Golden State Killer Victims Face Their Tormentor: ‘The Devil Can Keep You Company’

Joseph James DeAngelo looks away from the podium as people who DeAngelo victimized make their statements during the first day of victim impact statements at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Sacramento, Calif. DeAngelo will be formally sentenced to life in prison on Friday. The former police officer in California eluded capture for four decades. He has admitted 13 murders and nearly 50 rapes between 1975 and 1986. (Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The women terrorized by confessed rapist and Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo could not see the face of the masked monster who attacked them. But on Tuesday, they got to stare him down in court and finally have their say.

Kris Pedretti was only 15 when DeAngelo raped her just a few days before Christmas in 1976. “The entire world knows who you are and what you did. You will be forever known as a repulsive coward who hid behind a mask of evil,” she said. “The devil can keep you company in your prison cell as he gnaws away at whatever soul you have left, at whatever life you have left. It brings me great satisfaction to see you in your assigned orange jumpsuit, powerless and handcuffed in all aspects of your miserable life.”

DeAngelo stalked the suburbs of eastern Sacramento for three years in the late 1970s, breaking into locked homes in the middle of the night or early morning hours.  Brandishing a gun or knife, he would tie up the occupants, isolate a woman or teenage girl, then rape her for hours as she lay helplessly bound, gagged, and blindfolded. He would often help himself to food or beer, and to his victims’ personal possessions.

“He made himself comfortable in my home. He stole my families’ personal belongings as I lay helpless. He told me over and over again he would kill me, and I believed him,” Pedretti said. “At three different times that night, I thought I was going to die. I sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ in my head as I waited to die.” 

The next morning, she woke up grateful to have survived the night. “I woke up knowing I would never be a child again. Although I was truly grateful to be alive, I also knew that I had died,” she said.

Peggy Frink was also 15 when DeAngelo broke into her home and raped her in July 1976, tying up she and her sister so tightly that their hands were numb for months afterward.

“My God, we were just high school kids living a normal life — going to school, church group, having friends over,” she said. “Now this horrific experience was part of me. My normal teenage years were gone.”

DeAngelo, now 74, sat vacant-eyed and impassive at Tuesday’s hearing, wearing a cloth mask over his nose and mouth.

He was arrested in 2018 after a decades-long manhunt, and pleaded guilty in June to 13 counts of murder and 13 rape-related kidnapping for robbery charges. He also admitted to more than 50 rapes throughout the Sacramento area, the San Francisco Bay area and Southern California, uncharged because of the expired statute of limitations.

The rape victims outside Sacramento will offer their victim statements Wednesday and the family and friends of DeAngelo’s murder victims will speak Thursday. Judge Michael Bowman will sentence him Friday to life in prison.  

“The last pitiful years of his life ought to be spent in the worst prison that exists today,” said Patti Cosper, just seven years old when DeAngelo snuck up on her mother as she stood in her parents’ driveway in September 1976, loading her car with a basket of clean laundry. 

Cosper read a statement on her mother Patricia Murphy’s behalf. “That night forever changed me,” Murphy wrote. “I never felt safe for many years. I was always looking over my shoulder expecting someone to jump out at me.”

DeAngelo’s reign of terror has ended, but many of the women still struggle with the lingering trauma of the attacks. 

Phyllis Henneman, whose impact statement was read by her sister Karen Veilleux, said she went from “happy and carefree” to “fearful, suspicious and hyper-vigilant.”

“Years of living like the this has adversely affected my health. In 1976, women were treated more like suspects than victims when it came to rape. My sense of importance in this world diminished with this treatment,” she said. “When I found out that this devil had been captured it brought about a rush of relief, but his capture brought back memories of the rape wondering what he did with the things he stole from me, what would happen next.”

For Sandy James, DeAngelo’s arrest brought up painful memories from 1977 of a community under siege. 

“This evil monster, whose name we all now know, terrorized our community — causing fear and anxiety for years,” she said. “I remember my father buying deadbolt locks for all the doors and windows and searching the streets and around our home each night before bed. Windows were no longer open to allow the cool breezes in following long hot days during summer months in Sacramento.”

James still remembers walking home from school and seeing cars patrolling the neighborhood for the “East Area Rapist.” The family German shepherd was her constant companion.

“We were living in a horror movie every day,” she said.

That horror movie became a reality when DeAngelo broke into James’ sister Deborah Strauss’ home and raped her on Oct. 29, 1977.

James said she was deeply saddened that her sister had died of cancer in 2016 before being able to witness DeAngelo’s arrest. It would have been “very healing” for Deborah, she said, to be able to connect with other women who had survived his attacks.

“Instead she went to her grave still haunted by the evil monster that invaded her life,” James said. “His arrest brought about much pain and emotion as if it was happening again. Though I’m happy for his arrest, I’ve begun a whole new cycle of grieving for my sister.”

Some of the survivors tried to go on as “normal,” longing for life as they knew it before they were raped. Some blamed themselves for what happened, wondering why DeAngelo chose them. Some kept it hidden out of shame.

“What really happened became a dark secret that I kept buried,” Murphy said. “I longed for things to go back to how they were. I pretended life was fine. But it wasn’t. it was exhausting.”

“This was in the seventies, a different time. We didn’t really talk about these things,” James said. 

“I hold you, JJD — it’s hard to even say your name — responsible for my sister’s untimely death. Debbie died of esophageal cancer, in the center for your throat, your chest, where you stifle your voice and hold deep, dark worries.”

Pedretti said she spent years feeling guilty and ashamed about what happened to her. 

“And yet it wasn’t my fault. It was something that was done to me, not because of me,” she said. “Through this experience I have learned how utterly important it is to be able to express out loud in some manner, whether verbally or in writing, that the shame belongs to the rapist, not the victim.”

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