A man accused of being a serial rapist and murderer known as the "Golden State Killer" was arrested Tuesday in Sacramento County, law enforcement officials announced Wednesday.
Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, began targeting his victims more than 40 years ago.
DeAngelo allegedly committed 51 rapes and 12 murders across 10 different California counties between 1976 and 1986. Between 1978 and 1979, the Golden State Killer struck in Concord, San Ramon, San Jose, Danville, Fremont and Walnut Creek. Three rapes occurred in Danville and two more occurred in San Ramon in 1979.
“These victims could never feel safe even years after the attacks. Justice did not come as swiftly as we may have liked or wanted, but today we will do everything we can to bring justice to the victims who suffered unspeakable harm,” Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said in a brief statement in Sacramento on Wednesday.
He was arrested and charged after officers linked his DNA to the 1978 Rancho Cordova murders of Katie, 20 and Brian Maggiore, 21, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a news conference in Sacramento.
The decades-long case culminated in a six-day surveillance operation at DeAngelo's home in the Citrus Heights area of Sacramento County. There, officers obtained discarded DNA, submitted it to the crime lab and obtained a search warrant.
Deputies waited for DeAngelo to exit his home and took him into custody.
"He was very surprised," Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said.
"We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento," Schubert said.
DeAngelo was a police officer from 1973 to 1979 in two separate law enforcement agencies, according to Jones.
His tenure as a Visalia police officer from 1973 to 1976 overlapped with his suspected attacks as the "Visalia Ransacker." He then served as an Auburn police officer from 1976 to 1979, Jones said.
Jones confirmed that DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn department after he shoplifted two items: dog repellent and a hammer. Multiple agencies are currently filling in timeline gaps between his firing and his arrest, Jones said.
DeAngelo had a family and adult children, according to Jones. He did not confirm whether the family was living at the house.
Jones said family members have been interviewed and it's "quite a shock to them."
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley spoke at the news conference Wednesday, saying she was a college student and a rape crisis center volunteer in Contra Costa County in 1977.
The Golden State Killer struck several times that year and O'Malley said she sat with survivors who had been assaulted by the man. Her experiences pushed her to change the "paradigm" of injustice in sexual assaults, she said, and provided a stark example for why rape kits should be tested in a timely manner.
The Ventura County District Attorney's Office has filed capital murder charges against DeAngelo for the March 1980 murders of Charlene, 33 and Lyman Smith, 43. The charges have enhancements for multiple murders, murder during rape and murder during a burglary.
Officials from multiple counties, including Sacramento, Alameda, Ventura and Contra Costa, attributed the arrest to modern advancements in DNA testing and a joint-agency task force established in 2014.
"For us here in Sacramento, it was a time of innocence in 1976," Schubert said. "No one locked doors, kids rode bikes to school, parents let their children play outside."
She said the investigation is ongoing and there are many questions that will be answered in the upcoming days. Officials have not yet determined where DeAngelo will be prosecuted, or any additional charges that will be filed against him.
"Today, we at least brought the first step toward closure for the victims of the horrendous crimes," Jones said.