The Golden State Killer’s guilty plea closes a chapter for victims left waiting for decades
Madeline Holcombe, CNN
(CNN) — Victims of the Golden State Killer and their families waited through his 13-year crime spree. Then, they waited through decades of investigation into his identity.
With his guilty plea, they can now finally get the closure of facing him in court.
A free genealogy database led authorities to Joseph James DeAngelo, whose 2018 arrest brought an end to investigations into dozens of burglaries, kidnappings, rapes and murders dating back to 1975.
On Monday, he pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and special circumstances — including murder committed during burglaries and rapes — as well as 13 counts of kidnapping, and he acknowledged more than 50 rapes he was not charged for because of California’s statute of limitations.
The plea means that his victims can give their impact statements starting August 17 — much quicker than if he had gone to trial in a prosecution that the six district attorneys involved said might have taken as long as a decade.
“Today’s court proceeding brings us one step closer to ending the horrific saga of Joseph DeAngelo and his decades long crime spree,” Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said Monday in a news release. “In this case justice did not move swiftly, it was a long time coming. However, our victims remained steadfast and brave throughout this entire process.
“Today is about remembering all of the victims in this case and finally holding DeAngelo responsible for these crimes.”
A pattern emerged
DeAngelo’s victims knew him by many names before he pleaded guilty to terrorizing communities from Sacramento to Orange County.
He began as the Visalia Ransacker with a string of burglaries, then grew more violent as he moved from one county to the next. In 1975, college professor Claude Snelling was shot and killed as he charged at a masked man who was trying to abduct his daughter from his home, according to the Visalia Times Delta.
That masked man is then believed to have bound and raped a woman in Citrus Heights, leading to a series of attacks near Sacramento police attributed to an East Area Rapist. The suspect then killed a couple who is believed to have witnessed him breaking into a home in the Northern California city of Rancho Cordova.
Then, he moved 300 miles south to the Santa Barbara area, which he haunted for years with a string of killings that dubbed him the Original Night Stalker.
At first, local authorities didn’t see a connection between the crimes. But a pattern emerged.
He began by attacking women who were alone or with their children, but by 1977, his victims included couples in their homes.
Usually, he would sneak into homes, authorities said. If a couple was home, he would tie up the man, place dishes on his back and threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the woman.
Prosecutors on Monday read out the specifics of the chilling crimes DeAngelo pleaded guilty to, which included him snacking on leftover Christmas turkey in his victims’ fridge after a double murder. He left the bones behind.
From 40 years of stalemate to a pool of suspects in 4 months
What the suspect didn’t leave behind is fingerprints, said Larry Crompton, retired detective for Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. And since he could not be identified by DNA at the time, authorities could neither definitively link the crimes nor find their suspect.
Once DNA testing became available, the cases could be connected. But it wasn’t until Paul Holes, a recently retired investigator with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, said he took crime-scene DNA and entered the profile into the online Florida-based GEDmatch database that the path toward the suspect began to form.
More than 100 users matched as distant family to the DNA believed to be of the culprit. After 40 years of waiting, four months of investigation after the database entry revealed a pool of suspects, Holes said.
Among them was DeAngelo: a veteran, a mechanic and an ex-police officer. His neighbors said he was odd, he could be out of control — but they never imagined they had a serial killer next door.
A sample from his trash and a swab from the driver’s side handle of his car were among the evidence that resulted in a warrant for his arrest.
Victims in one county unanimously accept plea
DeAngelo will be sentenced in August. He agreed to plead guilty to all charges to avoid the death penalty, said Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Amy Holliday.
He likely will serve 11 consecutive terms of life without parole, with 15 concurrent life sentences and additional time for weapons charges. He will waive his rights to appeal, said Holliday.
The charges against him stem from prosecutors in Sacramento, Contra Costa, Orange, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.
The Orange County victims’ families were consulted when prosecutors considered accepting DeAngelo’s guilty plea, and considering the age of the cases, the witnesses and the evidence, their answer was a unanimous yes, said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.
“Today’s plea will never bring the loved ones back or restore the sense of security that was shattered, but today, after 40 years of uncertainty, dozens of victims and a nation heard the person responsible for this reign of terror finally admit that he — and only he — is responsible.” Spitzer said.