After more than forty years, the murderer of 12 people and perpetrator of at least 50 violent sexual assaults has a name and a face. His name is more than some catchy moniker, by which to remember his crimes. His face is not just a vague, cartoonish sketch.
The Sacramento District Attorney’s office has identified Joseph James DeAngelo as their suspect for the Golden State Killer’s crimes.
DeAngelo, a 72-year-old resident of the Citrus Heights suburb of Sacramento, was arrested on April 24, after law enforcement agencies conclusively linked his DNA to genetic materials recovered from the crime scenes. Although DeAngelo has only been charged in four of the murders so far, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said, “there are many [more cases] that match by DNA, and it is the same DNA as found in those that have been charged [in the current case].” This means that there will probably be many more charges pressed and crimes cleared in the coming days and weeks, as the cases progress.
The leads resulting in DeAngelo’s arrest came together in a unique way. Contra Costa County Investigator Paul Holes took an unorthodox approach: he uploaded the unknown suspect’s DNA profile recovered at one of the crime scenes to the GEDMatch genealogy website. GEDMatch is different from other genealogy services, like Ancestry or 23AndMe, in that users’ genetic info is open source. This lack of privacy protections, like those in place at other genealogy firms, made it easier for law enforcement to find relatives of their suspect.
It was four months, from the time of law enforcement uploading the DNA profile to the arrest of DeAngelo. In that time, investigators located distant relatives of DeAngelo who had uploaded their own DNA to GEDMatch. Detectives used this information to build a family tree and eventually homed in on DeAngelo, who was still living in the area where many Sacramento crimes took place. Police put DeAngelo under surveillance and were able to obtain a discarded DNA sample of his, which proved a perfect match to their suspect’s profile.
The Golden State Killer (GSK), who was also called the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker by various law enforcement agencies, committed 12 murders and upwards of 50 violent sexual assaults between 1976 and 1986. These crimes took place over ten counties throughout the state, which confounded the investigations for a time; sheriff’s departments in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties had no idea that their then-unconnected suspects were indeed the most prolific serial rapist in Sacramento. That is until DNA profiling became a ubiquitous research tool for criminal investigators. Then the picture emerged of a serial killer and rapist who had been operating across hundreds of miles and evaded capture, sometimes just barely.
Law enforcement confirmed that DeAngelo is also suspected in the crimes committed by the so-called Visalia Ransacker, a serial burglar responsible for over 100 crimes in 1974 and 1975, in Visalia, California, a small central valley town more than 200 miles south of Sacramento.
The Visalia Ransacker was said to be motivated by more than theft: he would sometimes opt to steal heirlooms and personal mementos in lieu of cash or valuables. This behavior was also a part of the Golden State Killer’s MO. The Visalia Ransacker would commit what are called “hot prowl burglaries,” wherein the thief deliberately enters the home while its occupants are inside, adding to the risk and, possibly, the thrill.
The Visalia Ransacker is the suspect in a murder as well. A pistol stolen in an earlier burglary was the weapon used to murder Claude Snelling. Snelling, a journalism professor at College of the Sequoias, was giving chase after he found a man attempting to kidnap his daughter.
This connection between the Visalia Ransacker and GSK cases was just conjecture on the part of armchair detectives and internet sleuths until Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones confirmed the link during an April 25 press conference. Visalia Police Department representatives have also stated that they believe that, with DeAngelo arrested, the Visalia Ransacker has been caught.