Joseph DeAngelo: Unmasking The Golden State Killer

Golden State Killer Case Board
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News & Politics
Lyra Radford

Joseph James DeAngelo, aka the "Golden State Killer", is a former police officer who lived a double life as a burglar, serial killer, and rapist. He managed to hide in plain sight, eluding capture for over four decades.

Starting in 1974, the monster committed over 50 rapes, 13 murders, and 120 burglaries across California before going dormant in 1986. He would also send letters and make calls taunting police and further threatening his victims.

The First Crime Spree Began A Year After DeAngelo Joined The Exeter Police Force

John DeAngelo / The Golden State Killer
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What was known as the “Visalia Ransacker” crimes began in 1974. Over 100 homes were burglarized by an unknown criminal over the course of a year. The “Ransacker” would scatter women’s underwear around the house and usually, take only small items. There was a murder in the area during this time period, and the "Visalia Ransacker" was a suspect. But these strange events ended in 1975. By 1976, the new headlining terror was dubbed the “East Area Rapist” and was targeting women in the Sacramento area.

The Horrific Crimes Of The ‘East Area Rapist’

News Clippings, East Area Rapist
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At first, it appeared to be the work of two perpetrators. He stalked his victims, often breaking into their homes to unlock doors, unload guns, and get a feel for the layout. He would leave things inside for later use, such as ligatures for binding. At first, he chose single women, living in one-story homes with easy escape routes. Eventually, he got bold enough to target couples as well. 

He’d wear a mask and bind their hands at gunpoint. The men were instructed to lay face down. DeAngelo would stack plates up on their back and threaten to kill everyone if he heard rattling. Then, he’d rape the women. 

The “East Area Rapist” attacks ended in 1979. Southern California’s “Original Night Stalker” took over the headlines.

DeAngelo Headed To Southern California And Became The ‘Night Stalker’

Masked Night Stalker / Golden State Killer
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Police didn’t see the connection between the two and they certainly weren’t tied to the “Visalia Ransacker” crimes. There was a similar M.O. and size 9 shoe tracks were found at the crime scenes. However, the perpetrator didn’t leave fingerprints or anything solid to identify or connect him to all three boogeymen. 

These new crimes, however, marked another escalation for DeAngelo. These weren’t just focused on rape, these attacks ended either in shooting or brutally bludgeoning the victims to death.

Modern DNA Testing Unmasked 'The Golden State Killer'

Joseph DeAngelo Mugshot / Golden State Killer
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Authorities didn’t know anything about DNA testing during the original investigation. It wasn’t until 2001 that a DNA test proved the crimes were committed by the same person. The name “Golden State Killer” was coined in 2013 for the perpetrator of the now combined crimes.

It was through the use of modern DNA databases from genealogy services that the "Golden State Killer" was finally unmasked. Police created a profile with DNA obtained from crime scenes and in April of 2018, Joseph DeAngelo’s name was one of the results. Additional DNA testing was conducted to secure a definitive match and the arrest was made.

The Trial Of Joseph James DeAngelo

Joseph DeAngelo / Golden State Killer Trial
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Police arrested 74-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in April of 2018, but it was a lengthy road to conviction. COVID-19 further delayed things but the "Golden State Killer" trial finally began on June 29, 2020, at which time, DeAngelo entered a guilty plea to avoid the death penalty. 

The statute of limitations was up for the rapes in the 1970s, and he was charged with 13 counts of both murder and kidnapping. DeAngelo was given multiple consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole on August 21, 2020.