See how DNA evidence was used to arrest NorCal Rapist suspect
Five months after an arrest in the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer case, authorities in Sacramento announced the arrest of another serial rape suspect Friday morning: the so-called NorCal Rapist, who terrorized victims over a 15-year period beginning in 1991.
Roy Charles Waller, 58, a UC Berkeley safety specialist who lives in Benicia with his wife, was arrested Thursday by Sacramento police as he arrived at the job where had worked for the past 25 years, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and Police Chief Daniel Hahn announced Friday at a press conference at the DA’s crime lab.
Waller is a safety specialist in the UC Berkeley Office of Environment, Health and Safety, and was pinpointed within the last 10 days as a suspect in a series of at least 10 rapes in six counties between 1991 and 2006.
The investigation was nearly a carbon copy of the one that led authorities to arrest East Area Rapist suspect Joseph James DeAngelo in April.
Schubert said Waller was found after investigators in her office entered DNA from the NorCal Rapist crime scenes into a “genetic genealogy” website called GEDmatch – the same site used to find DeAngelo.
That DNA came close to matching someone’s DNA who had entered their own information into the site, and Schubert said investigators were “record setting in how fast they were able to determine that Mr. Waller was the person we were looking for.”
The probe involved building a family tree from the DNA they found on the site and eventually following that until they got to Waller, whose age and weight matched descriptions of the rapist and who had lived in or near communities where the attacks took place, according to public records.
From there, Sacramento police obtained a sample of DNA from Waller through something he discarded, Schubert said, then went back for a second DNA sample to be certain it matched the crime scene DNA. After they were satisfied with the match, Sacramento police went to the Berkeley campus and arrested him without incident, officials said.
“We made our cities safer yesterday and removed a predator from our streets,” Hahn said.
Schubert and police would not discuss where Waller’s DNA came from in the two samples they obtained, but court records say detectives “obtained discarded items of trash from a trash can outside” Waller’s house and recovered a straw that they tested to match it to DNA from a rape of two women in Natomas in October 2006.
Court documents say the DNA uploaded to GEDmatch “led to a close relative of the NorCal Rapist,” and that investigators were led to Waller based on his height, weight, appearance, past addresses and his “owning similar guns to the ones used in the crimes.”
The process mirrors the one used to arrest DeAngelo. His DNA was obtained from a discarded soda can and the door handle of his vehicle.
“For 27 years, there has been one common thread: his DNA,” Schubert said of Waller.
Detectives have said previously that the rapist may have been seen on surveillance videos when he forced victims to drive to ATM machines and withdraw cash, and that he had attacked at least 11 women through 2006.
The assailant targeted women starting in Rohnert Park in 1991 and moved on to victimize women in Sonoma, Davis, Chico, Woodland, Martinez, Vallejo and Sacramento.
Once, he posed as a trick-or-treater to get into the home of a victim, then telephoned her 20 days later to apologize.
In October 2006, he attacked two women in North Natomas, tying them up in their home.
The NorCal Rapist’s northernmost attack came in Chico in July 1997 when he assaulted a 21-year-old woman and tied her up, an attack that provided investigators with a wealth of DNA evidence from the rapist’s blood.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said Friday that the victim managed to slip out of her bindings. When the rapist came back into the room where she was being held, the woman stabbed him in the arm with a pair of scissors.
The rapist subdued the victim again, then tried to clean up the blood using sheets and towels, trying to get it off the floor and wiping down the victim, the taking the blood-soaked materials with him.
But he could not collect all the blood, Ramsey said.
“He could not cover his sins, his crime,” Ramsey said.
Waller is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Sacramento Superior Court. He is being held on 12 counts of forcible sexual assault with enhancements, according to Schubert. Those charges stem from an Oct. 13, 2006, assault on two women inside a North Natomas home, the last attack in the series.
One of the victims later met with reporters and described the terror of being accosted at gunpoint, tied up and assaulted over the course of hours.
“Even now, I can still feel the barrel of the gun pushing against my head to my surprise,” the woman said in November 2006. “All I could think about was that I wanted this stranger to just leave my house, the only place where I thought, or we all think, as the safest place on earth.”
Court documents say that in that attack the rapist “took the victims to separate bathrooms and washed their entire bodies,” an apparent - and unsuccessful attempt - to remove DNA.
Waller is alleged to have used a gun during at least some of the rapes and faces a life term in prison if convicted. Authorities say dealing with statutes of limitations on the various crimes is “complex,” but that many of them carried life terms at the time and can be prosecuted.
In the Halloween attack in Martinez in 1996, Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton said her office preserved its ability to charge Waller by filing a “John Doe” case in 2006 that can now be used to name Waller.
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, whose county counts four of the 11 victims from attacks in Woodland and Davis, including UC Davis students in 1997, said his office is still in the process of notifying some of the victims.
He emphasized that the key to making an arrest was the fact that investigators refused to give up on solving the case.
“That work never stopped,” Reisig said, adding that Sacramento’s scientific resources were critical. “Ultimately, it was the DNA.”
“The days of predators like this not getting caught is rapidly coming to an end,” Reisig said. “I’m confident this will be a game changer. Sacramento is a leader in California. That has to be a part of any discussion.”
Waller declined a interview request Friday afternoon at the jail from The Sacramento Bee.
No one answered the door Friday at his home in Benicia, which is nestled in a middle-class neighborhood just blocks from the water.
The two-story home, beige with a white picket fence, had two upscale cars parked in the driveway on Friday: a white Cadillac Escalade and a silver Mercedes.
“I’m just angry he did this to people,” said Marcia Shigamoto, who lives across the street from Waller and said she never feared him. “I hope he rots in hell.”
His home is bracketed with security cameras, but neighbors said Waller told them the cameras were “fake.” Lindsay Finn, who has lived in the neighborhood for a couple of years, said Waller seemed mostly to keep to himself.
Another neighbor, Anne Crawford, said he was always outside working on vehicles or watering tomatoes, but added that she never saw any children, pets or visitors.
“To me he looked like an ex-military guy,” she said. “A bit stocky, slow-speaking.”
The attacks occurred in six counties: Sonoma, Solano, Contra Costa, Yolo, Butte and Sacramento. Prosecutors still have not decided how to try Waller, but Ramsey said consolidating the cases and trying him in a Sacramento courtroom made the most sense to him.
Prosecutors who have filed 13 murder and 13 rape-related charges from seven counties against DeAngelo made a similar decision weeks ago when they concluded that they would mount a joint prosecution of that case in Sacramento.
Public records indicate that Waller has lived in or near many of the locations where the attacks took place, including Woodland, Dixon, Sacramento and various addresses in Contra Costa County.
Two sources said they believe Waller’s only previous contact with authorities was an arrest in the early 1990s involving a possible kidnap case, but that charges ultimately were never filed.
Online records from Solano Superior Court show two cases involving Waller, one a June 15, 1995 misdemeanor involving a vehicle code violation, the other a May 6, 1992 complaint to establish “parental relation.” Berkeley police said they had no record of contact with Waller.
Sources said Waller had no significant criminal past that would have led investigators to him earlier, and that he had not been a suspect in the NorCal rapes until 10 days ago.
Authorities say the NorCal rapist targeted petite Asian women in their 20s and 30s and that he carried a gun and frequently wore a mask. One victim who caught a glimpse of him through a blindfold described him in 2006 as white, 37 to 40 years old and weighing 200 to 250 pounds with a pronounced gut.
Waller’s booking record at the Sacramento County Jail lists him as being 6 feet tall and weighing 235 pounds.
Police said then that he may have been driving a white Toyota 4Runner with tinted windows.
The decision to hold the press conference at the crime lab signals the importance that DNA played in the case. Authorities held a similar press conference there in April to announce the DeAngelo arrest.
None of Waller’s co-workers at UC Berkeley would discuss his arrest, referring reporters to the university’s public affairs office, which issued a statement saying the school “was shocked to learn that a campus employee was arrested” in the case and describing his duties as ensuring safety and training for the use of forklifts and other machinery. Public records show he earned $71,730 last year.
“According to UCPD and the Sacramento Police Department, there is no indication that any crimes occurred within the campus community,” the statement said. “However, UCPD will be reviewing any open sexual assault cases to determine if any might be related.”
Law enforcement officials from around Northern California gathered for Friday’s announcement, including Sacramento police Detective Avis Beery, who worked the case for 12 years.
“I’ve been waiting a really long time for this day to come,” Beery said. “I never gave up hope that it would come.
“I spoke with one of the victims this morning and she was overcome with emotion and happiness to see that this person is in custody and that nobody else has to worry about him anymore. The victims in this case can stop looking over their shoulders.”