Joseph James DeAngelo: The Golden State Killer


In the 1970’s and 80’s, over one hundred
families in California had their homes ransacked by the same man. Many of them woke up in the middle of the
night to a flashlight blinding their eyes. A man was standing over their bed, wearing
a black ski mask. He held knives to throats, and guns to heads,
demanding that they do what he said, if they wanted to live. Within a matter of hours, he ruined and ended
lives, slipping small mementos in his pocket as he ran into the darkness. Fifty one women were raped in their own beds-
sometimes while their husbands and children watched. He murdered 12 people that we know of, but
the kill count may be higher. He traveled all throughout California, targeting
homes wherever he went. He changed his style of killing and left misleading
clues to throw off the police. Unlike most serial killers, there was no connection
between the victims, and virtually no way of predicting where he would strike next. The survivors tried to move on with their
lives, but many of them received phone calls years after the attacks, hearing a threatening
whisper on the other line- “Remember when we played?” In 1986, the killings mysteriously stopped,
and the trail ran cold. For decades, this serial killer was on the
loose. The police called him the “East Area Rapist”,
or “The EAR” for short. He has also being called “The Original Night
Stalker”. For years, The true identity of the EAR was
an unsolved mystery that no one in California could forget. For 44 years straight, the Sacramento County
Police Department received phone calls from people who believed they had information about
the EAR, and yet none of those suspects ever panned out. A freelance writer named Michelle McNamara
began digging into this cold case. In 2006, she began a blog and podcast called
True Crime Diary, and shared clues with a community of online websleuths who were equally
as passionate about getting the EAR behind bars. In 2013, she wrote an article about the East
Area Rapist in Los Angeles Magazine, called “In The Footsteps of a Killer”. She gave this murderer a more fitting nickname,
“The Golden State Killer”. She began writing a book called I’ll Be
Gone In The Dark, where she interviewed detectives and compiled information across various jurisdictions
that had never been pieced together before. She met an investigator from the Contra Costa
County Police Department named Paul Holes, and together, they shared theories and information
on how to potentially catch the killer. In 2016, Michelle McNamara suddenly passed
away in her sleep. Before she died, she told her husband that
the one thing she wanted was for the Golden State Killer to get caught. It didn’t matter if she was the one to do
it. After taking time to grieve, her husband,
Patton Oswalt, hired help to posthumously publish her book. It was finished in February of 2018. One of the many leads Paul Holes discussed
with McNamara before she died was the potential of DNA evidence found on new genealogy websites
like 23andMe. Holes took the DNA from old rape kits and
ran it through an online Genealogy database, and they got a match to a first cousin. Together with a task force, they were able
to gather enough evidence to find the man to match the DNA. In April of 2018, the police raided the home
of Joseph James DeAngelo. Early Life
While we do not know the intimate details about his private life, it would seem that
Joseph James DeAngelo had a fairly normal childhood. He was born in 1945 in Bath, New York. His father, also named Joseph DeAngelo, was
a celebrated pilot in the Air Force during World War II. His mother, Kathleen DeGroat, was a waitress
at Denny’s. His parents would later divorce. Kathleen married her second husband, and they
moved to California. There was a piece of paper found at one of
the crime scenes that may give some insight into his childhood. The paper has been named “the homework evidence”,
and it reads like a journal entry. “Mad is the word. The word that reminds me of the 6th grade. I hated that year.” DeAngelo goes on to write about his teacher
who punished him for talking in class by forcing him to write the same sentence 50 to 150 times
as a homework assignment. “I never hated anyone as much as I hated
him.” He describes spending hours on this homework,
and wrote, “It wasn’t fair to make me suffer like that. I cried because I was ashamed….I will be
ashamed of my sixth grade year forever.” Some people believe that the story of the
sixth grade may have been a lie. It could have been a red herring to confuse
the police about his motives for a crime. Or, he truly does perceive himself as a victim,
and he sees the sixth grade as the turning point in his life when he began to harbor
deep hatred for people. He attended Folsom High School in Sacramento,
and then to California State University in Sacramento to earn a degree in Criminal Justice. He joined the navy after graduation, and served
in the Vietnam War. In the late 60’s, he was engaged to a young
woman named Bonnie Colwell who worked as a lab assistant at Sierra College. Bonnie called off the engagement, and it broke
DeAngelo’s heart. We may never know what happened behind closed
doors, but according to her brother, she had “plenty of good reasons” for dumping him. Just like the shame and anger he harbored
towards his sixth grade teacher, he never let go of this betrayal. Years later, victims would hear him sobbing,
“I hate you Bonnie. I hate you Bonnie,” over and over again. In 1973, Joseph James DeAngelo married a woman
named Sharon Marie Huddle, and they would go on to have three daughters together. In 1974, he graduated from the police academy
and became an officer in Visalia, California. The very next year, in 1975, a police officer
was shot by a criminal known for years as the Visalia Ransacker, who has now also been
identified as Joseph James DeAngelo. In 1976, he transferred to the Auburn Police
Department. He was caught stealing a can of dog repellant
and a hammer from a grocery store. These items clearly should have been a red
flag that he was up to more than shoplifting, but the police fired him, without looking
into it any further. After being fired from his job, DeAngelo threatened
to kill the police chief, Nick Willick. A few days after being threatened, the police
chief’s daughter ran into his room in the middle of the night, saying that she saw a
man in a mask outside shining a flashlight into her bedroom. When Chief Willick went outside to check,
he saw shoe impressions at his daughter’s window. The Murders
The first recorded victim was a ransacking in Visalia, California in 1974, after DeAngelo
joined the police force. In the beginning, he was sloppy, and didn’t
wear a mask. Witnesses were able to describe his face to
the police. He was 29 years old at the time, but he looked
young for his age, and many people believed the ransacker was in his teens to early 20’s. He would not begin to kill people until he
was in his 30’s. According to crime writer Billy Jensen, he
has spoken to victims who believed Joseph James DeAngelo attempted to murder them long
before 1974, and as the police uncover new evidence about him, it may reveal a much darker
youth. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, various police
jurisdictions did not communicate with one another when it came to their crimes. DeAngelo would have known this fact first-hand,
and he took advantage of that. After committing a few crimes in one county,
he would move on to the next one. After nearly being caught as a ransacker,
he went to great lengths to prevent being seen, and began wearing a black ski mask. He also planned out strategies for each of
his crimes. Police sketches and physical descriptions
were released that looked almost identical to his true face, so he lost a huge amount
of weight in order to change his appearance. He targeted one-story homes with similar layouts,
which made it was easier for him to tell how many people were in the house. He drove around neighborhoods, and sketched
out maps to help find his way at night. After breaking into someone’s house, he
would search through the victim’s purse, and look for her driver’s license. When he approached them in their bedrooms,
he would whisper their names, which made them wonder if he actually knew them in their personal
lives. He would also take notice to their hobbies,
and make up a story of where he knew them from. Police now know that he chose his victims
at random, and he was purposely leaving false breadcrumbs for them to follow. For example, one married couple had a boat
in their driveway, so he said, “I saw you at the lake.” Other times, he would give the victims false
information about himself, like, “Don’t tell the pigs about my van outside.” He didn’t have a van. In fact, his transportation of choice was
bicycles he would steal from open garages, and later dump as he ran. This way, no one could identify his real vehicle
and report it to the police. The fact that he always called police officers
“pigs” was also misleading, since he was a cop himself. After years of targeting women who were home
alone, he rose the stakes higher, and moved on to couples. He would come prepared with pre-tied shoelaces,
so he could force the husband to lay on his stomach, and tie his hands. Then, he put a stack of plates on the man’s
back. If the husband moved, he said, he would hear
the crashing plates, and kill the wife immediately. The husband had to lay there, helpless, while
he heard his wife being sexually assaulted. DeAngelo switched up the weapons he used in
each break-in. Sometimes it was a knife, sometimes it was
a gun. In one case, he even beat someone to death
with a log from the fireplace. The only common thread he could not run away
from was his own body. Each of his rape victims described him as
having an extremely small penis. This would become a detail that investigators
took very seriously. They asked local doctors if they could identify
patients with a micro penis, and ruled out potential suspects if they were too well-endowed. He was a psychological sadist who got off
on instilling fear into the heart of human beings. One of the many tricks he used to avoid capture
was waiting in the house long after committing the rape. One victim in Sacramento laid in her bed after
being assaulted for several minutes of silence. Her young daughter had been laying in bed
next to her the entire time. When the mother asked her daughter if she
was okay, the little girl whispered, “Sshh. Mommy.” He was still standing in the the bedroom,
hiding in the darkness. As soon as she spoke, he lurched forward and
pushed down on the bed next to her head. He would then leave silently while his victims
remained frozen on the bed in fear. This gave him hours to escape before the police
were called. Months or even years after being raped, DeAngelo
would call his victims to taunt them on Christmas Day, threatening to come back and finish the
job. Many of his surviving victims now have PTSD. According to Carol Daly, a woman who worked
for the Sacramento County Police Department in the 1970’s, they held a town hall meeting
to discuss the East Area Rapist. People were understandably terrified. This was years before proper security systems
were invented. Over 6,000 guns were sold within a month. People were hiring locksmiths to add deadbolts
to their doors, and many people bought guard dogs to keep them safe. During the town hall meeting to discuss the
EAR, a man stood up in the crowd and claim that he did not believe the EAR was real,
because he could not fathom that any man would allow his wife to be raped while he was home. A few months later, that same man and his
wife became victims. Officer Carol Daly was shaken to the core. She knew that whoever the EAR was, he had
been at that meeting that night, probably relishing in the fear her brought to those
people. The Devil was hiding in plain sight. Later Life
Since he could no longer work as police officer, Joseph DeAngelo became a big rig truck mechanic
for a grocery chain called Save Mart. According to one of his co-workers, DeAngelo
was always on his best behavior, and acted like he was afraid of getting in trouble. He was never late to work, and never called
in sick. Secretly, he continued his crimes at night,
only stopping in the year 1986. No one knows yet why he chose that year to
stop his killing spree, except that it was the same year his youngest daughter was born. It’s possible that he reached a point when
he simply could no longer continue to live a double life and keep it a secret from his
family. Or, he continued his crimes under a completely
different MO. At home, he had a reputation for being an
angry, violent man. People in the neighborhood avoided interacting
with him, and he never made any friends. He once left his neighbors a voicemail threatening
to kill their entire family. The father recognized DeAngelo’s voice,
and knocked on his door to confront him. DeAngelo responded that he left that voicemail
because their dog was barking too much. His neighbors would often hear Joseph DeAngelo
screaming and cursing at his wife and daughters so loudly, they could hear him inside the
house. He didn’t seem to care what people thought
of him, because he frequently stood in his front yard screaming at himself. He would yell, “I’ll kill you”, even
though no one was there. Meanwhile, Sacramento County investigator
Paul Holes had been hunting The Golden State Killer for 24 years. Holes was getting ready to retire, but he
was still obsessed with solving the case. He was finally able to get an ancestry DNA
company to agree to work with him, and uploaded the DNA from the Golden State Killer into
an online database in January of 2018. Through this technology, he was able to find
a third cousin. Holes took this to a Sacramento County DA,
and he assigned a task force to scour this family tree. Before this moment, Joseph James DeAngelo
had never been one of the potential suspects. He had succeeded in hiding his crimes for
44 years. The day before he was supposed to hand in
his gun and badge, Paul Holes sat outside of Joseph James DeAngelo’s house. At this point, he was so jaded by the number
of failed leads over the years, that he didn’t actually expect DeAngelo to be the one. Holes wondered if he should just knock on
DeAngelo’s door and ask for a DNA sample, so they could rule him out as a suspect. But something in hit gut told him to keep
driving. DNA samples take time to process, and if he
truly was the Golden State Killer, he would have too much time to run, or possibly commit
suicide. The police followed DeAngelo in public places,
instead. They retrieved his DNA and fingerprints by
wiping his car door, and went through his trash to find a discarded tissue. The Sacramento crime lab and task force worked
non-stop to connect the dots to prove without a doubt that he was the Golden State Killer. The police obtained a search warrant to go
into Joseph James DeAngelo’s home and arrest him. DeAngelo was shocked. Police on the scene said they could see it
in his eyes that he was calculating a way to escape, but the officers detained him before
he had a chance. He didn’t try to deny being the Golden State
Killer. He simply said, “There’s a roast in the
oven.” Since then, he has not spoken a word to the
police, and refuses to give any interviews, to avoid incriminating himself. Since then, he just stares into space when
he appears in court. DeAngelo’s wife, Sharon Huddle, moved away
and stopped speaking to him decades ago. At the time of his arrest, he was living with
one of his adult daughters, and his granddaughter. His wife is a divorce lawyer, and yet she
never filed for divorce after being separated for so many years. This has lead some people to speculate that
he may have threatened her, or that she may know something about his crimes. As his wife, she will not be forced to testify
against him in a court of law, and this would save her from being partially responsible
for his crimes. Sharon Huddle released a statement basically
asking the press to leave her alone. “My thoughts and prayers are for the victims
and their families. The press has relentlessly pursued interviews
of me. I will not be giving any interviews for the
foreseeable future. I ask the press to please respect my privacy
and that of my children.” According to neighbors, DeAngelo was very
physically fit, as if he was only 50 years old, instead of 72. He had a stationary bike in his house, rode
a motorcycle, and was walking around without any issues. However, when his lawyers rolled him up to
the trial, he was sitting in a wheelchair, pretending to be a feeble old man who didn’t
know what was going on. This was his final attempt of self-preservation,
but he wasn’t fooling anyone. During the motion hearing, DeAngelo was no
longer in a wheelchair. He standing inside of a barred holding cell,
next to an armed guard. He stared at the judge the entire time with
a blank expression. He showed absolutely no emotion or remorse. It will be years before he goes to trial,
but not even his defense lawyer is trying to deny that he truly is the Golden State
Killer. There is also an ongoing investigation, with
information that is being kept from the public. The police took a lot of his personal belongings
from his home into evidence, which included many of the mementos he stole from his victims. It may be years before we learn any more details
about his life, or what drove him to become the devil incarnate. At the very least, DeAngelo is finally behind
bars. Hopefully, the victims, their families can
finally get
a good night’s sleep.

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