He Terrorized California for Over 40 Years. Then Investigators Used This Website to Capture Him.
After 44 years, at least 12 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries, the Golden State Killer, also known as the Original Night Stalker, East Area Rapist, Diamond Knot Killer and Visalia Ransacker, has finally been caught. His name is Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year old former police officer who terrorized ten California counties between 1974 and 1986, when his crimes seemed to mysteriously end. How? You won’t believe it: a website.
12. A Man Disappearing in the Night
The man, who was one of America’s most prolific serial killers and serial rapists, was devastatingly elusive. He began his crime spree in the early 1970’s, long before multi-jurisdictional databases and DNA evidence were part of crime investigation. When a cold case investigator finally cracked the case, he did it in a way that DeAngelo could never have imagined.
11. From Ransacker to Rapist
The crimes appear to have started as home invasions. A prolific burglar ransacked a hundred houses in Visalia in the early 1970’s. Despite breaking and entering, the man’s MO didn’t have much to do with theft. Instead he rampaged through houses, ransacking closets and drawers and leaving messes all over patios and yards.
10. A Link?
When a rapist started terrorizing neighborhoods in the Bay Area a few years later, detectives didn’t even make the connection with the Ransacker. The brutal rapist cut the phone lines, pried open back doors, and shocked sleeping homeowners by shining flashlights in their eyes. In time, the so-called Original Night Stalker crossed into new counties, where he was called the East Area Rapist. The rapist’s methods showed escalation. Soon, he was raping women who were home alone. Instead he would tie up a husband or boyfriend and put dishes on the man’s back, warning him that if the dishes made a sound, he would kill the women. He would rape and then run away into the night.
9. The Rapist Turns to Murder
On October 1, 1979, at 2:30 a.m., the rapist was nearly apprehended. He raped a woman while her boyfriend was tied up. However, the woman almost got away. She continually fought him off, screaming, while her boyfriend got to his feet in the other room. When the boyfriend started to get up, the rapist fled out the back door and through the yard, where he stole a bike and pedaled away. The next door neighbor, an FBI agent, gave chase. The rapist was just outside his grasp. Local deputies arrived too late, and the rapist got away. That was the night investigators concluded that the suspect decided to become a murderer.
8. A Close Call
After the close call with the FBI agent, the man started to kill women and their partners rather than take the chance that they would get away. On December 30, 1979, the Golden State killer made his first appearance, murdering Dr. Robert Offerman and his wife, Dr. Debra Manning. Dr. Offerman had been shot four times, while Dr. Manning had been shot in the skull, execution style.
The Golden State Killer has been attributed to the murders two people in Rancho Cordova, one in Visalia, four in Goleta, and two in Ventura, Dana Point, and Irvine. DNA was found at the scene. By the time the FBI’s CODIS database was established, the man seemed to have simply disappeared.
7. The Killer Vanishes
For decades, officers wondered if the man they sought was in prison or dead, since he seemed to disappear in thin air. Investigators throughout the state started combining their resources and sharing information. A DNA profile had been established years earlier from material found at the crime scenes. One cold case investigator, Paul Holes, ran the DNA into the CODIS database once a week for years. There were never any hits.
The lack of DNA hits was puzzling, since many offenders are caught after someone with their DNA, like a sibling or close relative, is found in the system, leading police to their suspect. However, CODIS only includes DNA from people with criminal records. The investigation appeared to hit a dead end…..but maybe it didn’t.
6. From Maps to DNA
Investigators tried everything to find the killer and rapist, including geographical mapping to DNA analysis. Then a curious thing happened. Private companies started offering DNA testing. Websites 23andme and Ancestry.com compiled massive databases of DNA, usually not tied to criminals. The existence of these two sites is like a walled garden for investigators, since they are only allowed to use the sites if they can submit a DNA sample, using saliva or a cotton swab. This is impossible for the investigators of the old case, since they only head a DNA profile from old evidence.
5. A Match?
However, another website, called GEDmatch, allowed people to enter their DNA markers, rather than send in a sample. One day, Holes entered the information and thought he had hit paydirt – a close relative had been discovered! Unfortunately, his hopes were soon dashed. Another investigator in California had done the exact same thing – the Golden State Killer had matched himself!
4. An Unknown Database
Despite the letdown, Holes did not give up. He created a fake profile on GEDmatch, pretending to be doing genealogy research. To get the best possible DNA profile, he worked with a meticulous pathologist who was able to use a duplicate evidence kit from the rape and murder of Charlene and Lyman Smith. The duplicate kit had been in a freezer since 1980. This new sample was added to GEDmatch. He and his team soon had a hit.
3. Some Hits
Although Holes obtained around 10 hits, they were distant relatives the equivalent of third-cousins, not close matches. None of the distant relatives that were the right age were viable suspects. That meant the only way for the investigators to figure out how the DNA markers tied in to their suspect was to create a family tree. Twenty-five of them, to be exact.
2. Mapping it All Out
A team of five investigators spent four months with Holes, pictured above, painstakingly mapping out a family tree which started where the DNA markers originated – with the suspect’s great, great, great grandparents. From there, they did 25 smaller family trees, identifying about 1,000 people with the right genetic markers. They narrowed the list to men of the right age who lived in California. Two men were identified. One was quickly ruled out. The other was Joe DeAngelo, a retired auto parts salesman living in Citrus Heights.
Moving in for an Arrest
A surveillance team moved in. They followed him for days as he rode around town on his motorcycle, puttered around the house, and enjoyed his life. Then one day he threw something away that had his DNA on it. The team swooped up the evidence and collected a sample. Within minutes, they had their answer: Joe DeAngelo was linked to eight murders. Investigators are now comparing the sample with the evidence in dozens of rapes and many other murders.