Investigators explore new leads in effort to identify East Area Rapist

09/21/2013 4:17 PM

09/21/2013 8:27 PM

Nearly 35 years after the last case linked to the “East Area Rapist” in Sacramento County was reported, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s investigators are pursuing a new lead indicating that the suspect might have worked in construction and followed jobs from the Sacramento area to Southern California.

The East Area Rapist, who terrorized Sacramento County residents from 1976 to 1978, is believed to be the same man known as Southern California’s “Original Night Stalker.” The case is unrelated to convicted murderer Richard Ramirez, who was dubbed the “Night Stalker” and died of cancer in June while awaiting execution.

The Original Night Stalker has never been found. He is believed responsible for homicides in Ventura and Orange counties in the 1980s. He was linked to at least 30 rapes and one homicide in Sacramento County, where he was dubbed the East Area Rapist because most of the crimes occurred in the county’s eastern area, including Rancho Cordova, Carmichael, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, Orangevale and Arden Arcade.

In May 2011, the California Department of Justice DNA laboratory in Santa Barbara matched DNA evidence from the 1981 slaying of a couple at a Goleta residence with the DNA profile of the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker. Gary Kitzmann, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant who works part time with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department investigating cold cases, said the same suspect is believed responsible for the Dec. 30, 1979, slaying of another couple who were killed in a Goleta condominium not far from the site of the 1981 slaying.

In reviewing crime reports from other agencies, he said, investigators discovered traces of paint were found in two rapes and one of the homicide scenes in Irvine, evidence believed to have come from the suspect in all three cases. As a result, he said, investigators are exploring the possibility that the suspect may have come to the area to work at a construction site, possibly as a painter.

Investigators also found that a section of a strip mall and a Longs Drug Store on Calle Real in Goleta initially had a building permit issued to a developer from Sacramento at the beginning of 1979. The final stages of the project, which would have included painting of the buildings, occurred during the same time frame as the 1979 homicide, he said.

Kitzmann said he has contacted the developer, who he declined to name but said is still in business in the Sacramento area. “I’d like to find out who the subcontractors were and come up with a list of their employees,” he said.

Kitzmann said he would be interested in talking with anyone who knows of friends or neighbors who worked in construction in the Sacramento area in the late 1970s and moved on to jobs in Southern California.

Irvine police Lt. John Condon said some paint was found on a tool left at the scene of one of the Original Night Stalker homicides his department investigated. “We’re not sure how it arrived at the scene or the circumstances,” he said. “Over the years, there have been a lot of different theories.”

There were no witnesses in the Irvine and Santa Barbara homicide cases, and investigators said they have relied on suspect descriptions from Sacramento and other Northern California law enforcement agencies.

Detective Ken Clark of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department said the last case in California linked to the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker was reported in 1986. Though decades have passed, “we have a working group with agencies that have these cases,” Clark said, adding that representatives from sheriff’s departments in Sacramento, Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the Irvine Police Department and some Bay Area agencies meet in person about once a year and communicate regularly through a website set up for them by the FBI.

Traces of blue paint were found in three back-to-back East Area Rapist cases in Sacramento County in 1977. Clark described them as microscopic chips of blue architectural paint that likely came from someone who had been using a paint sprayer. In the late ’70s, he said, paint sprayers typically were used only by professional painters, leading investigators to focus on someone engaged in the building trades.

Residential and commercial building was booming in eastern Sacramento County communities, and Clark said there was some overlap of firms operating here and in other jurisdictions where cases have been linked to the East Area Rapist.

In all, agencies have identified more than 10,000 suspects, and many have been cleared as a result of DNA and other evidence, Clark said. With so many suspects, “it’s real needle in a haystack,” he said, but he still believes the case can be solved.

The East Area Rapist targeted homes of lone women and couples. When couples were involved, the men were tied up and the rapist often placed dishes on them, threatening to kill the women if he heard a crash. He then took the women elsewhere to rape them.

The rapist typically wore a ski mask. But a witness who saw a man fleeing the scene of the fatal shooting of Brian and Katie Maggiore in Rancho Cordova in 1978, the one Sacramento County homicide linked to the East Area Rapist, saw the suspect unmasked and provided a description used to generate a composite sketch, Clark said.

Thought to have been between 22 and 27 years old when he was active in Sacramento County, he was described as white, 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-11, weighing 150 to 175 pounds, with an athletic build and wearing a size 91/2 to 11 shoe. He would be in his late 50s or early 60s now.

Out of consideration for the victims, Clark said investigators avoid recontacting them if possible. But as new leads emerge, he said, he would be happy to speak with any of the victims who might want to review their statements or who think they could provide additional information. Included, he said, are burglary victims who were told by sheriff’s investigators at the time that the break-ins were believed to have been committed by the East Area Rapist.

“We don’t want them to think that they are forgotten,” he said.

Anyone with information can call the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department at (916) 874-8477.

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