Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo, Arrested After 40-Year Hunt, Authorities Say

Police arrested a 72-year-old former cop who they say terrorized California in the 1970s and ’80s, carrying out 12 murders and at least 45 rapes.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

The notorious Golden State Killer, responsible for 12 murders and 45 rapes across California in the 1970s and ’80s, was arrested early Wednesday morning, authorities announced.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was booked around 2 a.m. Wednesday, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said at a press conference. DeAngelo is charged with the murder of Lyman and Charlene Smith in 1980 and is also suspected of killing Brian and Katie Maggiore in 1978, officials said.

“We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.

Sheriff Jones said evidence began pointing to DeAngelo several days ago, at which point authorities placed him under surveillance and collected a DNA sample that had been “abandoned” by DeAngelo.

Police say they waited for DeAngelo to vacate his home in Citrus Heights, outside Sacramento, before arresting him.

Bruce Harrington, the brother of murder victims Keith and Patrice Harrington, gave an impassioned speech at Wednesday’s press conference, thanking authorities for their “tenacity” and “unrelenting focus” in the case.

“It’s time for victims to heal,” said Harrington. “He’s now in jail, and he’s history.”

The Daily Beast was the first to report that DeAngelo was the suspect arrested after an interview with journalist Billy Jensen, who worked with researchers on a book about the crimes, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. The book was written by Michelle McNamara, who died before it was published. It was finished by Jensen, researcher Paul Haynes, and McNamara’s husband, the comedian and actor Patton Oswalt.

On Wednesday morning, Oswalt called the news “surreal” and said in an Instagram video: “Think you got him, Michelle.”

The fifth victim of the Golden State Killer, Jane Carson-Sandler, said she learned about the arrest from two detectives in the case.

“I just found out this morning,” she told The Island Packet. “I’m overwhelmed with joy. I’ve been crying, sobbing.”

The Golden State Killer’s attacks began in 1976, and he eventually moved on to sexually assaulting women in the East Bay Area region of California near Sacramento, which led to the suspect’s alias, The East Area Rapist. Years later, the same person began attacking 400 miles away in Southern California. The attacks ended in 1986 and were linked through the killer’s modus operandi and DNA evidence.

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The Smiths were killed in March 1980 inside their hilltop home in Ventura. They were bound with a drapery cord from the house (the killer’s original M.O. was to bind victims with items from their home) and bludgeoned to death with a log from the premises.

The Maggiores were gunned down while walking their dog in Sacramento in February 1978. Residents provided police with a description of a suspect and police subsequently released sketches. The killer only attacked once more in Sacramento following the sketches, McNamara wrote.

Jail records show that DeAngelo fits the FBI profile of the killer: 5-foot-11 and now between the ages of 60 and 75 years old. Public records show that DeAngelo lived in the Sacramento area, Whittier, and Long Beach.

The Golden State Killer was, according to the FBI, thought to have an “interest in the military, or had some military training, leaving him familiar and proficient with firearms.”

Sheriff Jones said DeAngelo “was committing crimes while he was employed as a police officer” from 1973 to 1979. DeAngelo was an officer first in Exeter, in central California, and then in Auburn, outside Sacramento.

In Exeter, DeAngelo was investigating burglaries for the police department, according to a newspaper report at the time—the same time the Golden State Killer was ransacking homes in the area.

In Auburn, DeAngelo was reportedly fired after he was accused of shoplifting a can of dog repellent and a hammer at a drugstore in 1979. DeAngelo was terminated after he “failed to answer any of the city’s investigations and did not request an administrative hearing,” the city manager said at the time.

Fear gripped the areas terrorized by the Golden State Killer for a full decade.

After the 20th rape victim was attacked in Orangevale in 1977, a 10-mile corridor of Sacramento County felt like it was “under siege,” McNamara wrote.

“East Siders hacked off tree limbs and uprooted shrubs around their houses. Reinforcing sliding glass windows with dowel rods wasn’t enough. That might keep him out, but they wanted more; they wanted to strip him completely of the ability to hide,” McNamara wrote.

The Golden State Killer would prowl neighborhoods, often casing homes before attacks, then “gained entry into the homes of his victims by prying open a window or door while they slept,” according to the FBI.

Floodlights went up, couples slept in shifts, tambourines were affixed to doors, hammers were placed under pillows, and nearly 300 guns were sold in Sacramento County in the first half of 1977, according to McNamara’s book.

When the killer started an attack, he would shine a flashlight into the face of his victims, blinding them, before tying up couples and then raping the women.

“Their fear found direction when they heard the voice, described as a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening,” McNamara wrote.

“Precision and self-preservation were his identifying features,” she continued. “When he zeroed in on a victim, he often entered the home beforehand when no one was there, studying family pictures, learning the layout. He disabled porch lights and unlocked sliding glass doors. He emptied bullets from guns.”

He took small personal items from his victims’ homes, including mementos and wedding rings. He sometimes called to torment them afterward.

In 2001, he allegedly called a woman he’d attacked 24 years earlier, according to McNamara’s book.

He whispered: “Remember when we played?”

Several of DeAngelo’s neighbors said he displayed a temper that stood out in the quiet, affluent area.

“He would have outbursts on the driveway and yell and scream, when he was looking for his keys,” Natalia Bedes-Correnti told The Daily Beast. “He hasn’t thrown a tantrum in about a decade. I figured he mellowed out with age.” 

Eddie Verdon described DeAngelo as “nosy, curious about everybody’s business.” A few years ago, Verdon said he heard footsteps around the side of his house and dashed out to find DeAngelo running away from Verdon’s side yard, taking off on a bicycle.

“He made sure I never seen him again. And if I did see him, it was because his garage was open.”

Multiple neighbors said DeAngelo had a boat and presumed he was a fisherman.

Drew Johnson, who lives three houses down from DeAngelo, said he “heard him occasionally” yelling from his driveway. “I think everyone here heard him go on his rants,” he said.

Cyndee Reed said she grew up in the area at the time of the attacks. 

“People were putting cactus plants and rocks underneath their windows... That’s how much fear he put into young women in our community,” she said. “It wasn’t just the neighborhood. It was the whole Sacramento community. That’s who was afraid.”

—with additional reporting by Allen Young in Sacramento