Two months after the publication of Michelle McNamara’s true crime masterpiece, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, and two years after the author’s untimely death, the Golden State Killer has allegedly been caught. As McNamara’s book exhaustingly detailed, GSK — a nickname she coined — was responsible for approximately 45 rapes and twelve murders in Northern and Southern California between 1976 and 1986. Police from various jurisdictions had few suspects or leads — until late yesterday, when word began to circulate that there had been a massive break in the case.
Today, at a press conference led by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, investigators announced that 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo of the Sacramento neighborhood of Citrus Heights, was arrested on a warrant issued by Ventura County and has been charged with two counts of murder for the February 1978 deaths of Ryan and Katie Maggiore. The Ventura County D.A. also announced that they’ve filed capital murder charges again DeAngelo for the March 1980 murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith.
“The answer was and always was gonna be in the DNA,” said Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. “We were looking for a needle in a haystack, we all knew the needle was there.… It is fitting that today is National DNA Day. We found that needle in a haystack. It was right here in Sacramento.”
According to Schubert and Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, law enforcement had been doing surveillance on DeAngelo when, last week, they were able to obtain “some discarded DNA” and “using current and innovative techniques” were able to positively ID DeAngelo. Jones did not indicate when or why DeAngelo became a suspect, but he and other law enforcement officials alluded to rapid, recent developments.
Some experts on the decades-long cold case, including McNamara, had considered the possibility that GSK might have worked in law enforcement — and it turns out they were right. DeAngelo was once a police officer — first with the Exeter Police Department from 1973 to 1976, when GSK is believed to have been ransacking houses in nearby Visalia. Then he went to work with the Auburn Police Department in 1976, shortly before the rapes began. He was fired from the Auburn Police Department in 1979, after being accused of shoplifting a can of dog repellant and a hammer from a Sacramento drug store. They are still investigating whether any of the crimes were committed while DeAngelo was on duty.
Dive association. Dog repellant. Hammer. And refuses a hearing after shoplifting charge. Just took his punishment and left the force so no one would look deeper. #GoldenStateKiller #michellemcnamara #IllBeGoneInTheDark #stepintothelight pic.twitter.com/TSqmFwtZb9
— Billy Jensen (@Billyjensen) April 25, 2018
Those details are particularly sobering given that GSK’s initial modus operandi was to break into people’s houses in the middle of the night, while they were home. As the Daily Beast notes, two months after DeAngelo was fired, GSK stabbed a dog.
GSK mostly targeted couples; he would sexually assault the women while their significant others, and occasionally children, were tied up and gagged in another room. His known crimes in Northern California stopped short of murder; it wasn’t until he moved south that he began to kill his victims.
For many years, the rapes in Northern California and the murders in Southern California were thought to be the work of two separate and unrelated suspects known as the East Area Rapist (EAR) and the Original Night Stalker (ONS). In 2001, new DNA tests confirmed that they were the work of one man, but a positive ID remained elusive. The FBI’s profile for GSK describes him as being approximately five-foot-ten, “familiar and proficient with firearms,” and someone who would now be between sixty and 75 years old. A side-by-side comparison of suspect sketches and a photograph of DeAngelo when he was a cop reveals a striking resemblance.
— Kaitlin (@yeaahhmeme) April 25, 2018
McNamara, a true crime journalist and blogger, became obsessed with the case back in 2011, when police confirmed yet another murder was linked to “one of the least known, yet most prolific serial offenders to ever operate in the United States.” She devoted five years of her life investigating and reporting on the case, and was in the middle of writing I’ll Be Gone in the Dark when she died in her sleep in April 2016. Her husband, actor Patton Oswalt, channeled his grief into ensuring that her book was finished and published; he enlisted her lead researcher, Paul Haynes, and investigative journalist Billy Jensen to pick up where McNamara had left off, and the book was released to critical acclaim in February 2018 and debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
McNamara was not mentioned by name at the press conference until a reporter asked whether the publication of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark two months ago contributed to an arrest finally being made in this forty-plus-year-old cold case.
“No,” said Sheriff Jones, though he did acknowledge that her work helped keep the case in the public eye.
Regardless, Oswalt is celebrating. In a video posted to Instagram, Oswalt — who was on a plane with Jensen, preparing to fly to Sacramento for the press conference — said, “I think you got him, Michelle.”