After six days of surveillance and the analysis of a discarded DNA sample, police in Sacramento arrested a 72-year-old ex-cop Wednesday as the suspected Golden State Killer in a series of rapes and murders that terrorized California communities in the 1970s and 1980s.
Joseph James DeAngelo, who had worked for two California police departments, was charged with two counts of murder under a warrant from the Ventura County sheriff's department, according to jail records.
The elusive, masked killer is blamed for 12 murders, 45 rapes and the ransacking of more than 100 area homes.
DeAngelo was under surveillance for six days as police sought to learn his pattern of movement to see how he might react if confronted, Sacramento county Sheriff Scott Jones told reporters. Officers then developed a plan to arrest him outside rather than in his car or in his home.
"He was very surprised," Jones said. Initially, DeAngelo appeared to be searching his mind to implement a long-standing plan to stave off apprehension, but had no time to execute it.
"It happened almost instantaneously," Jones said.
Over the years, as a series of horrendous crimes erupted across 10 counties, the perpetrator was variously dubbed the Golden State Killer, East Area Rapist, Original Night Stalker and Visalia Ransacker, but it was not clear whether they were related.
New DNA techniques, plus beefed-up DNA databases, only recently allowed investigators to tie the various cases together and lead them to their suspect.
"For over 40 years, countless victims have waited for justice," Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at the news conference Wednesday.
"We all knew as part of this team that we were looking for a needle in a haystick, but we all knew the needle was there," she said. "We found the needle in the haystack and it was right here in Sacramento. The answer was always going to be in the DNA."
The authorities credited the passion and persistence of investigators — and the rigorous use of DNA expertise.
"This was a true convergence of emerging technology and and dogged determination by detectives," Jones said. "When we got general information, he looked like he might be our guy, (then) we got a discarded DNA sample that gave us more confidence that this was our person"
He would not elaborate on the DNA sample or how it was obtained.
The case of the Golden State Killer has frustrated police since the 1970s.
FBI and California officials last year renewed their search for a suspect in the cases and announced a $50,000 reward for an arrest and conviction. A new task force was also set up to try to crack one of the state's coldest cases.
In community after community, 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.
He often took souvenirs, notably coins and jewelry, from his victims, who ranged in age from 13 to 41.
The Sacramento Bee reports DeAngelo lived there for at least two decades. The newspaper also reports that he was fired from the Auburn Police Department in California in 1979 after being charged with shoplifting.
“It is time for the victims to begin to heal,” said Bruce Harrington, whose brother, Keith, and sister-in-law Patrice were killed in 1980. Bruce Harrington helped finance the voter initiative Proposition 69 that expanded the state DNA database to include every convicted felon in Calfiornia.
A woman, now living in South Carolina, who was sexually assaulted by a man believed to be the East Area Rapist in 1976 told The Island Packet newspaper Wednesday that two detectives had informed her about the arrest.
Jane Carson-Sandler, of Sun City, was the fifth victim of the serial rapist in her Citrus Heights, Calif. home. She said two detectives she has kept in touch with over the years emailed her with news of the arrest.
"I just found out this morning," she told the paper. "I'm overwhelmed with joy. I've been crying, sobbing."
"I just can't tell you how I feel," she said. "After 42 years — wow!"
Contributing: Eric Woomer, email@example.com; Associated Press