Over the weekend, Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested at his home in Sacramento. DeAngelo had lived in his neighborhood for 30 years, and was known to be a friendly, if eccentric, man. He helped neighbors build fences and put in pools, and mostly kept to himself, riding his bike to keep in shape. He retired from his job as a mechanic two weeks before his arrest, and was looking forward to a happy retirement, having maintained good physical condition into his twilight years. I’m sure he had plans to go on fishing trips with old friends, or keep up with his kids, or just relax without the pressure of getting up every day and earning a paycheck.
Joseph James DeAngelo was also a serial ransacker, rapist, and killer. In the 1970’s and ’80s, DeAngelo committed a series of rapes and murders that is almost unparalleled to this day. He struck in ten different counties throughout the entire state of California, and would still contact his victims decades after he assaulted them, sometimes after they had moved and changed phone numbers. He would stake out victims’ homes for weeks on end, tracking their movements, going inside to survey the layout and plant supplies, and even befriending the dogs so that they did not bark upon his arrival in the night. He was known as the Visalia Ransacker at first, when his crimes were limited to breaking and entering. Later, he became known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, or the Golden State Killer, or simply EAR/ONS for short.
DeAngelo would eventually be linked to around 50 rapes and 12 murders. His identity was a mystery to everyone, although the victims’ descriptions of him were similar across the board (My favorite part of their descriptions was that he had a very small penis. Hopefully, that adds some insult to the injury of his surprise arrest.). His M.O. was always the same; he never took anything of value, and generally said similar things to his victims. He also used a series of elaborate knots to tie his victims up, something that became a trademark of his. His reign of terror put all of California on edge, until it suddenly stopped. Even still, those in the Golden State made extra sure to lock their doors and ensure they had a weapon close at hand (not that it mattered – on at least one occasion, DeAngelo emptied the shells out of a victim’s shotgun before entering the house).
The fact that he has been caught after 40 years on the lam, with a 100% DNA match, is difficult for me to process. I am overwhelmed with joy for the surviving victims, that they may finally have some ounce of closure. I am saddened by the fact that so many he affected are long dead, unable to see justice served. I’m especially sad for Michelle McNamara, author of an extraordinary book on EAR/ONS that was just released this year. I wish she could have seen the defeated look in his mugshot and relished in his capture. But mostly, I am in disbelief that he was found at all.
I’ve been following the EAR/ONS case for a few months now. I am nowhere close to an expert; some people have been studying this case for decades. I still feel a part of it, though, and I’m glad I had the knowledge I did when I found out he was caught. It almost always feels good to feel like part of something bigger than yourself, no matter what that thing is. It was incredible to see all of the theories that were true, the ideas that were completely blown out of the water, and the unanswered questions that were finally solved. The connections individual users made on various forums suddenly made sense. It has been quite an amazing couple of days in certain corners of the internet.
The capture of EAR/ONS gives me hope that the Zodiac Killer might someday face justice, if he is still alive. It gives me tremendous belief in the power of the collective for good. Even though that collective did not end up giving police the lead the led to DeAngelo’s capture, it still showcased its ability to uncover every detail in pursuit of justice. The fact that so many strangers can come together to fight for a just cause inspires me.
I pray that the surviving victims are consoled. I pray that DeAngelo’s family can come to grips with just how horrifying a man he is and be able to live with that. I will refrain from praying for anything bad to happen to DeAngelo, but I will say that I would not be upset if he were involved in a particularly nasty prison fight. Mostly, I pray for an end to the evil that motivates people like him. It may seem a futile plea, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.