‘He dis­abled porch lights, un­locked win­dows and emp­tied bul­lets from his tar­gets’ guns’

Daily Express - - NEWS - From Peter Sheri­dan in Los An­ge­les

THIN and frail, his bald head mar­bled with age, Joseph DeAn­gelo had to be helped from his wheel­chair to stand stooped be­fore the judge. The ten­dons in his neck strained above his or­ange jail jump­suit each time the 74-yearold’s hoarse voice re­peated the stark word: “Guilty.”

He seems harm­less enough to­day, but for 13 ag­o­nised years DeAn­gelo ter­rorised Cal­i­for­nia as the Golden State Killer.

Cit­i­zen pa­trols roamed the night streets as panic swept the state, lav­ish boun­ties were of­fered, and thou­sands rushed to buy guns, guard dogs and door locks.

In court on Mon­day the for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer pleaded guilty to 13 mur­ders and kid­nap­pings, and ad­mit­ted 62 more rapes and ab­duc­tions. From 1973 to 1986 he at­tacked at least 106 men, women and chil­dren, and raped 50 women and girls.

“I did all those things,” he con­fessed af­ter his cap­ture. “I’ve de­stroyed all their lives. So now, I’ve got to pay the price.”

His bru­tal­ity was matched only by his cun­ning. DeAn­gelo staked out his vic­tims, break­ing into their homes to pre­pare the per­fect crime scene.

HE DIS­ABLED porch lights, un­locked win­dows and slid­ing doors, and emp­tied bul­lets from his tar­gets’ guns. He of­ten phoned them months in ad­vance to learn their daily rou­tines.

Chillingly, he hid shoelaces or ny­lon cords be­neath cush­ions, to be used as lig­a­tures later when he bound his vic­tims.

For more than four decades he got away with it, frus­trat­ing de­tec­tives and an anx­ious pub­lic. And he would still be free to­day if not for the remark­able per­sis­tence of an ama­teur sleuth, and the devel­op­ment of new DNA trac­ing tech­niques.

For years, the Golden State Killer was so metic­u­lous he left no fin­ger­prints at a crime scene. DNA anal­y­sis found no matches in po­lice files. But true-life crime au­thor Michelle McNa­mara be­came con­sumed with find­ing the killer’s iden­tity.

The wife of top US com­edy star Pat­ton Oswalt – he voiced the culi­nary-gifted ro­dent in Pixar’s 2007 an­i­mated movie Rata­touille – she helped fo­cus fresh at­ten­tion on a case that had long gone cold.

DeAn­gelo’s at­tacks had ranged over such a wide swathe of Cal­i­for­nia – 350 miles – that po­lice thought his prodi­gious crime spree was the work of sev­eral dif­fer­ent psy­chopaths. His rapes and mur­ders were at­trib­uted to the Orig­i­nal Night Stalker, the East Coast Rapist, the Visalia Ran­sacker and the Di­a­mond Knot Killer.

It was McNa­mara who recog­nised sim­i­lar­i­ties in the at­tacks and dubbed DeAn­gelo the Golden State Killer – all the more ter­ri­fy­ing be­cause his face was un­known. “He’s the fake shark in Jaws, barely seen, so dou­bly feared,” she said.

McNa­mara’s ob­ses­sion be­came her best­selling book I’ll Be Gone in the

Dark, spawn­ing an HBO TV minis­eries, and tak­ing over her life. “When I’m puz­zling over the de­tails of an un­solved case, I’m like a rat in a maze given a task,” McNa­mara ad­mit­ted. “I want him cap­tured. I don’t care who he is. I don’t care if I’m the one who cap­tures him. I just want bracelets on his wrists and a cell door slam­ming be­hind him.”

But she ad­mit­ted be­com­ing “un­healthily ob­sessed” with find­ing the killer, wak­ing at all hours of the night to dig into dusty po­lice files – and it cost the au­thor her life. She died in her sleep in 2016, at 46.

An au­topsy found she had an un­di­ag­nosed heart con­di­tion and had taken a com­bi­na­tion of pre­scrip­tion drugs. Her death was ruled ac­ci­den­tal. Trag­i­cally, McNa­mara died be­fore see­ing the phan­tom killer cap­tured. But her ob­ses­sion forced po­lice to look again at the Golden State Killer’s hor­rific cat­a­logue of crimes, and in 2016 po­lice launched a na­tion­wide ef­fort to bring him to jus­tice.

DeAn­gelo usu­ally struck at night. At first he fo­cused on women liv­ing alone or sin­gle moth­ers. But as his con­fi­dence grew he switched to tar­get­ing cou­ples, wak­ing them at gun­point and bind­ing the men with shoelaces or rope. And he moved on from rape and bur­glary to mur­der.

FACE hid­den be­hind a ski mask, the killer tor­mented vic­tims with items from their own homes, tear­ing up bath­room tow­els into strips to blind­fold and gag them. He blud­geoned to death his last vic­tim, Janelle Cruz, in 1986, us­ing a pipe wrench he had stolen from her back gar­den days ear­lier. Char­lene and Ly­man Smith were beaten to death in 1980 with a log taken from their gar­den.

DeAn­gelo would take dishes from the kitchen and place them on the help­less hus­band’s back, threat­en­ing to kill both vic­tims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the wife.

One woman re­calls DeAn­gelo aim­ing a knife at her with the chill­ing warn­ing: “Make one move and you’ll be silent for ever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

Oth­ers were killed with a shot­gun. DeAn­gelo liked to spend hours ter­ror­is­ing his vic­tims, ran­sack­ing their homes, drink­ing their beer,

DOGGED DE­TEC­TIVE WORK: Crime au­thor Michelle McNa­mara

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