“Shut up or I’ll kill you.”
The man wore a ski mask, black leather gloves and high-top black Converse sneakers. He hissed those words through what sounded like clenched teeth as he held a butcher knife to Jane Carson-Sandler’s chest.
She was sitting up in her king-sized bed in her Citrus Heights, Calif., home.
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Her three-year-old son lay next to her.
Her husband had just left for work. She heard the garage door close and saw a light in the hall, then heard someone running toward her room.
It was 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 1976.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up or I’ll kill you,” he repeated as he scraped the knife across her chest, leaving behind drops of blood. “I just want your money.”
“OK, whatever you want, just don’t hurt us,” Jane told him.
But he didn’t give her a chance to tell him where the money was.
He blindfolded and gagged both Jane and her son.
He tied their wrists and ankles with shoelaces.
Then he slowly, methodically ripped up sheets.
The ripping sound must have gone on for five minutes.
Jane wondered if he would use the strips to hang her and her son.
She felt her heart hammering inside her chest.
When the ripping sound stopped, the man picked up the three-year-old boy.
He either placed him on the floor or took him to another room. Jane couldn’t be sure.
Then he raped her.
Later, she would learn that she was the fifth victim of a serial rapist whose violent tendencies would turn to murder.
During the spree that plagued California until 1986, he’d rape at least 45 women and murder 12 people, according to the FBI.
His victims ranged in age from 12 to 41.
He’s been called the East Area Rapist. The Original Night Stalker. The Golden State Killer.
He’s never been caught.
Now, more than four decades after the attack, Jane lives in Sun City Hilton Head. She has made it her mission to help other survivors of sexual assault.
On March 18, she will appear on HLN in “Unmasking a Killer” — a five-part series on “California’s most prolific uncaught serial killer.” She hopes by telling her story — and reminding people about the decades-old crimes — someone with new information might come forward. One tip could be all it takes to identify the man that has long eluded investigators.
One tip, Jane believes, could bring closure to the dozens of women who survived his attacks.
Jane hopes for that one tip.
The only sign
Jane retired to Sun City Hilton Head in 2000 with her second husband.
It’s been 41 years since the rape. She’s written one book, co-authored another and has told her story at events.
She’s even spoken to convicted rapists in prison — she wanted to know why they did what they did.
“I’m not sorry I was raped,” Jane said. “And I say that because it has given me one of the purposes in my life. And that purpose is to reach out and help other women.”
Her efforts intensified in June 2016 when she received an unexpected letter from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
The FBI was offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest or conviction of the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer.
The letter went out to every victim and informed them that media may reach out to talk to them about their experience, she said.
Only two victims have gone public with their stories.
Jane first told hers without anonymity in February 2013 for an episode of “Dark Minds,” a television true crime show.
In February 2018, sitting in her gated community home, Jane says she has no more secrets.
She carries no shame, no guilt.
She sometimes still gets angry, but says she has forgiven the man who robbed her of her sense of peace and security, who made her fear for her life and the life of her son.
That was hard to do.
But she realized that forgiveness had more to do with her own healing than the man who attacked her.
There are some things she keeps secret — the real names of her family members, for example. She doesn’t want their lives affected by the attack.
In 1976, Jane, then 30, was married to an Air Force officer. She was getting her Bachelor’s degree in nursing from California State University and was in the Air Force reserves, stationed at Travis Air Force base as a flight nurse.
Two or three weeks before she was raped, Jane came home from school and found her rings and her son’s piggy bank missing.
She called the police, who told her after investigating that the intruder had entered the house through her son’s window.
The police checked for fingerprints. They found none.
The East Area Rapist was not yet named.
His method of operation was not yet documented.
Police would subsequently learn he sometimes burglarized the homes of his victims before raping them.
It was Jane’s only warning sign.
Blindfolded, gagged and tied up, Jane lay in her bed. She made no sound, her body stilled by fear.
She heard him open her underwear drawer. That disgusted her.
Then she heard him place her son next to her on the bed.
“If you move I’m going to come back and kill you,” her attacker said in the same clenched-teeth tone.
He went to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and rattled pots and pans.
It sounded like he was cooking — she never found out for sure if he was.
After a while, he came back into the room.
“You looked really good in the Officer’s Club,” he said.
But how did he know she was in the military? She wondered.
Maybe he saw photos of her in uniform around the house. Or maybe he was in the military, too.
It finally grew quiet.
Was the masked-monster finally gone? Was he waiting to see if she would move?
Jane waited 15 minutes.
Then she spit out the cloth gag and used her mouth to pull the blindfold down.
The sun was starting to come up. Her son had fallen asleep beside her.
She woke him and untied their wrists.
She told him they had to go.
Her ankles were still tied so she limped down the hallway.
The front door knob had a chair propped up under it. But the sliding door to the backyard was ajar.
Mother and child left through the side door and hobbled around to the gate.
Once in the front yard, she started screaming.
A neighbor heard her and brought them inside, where she called 911.
Jane’s husband rushed home.
The police — all men — came immediately.
But Jane didn’t want to talk to men — she hated all of them now.
A female detective went to the hospital with Jane. It was easier to speak to her.
After waiting for hours — her hair messy and a blood stain on her clothing from the knife wound — a male doctor examined her.
The exam was traumatic.
Her emotions were raw and cartwheeling. She fluctuated between sobbing and being overcome with joy.
She had just gone through the most horrific experience she ever would — but she lived.
She was given a painful shot of penicillin.
And then the morning after pill, which prevents pregnancy.
She went home after the exam. The same home in which she had been raped.
She hated it now, too.
Who is the East Area Rapist?
The East Area Rapist was described as a white man, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, with blond or light brown hair and an athletic build.
Today, the FBI speculates he would be between 60 and 75 years old.
They have his DNA, but don’t have a name to match it.
His crimes were largely committed before DNA testing, surveillance cameras and the 911 emergency call system were in use, according to the FBI.
He possibly had an interest in the military, or had some military training, according to the FBI.
He was familiar with firearms and was skilled in knot-tying.
He entered the homes of his victims through windows or doors, prying them open as his victims slept inside.
He was methodical in his approach.
He began his spree in the summer of 1976 in the eastern district of Sacramento County. His crimes would happen as far south as Orange County, more than 400 miles away.
The East Area Rapist often burglarized neighborhoods before attacking.
To begin his attacks, he shone a flashlight in the face of his victims while holding a gun or a knife. He then tied them up with string — often shoelaces — he brought with him.
He always spoke through clenched teeth, as if trying to disguise his voice.
He sometimes made comments to his victims about seeing them somewhere.
At first, he only attacked women who were alone or with children.
But later, he attacked while men were present, tying them up, too.
“The East Area Rapist’s cases are easy to identify,” the Fresno Bee reported in August 1983. “His scenario is like reading a script.”
He was known to place dishes on the man’s back, telling him if the plates made a sound, he’d kill the woman.
He raped, “ransacked the residence” and took items from the home, according to the FBI.
In some cases, he remained in the house for hours after the attack and even cooked meals.
Those attacks grew increasingly violent.
He began his killing spree with the 1978 murder of two newlyweds who were walking their dog. They crossed his path, and he chased and shot them.
Other victims were bludgeoned.
“Citizens were scared, frustrated, and angry that he could not be caught,” Jane said in her book “Frozen in Fear,” published in 2014.
The entire Sacramento area was terrorized by a masked man who continued to strike no matter what security measures were taken.
Jane remembers residents buying guns, deadbolt locks, expensive alarm systems.
But nothing could stop him.
“This one man prompted what is believed to have been the most intense manhunt in the county’s history,” the Sacramento Bee reported in June 1981.
“He inspired vigilante-like patrols, attracted the attention of network news, caused safety lock sales to quadruple, pushed the county’s eastern suburbs to burn floodlights through the night and propelled hundreds of housewives into pistol training,” the newspaper said.
The day after her own rape, Jane and her husband had an alarm system installed with a panic button beneath their bed’s headboard.
No one knew how the East Area Rapist picked his victims or why he was attacking.
Carol Daly, the detective who accompanied Jane to the hospital after her attack, told “Criminology,” a true crime podcast, the background of each victim was thoroughly researched to try to find if and how they were connected.
“There was no common denominator,” she said. “We didn’t find anything.”
In 1978, the rapist left three sheets of paper by train tracks while escaping police after another rape.
One of the pages appeared to be a school essay.
Another was a note about a former teacher.
“My 6th grade teacher gave me a lot of disappointments that made me very mad and made me built (sic) a state of hatred in my heart,” the note read. “No one ever let me down that hard before and I never ‘hated anyone’ as much as I did him.”
The other page left behind was an intricate sketch of the neighborhood.
The word “punishment” was scrawled on the back.
In the immediate aftermath of her attack, Jane rarely shared her story.
Outside of those at the rape crisis center, she told few people what happened to her that October night.
Shame, guilt, blame all boiled inside her.
The newspapers ran headline after headline as the rapist struck again and again. It’s all anyone was talking about.
Rumors spread about his method of attack. It infuriated Jane to listen to such speculation. Still, she didn’t speak up.
Jane wanted to inflict him with the same pain he put her through, and she imagined how it would unfold.
She wanted him in a room alone, his hands and feet tied — secured somehow to a wall so he couldn’t escape.
She’d hold a butcher knife the way he did. He would know she was there for revenge.
She’d blindfold and gag him.
But she wouldn’t speak.
She wanted him to experience her paralyzing fear.
After some years, that feeling passed.
Today, if she had the chance, Jane says she wouldn’t terrorize him.
But she would ask him questions.
“Why did you move my son?”
“Did you enter the house through my son’s bedroom window?”
“Where did you see me?”
A reopened wound
It took time for Jane to heal. In the spring of 1977, the wound was still fresh — but things were getting easier.
Her home wasn’t quite as frightening anymore.
She felt safe enough one weekend, while her husband was away on temporary duty for an Air Force assignment, to sunbathe in her backyard. It was, after all, surrounded by a six-foot tall wooden fence no one could see through.
She put on a bikini and lay on a reclining chair, her back toward the sun. She undid the straps of her top to get an even tan.
Then, a pebble flew toward her and landed on the ground.
It was strange — the wind wasn’t blowing.
Maybe it was a bug, not a pebble.
Then one of those tiny rocks hit her. She couldn’t tell where they were coming from or see who was throwing them.
Holding her top in place, she sprinted into the house. She locked the doors and called the police.
The police were there in 10 minutes. They knew Jane’s story and didn’t take her call lightly.
They jumped over the fence — Jane followed them — to search the nearby orchard. Jane cut her hand coming over.
She still has the scar.
Police finally located an old man who lived in a trailer nearby who confessed to throwing the pebbles.
Jane was infuriated. She thought she was finally on the path to healing, then this “creep” decided to “terrorize” her.
Her healing took a few steps back.
And something more terrible began.
She started getting phone calls from the rapist. He had also called some of his other victims.
Sometimes, he breathed heavily.
Sometimes, he promised to kill them.
Sometimes, there was only silence.
Jane received several calls with heavy breathing.
She only answered in the hope that police could trace them.
In 2017, Jane got five more phone calls.
Three one day, about an hour apart. Two the next day.
All silent. But not hang-ups, Jane said. You could tell someone was listening on the other end.
“It’s him,” Jane thought each time she answered her Sun City land line.
But she kept picking up, afraid she’d hear his voice but knowing she would, in some odd way, almost welcome it.
At least if she heard his voice, she’d know he was still alive.
It was about this time that a television show on the East Area Rapist was airing, she said. Maybe that triggered something in her attacker.
If it wasn’t him, it was “some sick person” who wanted to frighten her.
Jane and her husband put an alarm system in their Sun City home.
The wound — decades later — had reopened.
‘It takes a community’
In 1977, the East Area Rapist struck about twice per month.
As his list of victims grew longer, police started sending them to Jane because she wanted to help.
In a way, talking to others about their own trauma helped hers to heal.
She was sure to let the survivors know that everything they were feeling — the cartwheeling emotions — was normal.
But she wanted to do more.
She created a pamphlet for her college in hopes that she could help those traumatized by the violent act.
It was called “A Rape Victim’s Perspective on Rape: Take the disrupted threads of your life and find new patterns to weave them.”
Writing it was therapeutic.
“Remember, it is not your fault,” Jane wrote. “Rape is a violent abuse of your body, not a sexual attack.”
“The worst advice is to ‘forget it.’ Rape is a psychological wound that will never completely heal on its own.”
The third part of her healing was her Christian faith.
While her faith has only grown stronger over the years, she relied on it from the beginning.
Each night before she went to bed after the rape, she prayed the same prayer.
“Please Lord, don’t let me dream anything about the rape or the rapist.”
She still says that prayer each night.
And she hasn’t dreamed about it once.
Jane still does what she can to help rape survivors.
Most recently, she led a Monday night support group for survivors of sexual assault and incest at Hopeful Horizons in Beaufort.
Mary Vaughan, a professional appraiser, sought out Hopeful Horizons — then called Hope Haven — in 2011 to learn how to best help someone who had been raped.
She realized, however, she needed the healing the center offered.
Vaughan survived a sexual assault “of a different nature than Jane’s,” she said. For years she bottled up the anger, the guilt, the shame — the same way Jane had.
When Vaughan met Jane, though, 33 years after being raped as a teenager, she felt safe.
Jane had survived a heinous attack and had gone through the messy healing process that followed — she was empathetic and genuine because of it, Vaughan said.
Jane made Vaughan feel comfortable enough to share her story for the first time.
“Jane is a safe haven,” Vaughan said. “She was the only person who had walked it ahead of me to a point that I trusted her.”
She has since been trained as a victim advocate.
Like Jane, she wants to help other survivors of sexual assault. It will be another step in her own healing, which also involves sharing her story and leaning on her faith.
“It takes a community to heal a wound that big,” Vaughan said.
Of course, Jane still thinks of the attack. But now, it’s almost as if it happened to another person.
When she recounts her story, she doesn’t cry.
She has compartmentalized it, she said, so that she can talk openly without breaking down.
Over the years, she’s been interviewed for television shows about the rapist, but when she watches them, it’s almost as if it’s another Jane telling her story.
Although she can speak freely about her rape, there are occasional flashbacks.
If someone is wearing black high-top shoes, she pictures them on her attacker.
Anytime she sees a ski mask, she sees him.
Butcher knives, black gloves, the words “shut up” — all of these things pull her back to a dark place.
When she hears a helicopter overhead, she thinks of the sleepless nights listening as they flew over her neighborhood, looking for the serial rapist they did not find.
It took about six months to go from “victim” to “survivor” in her mind. Even longer — decades — to go to “thriver,” she said.
She may have forgiven the rapist, but she has not forgotten him. She wants him to have his day in court.
Sgt. Ken Clark, a detective with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, said the rapes the man committed can no longer be prosecuted because of the statue of limitations.
But his murders and rapes that involved kidnapping can be, he said.
“We do have several cases that have a kidnapping component,” he said. “The movement was significant, and would be significant enough to cause a filing if we can prove who was responsible.”
Jane wants the East Area Rapist to be as commonly known as The Zodiac or the BTK killer. She wants everyone talking about it, because she wants everyone looking for him.
Recently, she’s gotten three tips from strangers who think they know who he is.
She keeps in touch with investigators on the case.
The recent “Me Too” movement, in which thousands of women shared stories of sexual assault, gives Jane hope that the culture is shifting.
There is a desire to bring perpetrators to justice, while also offering more support to survivors.
That was the push Jane needed to keep telling her story.
She knows the East Area Rapist could be dead — even that would bring some closure.
But he could still be alive — and she has a feeling he is.
She wants to be there when he walks in the courtroom, standing in solidarity with the dozens of other survivors, most of whom have never told their story.
She just hopes the man who terrorized a state and traumatized so many doesn’t have a familiar face.
After all her healing, it might hurt too much to find she knew him all along.
Alex Kincaid: 843-706-8123, @alexkincaid22
Resources for sexual assault survivors:
Hopeful Horizons, Beaufort: 843-524-2256
National sexual assault hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National sexual assault online chat: https://hotline.rainn.org/online/terms-of-service.jsp
To contact Jane Carson-Sandler, email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you know something
Anyone with information about the East Area Rapist can contact the FBI’s tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324)
Tips can also be submitted to tips.fbi.gov