Los Angeles (AFP) – California authorities, after a 40-year manhunt, on Wednesday announced the arrest of a 72-year-old former police officer on suspicion of being the notorious “Golden State Killer,” a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized the state in the 1970s and 1980s.
Joseph James DeAngelo, of Citrus Heights, California, was arrested without incident on Tuesday, officials said at a press conference in the state capital Sacramento.
Also known as the “East Area Rapist” and the “Original Nightstalker,” the Golden State Killer has been linked to at least 12 murders, 51 rapes and 120 home burglaries in California between 1976 and 1986.
Armed with a handgun, the masked assailant would break into homes during the night and tie up and rape his female victims, who ranged in age from 13 to 41.
Sacramento County district attorney Anne Marie Schubert said DeAngelo had been charged with two counts of murder with further charges to come.
“They just haven’t been charged yet,” Schubert told reporters. “This has happened at lightning speed.”
She said DeAngelo had been identified through DNA technology but declined to provide any more details about what led to his arrest after all these years.
“The answer was and always was going to be in the DNA,” Schubert said. “We found the needle in the haystack and it was right here in Sacramento.”
“The magnitude of this case demanded that it be solved,” the district attorney added. “This case deeply affected this entire state.”
– Former police officer –
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said DeAngelo had been charged with the February 2, 1978 murders of a newlywed couple, Brian Maggiore and his wife, Katie, who were shot to death while walking their dog in Rancho Cordova in Sacramento County.
Jones said DeAngelo was arrested outside of his home in Citrus Heights, a city near Sacramento.
“When he came out of his residence we had a team in place,” the sheriff said, adding that DeAngelo was “very surprised” to be taken into custody.
DeAngelo served as a police officer in Exeter, California, from 1973 to 1976 and in Auburn, California, from 1976 to 1979, when he was fired for shoplifting a hammer and a can of dog repellent, Jones said.
“It’s very possible he was committing the crimes during the time he was employed as a peace officer,” he said.
According to the authorities, the first known attack committed by the Golden State Killer was a June 1976 rape in Rancho Cordova.
Besides raping his victims, the assailant would take “souvenirs” from the residences including coins, cash, identification and jewelry.
Most of the early attacks occurred in the Sacramento area, but DNA evidence also connected the suspect to a series of rapes and murders in the San Francisco Bay region and the southern part of the state.
The last known case linked to the Golden State Killer was the May 1986 rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl in Irvine, California.
– ‘Everyone was afraid’ –
Two years ago, the FBI offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the cold case.
“Everyone was afraid,” FBI special agent Marcus Knutson was quoted on the FBI website as saying of the climate at the time of the attacks.
“We had people sleeping with shotguns, we had people purchasing dogs. People were concerned, and they had a right to be. This guy was terrorizing the community. He did horrible things,” Knutson said.
The Golden State Killer was the subject of “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” a best-selling book published earlier this year by true crime writer Michelle McNamara.
McNamara died two years ago at the age of 46 but her book helped spark renewed interest in the case.
McNamara’s husband, actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, who helped complete the book following his wife’s death, welcomed the news of the arrest.
“She would be beyond excited about this,” Oswalt said on Twitter. “I think this is the definition of bittersweet.”
Jones, the sheriff, said the book did not directly lead to the arrest but it “kept interest and tips coming in.”
The Golden State Killer’s fifth victim, Jane Carson-Sandler, said she was “overwhelmed with joy” when she was informed about DeAngelo’s arrest.
“I just found out this morning,” she told The Island Packet newspaper. “I’ve been crying, sobbing.”
Carson-Sandler was attacked by the Golden State Killer in her Citrus Heights home on October 5, 1976.
She wrote a book about the rape and appeared on a documentary aimed at catching the man behind it.