Joseph James D’Angelo: The Golden State Killer

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Golden State Killer
Photo Credit: FBI.gov



During the 70’s and 80’s, California was terrorized by the East Area Rapist, who would later become known as The Golden State Killer. The unknown rapist would ransack the house and wake up his victims, forcing them to do what he tells them. Within a matter of hours, he ruined and ended lives, slipping small mementos in his pocket as he ran into the darkness.

During his reign of terror, 51 women ended up being raped in their own bedrooms. The “EAR” later known as the Golden State Killer ended up murdering 12 people that we know. The kill count may be higher as he traveled throughout California targeting homes.

He attempted to hide his identity by mixing up his killing methods and leaving misleading clues to throw off the police. Unlike past serial killers, there was no connection between the victims, and no way of predicting where he would strike next.

The survivors attempted to move past their horrific experiences, but were later contacted by their attacker who whispered into the phone “remember when we played in 1986.”

The killings mysteriously stopped. The trail just ran cold. The serial killer was on the loose for decades. They first called him the “East Area Rapist.” He was also called the original “Night Stalker.”

The real identity of the East Area Rapist was an unsolved mystery that nobody in California could forgot for 44 years straight. The Sacramento Police Department who led the investigation, received thousands of tips from people who believed they knew who the “East Area Rapist” is. However, those tips did not pan out.

The wheels started turning in 2006, when freelance writer Michelle McNamara started to dig into this cold case. She began a blog and podcast and shared clues with fellow online sleuths who were as passionate about catching the killer as she was.

In 2013, she wrote an article about the rapist in a Los Angeles Magazine called In the Footsteps of a KillerMcNamara gave the killer a more fitting nickname The Golden State Killer. She began writing a book called “I’ll be gone in the Dark.” where she interviewed a detective and compiled information from several jurisdictions that have never been pieced together. She ended up meeting an investigator from the Contra Costa County Police Department, named Paul Holes. Together they shared theories and information on how to possibly catch the killer.

Unfortunately, Michelle McNamara died in her sleep. Before she died, she told her celebrity husband Patton Oswalt that she wanted to see the Golden State Killer behind bars. She didn’t care if she wasn’t responsible for his capture. Oswalt eventually released her book.

Paul Holes discussed possible DNA evidence found on genealogy websites with McNamara before her death. Holes’ took DNA rape kits and ran it through genealogy databases. They ended up with results that led to a first cousin, giving him and a task force enough evidence to find the unidentified man who matched the DNA.

Not much is known about D’Angelo’s personal life. However, it seems like he had a normal upbringing. His father was a celebrated Air Force Pilot during World War II. His mother Kathleen worked at a local Denny’s as a waitress. Eventually his parents divorced.

Kathleen eventually married her second husband and moved out to California. Law enforcement found a paper at a crime scene that offered an insight into his childhood. The paper had been named the homework evidence, and it reads like a journal entry.

“Mad is the word. The word that reminds me of the 6th grade. I hated that year.”

D’Angelo goes on to write about his teacher, who punished him for talking in class by forcing him to write the same sentence 50 to 150 times as a homework assignment.

“I never hated anyone as much as I hated him.”

He describes spending hours on this homework and wrote that

“It wasn’t fair to make me suffer like that. I cried because I was ashamed. I will be ashamed of my sixth-grade year forever.”

Some believe this sixth grade experience was a fable or a red herring to trick police. Or he could actually see himself as a victim and this experience turned him into a dark and evil person.

D’Angelo went to high school in Sacramento at Folsom High School, later attending Cal State Sacramento, earning a criminal justice degree. He eventually joined the Navy and serving during Vietnam. He eventually proposed to Bonnie Cole, who was a lab assistant at Sierra College.

Bonnie ended up calling off the engagement, leaving D’Angelo distraught. We may not know what was the cause, but her brother says she had good reasons for dumping him. Just like his sixth grade incident, he’d never let go of this personal betrayal. Victims later told police that he sobbed and said “I hate you, Bonnie, I hate you, Bonnie,” over and over again.

Joseph D’Angelo eventually did get married in 1973, to a Sharon Marie. They would eventually have three daughters together. D’Angelo became a police officer in Visalia, California.

One of D’Angelo’s earliest crimes was in 1975, when he shot a police officer. He was later caught stealing a hammer and other items from a grocery store. Police should have been tipped off by these items and not just ruled a simple shoplifting incident.

The police ended up firing him, but didn’t investigate any further. D’Angelo responded to his firing by threatening to murder the police chief’s daughter. Days later, the police chief’s daughter claimed in the middle of the night, she saw a man in a mask shining a light into her room. The chief went outside and discovered a set of footprints.

D’Angelo’s first victim was in Visalia, California after he joined the police force. He made the fatal mistake of not wearing a mask, allowing witnesses describe his face to police. D’Angelo was 29, but looked younger.

Law enforcement believed the ransacker was a teenager or an adult in his early 20’s. Although, he wouldn’t begin to kill people until he was in his 30s. Crime writer Billy Jensen spoke to victims, who say they believed D’Angelo was trying to murder them before 1974. Police are beginning to discover a much darker youth.

In the early years of law enforcement, many police departments did not communicate with each other when it came to crimes. This allowed D’Angelo to take advantage and kill victims in one county and move onto the next one, without being tracked across county lines.

During his time as a ransack, he was nearly caught and decided to beginwearing a black ski mask he also planned out strategies for each of his crimes. Police began to release sketches and descriptions of the East Area Rapist, that almost matched D’Angelo exactly. Therefore, D’Angelo realized he needed to change up his appearance and lost a huge amount of weight.

When he went on his crime spree, he would focus on one-story homes, which allowed him to track how many people were in the house. He even drew maps of the neighborhoods, so he could find his way around at night. When he broke into someone’s house he would search through the victim’s purse and find the driver’s license.

He would make his way into the victim’s bedroom, where he would whisper their names. This led many to wonder if they actually knew the EAR. D’Angelo would begin to create stories to make it appear that they truly knew each other.

While D’Angelo chose his victims at random, he would purposefully leave behind false clues. One victim had a boat in their driveway, so D’Angelo would tell them oh I saw you at the lake. He even told one couple “don’t tell the pigs about my van outside.”

He never had a van, his mode of transportation was bicycles, which he would steal from open garages and later ditched as he fled the scene. This kept police from discovering his real vehicle. The fact the always calls police officers pigs was also misleading since he was a cop himself.

After years of targeting women who were home alone, he raised the stakes higher by targeting couples. He would come prepared with pre-tied shoelaces so he could force the husband to lay on his stomach and tie his hands, and then put a stack of plates on the man’s back. If the husband move he said he would hear the crashing plates and he would kill the wife immediately. The husband would lay there helpless while he heard his wife being sexually assaulted by D’Angelo.

D’Angelo switched up the weapons he used in each break-in. Sometimes it was a knife, other times it was a gun. In one case he even beat someone to death with a log from the fireplace.

While D’Angelo attempted to escape every crime undetected. Each of his rape victims managed to describe his genitalia as extremely small. This was actually a detail that law enforcement took very seriously. They asked local doctors if they could identify patients with a micro — -s and ruled out potential suspects if they were too well-endowed. He was a psychological sadist, who got off on instilling fear into the hearts of human beings.

D’Angelo found many ways to avoid from getting captured. One way he managed to escape, was by waiting in the victim’s home. In one attack, a victim in Sacramento was laying in her bed after being raped for several minutes. Her daughter was next to her in bed. The young daughter told her that he was still standing in the bedroom, hiding in the darkness.

One of the many tricks he used to avoid capture was waiting in their house. Long after committing the rape, one victim in Sacramento laid in her bed after being assaulted for several minutes her young daughter had been laying in bed next to her the entire time.

This gave him hours to escape before the police were called months or even years after being raped. Angelo would call his victims to taunt them on Christmas Day threatening to come back and finish the job. Many of his victims today have PTSD.

Police believe the East Area Rapist was at a town-hall meeting that discussed the rapist. During the town hall meeting, one of the residents stood up and claimed the East Area Rapist was not real because he could not believe any man would allow their wife to be raped. A few months later that man and his wife became victims of the EAR.

Officer Carol Daley who ran the meeting, was shaken to the core after learning of this attack. She knew that the attacker was at the meeting that night. The devil was hiding in plain sight.

After losing his job as a police officer, Joseph D’Angelo became a truck mechanic for grocery chain Save Mart. According to a fellow co-worker, D’Angelo always was on his best behavior. He had perfect attendance. He continued his crimes at night, only stopping in 1986. Police don’t know why he chose 1986 to stop, but it happens to be the same year his youngest daughter was born.

It’s also possible he got to the point, where he could no longer live a double life. Or he just changed up his different “m.o.” He was known to have a angry and violent home life. His neighbors mostly avoided him. D’Angelo even left a neighbor a voicemail threatening to kill their entire family, all because their dog was barking too much.

Neighbors have said they heard D’Angelo screaming and cursing out his wife and daughters inside their house. He appears to not have cared what people thought of him. He often stood in his yard screaming at himself.

Sacramento County investigator Paul Holes had spent nearly two decades hunting the Golden State Killer. As he was nearing retirement, he was working to finally identify the killer. He eventually got a DNA ancestry company to work with him, leading to him tracing the DNA to third cousin. Holes took this to the county DA, leading to a task force scouring the family tree. Prior to this discovery, D’Angelo was never a potential suspect.

He managed to hide his crimes for over four decades. Just a day before he was set to hand in his gun and badge, Holes staked out D’Angelo’s home. At this point, he was so jaded by the number of failed leads over the years.

Holes was a little surprised to find out that D’Angelo was the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist. Holes considered just knocking on D’Angelo’s door and asking for a DNA sample. However, his gut told him to keep on driving. DNA samples take time to process. And if he truly was the Golden State killer he would have too much time to run or possibly commit suicide.

The task force ended up following D’Angelo around in public places, collecting his DNA and fingerprints from his car door and trash. The Sacramento Crime Lab and task force worked to connect the dots and prove without a doubt that he was the Golden State Killer. The police obtained a search warrant to go into D’Angelo’s home and arrest him.

When police finally showed up, D’Angelo was a little surprised to see them. Police detained D’Angelo before he could attempt to escape and deny he was the East Area Rapist and the Golden State Killer. Since his arrest, he has not given any interviews and refuses to speak to anyone.

D’Angelo’s wife Sharon left and stopped speaking with her husband. D’Angelo lived with one of his daughters, when he was arrested. While Sharon is a divorce lawyer, she still has not filed for divorce. Some in law enforcement and others believe that he may be threatening her in some capacity or that she may know something about what he does.

Neighbors described D’Angelo as physically fit, despite him being 72. During his trial, he attempted to paint himself as an elderly man. However, he wasn’t fooling anyone.

He showed absolutely no emotion and no remorse. It will be years before he goes to trial, but not even his defense lawyer is trying to deny that he is the Golden State Killer.

The police are continuing an investigation that has not been made public. The police were seen taking a lot of items from D’Angelo’s home into evidence, which included items he stole from his victims. It will be years, before anyone really learns more about D’Angelo’s life. D’Angelo is behind bars and families can finally get a good night’s sleep.