Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., a 74-year-old former California police officer, admitted Monday that he is the notorious Golden State Killer, pleading guilty to a litany of charges including murder, serial rape, kidnapping, robbery and burglary.
The plea deal means DeAngelo will avoid the death penalty and instead serve 15 consecutive life sentences for his crimes without the possibility of parole.
The deal also spares the families of his victims from having to endure a lengthy and painful trial.
At Monday’s plea hearing in a Sacramento courtroom, DeAngelo wore orange coveralls and a protective face covering as he admitted to terrorizing numerous California communities in the 1970s and 1980s.
He eluded capture until DNA evidence led to his arrest in 2018.
DeAngelo had pleaded guilty to 26 of 88 charges, including 13 counts of murder. He replied with a weak and raspy “yes” when asked by a judge if he understood the charges against him. When asked how he pleaded to the murders, DeAngelo responded simply, “Guilty.”
The voluminous case of the Golden State Killer involves innumerable crimes committed over 12 years in Sacramento, Contra Costa, Orange, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.
Twenty-six of those charges were brought in Sacramento Superior Court, including 13 counts of murder — two killings in Sacramento, one in Tulare County, four in Orange County, four in Santa Barbara County and two in Ventura County, according to reports.
Former police officer
DeAngelo was a police officer when his crime spree began.
Around 1971 he completed a 32-week police internship at the Roseville Police Department. In May 1973 he joined the Exeter Police Department where he worked until August 1976 first as a burglary unit police officer and then as the sergeant in charge of the department’s “Joint Attack on Burglary” program. The killer’s early crimes, including his first murder, were known to have been committed during this time.
DeAngelo next worked as an officer for the Auburn Police Department from August 1976 to July 1979, a time period that coincided with multiple rapes in middle-class neighborhoods throughout the Sacramento area. In July 1979 DeAngelo was arrested for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent, for which he was fired the following October.
At the time, DeAngelo was never thought of as a suspect in the attacks, which inadvertently allowed his crime spree to continue.
He never worked as a deputy again.
Attacks happened at night
The elusive prowler relocated place to place, committing his crimes with renewed intensity. He started out burglarizing homes, then elevated to rape and eventually murder.
The perpetrator worked by night and would enter a home through an unlocked door or window. He wore a ski mask and would hold a gun to his victims as he tied them up and then rifle through their cabinets and personal belongings for trophies. He sometimes spent hours with his victims, terrorizing and assaulting them repeatedly. After the attacks he would simply disappear into the night.
He had a few close-calls when confronted by his victims but he always managed to escape the scene, and fired his gun twice to do so.
Others were lucky to survive the attacks only to be later stalked and threatened by messages the man left on their answering machines. The suspect was also known to have taunted authorities at least once in the same way.
Through the years, local news media dubbed the mystery suspect the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the original Night Stalker and the Diamond Knot Killer. But no one knew it was the same man.
Late in the crime spree, the killer went off the radar for five years before committing one final murder on May 4, 1986. Thirty-two years later, DeAngelo was arrested on April 24, 2018. He was living quietly in Sacramento, the very community of his most vicious attacks decades earlier.
The numerous rapes and murders around the state were linked to the same suspect in 2001 through DNA evidence, but DeAngelo had never been arrested for a felony, therefore his known genetic material was never collected to national law enforcement databases, and he remained unknown to investigators.
In early 2018, detectives came up with idea of uploading the killer’s DNA profile to the personal genomics website GEDmatch, which identified several distant relatives of the Golden State Killer. Investigators then worked with a genealogist to construct a family tree and narrow to one suspect.
Clarification: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that DeAngelo may have worked at the police department in Citrus Heights for a short time during the 1970s. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution regrets the error.
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