Picture a quaint, 1970s suburb in small-town California. The sunshine beats down on children playing gleefully on the sidewalks. A lovely couple walks their dog while giggling intimately to each other. All is simple and content.
However, this was not the state of mind for residents of many quiet California neighborhoods during the 70s and 80s. In fact, the mood was something much different.
It was pure dread.
A Stranger Terrorizes California
During these two decades, an unknown villain crept through backyards and flower beds, peering through windows and blinds, unbeknownst to the innocent victims inside their homes.
The mysterious lurker began with petty thefts to fill his thrills- but that was only the catalyst for what was to come. In time, frightened women began reporting instances of brutal rape and abuse from an unknown man who had broken into their home.
He tended to target women who were home alone and childless. At least, this is how he began. The stranger would get braver and more intense with time. Police had a tough time connecting the crimes at first. Once they figured out that this pattern of sexual abuse was most likely committed by a single criminal, he was dubbed the East Area Rapist.
Rape, however, would soon turn to murder.
Many homes during this time period were equipped with sliding glass doors. These seemed to be the EAR’s preferred way of entrance. He also lost his fear of invading homes with men inside. He had a full-proof plan to handle them.
The EAR would gain entrance to a home and attack the male inside first. He would make him lie on the floor face-down and stack items like plates or glassware on his back. This ensured he would have a loud warning if the man would try to move. Then, he would go to another room and rape and murder the female victim. Before his exit, he would murder the male victim as well.
Twelve murders, 45 rapes, and 120 home burglaries later, police still had no idea who committed these vicious, heartless crimes from south Sacramento down to Los Angeles.
That is, until DNA identification would explode onto the forensic science scene 5 decades later.
The Secret Weapon: DNA
Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, had no clue what was about to happen as he went about his regular routine on April 24, 2018. Just as he had stalked women and men so many years earlier, police surveilled his home for a week prior to that late day in April.
A DNA hit from a genetic testing company led investigators to this man’s home in Citrus Heights, Sacramento. After much patience and careful observation, police finally got their hands on “discarded DNA”. This they tested against the DNA evidence from multiple rape and murder cases from the suspected East Area Rapist.
It was finally a match.
DeAngelo was a former police officer and ex-Navy vet. In 1979, he was fired from his position at the police department for theft. Investigators are still trying to link together where he fled after that and what exactly his movements were throughout the 1980s.
Officially, DeAngelo has been charged with 2 counts of murder for the 1980 killing of Lyman and Charlene Smith.
“I’ll Be Gone In The Dark”
Michelle McNamara’s bone-chilling account of the East Area Rapist’s crimes was released in February of this year. She dubbed him more appropriately as the Golden State Killer. Her haunting retelling of this psychopath’s crimes put readers into the minds of each victim, leaving them with goosebumps and nightmares.
Before she was able to finish the last third of her book, “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark”, the inspirational Michelle McNamara died. Her husband, Patton Oswalt, along with a few colleagues completed the final chapters.
Michelle worked closely with Contra Costa County cold-case investigator, Paul Holes, while writing her true crime book. Holes had been working this cold-case for decades. The two made a fabulous and cohesive pair. She contributed fresh ideas and working theories during her time looking into the case.
Once the arrest was made public, Patton Oswalt sent out a heartfelt message to Michelle’s fans and followers of the Golden State Killer case.
With tears in his eyes, he smiled and stated, “Think you got him, Michelle.”