In April 2018, we reported that investigators looking into the case of the “Golden State Killer,” believed responsible for 12 murders and 51 rapes carried out throughout California during the ’70s and ’80s, had a breakthrough. New DNA testing helped lead to the identification of a 72-year old Joseph DeAngelo as a potential suspect.

Over two years later, DeAngelo has pleaded guilty to 26 kidnapping and murder charges.

Four decades after he started sneaking into homes, tying up victims, raping women and killing couples, former police officer Joseph DeAngelo pleaded guilty Monday to 26 charges of murder and kidnapping, admitting what pioneering forensic science had already proven — he was the sadistic Golden State Killer.

His acceptance of a plea deal spared him death, a reprieve the 74-year-old never offered more than a dozen men and women he shot and bludgeoned to death during a 12-year spree of rapes and killings during the 1970s and ’80s.

The admission of guilt guarantees that DeAngelo will be sentenced to life without parole.

DeAngelo was charged with 13 counts of murder, with additional special circumstances, as well as 13 counts of kidnapping for robbery in six counties, including Contra Costa County in the Bay Area. He admitted to more than 50 rapes, including some in Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, but the statute of limitations expired on those crimes.

The plea-deal was driven, in part, by concerns about COVID-19:

The prosecutors’ decision to take a plea deal rather than go to a jury trial was driven in part by public health risks, Ms. Holliday said at the start. The preliminary hearing was originally scheduled for May, she said, but “it had to be postponed because of court closures and the dangers of bringing elderly or high-risk individuals into the courtroom.”

The advanced age of many of the key players involved also played a role. “Many of the victims, witnesses and law enforcement are in their 80s and 90s,” she said. “Many of these people all deeply affected by these crimes may not be with us at the time of jury trial.”

DeAngelo’s horrific crime spree made for a lengthy court hearing.

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.

The DNA used to track down DeAngelo included a sample from his trash and a swab from the driver’s side handle of his car. He is looking at the possibility of serving 11 consecutive terms of life without parole, with 15 concurrent life sentences and additional time for weapons charges.


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