World

DNA brings arrest in sadistic California crime spree from '70s and '80s

A DNA match in the past six days tied a former police officer to some of the crimes committed by a California serial killer behind at least 12 homicides and 45 rapes throughout the state in the 1970s and '80s, police officials announce.

Police arrest Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, on suspicion of 4 killings in Sacramento and Ventura counties

The FBI updated its wanted poster on a website dedicated to tracking the Golden State Killer after the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. was announced. (FBI)

A DNA match in the past six days tied a former police officer to some of the crimes committed by a California serial killer behind at least 12 homicides and 45 rapes throughout the state in the 1970s and '80s, police officials announced Wednesday.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who was fired from the Auburn Police Department, was arrested after a DNA sample came back as a match to the Golden State Killer, Sacramento County district attorney Anne Marie Schubert said.

Officials said DeAngelo had been arrested on suspicion of committing four killings in Sacramento and Ventura counties and charged with two counts of murder in the Ventura case.

California officials say they've made an arrest in decades-old Golden State Killer cases 9:10

"We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we also knew that needle was there," Schubert said. "We found the needle in the haystack and it was right here in Sacramento."

"The answer was always going to be in the DNA," she said.

Armed with a gun, the masked attacker terrorized communities by breaking into homes while single women or couples were sleeping. He sometimes tied up the man and piled dishes on his back, then raped the woman while threatening to kill them both if the dishes tumbled.

He often took souvenirs, notably coins and jewelry, from his victims, who ranged in age from 13 to 41.

DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn Police Department in 1979 after he was arrested for stealing a can of dog repellant and a hammer from a drug store, according to Auburn Journal articles from the time.

"Joseph James DeAngelo has been called a lot of things by law enforcement," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said, referring to monikers like the Golden State Killer, the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker.

"Today, it's our pleasure to call him defendant."

The FBI reportedly has a team gathering evidence at a Sacramento-area home linked to DeAngelo.

On a website dedicated to tracking down the Golden State Killer, a wanted picture with images of the suspect was updated to include the word "Captured" over every sketch.

Sacramento County jail records show DeAngelo was arrested overnight on suspicion of two counts of murder.

'Overjoyed' at news of arrest

Jane Carson-Sandler, who was sexually assaulted in California in 1976 by a man believed to be the so-called East Area Rapist, said she received an email Wednesday from a retired detective who worked on the case telling her they have identified the rapist and he's in custody.

"I have just been overjoyed, ecstatic. It's an emotional roller-coaster right now," Carson-Sandler, who now lives near Hilton Head, South Carolina, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I feel like I'm in the middle of a dream and I'm going to wake up and it's not going to be true. It's just so nice to have closure and to know he's in jail."

Carson-Sandler was attacked in her home in Citrus Heights. A home in that community belonging to a former police officer was being searched Wednesday by FBI investigators and police from several agencies.

Two neighbours who declined to give their names said authorities arrived at the scene before midnight. Sacramento County Jail records show the man who lives at the home was booked into the facility at 2:30 a.m. on suspicion of murder.

FBI and California officials in 2016 renewed their search for the attacker dubbed the East Area Rapist and announced a $50,000 reward for his arrest and conviction. He's linked to more than 175 crimes in all between 1976 and 1986.

As he committed crimes across the state, authorities called him by different names. He was dubbed the East Area Rapist after his start in Northern California, the Original Night Stalker after a series of Southern California slayings, and the Diamond Knot Killer for using an elaborate binding method on two of his victims.

Most recently called the Golden State Killer, he has been linked through DNA and other evidence to scores of crimes.

On Wednesday, authorities said a DNA match led them to arrest Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former police officer, as a suspect.

Authorities decided to publicize the case again in 2016 in advance of the 40th anniversary of his first known assault in Sacramento County.

Neighbour Kevin Tapia, 36, said when he was a teenager, DeAngelo falsely accused him of throwing things over their shared fence, prompting a heated exchange between DeAngelo and Tapia's father. He said DeAngelo could often be heard yelling curse words in frustration in his backyard.

'He was a weird guy'

"No one thinks they live next door to a serial killer," Tapia said. "But at the same time I'm just like, he was a weird guy. He kept to himself. When you start to think about it you're like, I could see him doing something like that but I would never suspect it."

Natalia Bedes-Correnti said Wednesday that DeAngelo never yelled at people but would be on "his driveway yelling and screaming, looking for his keys."

Comedian Patton Oswalt on Wednesday was crediting his late wife for her work in pursuit of the so-called Golden State Killer. In an Instagram video on Wednesday, Oswalt says: "You did it, Michelle."

Michelle McNamara had made it her mission to find the person responsible for the spate of murders and rapes throughout California in the 1970s and 80s.

McNamara died in her sleep at the age of 46 in April 2016 before she could finish the book she was writing about the case. Oswalt helped finish the book and it became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.

Police say the book had no information that "directly led to the apprehension."