SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — A former police officer has been arrested and accused being an elusive serial killer and rapist known as the “Golden State Killer,” suspected in at least 12 murders, 51 rapes and dozens of burglaries across California in the 70s and 80s.
Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and booked on two counts of murder into the Sacramento County Jail.
He was arrested and charged after officers linked his DNA to the 1978 Rancho Cordova murders of Katie, 20 and Brian Maggiore, 21, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a news conference in Sacramento Wednesday.
Schubert says DNA helped solve the case. “We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento,” Schubert said.
The decades-long case culminated in a six-day surveillance operation at DeAngelo’s home in the Citrus Heights area of Sacramento County. There, officers obtained discarded DNA, submitted it to the crime lab and obtained a search warrant.
Deputies waited for DeAngelo to exit his home and took him into custody. “He was very surprised,” Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said.
The attacker was also known as the East Area Rapist after a series of rapes in Northern California, the Original Night Stalker after a series of Southern California slayings, the Diamond Knot Killer for using the elaborate knot to bind two of his victims, and most recently the Golden State Killer.
The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office has filed capital murder charges against DeAngelo for the March 1980 murders of Charlene, 33 and Lyman Smith, 43. The charges have enhancements for multiple murders, murder during rape and murder during a burglary.
DeAngelo was a police officer from 1973 to 1979 in two separate law enforcement agencies, according to Jones. His tenure as a Visalia police officer from 1973 to 1976 overlapped with his suspected attacks as the “Visalia Ransacker.” He then served as an Auburn police officer from 1976 to 1979, Jones said.
Jones confirmed that DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn department after he shoplifted two items: dog repellent and a hammer. Multiple agencies are currently filling in timeline gaps between his firing and his arrest, Jones said.
DeAngelo had a family and adult children, according to Jones. He did not confirm whether the family was living at the house. Jones said family members have been interviewed and it’s “quite a shock to them.”
The arrest was welcome news to many of his alleged victims.
“I have just been overjoyed, ecstatic. It’s an emotional roller-coaster right now,” said Jane Carson-Sandler, who was sexually assaulted in California in 1976 and now lives near Hilton Head, South Carolina. “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.”
Bruce Harrington, whose brother and sister-in-law were killed in 1980 in Orange County, told reporters Wednesday that it’s time for victims’ families to grieve and “bring closure to the anguish that we all suffered for the last 40 odd years.”
Prosecutors say Harrington’s brother, 24-year-old Keith Harrington and his wife, 27-year-old Patrice Harrington, were killed in 1980 in their home.
The notorious serial killer was dubbed the East Area Rapist after his start in Northern California, the Original Night Stalker after a series of Southern California slayings, the Diamond Knot Killer for using the elaborate knot to bind two of his victims, and most recently the Golden State Killer.
He’s linked through DNA and other evidence to more than 175 crimes between 1976 and 1986, officials said.
The masked rapist, armed with a gun, would break into homes while single women or couples were sleeping. He would tie up the man and pile dishes on his back. He would then rape the woman while threatening to kill them if the dishes tumbled.
Investigators believe the rapes, and dozens of burglaries often used to case neighborhoods, escalated in 1978 when he fatally shot U.S. Air Force Sgt. Brian Maggiore and his wife Katie as they walked their dog.
They believe he soon moved on to commit 11 attacks in the Bay Area, at least three in Contra Costa County, before heading to Southern California.
It wasn’t until 2001 that new DNA testing linked him to at least six Southern California homicides between 1979 and 1986. In each case, the killer broke into a house at night and raped the female victim first.
Investigators believe he also committed another four unsolved Southern California homicides because of similarities in evidence or his methods.
The Southern California killer had been called the Original Night Stalker, to distinguish him from the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, who died of cancer in 2013 before he could be executed for committing 13 mutilation murders in 1984 and 1985.
The elaborate diamond knot was used to tie up a Ventura couple before they were beaten to death with a fireplace log in 1980. That killer was later also discovered to be the same man that authorities in recent years have taken to calling the Golden State Killer to reflect his crimes across California.
The unsolved crimes prompted lawmakers to consider changing state law in 2002 to let jailers use force to take DNA samples from inmates. Investigators wanted to take a sample from Paul “Cornfed” Schneider to see if he was the Original Night Stalker.
Schneider gained notoriety that year as the adopted son of two San Francisco attorneys convicted in a high-profile dog-mauling case who were raising Schneider’s dogs while he was in custody. But there was no DNA match between Schneider and the Southern California slayings.
The crimes also helped spur a 2004 ballot initiative expanding California’s law requiring felons to provide DNA samples for a state database.
© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.