The Golden State Killer is a serial killer, rapist, and burglar who committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986. He is believed to be responsible for at least three crime sprees throughout California, each of which spawned a different nickname in the press, before it became evident that they were committed by the same person. In the Sacramento area he was known as the East Area Rapist, and was linked by modus operandi to additional attacks in Contra Costa County, Stockton, and Modesto. He was later known for his southern California crimes as the Original Night Stalker. He is suspected to have begun as a burglar (the Visalia Ransacker) before moving to the Sacramento area, based on a similar MO and circumstantial evidence.
During the decades-long investigation, several suspects have been cleared through DNA evidence, alibi, or other investigative methods. In 2001, DNA testing indicated that the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker were the same person. The case was a factor in the establishment of California's DNA database, which collects DNA from all accused and convicted felons in California and has been called second only to Virginia's in effectiveness in solving cold cases. To heighten awareness that the uncaught killer operated throughout California, crime writer Michelle McNamara coined the name "Golden State Killer" in early 2013. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local law-enforcement agencies held a news conference on June 15, 2016, to announce a renewed nationwide effort, offering a $50,000 reward for his capture.
On April 24, 2018, authorities charged 72-year-old United States Navyveteran and former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo with eight counts of first-degree murder, based upon DNA evidence. This was also the first announcement connecting the Visalia Ransacker crimes to the Golden State Killer. Due to California's statute of limitations on pre-2017 rape cases, DeAngelo cannot be charged with 1970s rapes, but he was charged in August 2018 with 13 related kidnapping and abduction attempts.
It was long suspected that the training ground of the criminal who would become the Golden State Killer was Visalia, California (although earlier Visalia crimes dating back as early as May 1973 and other sprees like the 'Cordova Catburgler' or the 'Exeter Ransacker', as well as burglaries that took place after the McGowen shooting, are now suspected to be linked as well). Over a period of 20 months, the Ransacker is believed to have been responsible for one murder and around 120 burglaries. Most of the Ransacker's activities involved breaking into houses, rifling through (or vandalizing) the owner's possessions, scattering women's underclothing, stealing coins and low-value or personal items, while often ignoring banknotes and other valuable items in plain sight.
In late April 2018, the Visalia chief of police stated that while there is no DNA linking DeAngelo to the Central Valley cases, his department has other evidence that will play a role in the investigation, and that he was "confident that the Visalia Ransacker has been captured." Though the statutes of limitations for the burglaries have each expired, DeAngelo was formally charged on August 13, 2018, with the first degree murder of Claude Snelling in 1975.
East Area Rapist (June 1976–July 1979)
Three sketches on which the FBI focused when it reopened the case in June 2016
The Golden State Killer is believed to have moved to the Sacramento area, progressing from burglary to rape in mid-1976. The crimes initially centered on the unincorporated areas of Carmichael, Citrus Heights and Rancho Cordova, east of Sacramento. His initial MO was to stalk middle-class neighborhoods at night in search of women who were alone in one-story homes, usually near a school, creek, trail or other open space that would provide a quick escape. He was seen a number of times, but always successfully fled; on one occasion, he shot and seriously wounded a young pursuer.:187–188
Most victims had seen (or heard) a prowler on their property before the attacks, and many had experienced break-ins. Police believed that the offender would conduct extensive reconnaissance in a targeted neighborhood — looking into windows and prowling in yards — before selecting a home attack. It is believed that he sometimes entered the homes of future victims to unlock windows, unload guns, and plant ligatures for later use. He frequently telephoned future victims, sometimes for months in advance, to learn their daily routines.
Although he originally targeted women alone in their homes or with children, the offender eventually preferred attacking couples. His MO was to break in through a window or sliding glass door and awaken the sleeping occupants with a flashlight, threatening them with a handgun. Victims were then bound with ligatures (often shoelaces) which he found or brought with him, blindfolded and gagged with towels which he had ripped into strips. The female victim was usually forced to tie up her male companion before she was bound. The bindings were often so tight that the victims' hands were numb for hours after being untied.:434 He separated the couple, often stacking dishes on the man's back and threatening to kill everyone in the house if he heard them rattle. He moved the woman to the living room and often raped her repeatedly, sometimes for several hours.
A victim described the East Area Rapist's face as young and round, with wide eyes and a broad mouth.
The offender sometimes spent hours in the home ransacking closets and drawers, eating food in the kitchen, drinking beer, raping the female again or making additional threats. Victims sometimes thought he had left the house before he "jump[ed] from the darkness." The offender typically stole items, often personal objects and items of little value but occasionally cash and firearms. He then crept away, leaving victims uncertain if he had left. The offender was believed to escape on foot through a series of yards and then use a bicycle to go home or to a car, making extensive use of parks, schoolyards, creek beds and other open spaces which kept him off the street.
The rapist operated in Sacramento County from the first attacks in June 1976 until May 1977. After a three-month gap, he struck in nearby San Joaquin County in September before returning to Sacramento for all but one of the next ten attacks. The rapist attacked five times during the summer of 1978 in Stanislaus and Yolo counties before disappearing again for three months. Attacks then moved primarily to Contra Costa County in October and lasted until July 1979.
A young Sacramento couple, Brian, a military policeman at Mather Air Force Base, and Katie Maggiore, were walking their dog in the Rancho Cordova area on the night of February 2, 1978, near where five East Area Rapist attacks had occurred. The Maggiores fled after a confrontation in the street, but were chased down and shot dead. Some investigators suspected that they had been murdered by the East Area Rapist because of their proximity to the other attacks' location, and a shoelace was found nearby. The FBI announced on June 15, 2016, that it was confident that the East Area Rapist murdered the Maggiores.
Original Night Stalker (October 1979–May 1986)
Shortly after a rape committed on July 5,[clarification needed] the East Area Rapist moved to southern California and first struck in Santa Barbara County in October. The attacks lasted until 1981 (with a lone 1986 attack), and took a darker turn as the rapist began to kill his victims. Only the couple in the first attack survived, alerting neighbors and forcing the intruder to flee; the other victims were murdered by gunshot or bludgeoning. Since the East Area Rapist was not linked to these crimes for decades, he was known as the Night Stalker in the area before being renamed the Original Night Stalker after serial killer Richard Ramirez received the former nickname.
On October 1, an intruder broke in and tied up a Goleta couple.:434 Alarmed by hearing him say "I'll kill 'em" to himself,:435 the man and woman tried to escape when he left the room and the woman screamed. Realizing that the alarm had been raised, the intruder fled on a bicycle. A neighbor (an FBI agent) responded to the noise and pursued the perpetrator, who abandoned the bicycle and a knife and fled on foot through local backyards.:435 The attack was later linked to the Offerman–Manning murders by shoe prints and twine used to bind the victims.:438
On December 30, 44-year-old Robert Offerman and 35-year-old Debra Alexandra Manning were found shot dead at Offerman's condominium on Avenida Pequena in Goleta. Offerman's bindings were untied, indicating that he had lunged at the attacker. Neighbors had heard gunshots. Paw prints of a large dog were found at the scene, leading to speculation that the killer may have brought one with him.:446 The killer also broke into the vacant adjoining residence and stole a bicycle, later found abandoned on a street north of the scene, from a third residence in the complex.
On March 13, 33-year-old Charlene Smith and 43-year-old Lyman Smith (who was about to be appointed as a judge) were found murdered in their Ventura home; Charlene Smith had been raped. A log from a woodpile on the side of the house was used to bludgeon the victims to death.:440 Their wrists and ankles had been bound with drapery cord.:441 An unusual Chinese knot, a diamond knot, was used on Charlene's wrists;:441 the same knot was noted in the Sacramento East Area Rapist attacks, at least one confirmed case of which was publicly known. The murderer was, therefore, given the name "Diamond Knot Killer".
On August 19, 24-year-old Keith Eli Harrington and 27-year-old Patrice Briscoe Harrington were found bludgeoned to death in their home on Cockleshell Drive in Dana Point's Niguel Shores gated community. Patrice Harrington had also been raped. Although there was evidence that the Harringtons' wrists and ankles were bound, no ligatures or murder weapon were found at the scene. The Harringtons had been married for three months at the time of their deaths. Patrice was a nurse in Irvine, and Keith was a medical student at UC Irvine. Keith's brother Bruce later spent nearly $2 million supporting California Proposition 69 authorizing DNA collection from all California felons and certain other criminals.
On February 6, 28-year-old Manuela Witthuhn was raped and murdered in her Irvine home. Although Witthuhn's body had signs of being tied before she was bludgeoned, no ligatures or murder weapon were found. The victim was married; her husband was hospitalized, and she was alone at the time of the attack. Detectives noted that Witthuhn's television was found in the backyard, possibly the killer's attempt to make the crime appear to be a botched robbery.
On July 27, 35-year-old Cheri Domingo and 27-year-old Gregory Sanchez were the Original Night Stalker's 10th and 11th murder victims. Both were attacked in Domingo's residence on Toltec Way in Goleta:444 (several blocks south of Robert Offerman's condominium), where she was living temporarily; it was owned by a deceased relative and up for sale. The offender entered the house through a small bathroom window. Sanchez had not been tied,:445 and was shot and wounded in the cheek before he was bludgeoned to death with a garden tool. Some believe that Sanchez may have realized he was dealing with the man responsible for the Offerman–Manning murders, and tried to tackle the killer rather than be tied up. Again, no neighbors responded to the gunshot.:445 Sanchez's head was covered with clothes pulled from the closet.:444 Domingo was raped and bludgeoned; bruises on her wrists and ankles indicated that she had been tied,:445 although the restraints were missing. A piece of shipping twine was found near the bed, and fibers from an unknown source were scattered over her body. Authorities believed that the attacker may have worked as a painter or in a similar job at the Calle Real Shopping Centre.
On May 4, 18-year-old Janelle Lisa Cruz was found after she was raped and bludgeoned to death in her Irvine home. Her family was on vacation in Mexico at the time of the attack. A pipe wrench, reported missing by Cruz's stepfather, was thought to be the murder weapon.:458
The southern California murders were not initially thought to be connected by investigators in their respective jurisdictions. A Sacramento detective strongly believed that the East Area Rapist was responsible for the Goleta attacks, but the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department attributed them to a local career criminal who was later murdered. Investigating the crimes not committed in Goleta caused local police to follow false leads related to men who were close to the female victims. One person, later cleared, was charged with two murders. The cases were linked almost entirely by DNA testing, many years later.
Known physical characteristics
These physical characteristics are considered factual based on crime-scene evidence and nearly-universal agreement by victims and law enforcement:
According to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, microscopic paint chips were found at three crime scenes (two homicides and a rape). This suggests that the Golden State Killer may have worked in construction, possibly using a paint spray gun. Construction work had been ongoing near the 1979 Goleta murder scene, and a cold-case investigator contacted the developer in 2013 to identify subcontractors working at the site and obtain employment records.
After criminologists matched serological evidence found at the southern California murder scenes, a speculative psychological profile of the Golden State Killer was compiled based on a probabilistic analysis. According to Leslie D'Ambrosia, primary author of the profile, the Golden State Killer probably had the following characteristics:
An emotional age equivalent to a 26- to 30-year-old at the time the murders began in 1979
Engaged in paraphilic behavior and brutal sex in his personal life
Engaged in sex with prostitutes
Had some knowledge of police investigative methods and evidence-gathering techniques
Sexually functional, capable of ejaculation with consenting and non-consenting partners
Dressed well and would not stand out in upscale neighborhoods
Lived or worked near Ventura, California, in 1980
Good physical condition
Skilled, experienced cat burglar, and may have begun as such
Had a criminal record as a teenager which was expunged
Had some means of income, but did not work in the early-morning hours
Hated women for actual (or perceived) wrongs
If married, probably had a submissive spouse who tolerated his sexually-deviant behavior
Intelligent and articulate
Probably began as a voyeur in his late teens or early twenties
Neat and well-organized in his personal life, and drove a well-maintained car
Peeped in the windows of many people who were not attacked
Possibly unmarried, and did not enter into long-term relationships
Self-assured and confident
Would continue committing violent crimes until incapacitated by prison, death, or other intervention
Would have been described by those who knew him as arrogant, domineering, manipulative, and a chronic liar
In addition to outlining the Golden State Killer's characteristics, the profile speculated that he might have been incarcerated after Janelle Cruz's murder or killed in the commission of a similar crime. The profile recommended that law-enforcement agencies investigate attempted late-1980s hot prowl burglaries, which resulted in the death of a lone male offender. It indicated a slight chance that the Golden State Killer committed suicide, and that he was unlikely to be confined in a mental institution.
According to the profile, teleprinter bulletins were broadcast to law-enforcement agencies throughout the United States after the original homicides. The bulletins requested information on similar home invasions involving sexual assault, murder, bludgeoning, multiple victims, and bondage. As of 2015[update], no similar crimes had been reported. The profile posited that the Golden State Killer could have continued committing his crimes in another country whose records were not linked.
In December 1977, someone claiming to be the East Area Rapist sent a poem, "Excitement's Crave", to The Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento mayor's office, and television station KVIE. December 11 is the date that a masked man (probably the Golden State Killer) eluded pursuit by law-enforcement personnel after alerting authorities by telephone that he would strike on Watt Avenue that night.
All those mortal's surviving birth / Upon facing maturity,
Take inventory of their worth / To prevailing society.
Choosing values becomes a task; / Oneself must seek satisfaction.
The selected route will unmask / Character when plans take action.
Accepting some work to perform / At fixed pay, but promise for more,
Is a recognized social norm, / As is decorum, seeking lore.
Achieving while others lifting / Should be cause for deserving fame.
Leisure tempts excitement seeking, / What's right and expected seems tame.
"Jessie James" has been seen by all, / And "Son of Sam" has an author.
Others now feel temptations call. / Sacramento should make an offer.
To make a movie of my life / That will pay for my planned exile.
Just now I' d like to add the wife / Of a Mafia lord to my file.
Your East Area Rapist
And deserving pest.
See you in the press or on T.V.:p. 304
Homework pages and punishment map (December 9, 1978)
Front of "Mad is the Word"
Reverse of "Mad is the Word"
Front of the "punishment" map
Reverse of the map, with the word "punishment" scrawled across the page
During the investigation of the 42nd attack in Danville, investigators discovered three sheets of notebook paper near where a suspicious vehicle had reportedly been parked, although no association with the East Area Rapist has been proven. The first sheet contains what appears to be an essay on General George Armstrong Custer.
The second sheet contains a journal-style entry describing a teacher who made students write lines, which the author found humiliating:
Mad is the word, the word that reminds me of 6th grade. I hated that year ... I wish I had know what was going to be going on during my 6th grade year, the last and worst year of elementary school. Mad is the word that remains in my head about my dreadful year as a 6th grader. My Madness was one that was caused by disapointments that hurt me very much. Dissapointments from my teacher, such as feild trips that were planed, then canncled. My 6th grade teacher gave me a lot of dissapointments which made me very mad and made me built a state of haterd in my heart, no one ever let me down that hard before and I never hated anyone as much as I did him. Disapointment wasn't the only reason that made me mad in my sixth grade class, another was getting in trouble at school espeically talking thats what really bugged me was writing sentances, those awful sentance that my teacher made ... me write, hours and hours Id sit and write 50-100-150 sentance day and night I write those dreadful Paragraphs which embarrased me and more inportant it made me ashamed of myself which in turn, deep down in side made me realize that writing sentance wasn't fair it wasn't fair to make me suffer like that, it just wasn't fair to make me sit and wright until my bones aked, until my hand felt every horrid pain it ever had and as I wrote, I got mader and mader until I cried, I cried because I was ashamed I cried because I was discusted, I cried because I was mad, and I cried for myself, kid who kept on having to write those dane sentances. My Angryness from Sixth grade will scar my memory for life and I will be ashamed for my sixth grade year forever
On the last sheet was a hand-drawn map of what appears to be a suburban neighborhood, with the word "punishment" scrawled across the reverse side. Investigators were unable to identify the area depicted in the map, although the artist clearly had knowledge of architectural layout and landscape design. According to Detective Larry Pool, the map is a fantasy location representing the Golden State Killer's desired striking ground.
"I'm the East Side Rapist" (March 18, 1977)
On March 18, 1977, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office received three calls from a man claiming to be the East Area Rapist; none were recorded. The first two calls, received at 4:15 and 4:30 p.m., were identical and ended with the caller laughing and hanging up. The final call came in at 5:00 p.m., with the caller saying: "I'm the East Side Rapist and I have my next victim already stalked and you guys can't catch me."
"Never gonna catch me" (December 2, 1977)
A man claiming to be the rapist called the Sacramento Police, saying: "You're never gonna catch me, East Area Rapist, you dumb fuckers, I'm gonna fuck again tonight. Careful!" The call was recorded and later released. Similarly to the previous call, the East Area Rapist attacked his next victim the same night.
"Merry Christmas" (December 9, 1977)
A previous victim received a phone call during the 1977 Christmas season which she attributed to her attacker. The caller said, "Merry Christmas, it's me again!":301
"Watt Avenue" (December 10, 1977)
Shortly before 10:00 p.m. on December 10, 1977, Sacramento authorities received two identical calls, saying: "I am going to hit tonight. Watt Avenue." Both were recorded, and the caller was identified as the same person who placed the December 2 call. Law-enforcement patrols were increased that night, and at 2:30 a.m. a masked man eluded officers after being seen bicycling on the Watt Avenue bridge. When spotted again at 4:30 a.m., he discarded the bicycle and fled on foot. The bicycle had been stolen.
"Gonna kill you" (January 2, 1978)
The first known rape victim received a wrong-number call asking for "Ray" on January 2, 1978. The call was recorded, and police suspect that it may be the same caller who made a threatening call to her later that evening. That call was also recorded and identified by the victim as the voice of her assailant. The caller said, "Gonna kill you ... gonna kill you ... gonna kill you ... bitch ... bitch ... bitch ... bitch ... fuckin' whore."
Counseling service (January 6, 1978)
A man claiming to be the East Area Rapist called the Contact Counseling Service and said: "I have a problem. I need help because I don't want to do this anymore." After a short conversation the caller said, "I believe you are tracing this call" and hung up.:310–315
Later calls (1982–1991)
In 1982, a previous victim received a call at her place of work — a restaurant — during which the rapist threatened to rape her again. According to Contra Costa County investigator Paul Holes, the rapist must have chanced to patronize the restaurant and recognized his victim there.
In 1991, a previous victim received a phone call from the perpetrator and spoke with him for one minute. She could hear a woman and children in the background, leading to speculation that he had a family.
Final call (2001)
On April 6, 2001, one day after an article in the Sacramento Bee linked the Original Night Stalker and the East Area Rapist, a victim of the rapist received a call from him; he asked, "Remember when we played?"
This billboard advertisement appeared nationwide in June 2016.
Before officially connecting the Original Night Stalker to the East Area Rapist in 2001, some law-enforcement officials (particularly from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department) sought to link the Goleta cases as well. The links were primarily due to similarities in MO. One of the already-linked Original Night Stalker double murders occurred in Ventura, 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Goleta, and the remaining murders were committed in Orange County, an additional 90 miles (140 km) southeast. In 2001, several rapes in Contra Costa County believed to have been committed by the East Area Rapist were linked by DNA to the Smith, Harrington, Whithuhn, and Cruz murders. A decade later, DNA evidence indicated that the Domingo–Sanchez murders were committed by the Golden State Killer.
On June 15, 2016, the FBI released further information related to the crimes, including new composite sketches and crime details; a $50,000 reward was also announced. The initiative included a national database to support law enforcement investigating the crimes and handle tips and information.
During the investigation, several people were considered and eliminated as suspects:
Brett Glasby, from Goleta, was considered a suspect by Santa Barbara County investigators. He was murdered in Mexico in 1982, before the murder of Janelle Cruz; this eliminated him as a suspect.
Paul "Cornfed" Schneider, a high-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood, was living in Orange County when the Harringtons, Manuela Witthuhn, and Janelle Cruz were killed. A DNA test cleared him in the 1990s.
Joe Alsip, a friend and business partner of the victim Lyman Smith's; Alsip's pastor said that Alsip had confessed to him during a family-counseling session. Alsip was arraigned for the Smith murders in 1982, but the charges were later dropped, and his innocence was confirmed by DNA testing in 1997.
In November 2002, journalist Colleen Cason wrote a newspaper series about the murders for the Ventura County Star. According to Cason, Detective Larry Pool of the Orange County Sheriff's Department visited California's death row at San Quentin in an attempt to locate the Golden State Killer; Pool suspected that the killer had been captured and sentenced to death for another violent crime. However, no genetic samples collected from death row inmates matched the DNA of the Golden State Killer's.
On April 24, 2018, Sacramento County Sheriff's officers arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer in Auburn and Exeter, California. He was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances. On May 10, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office charged DeAngelo with four additional counts of first-degree murder.
Identification of DeAngelo had begun four months earlier when officials, led by detective Paul Holes, uploaded the killer's DNA profile from a Ventura County rape kit to the personal genomics website GEDmatch. The website identified 10 to 20 distant relatives of the Golden State Killer's (sharing the same great-great-great grandparents), from whom a team of five investigators working with genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter constructed a large family tree. They identified two suspects in the case (one of whom was ruled out by a relative's DNA test), leaving DeAngelo the main suspect. On April 18, a DNA sample was surreptitiously collected from the door handle of DeAngelo's car, and later another sample was collected from a tissue found in DeAngelo's curbside garbage can. Both were matched to samples associated with Golden State Killer crimes. After DeAngelo's arrest, some commentators raised concerns about the ethics of the secondary use of personally identifiable information.
DeAngelo cannot be charged with rapes or burglaries because the statute of limitations expired for those offenses, but he has been charged with 13 counts of murder and 13 counts of kidnapping. He faces either life without parole or death, if convicted. DeAngelo was arraigned in Sacramento on August 23, 2018. In November 2018, prosecutors from six involved counties collectively estimated that the case could cost taxpayers $20 million and last 10 years. At an April 10, 2019, court proceeding, prosecutors announced that they would seek the death penalty, and the judge ruled that cameras may be allowed inside the courtroom during the trial.
DeAngelo was born on November 8, 1945, in Bath, New York, to Joseph James DeAngelo, Sr. and Kathleen Bosano. He has two sisters and a brother. At 9 or 10 years old, he witnessed his 7-year-old sister being raped by multiple men in a warehouse.
Beginning August 1968, DeAngelo attended Sierra College in Rocklin; in June 1970, he graduated with an associate degree in police science, with honors.
In May 1970, DeAngelo became engaged to Bonnie Jean Colwell, a classmate at Sierra College, but she reportedly broke off the relationship. Investigators believe this might be connected to the offender's saying, "I hate you, Bonnie!", during one of the EAR attacks.
From May 1973 to August 1976, he was a burglary unit police officer in Exeter (a town of about 5,000 people near Visalia), having relocated from Citrus Heights. By 1976, DeAngelo had been promoted to sergeant and was in charge of the Exeter Police Department's "Joint Attack on Burglary" program. He then served in Auburn from August 1976 to July 1979, when he was arrested for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent; he was sentenced to six months probation and fired that October.
In November 1973, he married Sharon Marie Huddle in Placer. In 1980, they purchased the house in Citrus Heights where he was eventually arrested. Huddle became an attorney in 1982, and they had three daughters, two of who were born in Sacramento and one in Los Angeles before separating in 1991.
His employment history in the 1980s is unknown. From 1990 until his retirement in 2017, he worked as a truck mechanic at a Save Mart Supermarkets distribution center. He was arrested in 1996 over an incident at a gas station; the charge was dismissed.
His brother-in-law said that DeAngelo casually brought up the East Area Rapist in conversation around the time of the original crimes. Neighbors reported that DeAngelo frequently engaged in loud, profane outbursts. One neighbor reported that his family received a phone message from DeAngelo threatening to "deliver a load of death" because of their barking dog. He was living with a daughter and granddaughter at the time of his arrest.
^"East Area Rapist Strikes Second Time in Stockton". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. March 20, 1978. Archived from the original on March 1, 2018. Retrieved March 1, 2018 – via Newspapers.com. The rapist spent more than an hour in the house, ransacking it and taking articles of value, police said.