'Golden State Killer' Suspect Arrested: What We Know

Police appear close to breakthrough on a case that's remained unsolved for decades

Police began a renewed push to close this cold case in 2016. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Update: Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert confirmed that the police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo as the primary suspect in the Golden State Killer case on Wednesday, acting on the conclusions of a task force containing members of law enforcement from multiple agencies and multiple counties. So far he has been charged with the murder of Lyman and Charlene Smith, who were killed in their home in Ventura, California, in 1980. 

She credited the use of "the most innovative DNA technology available" with helping the authorities track down the suspect. Sheriff Scott Jones added that once the crime lab had a suspect, he sent officers on a surveillance mission to obtained "some discarded DNA." That "confirm[ed] what we thought we already knew: that we had our man," Jones added.

At the press conference, district attorneys from multiple counties announced plans to file charges for murders, rapes and burglaries they believe the suspect committed in their jurisdictions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Dates for DeAngelo's trial have not been set yet, and a prosecution team will be put together in the coming months.

"Today, we at least brought the first step towards closure for the victims of these horrendous crimes," Jones said.

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In March, Michelle McNamara's posthumously published book I'll Be Gone in the Dark – a detailed account of her attempts to track the "Golden State Killer," who is believed to have committed numerous rapes and murders in California during the 1970s and 1980s – debuted at Number One on The New York Times' best-seller list, leading a wave of renewed interest in a decades-cold serial-killer case.  

Authorities now reportedly have a man suspected of being the Golden State Killer in custody. On Tuesday night, a California Fox affiliate reported that the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department was "working a significant break" in what District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert once called "the most prolific unsolved serial killing case probably in modern history." And on Wednesday, The Sacramento Bee reported that the police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, on two counts of murder. Authorities have not confirmed that this is the arrest connected to the Golden State Killer, but they are expected to share more information today at a press conference.

Here's everything we know about the search for the Golden State Killer.

He reportedly began his criminal spree in 1976.
Law enforcement started to notice a common thread across a series of burglaries and rapes in 1976, and quickly became known as the East Area Rapist. "The [East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer] gained entry into the homes of his victims by prying open a window or door while they slept," the FBI explained in a statement. "He would then shine a flashlight into the face of his victims, tie up the female victim and, if a male victim was present, tied him up as well. The EAR/GSK then ransacked the residence and raped the female victim. He often took small items from the residences including coins, cash, identification, and jewelry. Some victims reported receiving telephone calls from the suspect after the crimes."

The suspect soon turned to murder.
According to the FBI, the Golden State Killer's first known murder took place in 1978. "A couple was shot and killed while walking their dog in Rancho Cordova," the FBI reports. "Evidence left at the scene was indicative of the [Golden State Killer]." He is thought to have committed several more murders between 1979 and 1981. No murders were linked to him again until an 18-year-old girl was bludgeoned to death in 1986.

The extent of his criminal record is horrific.
In total, the Golden State Killer reportedly killed at least 12 people and raped at least 45, according to The Sacramento Bee. He is also said to have burglarized over 100 homes. "Everyone was afraid [during the time he was active in Sacramento]," said Special Agent Marcus Knutson, a native of the city who heads the FBI's portion of the investigation. "We had people sleeping with shotguns, we had people purchasing dogs. People were concerned, and they had a right to be. This guy was terrorizing the community. He did horrible things."

Michelle McNamara, wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, became fascinated by the case, renewing public interest.
McNamara, a journalist and crime writer, started the website True Crime Diary in 2006, using it to write about hundreds of unsolved crimes. In 2011 she wrote about the serial killer – then known alternately as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker – for the first time. "I'm obsessed," she wrote on the site. "It's not healthy." After coining the name "Golden State Killer," and writing a fascinating long-read about the cold case for Los Angeles Magazine, she signed a deal with Harper's to put together an entire book on the murderer.

McNamara died before finishing her book.
In 2016, Oswalt found his wife dead in their home, according to The New York Times. Autopsies revealed that she had a previously unknown heart condition, and also that she had mixed prescription drugs, including Fentanyl.

Oswalt then asked investigative journalist Billy Jensen and one of McNamara's researchers, Paul Haynes, to complete her work. "This book had to be finished," he told The New York Times. "Knowing how horrible [the Golden State Killer] was, there was this feeling of, you're not going to silence another victim. Michelle died, but her testimony is going to get out there."

The FBI recently redoubled its efforts to catch the killer.
In 2016, the FBI offered a $50,000 reward for "information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual known as the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer." In a poster, the agency described the suspect as a "white male, currently thought to be between the ages of 60 and 75 years old, and approximately 5'10" tall." The wanted poster also warned that "[the suspect] may have had an interest in the military, or had some military training, leaving him familiar and proficient with firearms."

In a statement, Sgt. Paul Belli, a Sacramento County Sheriff's Department detective working the case, said that, "regardless of the amount of time that has passed, the sheriff's department never gave up on the investigation. This person ruined a great number of lives, and he should be held accountable."

The police have a suspect in custody.
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department arrested DeAngelo on two counts of murder on Wednesday, according to The Daily Beast. They are expected to share more details about the evolution of their investigation in a press conference today at 3 p.m. According to The Sacramento Bee, DeAngelo had lived in Citrus Heights, outside Sacramento, for at least 20 years. 

Jane Carson-Sandler, whose rape was attributed to the Golden State Killer, told The Island Packet, "I'm overwhelmed with joy. I've been crying, sobbing."

"One of the more surreal days of my life," Oswalt added on Instagram. "We'll be watching the press conference at 3pm EST. Looks like they got him."