DNA connects a serial rapist to several murders in Southern California.
In October of 1976, a woman was tied up and raped in an affluent suburb just outside of Sacramento, California. This rape victim, who asked that her identity remain confidential, is one of more than 50 women believed to have been assaulted by a serial rapist who terrorized the Sacramento area during the 1970s:
The mysterious attacker, known to police as the “East Area Rapist”, was never identified. And in recent years, dramatic advances in law enforcement technology determined that the same man was responsible for a series of murders in the 1980s.
The East Area Rapist displayed some unusual habits, including lingering in victims’ homes for hours. On the night of the attack, the unidentified victim sensed her attacker was smoking in her living room:
After sexually assaulting his victims, the rapist would quietly sneak away. Detective Carol Daly of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department interviewed many of the rapist’s victims:
The first fifteen attacks occurred in homes only inhabited by women and children. But then the rapist became even more brazen. According to Carol Daly, he began targeting homes in which a man was also present:
The sadistic “game” being played by the rapist often extended beyond the attack itself. The unidentified victim, along with several other victims, reported receiving disturbing phone calls from the rapist years later:
By the late 1970s, the East Area Rapist had moved 50 miles west to Contra Costa County. Five more assaults were reported there. Then, according to Lieutenant Richard Selby of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, the attacks abruptly stopped:
The trail eventually grew cold. But over the years, criminalist Paul Holes of the Contra Costra Sheriff’s Department, continued to work the case. He ran DNA profiles on semen recovered from the five rapes in his county. He then attempted to track down the rapist. Holes began contacting agencies across the state. 400 miles south, in Orange County, forensic scientist Mary Hong had used DNA to link six rape-murders in her county to a single killer. In 2001, Mary got a call from Paul Holes:
The East Area Rapist had become a Southern California killer, leaving a trail of deaths in his wake. Larry Pool of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department headed up the Southern California investigation:
With the biological link to the Northern California rapes confirmed, investigators now had 50 additional cases to comb through in search of new clues to the serial killer’s identity. According to Larry Pool, the East Area Rapist’s m.o. of stacking plates on the victim’s partner during the assault is believed to be particularly unique:
Police believe that the East Area Rapist is Caucasian. He has a medium build and stands 5’7″ to 5’11”. Victims repeatedly described his legs as being “very thick.” He would now be over 50 years old.
UPDATE: In the early hours of April 25, 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested in this case. A former police officer, DeAngelo was living in Citrus Heights. He has been charged with thirteen murders and is believed to have killed more.
Investigators found DeAngelo by initially submitting the DNA obtained from the crimes to a genealogy site. From the distant relative matches they received, authorities conducted interviews to narrow down the pool of suspects. DeAngelo’s DNA was then obtained through a discarded sample, and it came back as a match. On June 29, 2020, DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and special circumstances, and 13 counts of kidnapping. He will be spared the death penalty and will serve 11 consecutive terms of life without parole, with 15 concurrent life sentences and additional time for weapons charges.