For over a decade, the Golden State Killer was a continuous threat to the people of California. He broke into people’s homes, burgled, raped and murdered them, and committed crimes in ten different counties.
His last murder was in 1986 but for decades, the case went unsolved, until finally, in 2018, he was caught. Thanks to a family ancestry site and genetic testing, investigators were able to match the killer’s DNA with that already in the system. It led them to Joseph DeAngelo. He was arrested in 2018, aged 72, and sentenced to life in prison two years later.
It closed the case of one of the most prolific and infamous murderers in history. For the decades before he was caught, victims reported never feeling safe. Considering his MO, it’s not surprising. These are some of the most haunting details of Joseph DeAngelo’s crimes.
1. He was supposed to be one of the ‘good guys’
DeAngelo served for years as a police officer before being fired for shoplifting. In fact, for some of the crimes he committed, he did so while he was still one. It’s likely his training and knowledge of police work helped enable his crimes.
Away from his work, he was also married with children. For years, he went unobserved, living a double life.
2. He was incredibly prolific
Between 1974 and 1986, DeAngelo committed 120 burglaries, 51 rapes and thirteen murders. He was so prolific, in fact, he was responsible for crime sprees in different areas that were originally attributed to different people, racking up monikers like the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker.
It’s thought that even earlier burglaries, attributed to the Cordova Cat Burglar and Exeter Ransacker, could be linked to him. Authorities only realised the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker were the same person in 2001 when DNA was tested.
As he moved around California, his crimes escalated, beginning largely with burglaries, although he would also disturb women’s underwear in the process. From there, he started to rape and murder. At one point, he was averaging two rapes a month.
3. He stalked his victims
DeAngelo was meticulous in his preparation. He made detailed maps of the areas in which his victims lived and then watched them for weeks or even months. He’d document their lives.
One victim reported feeling like she was being watched. She saw the same car drive past her home. Another reported a man claiming to be from a pet association knocked on their door and asked if they had any pets to register.
He broke into people’s houses when they weren’t home, studying the layout, family photos, learning people’s names. He even called his victims before he attacked them, finding their numbers when he was in their houses. In one call, a man believed to be DeAngelo just repeatedly asked ‘Is Ray there?’. For others, it was just silence. One woman was told he was going to kill her husband after weeks of silent calls. She was attacked the next day.
Evidence of his voyeurism became apparent to investigators: there were footprints outside the victims’ windows, which made it clear he had been watching them. He knew one victim would be home alone, even though her husband’s shifts had changed that day.
Before he left, he often took trophies: personal objects of the victims, like family heirlooms, driving licences, or engraved wedding bands.
4. He attacked at night
When it came time to break in, DeAngelo did so at night, when his victims were sleeping and vulnerable. He would find a way to get in, then go into the victims’ bedrooms and wake them up. One couple woke to see a man standing at their bedroom door. Often, he would shine torches into the victims’ eyes, ensuring they couldn’t see.
5. He originally targeted women alone
Early on, DeAngelo’s victims were largely single women who lived by themselves. He broke into their homes and raped them. One early victim said she was woken in the middle of the night by him tapping on her bedroom door and calling her name. His face was covered with a ski mask and he was naked from the waist down.
When he moved on to couples, he made sure he incapacitated the men before raping their wives. He would tie them up and lay them face down on the floor, often in a different room from the women. He then piled plates onto their backs and told them if they moved, he would hear the plates fall and then kill their wife, forcing them to remain completely still.
6. He stayed in victims’ homes after attacks
One victim heard DeAngelo crying in her kitchen for several minutes after he raped her. In other houses, he would eat their food or drink their beer. Some victims were left and told not to move at all while he was there, or he’d kill them. They were forced to wait, not knowing if he was in the house or not, before they risked moving to go for help.
7. He taunted his victims
The phone calls didn’t stop after he had attacked his victims. Survivors often reported getting them afterwards as well. There would be deep breathing down the line, then ‘Going to kill you’ whispered to them.
He also called different sheriff's offices, saying he was the East Area Rapist, laughing, then hanging up. Often, these came before attacks.
Unsurprisingly, victims have said they were unable to feel safe for years after the attacks. Many victims, or their family members, spoke at DeAngelo’s trial, hoping they could finally have peace.