’74 killing may be tied to Golden State Killer

Detectives think sus­pect is ‘Visalia Ran­sacker’

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Sheyanne N Romero “It’s an up­hill bat­tle when you don’t have phys­i­cal ev­i­dence.” Chris Demp­sie Tu­lare County (Calif.) de­tec­tive

VISALIA, Calif. – Cal­i­for­nia law en­force­ment of­fi­cials have long con­sid­ered the 1975 slay­ing of Claude Snelling as the first in the Golden State Killer’s statewide mur­der and rape spree.

Now, a sher­iff’s de­part­ment cold case in­ves­ti­ga­tor says he and his part­ner are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Joseph DeAn­gelo, who was ar­rested in April in a series of rapes and mur­ders that ter­ror­ized Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­ni­ties in the 1970s and 1980s, ab­ducted and killed a Visalia teenager even be­fore Snelling — in 1974.

That homi­cide would mark the ear­li­est sus­pected crime com­mit­ted by DeAn­gelo.

Tu­lare County law en­force­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors sus­pect DeAn­gelo was the crim­i­nal dubbed the Visalia Ran­sacker, who ter­ror­ized Visalia with brazen break-ins and the shoot­ing of Snelling.

DeAn­gelo later moved to the Sacra­mento area, where he is sus­pected in 12 mur­ders and 45 rapes in the 1970s and ’80s.

The 72-year-old for­mer Ex­eter po­lice of­fi­cer was back in court Thurs­day in Sacra­mento for a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing in con­nec­tion with those crimes.

In Novem­ber 1974, Jen­nifer Ar­mour, 15, left her Visalia home and headed to the an­nual Cowhide Game – the foot­ball matchup be­tween the Mount Whit­ney Pi­o­neers and archri­val Red­wood Rangers.

She never ar­rived at the game. Ar­mour’s mother re­ported her miss­ing the next day. Nine days later, Ar­mour’s body was found in a canal. Her case has gone un­solved for four decades.

Tu­lare County De­tec­tive Chris Demp­sie and his part­ner Dwayne John­son, who make up the sher­iff’s Cold Case Unit that is in­ves­ti­gat­ing roughly 200 un­solved homi­cides in the county, now hope ev­i­dence re­leased by a Sacra­mento County judge could help in their in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Ar­mour’s death.

Even be­fore DeAn­gelo was ar­rested in April, detectives sus­pected the Visalia Ran­sacker could be linked to her.

When Demp­sie and John­son heard about DeAn­gelo’s past as a law en­force­ment of­fi­cer, their sus­pi­cions grew.

“As soon as he was ar­rested and we learned he was a po­lice of­fi­cer in Ex­eter that was a red flag,” Demp­sie said.

The Visalia Ran­sacker also was in “close prox­im­ity” to the area Ar­mour would have been walk­ing that crisp fall night.

DeAn­gelo may have known the details of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause of his con­nec­tion to the Ex­eter Po­lice De­part­ment.

How­ever, there is lit­tle phys­i­cal ev­i­dence in the case. Be­cause Ar­mour’s body was in the water for nine days, it’s dif­fi­cult to tell where the in­ci­dent hap­pen or what the killer did to her, Demp­sie said. The cause of death was drowning. At the time of Ar­mour’s death, there were sev­eral named sus­pects but no phys­i­cal ev­i­dence to make an ar­rest.

“It’s an up­hill bat­tle when you don’t have phys­i­cal ev­i­dence,” Demp­sie said.

There are roughly six per­sons of in­ter­est in the Ar­mour case, all of them liv­ing but one, Os­car Clin­ton. He died while serv­ing a life sen­tence in 2013 in the killing of Donna Rich­mond, 14.

Last year, the detectives said they felt there was a strong con­nec­tion be­tween the girls’ mur­ders.

Things changed in April with DeAn­gelo’s ar­rest. “We are in con­stant con­tact with the folks in Sacra­mento,” Demp­sie said. “We’ve sent a synop­sis of the case for re­view.”

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