He was quirky and complex. But they never thought the former cop next door could be notorious

Joseph James DeAngelo, known to some neighbors as "Joe," was an odd man with a loud voice, a penchant for puttering in his front yard and a reputation for a bad temper.

One neighbor said DeAngelo threatened to "deliver a load of death" because he was enraged by a barking dog. Others said the portly 72-year-old would shout obscenities in his front yard when some chore went awry.

It gave some neighbors a sense that the man in the trim ranch-style house with the immaculate front lawn was quirky, complex and troubled.

Now, law enforcement officials say he was much more - and much darker: DeAngelo is suspected of being one of the most notorious, violent and feared criminals in modern California history.

Adding to the bizarre circumstances, DeAngelo has a criminal justice degree from Sacramento State and was a police officer who may have committed burglaries, rapes and murders during the years he wore a badge.

Based on DNA evidence, law enforcement officials said Wednesday they believe DeAngelo is the notorious East Area Rapist in Sacramento County and the Golden State Killer in Southern California, a mysterious, deft and unusually cruel serial assailant who allegedly raped as many as four dozen women and murdered a dozen people.

At a noon press conference Wednesday, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said DeAngelo worked for the Auburn Police Department from 1976 to 1979.

He was let go after he was charged with stealing a hammer and dog repellent from a Citrus Heights drug store, according to an Auburn Journal article.

Jones said the investigation will include looking at whether the hammer and dog repellent were related to any crimes the East Area Rapist was committing around that time.

DeAngelo also worked previously as a police officer in Exeter near Visalia from 1973 to 1976. Notably, Jones added, that was at the time a criminal called the Visalia Ransacker was burglarizing homes.

He has been initially charged with a 1978 double homicide in Rancho Cordova, officials said, where he chased and shot a young couple on the street. The investigation is ongoing, officials said.

The arrest by a SWAT team of federal and local officers in front of DeAngelo's house came as a shock to the quiet Citrus Heights neighborhood, just miles from brutal 1970s rape sites in eastern Sacramento County.

Neighbors gathered with reporters to watch Wednesday as about 30 federal, state and local law enforcement officials combed through the house.

"It's terrifying to think this man could have hopped the fence and come into my backyard. I have children," said Beth Walsh, who lives behind DeAngelo on an adjacent street. "I'm glad to know they caught this guy."

DeAngelo has spent most of his life in suburban Sacramento and the foothills, records show.

He was married in fall 1973 to the former Sharon Marie Huddle of Citrus Heights, according to a wedding announcement in The Sacramento Bee. A person answering Huddle's phone number hung up Wednesday when contacted by the Bee.

The announcement described DeAngelo as a graduate of Folsom High School and Sacramento State. The wedding was held at Auburn First Congregational Church.

DeAngelo also attended Sierra College from 1968 to 1970, the college said. In his late teens, DeAngelo moved to rural Auburn with his mother and stepfather, according to Doug Burgarel, a neighbor at that time. DeAngelo's stepfather worked for Burgarel’s father at Sierra Crane and Hoist as a welder making indoor overhead cranes.

The stepfather bought a 5-acre piece of land from the Burgarals and built a home. Burgarel said he remembered DeAngelo as clean cut and pleasant.

Burgarel said DeAngelo was injured while serving in the military and lost a finger. He had one younger brother. His mother worked as a waitress at a Denny’s in Auburn.

Sacramento State officials say he graduated from there in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

A 1973 article in the Exeter Sun newspaper profiled DeAngelo as a new police hire in that city. The story said DeAngelo had served in Vietnam in the Navy for 22 months.

Sacramento State registrar's records say DeAngelo was awarded a National Defense Service medal, a Vietnam Service Medal (bronze star) and a Vietnam Campaign Medal.

He also had an internship in the Roseville Police Department, working in the identification and investigations division, according to the Sun.

Roseville police spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther said Wednesday that officials there "checked their microfiche index of temporary employees from long ago, but found no records of him." Gunther said DeAngelo may have worked there as a volunteer.

The Exeter Sun article led with the statment that DeAngelo "believes that without law and order there can be no government and with out a democratic government, there can be no freedom. Law enforcement is his career, he says, and his job is serving the community."

What happened between DeAngelo's time as an Auburn police officer and now is largely unknown. He has adult children, according to Jones.

Late Wednesday, The Bee learned that DeAngelo worked at a Roseville distribution center for Save Mart grocery stores for 27 years at a truck mechanic, according to the company. He retired last year, spokeswoman Victoria Castro said. A coworker told The Bee that DeAngelo started word at the facility in 1989.

Records show that DeAngelo lived at the Citrus Heights house as far back as 1983.

Next-door neighbor Cory Harvey said Wednesday that DeAngelo was divorced and had recently been living with a daughter and granddaughter at the house.

Harvey stood with a coffee cup in hand on her driveway and said she was in shock. She called her neighbor “Joe.”

He told her and her husband that he retired two weeks ago, which was something he'd been looking forward to for a long time. He planned to do a lot of fishing, he told them. He was also an avid bike rider, she said.

She lived next to him for eight years and said he was a good neighbor. He helped pay for a new fence that her husband put in between their two houses.

She described him as about 5 foot, 10 inches with gray hair, blue eyes and a round face. He was a regular guy, “except for that quirkiness of getting mad,” she said.

She said more than once she heard him swear, followed by a shouted apology when he noticed she had heard.

Gabby Ramirez, 14, who lives one street over, played with DeAngelo’s granddaughter and remembered DeAngelo as a pleasant person. “From what I can remember, he was just a normal grandpa,” she said.

She said the granddaughter lived in the home on Canyon Oak Drive with her mother and her grandfather. “He would take us out to go and get something to eat,” Gabby said. “He was nice to us.”

Other neighbors, however, painted a different picture, one of a less cordial and at times very angry man.

“We used to just call him ‘Freak,’” said Natalia Bedes-Correnti, who lives a few houses away. “He used to have these temper tantrums, not at anybody, just (expressing) his self frustration ... usually because he couldn’t find his keys.”

DeAngelo was so loud, she could hear him from inside her house, although she said the tantrums seemed to end several years ago.

Another neighbor, Eddie Verdon, said he once had a stare-down with DeAngelo after catching him prowling on his property.

“I had the creeps about this guy for a long time,” he said.

Grant Gorman grew up in the house behind DeAngelo, with a window looking over his yard. On Wednesday afternoon, Gorman was watching from that house as FBI agents prodded DeAngelo’s grass with poles. He described DeAngelo as angry and frightening enough that he avoided playing with DeAngelo's daughter while they were young.

“I felt sorry for her,” he said. “This guy just had this anger that was just pouring out of him. He’d just be yelling at nothing in the backyard, pacing in circles.”

Gorman said DeAngelo left a message in about 1994 on the family voicemail threatening "he was going to deliver a load of death" if the Gormans didn't stop their Rottweiler from barking. He also once came uninvited into the Gormans' backyard to yell at Gorman's mother, Sonja, because he wanted her to stop mowing her lawn. After that, she got a lock on their gate.

"He was the kind of person you didn't want to make mad," said Sonja Gorman. "There were enough times where we just knew not to bother him and not to incite him."

Kevin Tapia described DeAngelo as extremely meticulous, to the point of having permanent markings on his driveway so he could be exact in parking his boat. He said he talked to DeAngelo as recently as a week ago about a motorcycle mechanic.

Several neighbors said they saw DeAngelo working in his garage and in front of his house at about 2 p.m. Tuesday, hours before his arrest. One neighbor said DeAngelo was building a table on Tuesday.

Harvey, his next-door neighbor, said she heard a commotion at about 4 p.m. and looked out to see three or four law enforcement cars had pulled up, some of them unmarked, with officers wearing vests and helmets.

Sheriff Jones said officers had conducted surveillance on the house for several days, watching DeAngelo's patterns, and decided to wait until he was outside his house to apprehend him.

An investigative team that prominently included crews in FBI jackets set up an analysis scene on DeAngelo's driveway Wednesday with tents. By midday, investigators had pulled a Suzuki motorcycle and an outboard boat out of the suspect's garage and his backyard into the front driveway, as well as two newer-model cars, a Volvo and Toyota.

Bee staff writer Ryan Lillis contributed to this report.

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