Crime - Sacto 911

Update: East Area Rapist suspect captured after DNA match, authorities say

The lead came in one week ago, a tantalizing DNA hit that triggered a rush of excitement among Sacramento investigators working to solve the 44-year-old mystery of the East Area Rapist suspected of 12 murders and at least 51 rapes the length of California from 1974 through mid-1986.

Detectives began focusing on Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year-old retiree and former police officer living on a quiet street in Citrus Heights, conducting secret surveillance on him, studying his routines and, finally, collecting two separate samples of DNA from items he had discarded.

On Tuesday afternoon, in what Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones called a "perfectly executed arrest," FBI agents and detectives took DeAngelo into custody when he stepped outside his home.

"He was very surprised," an elated Jones said Wednesday at a news conference outside the Sacramento District Attorney's Crime Lab that helped lead to the arrest. "It looked as though he might have been searching his mind to execute a particular plan he may have had in mind…

"He was not given the opportunity. It happened almost instantaneously and he was taken into custody without any incident at all."

As Jones, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and other law enforcement leaders discussed the break in the case Wednesday afternoon, authorities were filing or preparing to file 12 murder charges in Sacramento, Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

The arrest brought international attention to a case that has generated a recent best-selling book, a documentary and theories that the East Area Rapist, also known as the Golden State Killer, the Visalia Ransacker, the Original Night Stalker and the Diamond Knot Killer, may have escaped to commit similar crimes in Australia.

Schubert said Wednesday there was no evidence to support that, but noted that the investigation into DeAngelo is just beginning after decades of dead-end leads.

"The answer has always been in Sacramento," Schubert said. "For over 40 years, countless victims have waited for justice."

DeAngelo was being held without bail in the Sacramento County Main Jail and is scheduled to make his first court appearance Friday afternoon.

He had never before been connected to the case, and had no obvious criminal past that authorities were aware of, other than a shoplifting incident at a Greenback Lane store where he was accused of stealing a hammer and dog repellant. That incident that got him fired in 1979 from his job as an Auburn police officer.

But Jones, Schubert and a team of other investigators statewide launched a renewed effort in 2016 to solve the case, and said Wednesday that persistent detective work and DNA evidence led them to DeAngelo.

Schubert, Jones and other officials would not disclose why they began looking at DeAngelo six days earlier, saying it was too early to reveal that information. But they were adamant that the clue did not come from a tip.

Instead, they said, DNA evidence from one of the old crimes and new technologies led them to begin studying DeAngelo last week. At one point, they collected "discarded DNA" from him, but said the genetic material was not substantial enough, so they returned to find more.

Jones said such collections can be made from something as simple as getting a used soda can from someone, but he would not disclose the details of how they obtained it.

"This was a true convergence of emerging technology and dogged persistence by detectives," Jones said.

By Wednesday, Schubert's office filed the first charges in the case, two counts of murder stemming from the Feb. 2, 1978, slayings of Katie and Brian Maggiore in Rancho Cordova.

The couple, believed to be the first killed by the East Area Rapist, were shot while walking their dog. Brian was shot in the chest in a neighbor's backyard, while Katie was shot in the head outside their home.

Those charges were filed alleging special circumstances of multiple murders, a designation that could lead Schubert's office to seek the death penalty.

The East Area Rapist terrorized portions of Sacramento with sexual assaults from 1976 through 1978. Authorities believe DeAngelo raped 37 people in the Sacramento area and Central Valley.

He is believed to have committed at least nine sexual assaults in Sacramento, six in Rancho Cordova and Citrus Heights, four in Carmichael, three in Davis, two in Orangevale and one in Antelope between June 1976 and July 1978. From there, authorities suspect he moved on to rapes in the Bay Area and later homicides and rapes in Southern California.

As the rapist moved from area to area, authorities dubbed him with his various nicknames before concluding that they were looking for the same suspect in each crime.

It was unclear how DeAngelo, who is believed to have lived in Citrus Heights for three decades and raised a family, may have conducted the crime spree, which stretched from Visalia in 1974 to Southern California in May 1986, without attracting attention.

But authorities said his police training may have helped. DeAngelo was a police officer in Exeter near Visalia, and then in Auburn from August 1976 until he was fired in September 1979.

In addition to the murder counts filed in Sacramento, Orange County prosecutors filed four counts of murder with special circumstances late Wednesday.

He is accused of killing Keith and Patrice Harrington in their Dana Point home in August 1980; of murdering and raping Manuela Witthuhn in Irvine in February 1981; and of the May 1986 murder and rape of Janelle Cruz in Irvine.

In their case, Orange County authorities added enhancements to the charges that will allow them to seek life without parole or the death penalty against DeAngelo. Those enhancements include three rape allegations, three robbery allegations and four allegations of lying in wait.

"This defendant has been able to live here in a nice suburb in Sacramento," Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas said. "Our team is going to work hard to make sure he never gets out."

Two additional murder counts were expected in Ventura County in the March 13, 1980, slayings of Charlene and Lyman Smith, who were bludgeoned by a piece of firewood. Charlene was raped before being killed. Lyman was soon to become a county judge.

DeAngelo also is suspected in four murders in Santa Barbara County.

Robert Offerman and Debra Manning were killed on Dec. 30, 1979, in Goleta. In July 1981, Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez were killed a few blocks from the Manning and Offerman murders.

Sanchez suffered a nonfatal gunshot wound to the cheek before being bludgeoned with a garden tool. Domingo was raped before being killed.

Jones said detectives have been searching DeAngelo's home seeking clues such as firearms or other evidence that might tie him to the case.

"There is a lot of material in his house, a lot of stuff to go through," Jones said.

Other search warrants are expected to be issued in coming days, and the sheriff said DeAngelo family members have been contacted.

"We have interviewed some family members," Jones said. "They are cooperative and, certainly, it's quite a shock to them, as you might expect."

Bruce Harrington, whose brother and sister-in-law were killed in Dana Point in 1980, appeared at the news conference Wednesday and described his long fight to get the state to compile a DNA database after the slayings.

"For the 51 ladies who were brutally raped: Sleep better tonight," Harrington said. "He isn’t coming through the window. He is now in jail and he is history."

Then-Citrus Heights resident Jane Carson-Sandler was sexually assaulted at knifepoint by a man believed to be the East Area Rapist in 1976. Carson-Sandler, who now lives in Sun City, S.C., told The Island Packet newspaper Wednesday she had been contacted by two detectives about the suspect's arrest.

The man's arrest picture was not familiar to Carson-Sandler, she said.

"I just found out this morning," she told The Island Packet. "I'm overwhelmed with joy. I've been crying, sobbing."

True crime writer Michelle McNamara's book "I'll Be Gone in the Dark" reached No. 1 on The New York Times' bestseller list last month and drew renewed attention to the case, although officials said Wednesday that the book did not lead to the arrest.

A documentary on the search for the killer aired at the Delta King Theatre in Old Sacramento earlier this month.

Sam Stanton: (916) 321-1091, @StantonSam

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