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Hunt for Golden State Killer led detectives to Hobby Lobby for DNA sample

Police used DNA information on a genealogy website to track down the Golden State Killer suspect. (Video: Reuters)

The hunt for one of the country’s most notorious serial killers led investigators to a Hobby Lobby parking lot in a California suburb.

Joseph DeAngelo, 72, drove to the craft store in Roseville on April 18, then parked his car and walked inside. That gave law enforcement officials a chance to confirm the identity of a suspected killer who had evaded capture for decades.

Investigators swabbed the handle of D’Angelo’s driver-side door and sent it for testing.

The scene is just one of the many described in a search warrant and affidavit that was unsealed Friday by a California judge in response to a motion filed by the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Investigators didn’t stop with one DNA sample. Just a few days after swabbing his car door, they also removed items from a trash can outside DeAngelo’s Citrus Heights home. They sent a tissue from DeAngelo’s garbage to a crime lab and isolated a DNA sample that matched DNA from semen collected after the 1980 rape and murder of Charlene Smith, an interior decorator in Ventura County.

Detectives were able to link the DNA sample from Charlene Smith’s homicide to other killings attributed to the Golden State Killer, according to the documents.

DeAngelo may not have realized that he was under surveillance. Investigators told a judge that they watched the grandfather’s home for three days.

He was arrested on April 24 and charged in the slaying deaths of eight people. Prosecutors have since charged DeAngelo, a former police officer, in the deaths of four other people, bringing the total to 12. He’s accused of taunting victims after brazen rapes, burglaries and attacks that police describe as “sexually motivated.”

The search warrant also granted law enforcement officials permission to take photographs of D’Angelo’s body, “specifically his penis.”

Shortly after DeAngelo was arrested, investigator Paul Holes explained to The Washington Post’s Justin Jouvenal how he was able to trace the attacker’s DNA to DeAngelo:

Criminal DNA databases produced no hits, sweeps of crime scenes no fingerprints and hefty rewards no definitive tips. But Paul Holes, an investigator and DNA expert, had a hunch he could create a road map to the killer through his genetics.
Holes used DNA recovered from a crime scene to find the killer’s great-great-great grandparents, who lived in the early 1800s. Branch by painstaking branch, he and a team created about 25 family trees containing thousands of relatives down to the present day.
One fork led to a 72-year-old retiree who was quietly living out his golden years in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights.

DeAngelo was in attendance Friday as the judge unsealed the affidavits for his search warrant.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the city where investigators went to a Hobby Lobby parking lot. This version has been corrected.