The Golden State Killer was known by many names and plagued California and surrounding counties. He was responsible for at least 50 rapes and 13 murders and hundreds of counts of robbery, stalking, vandalism and assault.
The investigation that spanned decades and went through several phases of heating up and cooling down finally culminated in 2018. The FBI charged Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., a 72-year old former police officer, as the man responsible for these heinous crimes.
1. Quick Review
In four episodes, Golden State Killer: It’s Not Over captures the lengthy investigation, resources, and workforce that went into catching the felon. It shows us how the California Forensic Department utilizes DNA technology to crack open cold cases. The fact that the investigation took over 35 years to catch the killer and rapist, despite never having officially gone cold, leaves you in awe.
2. Info & Watch Links
Golden State Killer It’s Not OverAir Date: March 5, 2018 Status: Finished Studio: ID No. of Seasons: 1 No. of Episodes: 4
3. Is It Worth Watching?
Golden State Killer: It’s Not Over follows the notorious killer and rapist from the early days of his career. He first started with robberies in the Sacramento Area but then moved onto raping and killing in California. We hear accounts from the survivors and the friends and family of victims as we follow Paul Holes, a cold case investigator, guiding us through the investigation and the narrative.
James DeAngelo was responsible for three separate crime sprees in the California region, each of which earned him a different nickname before the investigation. DNA evidence revealed that they were the work of the same man. It was revealed that the would-be rapist and killer’s training ground began with a series of robberies in Visalia, California.
Between April 1974 and December 1975, the Visalia Ransacker was responsible for at least 120 burglaries. He would ransack and vandalize people’s homes, scatter women’s clothing and undergarments, and steal only small items and coins, leaving valuables lying in plain sight untouched. He was also responsible for the murder of Claude Snelling in 1975 and is suspected to be behind even more thefts in the area.
DeAngelo moved to Sacramento in 1976, where his crimes escalated from theft to rape. He initially targeted single women or women living with kids in a well-established neighborhood that offered multiple escape routes through fields and streams. Many victims had seen or heard a man lurking around their property or experienced a break-in before his attacks.
Police believed that he conducted extensive reconnaissance of his targets and meticulously planned his attacks. He eventually started attacking couples and used to break into their houses at night and wake them up at gunpoint. He brought along shoelaces with which he forced the female to tie up her partner before DeAngelo tied her up and raped her.
In October 1979, DeAngelo moved back to California and started attacking and killing his victims. He continued till 1981, racking up a kill count of 9 before striking once again after a long hiatus in 1986. Only the first couple survived because they managed to shout and alert the neighbors. This spree of murders wasn’t linked to the East Area Rapist and thought to be a local career criminal.
II. The Golden State Murder Investigation
The documentary highlights the police’s shock and horror when they realize that this collection of murders and rapes was the work of one man. This was only confirmed based on DNA evidence after decades. The name Golden State Killer was not a part of police investigations and was coined by crime-writer Michelle McNarama to heighten the awareness of the case.
In the documentary, we hear victims recant their horrible experiences and the fear of the whole encounter. Their hands would often be numb for hours because they had been tied too tightly, and James used to stack plates on the men threatening to kill them if he heard the plates rattle. He earned the nickname East Area Rapist in Sacramento.
DeAngelo would spend several hours in the house, ransacking the cupboards, eating the food, and stealing small items. He would rape his victims several times and enjoyed giving the impression that he had left, before jumping out and raping once again.
A detective who said that these were the work of the same man was ignored, and the police chased down many false leads, eventually charging a man with two murders. In 2016, the FBI announced that they were renewing their efforts to catch the killer and offered a $50000 reward for any information revealing the killer’s identity.
The police received several letters and phone calls taunting them while they were conducting the initial investigation. They used to get warnings by the killer that he would strike on a particular night, and James DeAngelo managed to pull off many such crimes after taunting the police. He also called some of his previous victims, threatening that he would rape them again.
III. Charges and Trial
The FBI used extensive DNA matching technology to single out DeAngelo and his family from over 1000 people. He was arrested and charged with twelve counts of first-degree murders with special circumstances. Because the statute of limitations has expired on the rapes and burglaries, DeAngelo cannot be charged with them after 30 years. He was finally charged with thirteen counts of murder with special circumstances (during rape and robbery) and thirteen counts of kidnapping.
He confessed and told the police that an inner personality named Jerry forced him to commit the murders and rapes. In April 2019, prosecutors from six different counties announced that the trial would cost taxpayers more than $20 million and last ten years, and they would seek the death penalty.
On June 29th, 2020, DeAngelo pleaded guilty to all thirteen counts of murder and kidnapping in return for a life sentence in prison.
5. Final Thoughts
Golden State Killer It’s Not Over offers an educational experience to a generation which has seen the criminal charged, but wasn’t around during his rampant rape and murder spree. It wraps up in four episodes and captures all the essential details of the investigation and is an excellent true-crime series to binge over the weekend.