SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CBSLA/CBS News/AP) — Officials Wednesday announced that DNA evidence has led to the arrest of a former police officer as the elusive “Golden State Killer” they say committed at least 12 murders, 45 rapes and dozens of burglaries up and down California in the 1970s and 1980s.
On Tuesday afternoon, FBI agents and Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputies raided the home of 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in Citrus Heights, a neighborhood in the Sacramento metro area. DeAngelo was apprehended “in a perfectly executed arrest” Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones told reporters Wednesday.
“The answer was always going to be in the DNA,” Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said.
Despite an outpouring of thousands of tips over the years, his name had not been on authorities’ radar before last week, Schubert added.
DeAngelo, who has adult children, was booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail early Wednesday morning on two counts of murder in the brutal 1980 murder of a Ventura couple, Lyman and Charlene Smith, along with two other killings in Sacramento County.
“While this filing is just the beginning of prosecution of Mr. DeAngelo, it is the culmination of a decades long, unrelenting investigation that singularly focused on bringing this rapist and killer to justice,” Ventura County District Attorney Craig Totten said.
Schubert told reporters that DNA evidence obtained by criminal investigators in just the past six days pointed at DeAngelo as the suspected “Golden State Killer.”
Jones said that in the past few days, when “information started to point” to DeAngelo, investigators began conducting surveillance on him, during which they collected his discarded DNA.
“And we were able to confirm what we already knew, that we had our man,” Jones said.
DeAngelo was fired in 1979 from the police department in Auburn, northeast of Sacramento. He was fired for stealing a can of dog repellent and a hammer from a drug store, according to Auburn Journal articles from the time. From 1973 to 1976 DeAngelo was also a police officer in Exeter, a town north of Bakersfield.
Jones said it’s believed DeAngelo committed the crimes during the time he was employed by the departments, but authorities are still looking into whether he committed any crimes while on duty. In a statement, the Auburn Police Department confirmed his employment and termination and voiced its commitment to supporting prosecution.
FBI and California officials last year renewed their search for the suspect dubbed the “Golden State Killer and 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, including murders in Ventura, Irvine, Dana Point and Laguna Niguel.
On Aug. 19, 1980, Keith and Patrice Harrington were found murdered in their Laguna Niguel home. On Feb. 6, 1981, Manuella Witthuhn, was found killed in her Irvine home. On May 5, 1986, 18-year-old Janelle Cruz was found dead in her Irvine home. On March 13, 1980, prominent attorney Lyman Smith and his wife Charlene were found murdered in their Ventura home. They had been beaten to death with a fireplace log.
The Golden State Killer’s DNA profile was also linked to four murders between 1979 and 1981 in Goleta, a town just north of Santa Barbara.
Armed with a gun, the Golden State Killer 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.
As the crimes unfolded across the state, authorities called the attacker 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.
Meanwhile, in April of 2017, “48 Hours” investigated the case in an episode titled “The Golden State Killer. The late true crime writer Michelle McNamara, the wife of comic Patton Oswalt, was on the hunt for the killer and writing a book on the case at the time she died on April 21, 2016. The broadcast featured Oswalt’s first in-depth television interview about his wife’s reporting on the case. The book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” was published in February.
Jones said he’s fielded questions from “all over the world” about the new book, but he said it didn’t lead to the arrest.
“The book kept interest and tips coming in, but other than that, there was no information extracted from the book that led to the arrest,” Jones said Wednesday.
“The cops will NEVER and HAVE NEVER credited a writer or journalist for helping them solve a case,” “Oswalt said. “But every time they said #GoldenStateKiller they credited the work of #MichelleMcNamara and #IllBeGoneInTheDark.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)