What to Know About Joseph James DeAngelo, The ‘Golden State Killer’

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What to Know About Joseph James DeAngelo, The ‘Golden State Killer’
  • HBO’s docuseries I’ll Be Gone in the Dark chronicles reporter Michelle McNamara’s hunt for the Golden State Killer.
  • The killer eluded law enforcement for some three decades, killing 13 and raping over 50 during the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Here’s what to know about Joseph James DeAngelo, who was arrested and charged with several of the Golden State Killer’s crimes.

    The main figure of the new HBO true crime docuseries I’ll Be Gone in the Dark goes by several names, mostly tied to the geographical origins of his crimes: “East Area Rapist,” “Original Night Stalker,” possibly the “Visalia Ransacker,” and, now most commonly, the “Golden State Killer.”

    The title of the series—also the title of the Michelle McNamara book upon which the series is based—comes from a threat the killer delivered to one of his early rape victims. While holding a knife to her neck, he told her he could easily kill her and disappear into the night.

    Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Golden State Killer committed no fewer than 50 rapes and 13 murders in the state of California.

    Only in 2016, however, and due to renewed attention given to the case by McNamara’s writing, did law enforcement organizations place new resources into locating the killer. Using DNA databases, investigators came to identify one man. On April 24, 2018, police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo and charged him with eight counts of first-degree murder. The killer was no longer in the dark.

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    Who was Joseph James DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer?

    DeAngelo was born in Bath, New York, in 1945. He attended high school in Sacramento, California and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was reportedly deployed to Vietnam and received commemoration, returning to California and California State University, Sacramento to receive his bachelors degree in criminal justice.

    DeAngelo married in 1973 (he would later divorce). Throughout the 1970s, he worked as a police officer for two separate California departments. Between 1973 and 1976, he worked in Exeter—during the same time the Visalia Ransacker burglar was active.

    He then transferred to Auburn, near where over 50 rapes were committed between 1976 and 1979.

    DeAngelo was fired in 1979 after he was arrested for stealing two items from a drug store: a can of dog repellent and a hammer.

    I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

    The serial murders tied to the Golden State Killer (at the time “East Area Rapist”) began that year, in 1979. (Though, in 1978, he fatally shot two people walking their dog; police would later speculate that the couple had seen DeAngelo breaking into a neighboring home and he had killed them to avoid identification.)

    After he was fired, ten killings occurred. According to the Associated Press, DeAngelo then spent 27 years working for a Sacramento suburb supermarket, retiring just a year before his arrest.

    The last known rape and murder connected to the Golden State killer occurred in Orange County in 1986. Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones told the AP at the time of DeAngelo’s arrest, “We have no indication of any crimes with a similar or at least a close enough link to his MO and other things that he’s done in the past to link him to anything from ’86 on. We just have nothing at this point.”

    According to neighbors, DeAngelo took pristine care of his home and yard and was known for outbursts of swearing.

    On April 24, 2018, DeAngelo was arrested by police at his home in Citrus Heights, California, and taken into custody.

    judge michael w sweet speaks to joseph james deangelo seen from back during his arraignment on two charges of murder april 27, 2src18, in sacramento, california   investigators have accused him of of being the golden state killer, who is suspected of committing more than 5src rapes and 12 murders photo by elijah nouvelage  afp        photo credit should read elijah nouvelageafp via getty images

    ELIJAH NOUVELAGEGetty Images

    Where is the Golden State Killer now?

    Just two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that, according to sources, DeAngelo is now set to plead guilty to 13 murders and kidnapping charges, as well as admit to several crimes for which he was not previously charged. Sources say that the recent COVID-19 pandemic has altered the previous refusal of prosecutors to trade a guilty plea for life imprisonment—thus avoiding the death penalty.

    DeAngelo is expected to take a guilty plea later this month.

    Joshua St Clair is an editorial assistant at Men’s Health Magazine. 

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