Crime - Sacto 911

In the 1970s, the East Area Rapist stole Sacramento's innocence

Here are the headlines behind the horror of East Area Rapist, 1977-2018

FBI agents and detectives took into custody Joseph James DeAngelo, who is suspected of being the East Area Rapist. The rapist also was known as the Golden State Killer, linked to 45 rapes and a dozen murders.
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FBI agents and detectives took into custody Joseph James DeAngelo, who is suspected of being the East Area Rapist. The rapist also was known as the Golden State Killer, linked to 45 rapes and a dozen murders.

The time was June 1976.

"Silly Love Songs" by Wings topped the Billboard charts. Gas was around 59 cents a gallon. And a relatively unknown actress named Farrah Fawcett had become an overnight sex symbol, thanks to a poster featuring her in a red swimsuit, blonde hair tumbling to her shoulders, smile beaming.

Sacramento back then was a sleepy government town of 250,000 residents. Like the rest of the nation, it was gearing up for America's Bicentennial celebration, a holiday that had taken on additional dimensions following Watergate and the Vietnam War.

Though the city and its suburbs were growing, Sacramento retained a safe, small-town feel, a place where kids roamed neighborhoods unsupervised, street lights signaling when it was time to come home for supper.

That sense of security began unraveling on June 18, when a man wearing a ski mask raped a woman in Rancho Cordova. He struck again on July 17, in Carmichael's Del Dayo neighborhood. Then again on Aug. 29, back in Rancho Cordova. And again on Sept. 4, in Citrus Heights.

As the attacks continued, a sense of anxiety and dread took hold of the city.

After another sexual assault in Rancho Cordova on Oct. 18 –the eighth in four months – law enforcement officials publicly announced they were looking for a serial assailant they named the East Area Rapist.

More than 40 years later, authorities believe they finally have captured the man who sexually assaulted 37 people in the Sacramento area and Central Valley. He is Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, a retiree and former police officer who is suspected of 12 murders and at least 51 rapes in California from 1974 through 1986.

Locally, the East Area Rapist is remembered not only for his horrific crimes during the late '70s, but for stealing the community's innocence. Those who grew up in the city and surrounding areas during his reign of terror never have forgotten what it was like to suddenly live in fear, and how that fear changed their lives.

"This guy was our boogeyman, " said Gina Knepp, who was raised in the city's Hollywood Park neighborhood and was in high school when the rapist began his attacks. "He was the thing that goes bump in the night."

In the Sacramento region, the East Area Rapist (also known as the the Golden State Killer) was known for brutal, methodically planned attacks in which he bound and gagged his victims, sometimes wearing a ski mask. He entered house through garages, windows and sliding glass doors, usually armed with a knife or pistol. He would awakened his victims as they lay in bed, shining a flashlight in their faces to blind them.

In one instance, the rapist forced a woman to tie up her husband as he lay face down on their bed. She then was told to stack dishes on her husband's back. The East Area Rapist said they would both be killed if the dishes fell. He then raped the woman for hours and stole china from the couple's home before leaving.

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With reports of each new assault appearing on TV and in the newspapers, more and more citizens began changing their daily routines to protect themselves and their families. "Housewives" began taking shooting classes and arming themselves with guns. Sales of locks and security lights soared. Parents stopped allowing their children to play outside alone. Teenagers began babysitting in pairs. Residents kept their lights on overnight. Some families slept in shifts.

The case inspired neighborhood patrols of hundreds of CB radio operators who were determined to help police find the East Area Rapist. The Bee's "Secret Witness" program contributed $15,000 toward a reward fund. But the search, at least at that time, was fruitless.

 

"Our very relaxed city became tense and fearful of this perpetrator, and no one was able to catch him," said Robert Janson, who lived in Foothill Farms in the 1970s.

Rebecca Sargent was about 10 years old and living in Carmichael when the rapist was roaming the Sacramento area. "We used to wander around pretty freely in our neighborhood," she recalled. "We even walked to the bluffs of the river. It felt really safe."

After news of the serial rapist broke, "suddenly we had to keep all of the windows locked at night," she said. "My dad bought special locks and bars to secure the sliding glass doors at the back of the house. Everything had to be shut up at night, and I was terrified."

Sargent, who now lives in the Philadelphia area, said she still is unable to sleep with the windows open. "This was something that affected the whole community. I was so young at the time, but I still remember so many details about the things he did and the fear that we felt."

When Amy Dore was a junior high school student in Carmichael, she learned a classmate had been attacked by the notorious rapist. "We all knew about him," she said. "Everyone was talking about it all the time. I can't believe it took this long to find him."

Andrea Woolfork's family lived just a few blocks from two homes where the East Area Rapist attacked women in Citrus Heights. She recalled being nearly paralyzed by fear in her bedroom at night, listening to police helicopters clattering overhead. Her parents slept with a weapon next to their bed.

Her worries that she or her family members might become victims "stayed with me through my 20s," Woolfork said. She cannot watch horror movies because they bring back awful memories. "I find no joy or thrill in the fear," she said.

Backyard camping nights were common in Knepp's neighborhood before the East Area Rapist case surfaced. "All of a sudden, we weren't allowed to do that anymore," she said. "My dad wouldn't even let me go to the drive-in movies.

"Everywhere, there was just a sense of jitteriness," she added. "Everyone was waiting for him to do the next bad thing. I wasn't a victim, but in a way we all were. He affected all of our lives."

Others recalled having ongoing nightmares about getting attacked, and remembered jumping to attention when dogs barked or trees rustled at night.

Lisa Holverson spent her childhood in Roseville, where few people worried about their personal security, she said.

"Suddenly everyone was in a panic about keeping their windows and doors locked at all times," she said. "We never thought about those things before then. The East Area Rapist started all of that paranoia."

Holverson said she remembers seeing sketches of the serial rapist, and being chilled by the fact that he did not look evil or menacing.

"As a kid you think bad people should have an ugly appearance," she said. "It was strange for me, because this person looked sort of normal." The banality of his looks made him seem even scarier, she said.

Though she has long overcome her anxiety about the serial rapist, Knepp said, memories of what it was like being a child living in his midst have resurfaced with the news of DeAngelo's arrest.

"I'll never forget laying in bed at night, fearful, way back then," she said. "He was right up there with Charles Manson for me. "

DeAngelo's arrest has brought international attention to a case that has generated several books, a documentary and many theories about what might have happened to the East Area Rapist. Authorities said DNA evidence led to DeAngelo, who for decades had been living on a quiet street in Citrus Heights.

"Finding out that they finally caught him was so poignant for me," Knepp said. "I am so relieved that we don't have to worry about the East Area Rapist anymore."

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday in connection to the East Area Rapist case, officials say. Also known as the Golden State Killer, the serial rapist is responsible for raping at least 45 women and killing 12.

Follow more of our reporting on East Area Rapist Case

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