The Golden State Killer was one of the most notorious killers and rapists in United States’ history who was never caught. At the time of her death, journalist Michelle McNamara was working on a book about the serial killer. With the posthumous release of her book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, McNamara turned the spotlight on the Golden State Killer, and a suspect is now in custody.
Here are six facts about the Golden State Killer you should know.
Fact #1: Different Names for One Killer
The Golden State Killer has been called numerous things over the years. He’s also been known as the East Area Rapist, the Diamond Knot Killer, and The Night Stalker/Original Night Stalker. Interestingly, none of the names stuck until McNamara named him the Golden State Killer.
Fact #2: Began with Rape, Ended with Murder
From 1976 to July of 1979, a series of rapes were committed in California by a man dubbed the “East Area Rapist” by police. There were approximately 49 rapes in total, but there may be more unknown to police. Then, the rapist suddenly stopped his crimes.
However, in October of 1979, a man attempted a murder. In December, he succeed in the first of 12 murders in a more southern part of California.
While some in law enforcement suspected a connection, it wasn’t until 2001 that DNA evidence concretely connected the crimes together. The Golden State Killer and the East Area Rapist were determined to be one and the same.
Fact #3: Incredibly Organized
The Golden State Killer was incredibly well-organized and meticulous when it came to planning out his attacks. He would often stalk his victim for days before an attack, entering their homes while they weren’t there, learning things about them.
He prepared for his attacks in numerous ways. There are numerous instances where it is thought that the killer would pre-deposit his tools in the home of someone he was going to attack. There were occasions where he already stashed rope, shoelaces, and other binding tools in the homes of his victims.
Fact #4: He Called His Victims
The Golden State Killer would occasionally call his victims at some point after he raped them. Some of the victims received calls months or even years after the original attack.
The first of these calls were made in 1977, when he was still just the East Side Rapist. He previously called Sacramento police, but near Christmas of ’77, he called one of his victims with a quick message: “Merry Christmas, it’s me again!”
He called his first victim in 1978. A recording of the expletive-ridden call was posted online.
Another victim got a call at her workplace in 1982. Yet another received a call in 1991. The last known call to a victim was in 2001.
Fact #5: A Makeshift Alarm & Found Notebooks
When attacking couples, the Golden State Killer would often stack dishes on the chest of the bound male as a makeshift alarm system. The killer told the man that if he heard the dishes fall, he would kill both the man and the woman. If not, they both might live through the experience.
While officers were investigating the first Danville, Illinois attack, believed to be the killer’s 42nd, they discovered notebooks not too far from the crime scene. Among the pages, investigators found what they described as a “journal-style entry” about how the writer felt “humiliated” after his teacher made him write lines as punishment. There was also a map of a suburban area, with the word “punishment” written on the back. As investigators weren’t able to figure out the location, they believed it was not a real neighborhood. Instead, they thought it was the killer’s ideal location to commit his murders.
Fact #6: It Took over 40 Years to Catch Him
For a long time, it looked like the Golden State Killer would never be caught. His last known victim was Janelle Lisa Cruz in 1986. Five years later, the killer phoned one of his victims. In 2001, he called the Sacramento Bee after they published a new article on him. And then he went silent.
The general thought by law enforcement was that the Golden State Killer was most likely incarcerated for another crime, or possibly dead. But they never quite gave up looking for him. Neither did true crime writer Michelle McNamara.
McNamara was working on an initial article about the killer in 2006 before starting her book on the case. Throughout all this, her goal was to shed as much light on the case as she could, with the hope that renewed interest would finally bring the killer to justice. As it turns out, it did.
Sacramento police announced on April 25, 2018 that they arrested Joseph James DeAngelo in connection with the murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith, as well as six others. He was charged with first-degree murder with three special circumstances: Multiple murders; murder during the commission of a rape; and murder during the commission of a robbery.
Police expected more charges to come as they conducted searches on DeAngelo’s home and interviewed him in jail.
Officials did a room-by-room search of his home on April 26, 2018, with the hopes of finding stolen items from victims’ homes, as well as further evidence to help implicate DeAngelo.
About two weeks later, on May 10, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office announced four additional counts of first-degree murder against DeAngelo in connection with two double-homicides committed in the Goleta area.
In all, DeAngelo faces 13 counts of murder as well as 13 charges of kidnapping to commit robbery.
California’s statute of limitations on rape prevents DeAngelo from being charged for the rapes he’s alleged to have committed in the 1970s.
Investigators also shared that matching the alleged killer’s DNA samples to relatives from a genealogy site, GEDmatch, helped lead to DeAngelo’s arrest.
It took over 40 years, but the added spotlight of a best seller, good police work, and breakthroughs in modern science finally caught the Golden State Killer.
DeAngelo is reportedly divorced with three daughters. During the time when the East Area Rapist was active, his brother-in-law recalled DeAngelo causally bringing the case up in conversation.
With 26 charges across six counties, DeAngelo’s case could last as long as 10 years and cost California taxpayers an estimated $20.0 million. He’s due in court on April 10, 2019.