If Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. is the Golden State Killer, as police allege, then he spent his 30s in a nearly nonstop frenzy of sadistic violence — breaking into a house every few weeks in the late 1970s, raping dozens of women, and escalating to serial killings before the crime spree suddenly ended in 1986.
And if DeAngelo is the killer — police say his DNA proves that he is — then he fit these 45 suspected rapes and 12 suspected murders into an astonishing double life. He was a Vietnam War veteran before the spree, a police officer during the spree, and then a husband, father and grandfather who lived quietly among the same communities that the Golden State Killer had terrorized.
DeAngelo lived like that — apparently free of suspicion — until Tuesday, when a break in the case led FBI agents and police to arrest the 72-year-old in the Sacramento suburb where he raised a family.
Reporters have now begun to piece together the puzzle of DeAngelo’s life — how he wore a police uniform by day while the Golden State Killer stalked at night, and raised children in the wake of those crimes, and blended into Northern California suburbia for decades, appearing to his neighbors as little more than a slightly eccentric old man with a temper.
Here is what we know about DeAngelo’s life.
DeAngelo was a police officer when the killer’s rape spree began
“James DeAngelo Jr. believes that without law and order there can be no government and without a democratic government there can be no freedom,” reads a 1973 article in the Exeter Sun, announcing that the 27-year-old Navy veteran had recently joined Exeter’s police force.
The Foothills Sun-Gazette republished the article this week, complete with a photo of a young DeAngelo — clean-shaven and light-haired, like the man who would years later appear in police sketches across the United States.
The new officer’s bona fides looked good when he came to Exeter, which is in central California, midway between Sacramento and Los Angeles. DeAngelo had lived in the state since his late teens, according to the Sacramento Bee — raised by a Denny’s waitress and a welder. He had served as a repairman on the USS Canberra in the late 1960s during the Vietnam War, according to local newspaper reports. He lost a finger before leaving the military, one of his neighbors told the Bee.
Exeter’s current police chief said he has been unable to find any records of DeAngelo’s employment, but newspaper reports from the time show he joined the police force in May 1973, after obtaining a criminal justice degree from California State University.
That November, the rookie officer married Sharon Marie Huddle, the Bee reported. Her brother, James Huddle, told Oxygen that the couple raised three daughters before eventually separating.
While DeAngelo went about his police work and started a family in Exeter, the town of Visalia about 10 miles away experienced a rash of strange burglaries and a still-unsolved death.
Between 1974 and 1976, a man dubbed the Visalia Ransacker invaded 85 homes and may have killed a college professor, according to the Visalia Times Delta. The man had a habit of taking tokens such as jewelry, and placed dishes in the homes as noise alarms — which would both become trademarks of the Golden State Killer later on.
The newspaper reported that Visalia police are now working with other agencies to determine if DeAngelo was the ransacker — and whether, as many have suspected over the years, those break-ins were the warm-up crimes of a future serial killer.
No suspicion fell on DeAngelo while he was living in Exeter, however. He patrolled there until 1976 — when he moved north and took a job with the Auburn Police Department, about 35 miles outside Sacramento.
It was in those same Sacramento suburbs, that same summer, that the Golden State Killer started to rape women in their homes.
DeAngelo was fired from the police force before the killer’s spree ended
By 1979, people in Sacramento County lived in dread of the man they called the East Area Rapist. Among his nearly four dozen victims over the previous three years were a 13-year-old girl; women assaulted while their husbands were tied up in the same house; women who lived just blocks from one another, as the rapist terrorized entire neighborhoods week after week.
The man was as meticulous as he was violent, Los Angeles Magazine wrote in a profile, often casing houses before his assaults — studying floor layouts, disabling locks and lights and hiding weapons. In the rare cases when he was caught in the act, he could jump roofs and vault fences to escape.
As police in surrounding suburbs were searching in vain for a break in the case, DeAngelo went about his patrols in Auburn. He caught a “prowling” teenager attempting to toilet paper a patrol car in 1978, the Auburn Journal reported. DeAngelo made the newspaper again a few months later, after upsetting a resident by having her car towed.
Then, in the summer of 1979, DeAngelo made the front page — repeatedly.
“Joseph DeAngelo was cited July 21 for allegedly attempting to steal a hammer and a can of dog repellant,” the Journal wrote in the first of several stories. A clerk at the Pay N Save in Citrus Heights — an inner suburb of Sacramento — had found the items in DeAngelo’s pants, then struggled with him. Sheriff’s deputies arrived to find the officer tied to a chair, the Journal wrote in a subsequent story, “reportedly in an emotional state.”
DeAngelo was fired from the police force that August. Two months later he was found guilty of shoplifting, fined $100 and sentenced to probation.
Coincidentally or not, the end of DeAngelo’s career in law enforcement was followed by a radical shift in the habits of East Area Rapist.
The rapist abruptly ended his spree around Sacramento near the end of 1979, according to Los Angeles Magazine. He soon reappeared in Southern California, where people would call him the Original Night Stalker and eventually the Golden State Killer — because he stopped leaving his victims alive.
He became a grandfather and worked for a grocery store into his 70s
It’s unclear where DeAngelo lived between the winter of 1979 and the summer of 1981, when the Golden State Killer is believed to have committed most of his 12 suspected homicides — still raping women, but now also shooting or beating them to death before he left the house, and often killing their boyfriends or husbands, as well.
The final killing took place after a five-year hiatus, in 1986, when an 18-year-old woman was raped and bludgeoned in Irvine, near Los Angeles, and the Golden State Killer disappeared.
By then, the Bee reported, DeAngelo had been living for three years in a ranch-style house in Citrus Heights — the same Sacramento suburb where he’d been caught shoplifting.
He would spend most of the rest of his life in that city, surrounded by the same communities the East Area Rapist had terrorized.
DeAngelo took a warehouse job at Save Mart, a grocery-store chain, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and worked there for the next 27 years.
“He was a mechanic,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement to the New York Daily News. “None of his actions in the workplace would have led us to suspect any connection to crimes being attributed to him.”
Jason Calhoon told the Bee that he and DeAngelo had worked together since the warehouse opened in 1989. He was “a regular Joe,” Calhoon said — even though he never smiled.
The company said DeAngelo retired last year, in his early 70s. Retirement “was something he’d been looking forward to for a long time,” neighbors in Citrus Heights told the Bee. “He planned to do a lot of fishing.”
His wife does not appear to have lived with him in his later years (a neighbor told the Bee that they were divorced, while a KCRA News reporter said the couple remained “technically married, though estranged”), but he kept up his family life.
His brother-in-law, James Huddle, told Oxygen that DeAngelo was a “good father.”
According to neighbors, a daughter and granddaughter had been living with him in Citrus Heights until his arrest this week.
He had a nice lawn — and a bad temper
“You can tell he’s a very meticulous person,” one Citrus Heights neighbor, Kevin Tapia, said after DeAngelo’s arrest. “His house is always perfectly painted. His grass is always cut. He gets down around all the rocks on his lawn and is cutting to make sure it’s just perfect.”
Precision was important to DeAngelo, Tapia told the Bee — “to the point of having permanent markings on his driveway so he could be exact in parking his boat.”
In contrast to his tidy home, several neighbors said, DeAngelo himself was prone to fits of rage and occasionally disturbing intrusions into their lives.
“This guy just had this anger that was just pouring out of him,” Grant Gorman, who grew up in the house behind DeAngelo’s, told the Bee. “He’d just be yelling at nothing in the backyard, pacing in circles.”
These rages went back decades, Gorman said — to 1994, when DeAngelo left a voice mail threatening to “deliver a load of death” if the family’s dog didn’t stop barking.
Another neighbor, Eddy Verdon, told The Washington Post that three years ago he heard someone on his property, and opened his garage door to find DeAngelo mounting a bicycle to flee.
“I stared him down, and he looked at me nervously,” Verdon said. “I never really interacted with him again. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.”
“We used to just call him ‘Freak,’ ” another neighbor, Natalia Bedes-Correnti, told the Bee. “He used to have these temper tantrums … usually because he couldn’t find his keys.”
But the portly grandfather had calmed down in the past few years, she said. He was even well liked by some on the block.
Cory Harvey, who lived next door, told the Bee that DeAngelo helped pay to put a fence between their houses, and would always apologize when she overheard him cursing.
His arrest was a surprise
Even those neighbors most wary of DeAngelo were stunned by what police now allege: that he was the monster who terrorized California in the 1970s and 1980s.
DeAngelo did not seem to expect the police, either. A former Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office detective, who investigated some of the first rapes in the case, told The Post that he was never a suspect in those years.
DeAngelo had been working in his garage on Tuesday afternoon, the Bee reported — building a table, according to one neighbor. Unknown to him, an as-yet-unexplained break in the case had caused police to put him under surveillance, and secretly acquire a DNA sample they said matched to the rapes and killings.
One neighbor saw several cars pull up to DeAngelo’s house in the late afternoon, and armored police pour out of them. DeAngelo seemed surprised, the AP wrote, but surrendered without incident.
Deputies reportedly told him he was being charged with multiple murders, and he told them he had a roast in the oven.
Sawsan Morrar and Justin Jouvenal contributed to this report from California. This post has been updated.