Auburn police have launched an internal investigation into Joseph DeAngelo's three years as an officer there, saying they feel obligated to figure out whether the rape and murder suspect committed any crimes in their city.
Law enforcement authorities say the 72-year-old DeAngelo, who was arrested last week outside his Citrus Heights home, is one of the most notorious criminals in modern California times, known alternately as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and the Golden State Killer.
He is suspected of having committed four dozen rapes and 12 murders in the late 1970s and mid-1980s based on a DNA link to crime scene evidence. The rapes took place in suburban Sacramento County as well as Davis, Stockton, Modesto, the East Bay and San Jose. One double homicide occurred in Rancho Cordova in 1979. The other killings occurred, often with rapes, in Southern California in the 1980s.
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But DeAngelo's career path for six years as a police officer in two cities has upset and embarrassed police in those cities, and prompted questions about his actions while on duty.
DeAngelo worked as a police officer in Auburn from 1976 to 1979, when the East Area Rapist was most active a few miles away in suburban Sacramento.
No crimes have been associated with DeAngelo in Auburn. But officials there said this week they have told the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office they are launching their own review of crimes committed in Auburn in that time period to see if any might be linked to DeAngelo.
"We are going to look at back at cold cases that have a similar (modus operandi) to see if there is any possibility of a connection," Auburn police Lt. Victor Pecoraro said.
Pecoraro said the department has purged many of its records over the years after legal statute of limitation periods ended.
"There may not be" any records of possible crimes, he said, "But we feel looking at that is the right thing to do ... something that can help get closure."
DeAngelo's tenure as an Auburn officer came to an abrupt end in 1979 when he was caught stealing a hammer and a can of dog repellent from a Citrus Heights drugstore.
A clerk at the store testified during the trial that he pulled the hammer from DeAngelo's pants as the two fought, according to clippings at the time from the Auburn Journal. The clerk said DeAngelo was trying to escape during the struggle.
Store employees ultimately tied DeAngelo into a chair. The Journal reported that DeAngelo "was in an emotional state" when arresting Sacramento County deputies arrived.
He was convicted in July 1979 and given a $100 fine along with six months' probation. The police department fired him in August.
The man who fired DeAngelo was now-retired Auburn Police Chief Nick Willick, who worked with the suspect for awhile when Willick was a sergeant.
”There was nothing really exceptional about his work product. He was kind of average," Willick said. "He didn't really stand out in any area, for a good or a negative sense.”
There has been speculation that the dog repellent may have been used in the East Area Rapist's attacks. But Willick said there was nothing unusual about that. “Officers carried dog repellent," he said. "Dogs will come up when you're out at a call, and ... run up to you.”
DeAngelo, who grew up in the Auburn and Sacramento areas, also worked in Tulare County for the Exeter Police Department from 1973 to 1976. During that time, a criminal called the Visalia Ransacker was believed to have burglarized more than 100 homes in Visalia, about 10 miles away.
Exeter Police Chief John Hall said his department has few records left from the 1970s, and no formal records of when DeAngelo was hired, when he left or why.
Hall said he only knows DeAngelo worked there because the new recruit was quoted in the local newspaper in 1973, and because one retired Exeter officer said he remembers DeAngelo.
Hall called it a "punch in the gut" when he learned that DeAngelo not only had been on officer, but had worked in his town.
Visalia police said this week they believe the Ransacker crime spree from 1974 to 1975 is linked to the “Golden State Killer” cases, and have asked anyone who knew DeAngelo in the 1970s to contact their department.
An Exeter Sun newspaper article, announcing DeAngelo's hiring there in 1973, paraphrased DeAngelo as saying he "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."
The Sun also reported DeAngelo had an internship in the Roseville Police Department. A Roseville spokeswoman said officials there, however, "checked their microfiche index of temporary employees from long ago, but found no records of him." Spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther said DeAngelo may have worked there as a volunteer.
Auburn police Lt. Pecoraro said he found DeAngelo's background as an officer disturbing. "These are heinous, horrible crimes, and it saddens me and other law enforcement that somebody who wore a uniform would commit this kind of crime."
Former Auburn chief Willick, who did not hire DeAngelo, went further, saying he was "embarrassed" when he learned DeAngelo is the suspect.
"It was a shock," he said. "I just didn't believe that he could be a mass murderer."