SACRAMENTO (CBSLA.com/AP) — The FBI announced a $50,000 reward Wednesday for the arrest and conviction of an elusive serial killer they said committed at least 12 homicides, 45 rapes and dozens of burglaries across California in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Authorities decided to publicize the case ahead of June 18, which is the 40th anniversary of his first known assault in Sacramento County.
He was first dubbed the East Area Rapist in Northern California, then the Original Night Stalker and now the Golden State Killer after a series of slayings in Southern California.
Jennifer Smith was only 18, when her father, prominent attorney Lyman Smith, and her stepmother were murdered in their Ventura home.
“It’s great to see this kind of attention on the crimes. They’re horrific. They’re exten sive and unbelievable,” Smith said. “While my dad and stepmother were murdered in 1980, I know that those rape victims, they survived, and he has taunted them.”
She said she has made peace with her pain. “I would be really relieved to know that he was not out there any more.”
The first known victims in Orange County were Keith and Patrice Harrington. Their bodies were found in their Laguna Niguel home on Aug. 19, 1980, said Irvine police Det. Sarah Tunnicliffe.
On Feb. 6, 1981, Manuella Witthuhn, was found dead in her Irvine home.
The last known Orange County victim was 18-year-old Janelle Cruz, whose body was found on May 5, 1986 in her Irvine home, according to Tunnicliffe.
“There’s going to be someone out there that knows something about this case, whether it was a neighbor or a friend or something they heard about during their life, and we just want them to come forward,” she added.
“This serial offender was probably one of the most prolific, certainly in California and possibly within the United States,” Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Sgt. Paul Belli said at a news conference Wednesday.
“It is time for our community to help us to provide and answer, to put a face to that name,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.
The FBI has made this case a top priority. It even devoted an entire page on its website, featuring maps, sketches, videos and interviews involving the serial killer.
The case is also being featured on social media, digital billboards and radio public service announcements.
The effort marks the latest of numerous attempts to identify the man who started terrorizing suburban bedroom communities in 1976 and 1977 east of Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto.
The masked rapist, armed with a gun, would break into homes while single women or couples were sleeping. He would tie up the man and pile dishes on his back then rape the woman while threatening to kill them both if the dishes tumbled.
Prosecutor Anne Marie Schubert recalled growing up at a time when children rode their bikes unsupervised through the neighborhoods and families rarely locked their doors at night.
“It was a time of innocence. And then in June of 1976, that all changed,” she said. “A community was taken hostage.”
His victims ranged in age from 13 to 41. He often took souvenirs, notably coins and jewelry.
The area of the rapes was near military bases, so investigators said someone with clues might have moved elsewhere long ago.
They believe the killer may have had an interest in the military or law enforcement, in part because he was proficient with firearms.
Investigators believe the rapes and dozens of burglaries often used to scout neighborhoods escalated in 1978, when the killer fatally shot U.S. Air Force Sgt. Brian Maggiore and his wife Katie as they walked their dog.
They believe he moved on to commit several rapes in the San Francisco Bay Area before heading to Southern California.
It wasn’t until 2001 that new DNA testing linked him to at least six Southern California homicides between 1979 and 1986. In each case, the killer broke into a house at night and raped the female victim first.
Investigators believe he also committed another four homicides in the region because of similarities in evidence or his methods.
The Southern California killer had been called the Original Night Stalker, to distinguish him from Night Stalker Richard Ramirez, who died of cancer in 2013 before he could be executed for committing 13 mutilation murders in 1984 and 1985.
The killer now being sought was also briefly known as the Diamond Knot Killer for an elaborate knot he used to tie up a Ventura couple before they were beaten to death with a fireplace log in 1980.
The killer was described at the time as white, about 5 feet 9 inches with blonde or light brown hair.
If he’s still alive, he would likely be 60 to 75 years old.
Anyone with information is urged to call the FBI’s toll-free tipline at (800) CALL-FBI or (800) 225-5324.
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