LOS ANGELES — Authorities have arrested a former police officer who is suspected of being one of California’s most prolific serial killers and rapists — the Golden State Killer.
According to law enforcement sources who were unauthorized to speak publicly about the case, a local and federal task force apprehended the suspect late Tuesday evening.
In the 40 years since the Original Night Stalker began his campaign of terror in Sacramento and moved south through Oakland, Santa Barbara and Orange counties, he had remained unidentified. The attacker was also dubbed the East Area rapist and the Golden State Killer, and authorities say he is responsible for 12 killings, 45 rapes and more than 120 residential burglaries between 1976 and 1986.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., a 72-year-old resident of Citrus Heights, northeast of Sacramento, has been arrested on suspicion of murder and is being held without bail, according to Sacramento County jail records.
Local and federal authorities descended on DeAngelo’s beige, single-story home Tuesday evening and remained there Wednesday morning, when they removed two cars, a boat and a motorcycle from the garage.
The suspect was a police officer in Auburn during the 1970s, but fired after he was accused of shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent, according to a 1979 newspaper article. He is suspected of committing some crimes while he was still on the force, but his arrest is related to a 1980 double homicide of a Ventura County couple, according to law enforcement sources.
The FBI has created a website dedicated to the case where the public can view police sketches of the attacker and hear from witnesses and victims’ families.
The last known crime associated with the Original Night Stalker took place in 1986, but his notoriety persists. In 2004, California voters passed an initiative, bankrolled by the brother of one of his victims, that mandates collection of DNA samples from people convicted — or even arrested — in felony cases.
By 1978, the man had attacked victims in Oakland, Danville and Walnut Creek. In 1979, he killed two in Goleta, and two years later killed yet another couple in the Santa Barbara County town. Authorities in 2011 pinpointed DNA evidence from the killer in the 1981 slayings of Cheri Domingo, 35, and Gregory Sanchez, 27. And they matched that evidence with DNA from other crime scenes.
Sanchez was shot and bludgeoned. Domingo died of massive head injuries. Some of the grisly details matched those at other crime scenes associated with the Original Night Stalker: Sanchez and Domingo lived in an upscale neighborhood and were killed in bed. Domingo’s hands had been tied — as had the hands of victims at other scenes.
Authorities said that the killer would sometimes place cups or plates on his bound victims’ backs so he’d have an audible clue if they broke free when he was in another room. At the time of the crimes he was described as being about 5-foot-9 with blond or auburn hair. He appeared to have military or law enforcement training.
Before he became known as the Original Night Stalker — so named to distinguish him from Richard Ramirez, the serial killer dubbed the Night Stalker who terrorized the Los Angeles area in the mid-1980s — the killer was tied to no fewer than 52 sexual assaults in Sacramento County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Writer Michelle McNamara became obsessed with the case and spent years researching it. She wrote an article for Los Angeles magazine and was turning it into a book when she died in 2016. Her widower, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, helped complete the book, which is now a bestseller.
The Sacramento County district attorney, the FBI and the Sheriff’s Department were to hold a news conference later Wednesday in Sacramento to discuss the case.
Throughout the morning Wednesday, authorities combed through DeAngelo’s home, a brown single-story wood and brick-trim structure with a “Beware of dog” sign on the fence. A crush of police vehicles and media filled the quiet subdivision of winding roads and cul-de-sacs.
Area residents said they were familiar with the story of the Golden State Killer and were shocked to learn that the suspect had lived among them.
“It’s a little surreal,” said Richelle Taylor, 42.
Jack Haddad, 51, and wife Hala Doumat, 35, live within view of DeAngelo ‘s driveway. Neither knew him, but Doumat said she regularly walks by his house with her three kids.
The couple said they had recently watched a documentary on the Golden State Killer. “I knew there was a $50,000 reward,” Haddad said. “I wish I knew it [was him].”
He said he was shocked it had taken so long to solve the case.
“I have mixed feelings,” Haddad said about the arrest. “If something so horrific can happen so close to you, anything goes.”