At first, they called him the East Area Rapist. Then he started killing.
The sexual assaults multiplied. So did the bodies. He evolved into the Original Night Stalker, then the Golden State Killer.
Over the course of a decade, he slayed 12 people and raped 45. He burglarized more than 120 California homes.
Then in 1986, after breeding unstoppable terror for an entire decade, the man with the chilling monikers but no real name vanished altogether.
It’s been 40 years since one of California’s most notorious serial killers and rapists started his decade-long crime rampage, and federal authorities have yet to assign the man an identity. They know he was white, with a six-foot-tall, athletic build. His hair was blonde or maybe light brown. He was proficient with guns and may have had military training. He collected his victims’ belongings — wedding rings, jewelry, coins, cuff links.
Sometimes, while his victims were tied up, he’d eat food right from their refrigerators.
On Wednesday, the FBI launched a national, expansive media campaign they hope might finally bring to justice their mystery man, who had fathers sleeping with shotguns, people purchasing watch dogs and locksmiths working overtime. The campaign involves victim and detective testimonials, phone call recordings from the killer, cross-country digital billboards, Twitter and Facebook and lots of money.
At a news conference in Sacramento, the FBI partnered with local law enforcement to announce a $50,000 reward for information that would help authorities track, arrest and convict the man they’ve been investigating since Gerald Ford was president.
If he’s alive, the serial criminal could be as old as 75.
The passage of time, and the hefty award, might inspire someone with information to step forward this time, authorities said.
“It may push somebody over the edge who knows something,” Sgt. Paul Belli, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department detective assigned to the case, said in an interview on the campaign website. “It could provide us with that one tip we need.”
“This serial offender was probably one of the most prolific, certainly in California and possibly within the United States,” Belli said Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
Authorities have DNA evidence from multiple crime scenes that, when coupled with calling card details, link the man to nearly 200 criminal acts from as far north as Sacramento to south of Los Angeles. The DNA could also confirm, or exclude, potential suspects, according to an FBI press release.
“People who know the subject may not believe him capable of such crimes,” the release says. “He may not have exhibited violent tendencies or have a criminal history.”
He committed his first known rape on June 18, 1976, almost exactly 40 years ago. His victim was a young woman who lived in a Rancho Cordova neighborhood, in the eastern district of Sacramento County. He snuck into her home in the middle of the night, according to law enforcement, and he raped her.
Within a month, he raped again, this time a teenage girl, reported CBS 13.
The rapes and burglaries continued, and police began to learn the offender’s habits. Under the cover of night, he’d pry open doors and windows in the back of his victims’ homes as they slept. He’d find them sleeping, shine a flashlight in their eyes, then tie them up. Many of the women he raped were single and lived alone. Others were part of a couple, the male tied and forced to wait while the intruder raped the women in another room. Sometimes, his victims were mothers home with their children.
He would often place small items, like kitchen dishes, on the backs of the tied up men, positioned so that any movement would cause the items to fall and make a noise. Authorities said he’d tell the men that if he heard any commotion, he’d come back and kill them.
In 1977, one rape victim recorded a phone call from a man she believed was the one who sexually assaulted her.
“Hello?” the woman can be heard saying on the FBI-released recording. “Hello?”
On the other end, a man breathes heavily for several seconds, then, in a quiet whisper, he says, “I’m gonna kill you.”
“Gonna kill you.”
“Gonna kill you.”
That call wasn’t the only one his rape victims reported to authorities.
Soon after, the killings began.
On Feb. 2, 1978, a young married couple, Brian and Katie Maggiore, were walking their dog in their Rancho Cordova neighborhood one evening when they were chased down and shot to death. Detectives speculated that the couple may have seen the suspect, who was desperate to conceal his identity, and he killed them to protect himself.
“Everybody was in fear,” FBI special agent Marcus Knutson said in an interview for the campaign. “People were concerned and they had a right to be. This guy was terrorizing the community.”
Rapes and slayings continued until 1981, including one couple that was bludgeoned to death with wood from their fireplace. Then, suddenly, the crimes stopped.
Five years later, in May of 1986, police believe the serial killer committed his final killing. In Irvine, they found the body of an 18-year-old girl. She had been raped.
The killer’s victims ranged in age from 13 to 41. He would wear a ski mask and often carry both a gun and a knife.
“It is mind-boggling that he committed so many crimes without a slip-up,” Ray Biondi, a retired Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department detective, said. He investigated the double homicide of Brian Maggiore and his wife, Katie.
In this latest campaign effort, authorities are asking people who lived in the area at the time of the rapes and killings to think back to neighbors or acquaintances that may match the FBI’s physical description of the suspect. They also want to know if people have discovered a hidden collection of items — coins, jewelry, women’s IDs — that might match the tokens the suspect took from victims.
On the website, authorities assure anyone with information that law enforcement will be discreet about privacy and confidentiality. Belli said people should not be deterred if they have just a name but no known location for a potential suspect. “We can determine where they are living,” he said.
For many of the detectives and law enforcement involved with the campaign, this case is personal. They grew up with the fear, saw it covered extensively in the news. They have hope, they said, that the FBI’s reach may finally bring peace to the rapist’s victims and families of those who slain.
“Just like any homicide investigation, our lifelines are people that give us information,” Belli said. “It all boils down to people.”