapes and murders in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties, where he was known as the Original Night Stalker (ONS). 

It wasn't until decades later that authorities connected the two crime sprees and determined they were committed by the same person. In 2016, the FBI announced a $50,000 reward and a national campaign to identify the Golden State Killer.

Authorities believe that DeAngelo may also be the Visalia Ransacker, the nickname for the criminal who committed several break-ins from 1974 to 1975 in the San Joaquin Valley. DeAngelo was working as a police officer in nearby Exeter during that period.

The decade-long crime spree received renewed attention in 2013, after true crime author Michelle McNamara published a magazine story about the Golden State Killer. McNamara, the late wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, was writing a book about the case when she died in 2016. That book, "I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer," came out last year and has become a best-seller.

The FBI released this flier containing three sketches of the suspect in the Golden State Killer case.
The FBI released this flier containing three sketches of the suspect in the Golden State Killer case.
FBI

HOW THEY GOT HIM

The short answer: DNA.

"I can tell you that although it was ultimately DNA that led us down the right road, there were a lot of places that road could have led," Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones said. He said authorities used surveillance and discarded DNA to link DeAngelo to the crimes.

But authorities didn't reveal much about how they narrowed their focus to DeAngelo.

yt clues

They said they received a tip from the public leading to several days of observation by law enforcement. They acquired DeAngelo's DNA and checked it against DNA samples that were collected from the crime scenes. Sacramento DA Schubert emphasized that the focus on DeAngelo happened at "lightning speed."

"The answer has always been in Sacramento," she said. "For many of us, it was more than a professional commitment. It became personal for many of us. In the last six days, that passion, persistence and knowledge finally came to answer in that building behind us here — in that crime lab."

Sheriff Jones called attention to the victims in the dozens of murders and rapes, saying that justice "was not swift, but I assure you it will be sure."

VICTIMS REACT

Bruce Harrington pauses as he discusses the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo for a string of violent crimes in the 1970s and 1980s, including the murder of Harrington's brother and sister-in-law, at a news conference, Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Sacramento.
Bruce Harrington pauses as he discusses the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo for a string of violent crimes in the 1970s and 1980s, including the murder of Harrington's brother and sister-in-law, at a news conference, Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Sacramento.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

In 1999, Orange County sheriff's homicide detectives were able to use DNA to link the Irvine slaying of Keith and Patrice Harrington to nine other slayings in Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The genetic evidence was later used to connect the same suspect to dozens of rapes in Northern California.

Harrington's brother, Bruce, helped bankroll a successful 2004 ballot initiative campaign to take DNA from all convicted felons and some arrestees.

"To the victims, sleep better tonight, he isn't coming through the window," Bruce Harrington said at the news conference announcing the arrest.

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 Wednesday from a retired detective who worked on the case telling her they identified the rapist and he's in custody.

"I have just been overjoyed, ecstatic. It's an emotional roller-coaster right now," Carson-Sandler, who now lives near Hilton Head, South Carolina, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I feel like I'm in the middle of a dream and I'm going to wake up and it's not going to be true. It's just so nice to have closure and to know he's in jail."

This story has been updated.