Since 1976, there has been a “violent and elusive individual” on the prowl in California, a predator who terrorized women home alone, women at home with their children, and husbands and wives.
This man was given many names by the media: the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, the Diamond Knot, and most infamously, the Golden State Killer.
Now, after being identified through “sophisticated” DNA analysis using familial matching, the nation knows this killer to be former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, and he is planning on pleading guilty to 88 criminal charges, including burglary, rape, sexual assault, and murder, the FBI, the Los Angeles Times, the Mercury News, and the Sacramento Bee report.
The Sacramento Bee first reported on DeAngelo’s plea agreement earlier this week, noting that its details have not been released.
Sources have said the specifics are “still in the works” and for many of the victim’s families, they say the upcoming June 29th hearing can’t come soon enough.
One of the reported hallmarks in his plea agreement is that DeAngelo will shortly admit to guilt in another 62 crimes across California, many of which the statute of limitations has expired on, all to avoid a death-penalty trial. He seeks a life sentence instead, the Sacramento Bee detailed.
DeAngelo’s plan to admit to crimes in which the statute of limitations has expired has drawn attention, noting that due to California’s statute laws, DeAngelo cannot be charged with any rapes he committed pre-1970s, the New York Times reports.
And this is not the first time the spotlight has been shone on the statute of limitations in DeAngelo’s case.
Back in 2018, when DeAngelo was first arrested, prosecutors in six different counties in Northern and Southern California needed to get creative with figuring out how to circumvent some of the obstacles and limitations that certain California statues hold on rape crimes, the Mercury News detailed.
After poring over police reports, rape victim statements, crime lab materials, and any other evidence they could find from the nine Contra Costa rape cases from 1978 and 1979, Contra Costa prosecutor Paul Graves had an idea.
If they couldn’t nail DeAngelo for his rapes against the victims, they could nail him for robbery and kidnapping, noting that “the suspect threatened victims with a gun, demanded money or jewelry, took items and forcibly moved a female victim from one room to another,” the Mercury News reports.
Graves attributed this idea to what it was like catching Al Capone on tax charges, saying, “It sounds on its face like we’re stretching it, but not in the eyes of the law.”
Moreover, DeAngelo’s plan to plead guilty to crimes the public may not be aware of has prompted many investigators to reexamine decades-old rapes and murders in their area, the Fresno Bee reports.
John Vaughan, a retired detective sergeant who was in charge of investigating a string of 1970s burglaries as well as the 1975 murder of Claude Snelling, a College of the Sequoias journalism professor, is doing just that.
Snelling’s case has been officially connected to DeAngelo through DNA analysis, but now there are two other unsolved murders that Vaughan is looking into.
Teenage girls Jennifer Armour and Donna Richmond were found dead in 1974 and ‘75, respectively, and the evidence is eerily similar to DeAngelo’s known killing methodology.
“I’d love to talk to the guy,” Vaughan told the Fresno Bee. “I would really listen to him. I have a lot of questions I’d like to ask him.”
Vaughan is hopeful that in DeAngelo’s guilty plea, answers will come to light about Armour’s and Richmond’s cases.
Finality and Closure
Sacramento County Supervising Assistant Public Defender Joseph Cress talked with the Bee about DeAngelo’s imminent plea on Monday, saying, “We feel this is a just resolution of this case and that the resolution provides some finality and closure for the victims.”
In recent weeks, the families of victims have been “in close contact” with the six district attorneys involved in DeAngelo’s prosecution. The families will get their chance to speak before the sentencing, according to prosecutors interviewed by Fresno Bee reporters.
For many, it’s an opportunity to reach some semblance of closure.
Janelle Lisa Cruz was the last known murder victim of DeAngelo, and her sister is still active in advocating for justice.
Cruz’s sister, who simply uses Janelle’s name on social media for advocacy purposes, took to Twitter this week after learning about DeAngelo’s upcoming plea deal, saying, “Soon I will be able to move on from this horrible nightmare you caused!! JOSEPH JAMES DEANGELO- you caused so much pain to so many people!!! JUSTICE COMING!”
Janelle was only 18 when she was raped and murdered in May 1986, at her parent’s home in Irvine, CA., a local CBS affiliate reported.
Janelle Cruz would have been 53 next month.
“Our loss can never have total Justice but [the Golden State Killer] will die and everyone now knows who he truly is,” Cruz’s sister tweeted this week.
“My sister is looking down from heaven saying, ‘Thank you for finding my killer and putting him away where he’ll NEVER be able to torture another again!’”
Additional Reading: GEDmatch Puts DNA Database Off-Limits to Police: Will Cold Cases Get Colder
Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.