By Fred Greaves
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – An elderly former police officer was arrested and charged in four murders authorities attributed to the Golden State Killer, a serial criminal suspected of dozens of rapes and slayings that terrorized parts of California during the 1970s and 1980s.
The suspect was identified by authorities at a news conference in Sacramento, the state capital, as Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, in a case that officials said was finally solved by DNA evidence.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has previously said that the man sought in the 40-year-old case was suspected of 12 slayings, 45 rapes and more than 120 burglaries in and around Sacramento, the eastern San Francisco Bay area and at least two counties of Southern California.
The suspect, who was also dubbed by investigators as the “East Area Rapist” and the “Original Night Stalker,” is considered to be one of the state’s most prolific serial killers, according to the FBI.
Officials said he was living in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights when he was arrested on Tuesday.
“Joseph James DeAngelo has been called a lot of things by law enforcement … Today it’s our pleasure to call him defendant,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told reporters.
“Finally, after all these years, the haunting question of who committed these terrible crimes has been put to rest.”
Investigators said DeAngelo was a police officer in two different California departments during the 1970s – in the municipality of Exeter near the Sierra Nevada foothills of the San Joaquin Valley, and in the Gold Rush town of Auburn.
The case was investigated intensively in “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” a book published earlier this year. Author Michelle McNamara died in 2016, and the book, which topped the New York Times bestsellers list, was finished by a writer hired by her husband, comedian-actor Patton Oswalt.
Oswalt, best known to television audiences from the hit CBS sitcom “King of Queens,” said in a video posted on social media on Wednesday, “I think you got him, Michelle.”
Efforts to find a suspect were renewed in June 2016, when the FBI offered a $50,000 reward. The criminal was known for creeping into his victims’ houses while couples slept, shining a flashlight in their eyes before raping the woman while the man was tied up.
Between 1976 and 1978, he committed a wave of burglaries, rapes and killings in the Sacramento area, then centered his attacks in the East Bay before moving on to Ventura and Orange counties in Southern California, according to the FBI.
The killer also was believed to have taken valuables from victims’ homes and possibly accumulated a trove of coins and jewelry. This led FBI investigators to ask the public to be on the lookout for a friend, relative or acquaintance with a suspicious collection of hidden items.
(Reporting by Fred Greaves in Sacramento; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)