SACRAMENTO (CN) — Completing a 40-year manhunt for a serial killer and rapist who terrorized California in the 1970s and 1980s, officials on Wednesday arrested a 72-year-old former police officer they believe is the notorious East Area Rapist, linked to dozens of rapes and at least 12 homicides.
FBI and local officers surrounded and raided a Sacramento County suburban home Tuesday night, arresting Joseph James DeAngelo on two counts of murder.
Prosecutors claim DeAngelo broke into more than 100 homes and preyed mostly on women and children during a brutal crime spree across 10 California counties.
The stunning arrest breathes life into a murder-rape cold case that has baffled California and federal investigators for decades.
“The answer was and always was going to be in the DNA,” Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said Wednesday at a news conference.
Through DNA evidence, officials linked at least 12 homicides and dozens of rapes committed from 1976 to 1986 to a suspect known as the Golden State Killer and Original Night Stalker.
DeAngelo is believed to have committed crimes in the Sacramento area, the Bay Area and Southern California.
Schubert’s office found the forensic “needle in a haystack” that led law enforcement to the accused serial killer.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said his deputies recovered DeAngelo’s “discarded” DNA while conducting surveillance of his Sacramento-area home last week.
“As information started to point toward this individual, we started some surveillance, we were able to get some discarded DNA and we were able to confirm what we thought we already knew: that we had our man,” Jones said.
Jones said that DeAngelo probably committed some of the brutal crimes during his short stint as an Auburn city police officer from 1976-1979.
According to old local news reports, the Auburn Police Department fired DeAngelo after he was charged with shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer from a hardware store.
Jones on Wednesday could not confirm whether DeAngelo committed any of the crimes while on the job, but did not rule it out.
More state murder charges are expected, from Orange, Ventura, Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten called it “just the beginning of the prosecution of Mr. DeAngelo … the culmination of a decades-long unrelenting investigation that singularly focused on bringing this rapist and killer to justice.”
The cold case gained nationwide attention after District Attorney Schubert announced a renewed push to find the serial killer in 2016.
The case has been featured in documentaries, podcasts and the best-selling book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara.
Victims’ families thanked law enforcement and breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday.
“To the entire reservoir of victims out there, my sadness is with you,” said Bruce Harrington, whose brother and sister-in-law were murdered in Orange County in 1980.
“For the 51 ladies who were brutally raped in this crime scene, sleep better tonight. He isn’t coming through the window, he’s now in jail and he’s history.”