Nation & World

'Golden State Killer' suspect arrested in one of the worst unsolved crime sprees in U.S. history

The wanted poster for the man known as the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer. CREDIT: FBI.
The wanted poster for the man known as the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer. CREDIT: FBI.

More than 40 years after the so-called “Golden State Killer” began to terrorize Californians, raping dozens of women and killing at least 12, a suspect has been arrested in one of the worst unsolved crime sprees in U.S. history, a person familiar with the case told The Washington Post.

The Sacramento District Attorney plans to make a “major announcement” at noon Pacific time Wednesday, after several local news organizations reported that a man has finally been arrested in connection with the case of one of the most prolific and elusive serial killers in modern American history.

CNN, citing an FBI spokeswoman, reported that “a person believed to be the so-called Golden State Killer . . . is under arrest.” The FBI would not identify the suspect, CNN said.

Beginning in 1976, the Golden State Killer is believed to have raped dozens of women in their homes - meticulously planning his intrusions, sometimes ambushing entire families, and killing several of his victims toward the end of his spree, before he vanished in 1986.

“This individual was responsible for approximately 45 rapes, 12 homicides, and multiple residential burglaries throughout the State of California,” according to the FBI.

Since his disappearance, investigators and amateur detectives have searched for the man across the United States and inquired as far away as Australia.

Their efforts finally paid off early Wednesday, the Sacramento Bee reported, when FBI agents and police from cities across California came to a Citrus Heights home, and arrested its 72-year-old occupant on two counts of murder.

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Officials have not yet said how the suspect is connected to the Golden State Killer case - or if they think he is the same man who is accused of the rapes and homicides.

“He was young - anywhere from 18 to 30 - Caucasian, and athletic, capable of eluding capture by jumping roofs and vaulting tall fences,” the crime writer Michelle McNamara wrote in a Los Angeles magazine profile of the old cases.

“To zero in on a victim he often entered the home beforehand when no one was there, learning the layout, studying family pictures, and memorizing names,” she wrote. “He disabled porch lights and unlocked windows. He emptied bullets from guns. He hid shoelaces or rope under cushions to use as ligatures.

“These maneuvers gave him a crucial advantage because when you woke from a deep sleep to the blinding flashlight and ski-masked presence, he was always a stranger to you, but you were not to him.”

Police first dubbed the man the East Area Rapist, as he would not begin killing until much later in his spree.

The first known attack, Katie Mettler wrote in The Post, took place in the middle of the night in the summer of 1976, when the man snuck into a home in east Sacramento County, raped a young woman and left.

He raped again a few weeks later, then again and again, dozens of times. After a year, two dozen women had been attacked and a sheriff’s department spokesman told the Associated Press that some residents had started “sleeping in shifts,” because the man would strike even if others were home.

His 44th victim was a 13-year-old girl in the Walnut Creek area in 1979, the Mercury News reported. He allegedly raped her at knifepoint while her father and sister slept down the hall, told her he’d kill her if she told anyone, and departed through the back yard, past her playhouse.

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Police rebranded him the Original Night Stalker after he began to kill in 1978, Mettler wrote. He found a married couple walking their dog in the Sacramento Area, chased them and shot them to death.

Future killings would be much more meticulous, and spread from Sacramento to southern California.

On December 30, 1979, police in Goleta found a husband and wife dead in their house - one shot through the heart and one in the back of the head.

“As detectives processed the crime scene, they stepped around a turkey carcass wrapped in cellophane that had been discarded on the patio,” McNamara wrote in Los Angeles Magazine. “The killer had opened the refrigerator and helped himself to [victim Robert] Offerman’s leftover Christmas dinner.”

Another couple were murdered in Ventura three months later, she wrote. Then yet another couple, in a gate community in Dana Point.

He left few clues, and only betrayed a few patterns as his violence escalated: he often ate from his victims’ fridges; often took tokens from their personal belonging’s, like class rings.

He usually tied up the men before he killed them and almost always raped the women.

Police did not even realize the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker were the same person until DNA tests linked all the crimes in the early 2000s, McNamara wrote.

By then, his spree was long over - the last victim being 18-year-old Janelle Cruz, bludgeoned to death in Irvine in 1986 - and the trail had gone cold.

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The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

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