“The answer has always been in Sacramento.”
— Ann Marie Schubert, Sacramento District Attorney
Today, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest of a man believed to be the Golden State Killer. On Wednesday evening, 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested in connection with the 51 rapes and 12 murders attributed to the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (EAR/ONS) or Golden State Killer, whose frenzied attacks colored a decade with terror before he seemingly dropped off the planet after one last murder in 1986. In attendance at today’s press conference were a handful of victims and secondary victims, in addition to prosecutors and investigators from multiple California jurisdictions, including Sacramento, Ventura, Alameda, and Orange counties.
He was arrested outside his home on Wednesday night for the murders of Brian and Katie Maggiore, a Rancho Cordova couple shot while walking their dog in 1978. Gregory Totten, Ventura County’s District Attorney, also announced today that his office had filed charges against DeAngelo for the March 1980 murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith, murder in the commission of a rape, and murder in the commission of a burglary.
The first rape attributed to the EAR occurred in July 1976, and, after an aborted rape on October 1, 1979, he progressed (or regressed?) from serial rapist to serial killer, murdering over ten Californians until he seemingly stopped in 1986. DeAngelo’s arrest comes just two months after the release of the late and great Michelle Mcnamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark pushed the then-unidentified serial killer into the forefront of the public consciousness.
42 years after he first crawled out of the shadows, pantless, armed, and masked, and into Sacramento’s nightmares, the Golden State Killer may finally be identified. These are words I never thought I’d read nor write. I am still in shock.
According to statements made in today’s press conference, DeAngelo’s progressed from Person of Interest to Suspect in Custody over the span of six days. That’s right: this dude’s reign of terror lasted nearly 42 long and anxious years, but his DNA identification took only six days. Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones stated that, after receiving information that “started to point to this individual,” they began surveilling DeAngelo’s home, where they collected “discarded DNA” that was proven to match that attributed to the Golden State Killer.
What’s deeply unsettling is that DeAngelo lived in Citrus Heights, just northeast of Sacramento proper, from until his arrest. He married a Roseville attorney, fathered three daughters who, from a cursory public records search, ,seem relatively successful adults, and was living in the community he terrorized for decades. I feel ill knowing he probably delighted in how greatly his crimes affected the community.
Although the Golden State Killer–a moniker that sounds too bureaucratically-approved or sports-related for my liking, but I am probably biased in EAR/ONS’s favor because it’s that with which I’m most familiar–only became national news-worthy in the last few months, this is a case I’ve followed for years because of the way its impacted the place I call home.
I first learned what the fuck an EAR/ONS was on during a Christmas trip home to Sacramento. I remember it was a gloomy-for-California kind of night, and, as both a masochist and an anxious insomniac, I fell down Wikipedia’s “List of Unidentified Serial Killers” rabbit-hole. Naturally, I control-F’d that article for “Sacramento” (because why not actively pursue another reason not to sleep?), and–as a gust of wind caused my mother’s windchime collection break out into the world’s most situationally-eerie melody–I stumbled upon creature who prowled in my community.
Although he dropped off the map just shy of a decade before I was born, the familiarity of his operating zone was terrifying: my high school best friend lived in the Rancho Cordova neighborhood he first targeted. A good part of my teenage years were spent in a dance studio nestled in Village Homes, the Davis neighborhood in which, on July 6, 1978, the EAR snuck into a 33-year-old woman’s home and, after threatening to kill her two sons, raped and sodomized her before sobbing. Last summer, a family friend described how, as a kid in East Sac during the late 1970’s, the East Area Rapist was the boogieman who kept she and her sister awake at night.
“For anyone that lived here in this community here in Sacramento, the memories are very vivid. You can ask anyone that grew up here. Everyone has a story. But, it must be remembered that it was not just Sacramento, that this case deeply affected this entire state.”
— Ann Marie Schubert, Sacramento District Attorney
He’d moved to SoCal by the time he started murdering exclusively, but it seemed likely that he, too, was a Sacramentan. His world was so similar to mine. And although I knew he’d be elderly–if he was alive at all–the fact that he and I could be existing in the other’s periphery terrified me. The night outside the sliding glass door seemed a darker and more ominous. The tree outside my bedroom sounded more malicious when they’d occasionally scrape against my window.
Sleep eluded me for the rest of that trip home. It’s still one of those almost-asleep thoughts that keeps me awake long past my bedtime. I tend to seek out the things that scare me, and the dearth of information on this case made my willingness to spend my Fridays browsing newspaper archives and forums grow stronger. I hesitate to call it “citizen sleuthery,” because I wasn’t (and still am not) trying to solve anything; I just wanted to understand what happened. That someone inflict so much harm and get away with it left me deeply anxious. I cannot imagine how much more neurotic I’d be had I been alive then.
When I read the then-unconfirmed news at 6 A.M. this morning, I was pretty sure I was either still asleep or had finally broke wholly from reality. It was similar to how I felt when our current president announced his candidacy. But when I scrolled through the Reddit thread, I shouted when I realized this might be reality. And then I was crying, and I barely cried at my own father’s funeral.
DeAngelo’s conviction would mean that the Golden State Killer is no longer a faceless shadow person crawling out of gutters and attacking in the night. He’s a 72-year-old man. He has a name and he is not out there anymore.
I am only half-kidding when I say that I may plan my vacation days to match up with Joseph DeAngelo’s trial.
I staunchly believe in the presumption of innocence. But, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t touched by what Bruce Harrington, whose brother and sister-in-law were murdered by the Golden State Killer, said today to the women he raped:
“Sleep better now, he isn’t coming through the window. He’s now in jail, and he’s history.”
There’s so much to be said and done. But, I will sleep well tonight.
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