On Monday, authorities charged alleged Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo with the 1975 murder of a college professor in Visalia, California, while the alleged serial killer was still employed as a police officer. The murder of Claude Snelling is the 13th murder DeAngelo has been accused of thus far, and his earliest yet; he’s also accused of committing nearly 50 rapes between northern and southern California from the mid-1970s to 1986, and evading law enforcement for over 40 years.
Earlier this year, investigators used crime-scene DNA and a new form of genetic fingerprinting to locate a distant relative of the then-unknown offender on the genealogy database GEDMatch. After whittling down the list of potential suspects, investigators covertly obtained DeAngelo’s DNA from a discarded tissue and compared it directly to the crime scene DNA — it was a match. DeAngelo was arrested and charged with several murder in late-April, and it’s clear investigators aren’t done racking up his alleged crimes.
According to Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar, DeAngelo is accused of shooting Snelling to death during an attempt to kidnap the professor’s daughter. Salazar also confirmed that DeAngelo is suspected in a string of burglaries in the area in the mid-’70s — initially attributed to a criminal dubbed the “Visalia Ransacker” — during the same time frame that he was assigned to a burglary task force with the nearby Exeter Police Department. Those crimes, including Snelling’s murder, had long been suspected to be the work of the Golden State Killer, but a direct link couldn’t be made. Salazar said that law enforcement matched the bullets used to kill Snelling with a gun that was stolen during one of the Visalia burglaries, but he did not reveal what evidence links DeAngelo to either.
“The criminal had a very specific modus operandi,” Salazar said. “We’ve been able to link the Visalia Ransacker to the Snelling homicide. There is additional physical evidence that we have and are continuing to work.”
DeAngelo was employed by the Exeter Police Department from 1973 to 1976, the same span of time as the burglaries in Visalia; the burglaries ended when DeAngelo left to join the Auburn Police Department in Sacramento County, where he worked from 1976 to 1979, the same time frame when the Golden State Killer — then known as the East Area Rapist — attacked women and couples in their Northern California homes, and also committed two more murders. In 1979, DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn Police Department after he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer from a drugstore, and the crimes attributed to the East Area Rapist stopped. Investigators never seriously considered or investigated the possibility that the offender could be a member of law enforcement, despite numerous pieces of evidence pointing in that direction.
DeAngelo’s exact whereabouts after being fired are still unclear, but three months later, in October 1979, a serial killer initially known as the Original Night Stalker committed his first of 10 murders in Southern California. Those crimes, along with the East Area rapes, would eventually be linked to one offender. The ‘Golden State Killer’ was a moniker coined by the late true crime author Michelle McNamara, who spent years investigating the cold case until her untimely death in 2016. Her book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, was published in February, just two months before DeAngelo’s capture.
At the time of his arrest, DeAngelo, now 72, was living in the home he bought in 1979, located in the Sacramento neighborhood of Citrus Heights, a community he is alleged to have terrorized for years.