Ex-cop arrested in sadistic crime spree from ’70s, ’80s
A man once sworn to protect the public from crime was accused Wednesday of living a double life terrorizing suburban neighborhoods at night, becoming one of California’s most feared serial killers and rapists in the 1970s and ’80s before leaving a cold trail that baffled investigators for more than three decades.
Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested at his home after DNA linked him to crimes attributed to the so-called Golden State Killer. He initially was charged with eight counts of murder and could face dozens more charges, authorities said.
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, notably coins and jewelry 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.
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.
Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones said detectives with “dogged determination” were able to get a sample of DNA from something DeAngelo discarded, though he wouldn’t say what the item was. The genetic material was not a match, but there were enough similarities for investigators to return for more and they said they were able to get a conclusive match.
After watching DeAngelo for several days, deputies took him by surprise Tuesday.
“It looked as though he might have been searching his mind to execute a particular plan he may have had,” but never had time to act, Jones said.
DeAngelo was arrested on suspicion of committing double-killings in Sacramento and Ventura counties and later charged with four counts of murder in Orange County, officials said. Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten said prosecutors would seek the death penalty.
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, 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.