During the past week, it’s been revealed that one of the most notorious and terrifying serial killers in US history has seemingly been apprehended. Decades after his long campaign of atrocities, the so-called Golden State Killer has apparently been unmasked at last, with the latest online technology used to snare someone who operated long before the Internet even existed.
Recalling the height of the Golden State Killer’s activities in California, a West Coast district attorney said “One person can create a lot of fear… It was like terrorism – not that it was done for the same reason – but it caused the same type of fear.” He is believed to have carried out 12 murders, 51 rapes and more than 120 burglaries during a decade of terror between 1976 and 1986.
He may not have become as globally infamous as the likes of Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, but the Golden State Killer’s crimes were among the most nerve-shredding ever to hit the United States. And, until now, it was generally assumed that, like the Zodiac Killer, he was fated to remain a shadowy figure forever, never to be brought to justice.
The evidence suggests the Golden State Killer evolved from a “mere” burglar to serial rapist, and then to fully-fledged serial killer over a number of years in the 1970s. In fact, it’s generally thought he was the individual initially dubbed the Visalia Ransacker – a voyeuristic prowler who stalked homes in Visalia, California in the mid-70s.
The Ransacker was no ordinary thief. He had a penchant for picking items of sentimental value to the owners, emptying piggy banks and rifling through women’s clothing, while leaving high-value items behind. And he was certainly capable of going much, much further. During one break-in in the middle of the night, he shot a home owner to death.
Some time later, the same person appeared to resurface in another part of California, escalating his crimes to a terrifying degree. If the general consensus is true, the Visalia Ransacker became the perpetrator known as the East Area Rapist. His MO was unique, and uniquely frightening.
Not content with simply assaulting his victims, he would orchestrate his home invasions with military precision, carrying out detailed reconnaissance of victims’ abodes, sometimes even breaking in ahead of time to learn the layout of the home and plant the ligatures he’d later use to bind his victims. On one occasion he even emptied a home-owner’s gun of its bullets, then replaced the weapon so that, during the attack, he could relish telling his victim that his gun was useless.
The East Area Rapist would also ensure his own safety by having the male partner of his rape victim lie on the ground with crockery balanced on his body – threatening to kill them both if he heard the slightest rattle. Bizarrely, he was also known to take breaks from the assaults, to wander around the house, help himself to food from the fridge, and sometimes appear to depart completely – only to jump out of the shadows just when the victims thought the danger had passed.
The meticulous and brazen nature of the attacks led people living in the stalking zone to buy guns, board up their windows and generally live in a state of excruciating fear. One local woman, Lisa Ward, recalled how, returning home from night shifts, she would sit in her car in the driveway of her own home, almost literally frozen in fear. “I would sit there and sit there and wait to get the courage to open the door. I was almost hyperventilating because I didn’t want to get out,” she remembered.
The perpetrator would later move his activities to yet another part of California, escalating once again to serial murder, leaving a trail of 12 corpses. Couples were bludgeoned to death in their homes by the person who would now be known as the Original Night Stalker. Yet, despite the sheer number of attacks, he evaded capture at every turn. And then, after the mid-80s, the man eventually dubbed the Golden State Killer vanished for good.
Now, out of the blue, a man in his 70s has been arrested in connection with this infamous case. His name is Joseph James DeAngelo, and – in a startling twist – he’s been revealed to have been a former police officer, as well as a Vietnam veteran. In an ingenious bit of detective work, police used DNA from the crime scenes, gathered decades ago, to look up the killer’s genetic profile on an online ancestry website. They then followed a family tree that matched with the DNA, right down to a man who fitted the age profile: Joseph James DeAngelo.
Neighbours of the seemingly ordinary citizen are now shocked at who was in their midst. “Here I was looking up the guy on Wikipedia and he was five doors down,” one resident in DeAngelo’s neighborhood said.