Crime - Sacto 911

‘Unmasking a Killer’: 2-hour TV special dives into East Area Rapist DNA investigation

The story of the East Area Rapist, with focus on the DNA investigation that led to the arrest of suspect Joseph James DeAngelo in Citrus Heights last year, will be the focus of a two-part, two-hour TV special airing Sunday and Monday on HLN.

“Unmasking a Killer” originally aired March through April 2018 as a five-part miniseries on the CNN-owned Headline News channel. It chronicled the cold case of a serial killer, rapist and burglar known as the East Area Rapist, Golden State Killer and Original Night Stalker, with crimes starting in the mid-1970s and apparently ending around 1986.

Less than two weeks after the miniseries ended, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department on April 24 announced the arrest of DeAngelo, 72, in connection with the crimes. DeAngelo is awaiting a trial that will likely take years to conclude.

A photograph of Joseph James DeAngelo, who law enforcement officials believe is the East Area Rapist, is displayed during a press conference by Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones and Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. Hector Amezcua

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that investigators tracked down DeAngelo using DNA data retrieved from genalogical websites. Retired Contra Costa County investigator Paul Holes said he used an open-source website called GEDmatch to help law enforcement connect the dots.

“It’s no secret that police investigating the #GoldenStateKiller cases used DNA to identify a suspect... but the SOURCE of that DNA may surprise you,” HLN wrote in a promotional tweet Thursday.

As The Bee reported in the days following the suspect’s arrest, detectives gathered a DNA sample from an item DeAngelo threw away, and that sample turned out to be a match.

“Unmasking a Killer” will return to TV with special titled “Closing in on The Golden State Killer.” Part 1 will dig into the investigators’ breakthrough, the DNA matching process and law enforcement surveillance of the suspect, according to an episode description.

Joseph James DeAngelo joined the Exeter Police Department in 1973. Santa Barbara County Sheriff

Part 2 will explore “a psychological profile and projected next steps” in the case of DeAngelo, a man who “was hiding in plain sight.”

DeAngelo worked as a police officer in Exeter and in Auburn in the 70s. He resigned from the latter police department after being charged with shoplifting at a Citrus Heights drug store. Later, he worked more than 25 years at a supermarket distribution center in Roseville until his 2017 retirement.

“The Golden State Killer’s being paid by taxpayer money to become a better criminal,” Holes says in one trailer.

“Unmasking a Killer” will air at 6 and 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday on HLN.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.