More than 40 years ago, The EAST Area Rapist terrorized the community for two years. In April, a suspect was arrested. What happened, and Who is he?
âHe stalked his victims,â says Suzanne, who was 30 years old when the East Area Rapist struck her home in the mid-1970s. âHe broke into our home, tied up my children, and raped and tormented and terrorized me for hours. He had a knife and gun. I was terrified. Just when I thought he was gone, he burst back in and stabbed the knife in the bed an inch from my face. He screamed that he had seen me move. He said he was going to cut body parts off my family and bring them to me. I felt in my heart that my children and I were going to die. Do you believe in evil? I do. It was in my house that night.ââFrom âUnsolved Mystery,â Sacramento Magazine, September 2003
For 42 years, the East Area Rapist evaded Sacramento law enforcement as he assaulted and murdered almost at will, from the eastern communities of Sacramento to Southern California. He seemed to come from nowhere and escaped to nowhere. He was the original boogeyman, the uncatchable criminal, the terrible menace behind the mask. But that all may have changed in April of this year, when Sacramento County Sheriffâs Department officers and FBI agents arrested 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo, whose DNA matches that of the East Area Rapistâs, now being called the Golden State Killer. DeAngelo was arrested in his home in Citrus Heights where he had lived for 38 years, in the middle of the community where he allegedly caused such mayhem, fear and pain.
If DeAngelo, a former Auburn police officer, is found guilty of these crimes, which include multiple rapes in Sacramento and numerous murders in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties, it will end the longest successful manhunt in Sacramento law enforcement and FBI history. The criminal who unleashed his own particular reign of horror, rape and murder was a cold-blooded terrorist. Although new facts continue to emerge about the case, it is already a wildly diverse story of a deranged psychopath who changed Sacramento from a small, trusting town of unlocked doors into an armed encampment where fear stalked the streets.
There is no trial date set for DeAngelo, and there may not be for some time as investigators are still looking for crimes he may have committed. In fact, it may be years before DeAngelo goes to trial because so much evidence is being gathered by law enforcement and so many legal issues must be resolved. While having a viable suspect in jail has relieved victims and buoyed law enforcement investigators, even a guilty verdict or plea will not answer all the questions this case has raised.Â
Chief among these: Who exactly is DeAngelo? And if heâs proven to be the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer, why did he embark on a singular pathway of destruction with such anger and viciousness? Did he truly stop his rampage in 1986, as records seem to indicate? How did he get away with it for so long? Did he, as one former investigator suggests, have an unwitting friend in the Sacramento Police Department, and did the two talk frequently about the upcoming strategies law enforcement was planning to use to catch the East Area Rapist?
The bizarre case involves everything from the use of 50 psychics and the worldâs largest computer system to the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the passage of sweeping new criminal laws and, finally, a brilliant new discovery of the potential of family DNA ancestry sites to help solve crimes. Still to come may be legal tests that could determine how law enforcement is allowed to use those DNA sites. And, ultimately, Californiaâs controversial death penalty law may be put to the test.
There is another crucially important part to this story, thoughâone that has been mostly overlooked in the barrage of media coverage. It involves the bravery, hard work and ingenuityâand sheer tenacityâof investigators. The case also played a role in the evolution of women as a force within local and state law enforcement agencies.
Carol Daly became one of the first female homicide investigators in California during the East Area Rapist case. She was assigned to question and accompany the rape victims to the hospitals, and she conducted town hall meetings to keep the public informed about the East Area Rapist’s movements. “(Her) role in helping nearly every female victim in the Sacramento attacks was huge,” says one victim. “She was so far ahead of her time.”
One of the brightest lights to emerge from this story is Carol Daly, who became one of the first female homicide investigators in California during this case and who made historic changes in the way rape cases were handled.
In 1975, Daly went through the training at the FBI National Academy. About that time, law enforcement began to change its policies at the gun shooting ranges. Male officers had been expected to practice a âquick drawâ action, where they pulled their guns from their holsters before firing, while female officers practiced pulling guns from their purses. Daly was soon adept at both.
âI loved the job immediately,â she says. âI felt such a sense of satisfaction that I was helping people. I guess you could say it became my ministry. I feel it was my faith that gave me the patience, wisdom and understanding to work with victims, to genuinely care about them and do what I could to help them put their lives back together.â
She couldnât have known then how much her skills and her faith were about to be put to the test.
In the pre-dawn hours of June 18, 1976, Sacramento County dispatch received a frantic call from a young woman, who gasped that she had just been raped and was still tied up and feared her assailant might be coming back. Deputies responded to the call on Paseo Drive in Rancho Cordova to find a 23-year-old woman bound with thin rope. Her wrists and ankles were tied so tightly that her hands and feet were already a dark purple; she had barely been able to dial the phone. She was terrified; only later was she able to tell what had happened that night. She was the first official victim of the East Area Rapist. The assault would be repeated dozens of times with other victims in the east area of Sacramento over the next 18 months.
The woman told investigators she was awakened about 3 a.m. by a bright light shining in her eyes. Still mostly asleep, she wondered if she was having a nightmare. In front of her, holding a large knife in the air, was a man in a ski mask. He wore a dark T-shirt but no pants. He was erect. Terrified, she pulled the covers over her head. He was on her in an instant, swearing and threatening, throwing off the blankets and stabbing the tip of the knife into her temple. Talking in a guttural, violent voice through clenched teeth, he told her in graphic terms he was going to rape her, and he did.
Crime scene after East Area Rapist attack
âAlthough this is the first official case we considered the work of the EAR, he quite possibly did others before in the east area,â says Carl Stincelli, who was a young deputy with the sheriffâs department at the time. âMost of the odd behaviors the EAR would illustrate in subsequent attacks were present in this one. He occasionally broke into a house a couple times before the night of the rape. It was speculated he would feed the dog so it wouldnât bark the next time they met. Sometimes he would kill it. He would first tell the victims he was just there for food and money, in an effort to calm them, but he would then scream, âShut up!â over and over if anyone tried to respond. He was into terrorizing his victims and gaining total control over them.âÂ
Prowling and obscene phone calls were reported throughout the neighborhood before the attack. Those, too, would become common elements of East Area Rapist assaults.
The rape victims, who began to grow in startling numbers in late 1976, told investigators that the masked man often ransacked their houses after the rape. He would open every drawer and closet and throw items all over the room, making noise and tearing everything apart. He sometimes stuttered and usually talked between clenched teeth; he often seemed angry to the point of exploding. He was described as being between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 11 inches tall with a medium build, with dark hair and green or light-blue eyes. One description many rape victims agreed upon regarding the attackerâand this was relevant because it was often the only part of his body left uncoveredâwas that he had a small penis.
âMany victims said he also talked to himself a great deal while he was rummaging,â says Stincelli. âIt was as if someone else was in the room or he wanted victims to think there was. He would frequently start sobbing and repeatedly said things like, âIâm sorry, mommy!ââ
At first glance, his actions seem deeply psychotic, but Larry Pool, a senior investigator for the Riverside County District Attorneyâs Office, who ultimately had as much to do with the final arrest of DeAngelo as any law enforcement official, says he believes the East Area Rapistâs actions were contrived. âAll his antics during the rapes can be distilled into one word: misdirection,â he says.Â
Pool, who worked for several years for the Orange County Sheriffâs Department, adds, âHe was evil, clever and cunning, and everything he did was planned to throw people off his trail.â
During this early time, Daly was assigned to question and accompany the rape victims to hospitals. She helped make them a top priority for medical centers, and they were treated carefully and immediately upon arrival. She also helped further the development of rape kits. She was promoted to captain and then became the first female undersheriff of Sacramento County. She was later appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to serve as the chairperson for the Board of Prison Terms, becoming one of the most accomplished and influential women in California law enforcement. She was also named âtop female copâ internationally and traveled to England for her award.
But in 1976 and 1977, it wasnât Daly or anyone else in law enforcement who was in charge of fear in the cityâit was the East Area Rapist. He raped and rampaged seemingly at will. At first, he raped only single women, alone in their homes, but when a local newspaper ran a piece pointing that out, he began attacking homes where couples, and often their children, slept. In a methodology that has been well-covered in media reports, he would break into the homes in the middle of the night, shine a flashlight into the eyes of the sleeping couple, make violent and perverse threats with a gun or knife or both, and order the woman to tie up the man with shoelaces or other ligatures. He would then tie up the woman and retie the man, often using the infamous âdiamond knot.â Then he would place the man face down on the floor and stack dishes, such as cups and saucers, on his back and threaten, âIf I hear those dishes rattle, Iâll kill everyone in the house!â Taking the woman into another room, he would rape her, then ransack the house and usually come back and rape her again. Sometimes he took money, and sometimes he didnât, but he always took some souvenirs, such as one earring, and he almost always took the victimsâ wedding rings.
As local media began to cover the rapes more closely, the communities grew anxious. The sheriffâs department began holding town hall meetings. Often, more than 500 people showed up. Daly conducted the meetings.
âOnce, a man stood up in the audience and said this would never happen in his house or to his wife,â says Daly. âLess than a month later, the East Area Rapist broke into their house in the middle of the night, tied up the man and savagely raped the woman. It was the worst rape of them all. Clearly, the East Area Rapist had been at that meeting and took the manâs challenge personally.â
‘That story, though, did not end there. âThe fact is, out of the 20 couples victimized by the EAR, this couple was the only one that is still together today,â says Daly. âFrom the worst experience, they have made it the best. What they overcame to keep their love together is the greatest single piece of this entire story.â
Carl Stincelli was a young sheriffâs deputy who worked on the East Area Rapist case in the â70s. âIt was frustrating as hell,â he recalls, of law enforcementâs efforts to catch the rapist, who they suspect escaped by hopping back fences and disappearing into the dark parkway.
Although law enforcement had more than 7,000 suspects at that time, and had filled out more than 30,000 reports, they couldnât catch the East Area Rapist.
âIt was frustrating as hell, but you have to remember there was no 911 or video surveillance, portable radios, pagers or cellphones,â says Stincelli. âWhen we had problems with our dispatch radio, we had to use pay phones on the side of the roads. One thing we had was a series of sensor lights that could detect the vibrations of someone walking. We put those along the river and bike trails at night because we knew he was probably using them to travel in the darkness. Weâd sit in a van out of sight, and we could tell if anyone was moving in the dark. We placed the sensors along the trail in plastic things that looked like animal poop so if the suspect saw them he wouldnât get suspicious. We called it the âindigenous fecesâ project.â
License-plate numbers had t