Most Notorious Serial Killers
Golden State Killer
The Golden State Killer is a serial killer, rapist, and burglar who committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986. He is believed to be responsible for three crime sprees throughout California, each of which spawned a different nickname in the press before it became evident that they were committed by the same person. In the Sacramento area he was known as the East Area Rapist, and was linked by modus operandi (MO) to additional attacks in Contra Costa County, Stockton, and Modesto. He was later known for his southern California crimes as the Original Night Stalker. He is suspected to have begun as a burglar (the Visalia Ransacker) before moving to the Sacramento area, based on a similar MO and circumstantial evidence.
During the investigation, several suspects have been cleared through DNA evidence, alibi, or other investigative methods. In 2001, DNA testing indicated that the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker were the same person and he was known as the "EAR/ONS". The FBI and local law-enforcement agencies held a news conference on June 15, 2016 to announce a renewed nationwide effort, offering a US$50,000 reward for his capture. To heighten awareness that the then-uncaught killer operated throughout California, crime writer Michelle McNamara called him the "Golden State Killer."
Authorities charged 72-year-old Navy veteran and former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo with eight counts of first-degree murder, based upon DNA evidence, on April 24, 2018. This was the first announcement connecting the Visalia Ransacker crimes to the Golden State Killer. Due to California's statute of limitations on pre-2017 rape cases, DeAngelo cannot be charged with late-1970s rapes.
DNA evidence links the Golden State Killer to eight murders in Goleta, Ventura, Dana Point and Irvine; two other murders in Goleta, lacking DNA evidence, are linked by modus operandi (MO). Investigators suspect the same killer in three other murders: two in Rancho Cordova and one in Visalia. The offender also committed more than 50 known rapes in the California counties of Sacramento, Contra Costa, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Alameda, Santa Clara and Yolo, in addition to hundreds of incidents of burglaries, peeping, stalking and prowling.
Visalia Ransacker (April 1974-December 1975)
It was long suspected that the training ground of the criminal who would become the Golden State Killer was Visalia, California (although the earlier crimes sprees of the 'Cordova Catburgler' or the 'Exeter Ransacker' are now suspected to be linked as well). From April 1974 to December 1975, the Visalia Ransacker is believed to have been responsible for one murder and around 120 burglaries. Most of the Ransacker's activities involved breaking into houses, rifling through (or vandalizing) the owner's possessions, scattering women's underclothing, stealing coins and low-value or personal items, while often ignoring banknotes and other valuable items in plain sight.
In late April 2018, the Visalia chief of police said that the department was "confident that the Visalia Ransacker has been captured." However, he acknowledged that the prime suspect (DeAngelo) was never a suspect in their investigations, no DNA evidence exists, and no other unsolved murders or rapes in the area were connected. Though the statute of limitations for the burglaries have expired, DeAngelo was formally charged on August 13, 2018 with the 1st degree murder of Claude Snelling in 1975.
East Area Rapist (June 1976-July 1979)
The Golden State Killer is believed to have moved to the Sacramento area, progressing from burglary to rape in mid-1976. The crimes initially centered on the unincorporated areas of Carmichael, Citrus Heights and Rancho Cordova, east of Sacramento. His initial modus operandi was to stalk middle-class neighborhoods at night in search of women who were alone in one-story homes, usually near a school, creek, trail or other open space that would provide a quick escape. He was seen a number of times, but always successfully fled; on one occasion, he shot and seriously wounded a young pursuer.
Most victims had seen (or heard) a prowler on their property before the attacks, and many had experienced break-ins. Police believed that the offender had a pattern of conducting extensive reconnaissance on several homes in a targeted neighborhood before selecting one for attack. As part of his surveillance, he was known to look in the windows of future victims and prowl in the yards of homes for several nights before attacking. On a few occasions, it is believed that in the run-up to attacks the offender entered the homes of future victims to unlock windows, unload guns and plant ligatures for later use. He frequently called them before the attack, sometimes for months in advance, to learn their daily routines; he would sometimes hang up, pretend to have the wrong number, or (in calls after the attack) threaten to harm the victims again.
Although he originally targeted women alone in their homes or with children, the offender eventually preferred attacking couples. His MO was to break in through a window or sliding glass door and awaken the sleeping occupants with a flashlight, threatening them with a handgun. Victims were then bound with ligatures (often shoelaces) which he found or brought with him, blindfolded and gagged with towels which he had ripped into strips. The female victim was usually forced to tie up her male companion before she was bound. The bindings were often so tight that the victims' hands were numb for hours after being untied. He then separated the couple, often stacking dishes on the man's back and threatening to kill everyone in the house if he heard them rattle. He moved the woman to the living room and often raped her repeatedly, sometimes for several hours.
The offender sometimes spent hours in the home ransacking closets and drawers, eating food in the kitchen, drinking beer, raping the female again or making additional threats. Victims sometimes thought he had left the house before he "jumped from the darkness." The offender typically stole items, often personal objects and items of little value but occasionally cash and firearms. He then crept away, leaving victims uncertain if he had left. The offender was believed to escape on foot through a series of yards and then use a bicycle to go home or to a car, making extensive use of parks, schoolyards, creek beds and other open spaces which kept him off the street.
The rapist operated in Sacramento County from the first attacks in June 1976 until May 1977. After a three-month gap, he struck in nearby San Joaquin County in September before returning to Sacramento for all but one of the next ten attacks. The rapist attacked five times during the summer of 1978 in Stanislaus and Yolo counties before disappearing again for three months. Attacks then moved primarily to Contra Costa County in October and lasted until July 1979.
Young Sacramento couple Brian and Katie Maggiore, (the former of which a military policeman at Mather Air Force Base), were walking their dog in the Rancho Cordova area on the night of February 2, 1978, near where five East Area Rapist attacks had occurred. The Maggiores fled after a confrontation in the street, but were chased down and shot dead. Some investigators suspected that they had been murdered by the East Area Rapist because of their proximity to the other attacks' location, and a shoelace was found nearby. The FBI announced on June 15, 2016, that it was confident that the East Area Rapist murdered the Maggiores.
Original Night Stalker (October 1979-May 1986)
Shortly after a rape committed on July 5, the East Area Rapist moved to southern California and first struck in Santa Barbara County in October. The attacks lasted until 1981 (with a lone 1986 attack), and took a darker turn as the rapist began to kill his victims. Only the couple in the first attack survived, alerting neighbors and forcing the intruder to flee; the other victims were murdered by gunshot or bludgeoning. Since the East Area Rapist was not linked to these crimes for decades, he was known as the Night Stalker in the area before being renamed the Original Night Stalker after Richard Ramirez received the former nickname.
On October 1, an intruder broke in and tied up a Goleta couple. Alarmed by hearing him say, "I'll kill 'em" to himself, the man and woman tried to escape when he left the room and the woman screamed. Realizing that the alarm had been raised, the intruder fled on a bicycle. A neighbor (an FBI agent) responded to the noise and pursued the perpetrator, who abandoned the bicycle and a knife and fled on foot through local backyards. The attack was later linked to the Offerman-Manning murders by shoe prints and twine used to bind the victims.
On December 30, 44-year-old Robert Offerman and 35-year-old Debra Alexandra Manning were found shot dead at Offerman's condominium on Avenida Pequena in Goleta. Offerman's bindings were untied, indicating that he had lunged at the attacker. Neighbors heard gunshots but failed to respond, saying that they thought the shots were innocuous. Paw prints of a large dog were found at the scene, leading to speculation that the killer may have brought one with him. The killer also broke into the vacant adjoining residence and stole a bicycle, later found abandoned on a street north of the scene, from a third residence in the complex.
On March 13, 33-year-old Charlene Smith and 43-year-old Lyman Smith (who was about to be appointed as a judge) were found murdered in their Ventura home; Charlene Smith had been raped. A log from a woodpile on the side of the house was used to bludgeon the victims to death. Their wrists and ankles had been bound with drapery cord. An unusual Chinese knot, a diamond knot, was used on Charlene's wrists; the same knot was noted in the Sacramento East Area Rapist attacks, at least one confirmed case of which was publicly known. Hence one of the names giving to the sex killer perp, "Diamond Knot Killer."
On August 19, 24-year-old Keith Eli Harrington and 27-year-old Patrice Briscoe Harrington were found bludgeoned to death in their home on Cockleshell Drive in Dana Point's Niguel Shores gated community. Patrice Harrington had also been raped. Although there was evidence that the Harringtons' wrists and ankles were bound, no ligatures or murder weapon were found at the scene. The Harringtons had been married for three months at the time of their deaths. Patrice was a nurse in Irvine, and Keith was a medical student at UC Irvine. Keith's brother, Bruce, later spent nearly $2 million supporting California Proposition 69 authorizing DNA collection from all California felons and certain other criminals.
On February 6, 28-year-old Manuela Witthuhn was raped and murdered in her Irvine home. Although Witthuhn's body had signs of being tied before she was bludgeoned, no ligatures or murder weapon were found. The victim was married; her husband was hospitalized, and she was alone at the time of the attack. Detectives noted that Witthuhn's television was found in the backyard, possibly the killer's attempt to make the crime appear to be a botched robbery.
On July 27, 35-year-old Cheri Domingo and 27-year-old Gregory Sanchez were the Original Night Stalker's 10th and 11th murder victims. Both were attacked in Domingo's residence on Toltec Way in Goleta (several blocks south of Robert Offerman's condominium), where she was living temporarily; it was owned by a deceased relative and up for sale. The offender entered the house through a small bathroom window. Sanchez had not been tied, and was shot and wounded in the cheek before he was bludgeoned to death with a garden tool. Some believe that Sanchez may have realized he was dealing with the man responsible for the Offerman-Manning murders, and tried to tackle the killer rather than be tied up. Again, no neighbors responded to the gunshot. Sanchez's head was covered with clothes pulled from the closet. Domingo was raped and bludgeoned; bruises on her wrists and ankles indicated that she had been tied, although the restraints were missing. A piece of shipping twine was found near the bed, and fibers from an unknown source were scattered over her body. Authorities believed that the attacker may have worked as a painter or in a similar job at the Calle Real Shopping Centre.
On May 4, 18-year-old Janelle Lisa Cruz was found after she was raped and bludgeoned to death in her Irvine home. Her family was on vacation in Mexico at the time of the attack. A pipe wrench, reported missing by Cruz's stepfather, was thought to be the murder weapon.
The southern California murders were not initially thought to be connected by investigators in their respective jurisdictions. A Sacramento detective strongly believed that the East Area Rapist was responsible for the Goleta attacks, but the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department attributed them to a local career criminal who was later murdered. Investigating the crimes not committed in Goleta caused local police to follow false leads related to men who were close to the female victims. One person, later cleared, was charged with two murders. The cases were linked almost entirely by DNA testing, many years later.
These physical characteristics are considered factual based on crime-scene evidence and nearly-universal agreement by victims and law enforcement:
- White male
- About 5 ft 10 in tall
- Slender, athletic build
- Size 9 to 9 1⁄2 shoe
- Type A blood
- Non-secretor: Sperm does not contain blood-group antigens.
- Physically agile and capable of sprinting, bicycling, and scaling fences
These physical characteristics are considered probable; a small percentage of victims described the perpetrator differently:
- 18-25 years old when the rapes began in 1976; authorities believe him to be between 60 and 75 years old in 2018.
- Blond or brown hair
- Blue or light-colored eyes
- Penis size "small" or "smaller than average"
According to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, microscopic paint chips were found at three crime scenes (two homicides and a rape). This suggests that the Golden State Killer may have worked in construction, possibly using a paint spray gun. Construction work had been ongoing near the 1979 Goleta murder scene, and a cold-case investigator contacted the developer in 2013 to identify subcontractors working at the site and obtain employment records.
After criminologists matched serological evidence found at the southern California murder scenes, a speculative psychological profile of the Golden State Killer was compiled based on a probabilistic analysis. According to Leslie D'Ambrosia, primary author of the profile, the Golden State Killer probably had the following characteristics:
- An emotional age equivalent to a 26- to 30-year-old at the time the murders began in 1979
- Engaged in paraphilic behavior and brutal sex in his personal life
- Engaged in sex with prostitutes
- Had some knowledge of police investigative methods and evidence-gathering techniques
- Sexually functional, capable of ejaculation with consenting and non-consenting partners
- Dressed well and would not stand out in upscale neighborhoods
- Lived or worked near Ventura, California in 1980
- Good physical condition
- Skilled, experienced cat burglar, and may have begun as such
- Had a criminal record as a teenager which was expunged
- Had some means of income, but did not work in the early-morning hours
- Hated women for actual (or perceived) wrongs
- If married, probably has a submissive spouse who tolerated his sexually-deviant behavior
- Intelligent and articulate
- Probably began as a voyeur in his late teens or early twenties
- Neat and well-organized in his personal life, and drove a well-maintained car
- Peeped in the windows of many people who were not attacked
- Possibly unmarried, and did not enter into long-term relationships
- Self-assured and confident
- Would continue committing violent crimes until incapacitated by prison, death, or other intervention
- Would have been described by those who knew him as arrogant, domineering, manipulative, and a chronic liar
In addition to outlining the Golden State Killer's characteristics, the profile speculates that he might have been incarcerated after Janelle Cruz's murder or killed in the commission of a similar crime; however, the latter is unlikely since he contacted victims as late as 2001. Regardless, the profile recommends that law-enforcement agencies investigate attempted late-1980s hot prowl burglaries which resulted in the death of a lone male offender. It indicates a slight chance that the Golden State Killer committed suicide; he is unlikely to be confined in a mental institution.
According to the profile, teleprinter bulletins were broadcast to law-enforcement agencies throughout the United States after the original homicides. The bulletins requested information on similar home invasions involving sexual assault, murder, bludgeoning, multiple victims, and bondage. As of 2015, no similar crimes have been reported. The profile posits that the Golden State Killer could have continued committing his crimes in another country whose records were not linked.
Joseph James DeAngelo
On April 24, 2018, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department arrested 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in connection with the crimes. DeAngelo, a former police officer in Auburn and Exeter, California, was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances. On May 10, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office charged DeAngelo with four additional counts of first-degree murder. Identification of DeAngelo had begun four months earlier when officials uploaded the killer's DNA profile from a Ventura County rape kit to the personal genomics website GEDmatch. The website identified 10 to 20 distant relatives of the Golden State Killer (sharing the same great-great-great grandparents), from whom a team of five investigators constructed a large family tree. They identified two suspects in the case (one of whom was ruled out by a relative's DNA test), leaving DeAngelo the main suspect. On April 18, a DNA sample was surreptitiously collected from the door handle of a car DeAngelo had been driving; soon after, a sample was collected from a tissue found in DeAngelo's curbside garbage can. Both samples were consistent with the Orange and Ventura County suspect profiles.
DeAngelo was born on November 8, 1945 in Bath, New York to Joseph James DeAngelo Sr. and Kathleen Louise DeGroat. He attended ninth grade at Mills Middle School in Rancho Cordova, California. He graduated from Folsom High School in June 1964. DeAngelo joined the U.S. Navy in September that year, and served for 22-months during the Vietnam War as a damage controlman on the cruiser USS Canberra, and received National Defense Service, Vietnam Service and Vietnam Campaign Medals. From August 1968, DeAngelo attended Sierra College, graduating an associate's degree in police science with honors in June 1970. He was engaged to Bonnie Colwell in May 1970; they were classmates at Sierra College, but they never married. Colwell purportedly called off the marriage. Investigators believe this might be connected to the offender reportedly saying, "I hate you, Bonnie!" during at least one of the attacks. In 1971, he attended Sacramento State, where he focused on criminal law and received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. He then went on do to post-graduate work, before undergoing training (Kings County Public Safety Academy) at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, and completing a 32-week police internship at Roseville Police Department.
He was then a police officer in Exeter (having relocated from Citrus Heights) from May 18, 1973 to August 1976. He married Sharon Marie Huddle on November 19, 1973. Ms. Huddle went to college in Fresno, California. Afterwards, she attended law school in Sacramento, California. She became an attorney in December 1982. They had three daughters and separated in 1991. By 1976 he had been promoted to sergeant and was in charge of Exeter PD's government-funded "Joint Attack on Burglary" program. He then served in Auburn from August 1976 to July 1979, when he was caught shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent and was sentenced to six months probation in October that year. His employment history for the next decade is unknown. From 1990 until his retirement in 2017, DeAngelo was a truck mechanic at the Roseville distribution center for Save Mart Supermarkets. DeAngelo was living in Citrus Heights with a daughter and granddaughter at the time of his arrest. His brother-in-law, James Huddle, said that DeAngelo casually brought up the East Area Rapist in conversation around the time of the original crimes. Neighbors reported that DeAngelo frequently engaged in loud, profane outbursts.