|BEST OF SACRAMENTO GOODIE BAG SPECIAL SECTIONS NEWSLETTERS RESTAURANTS WINE LOCAL EATS MASTERS CLUB 2017|
More than 40 years ago, The EAST Area Rapist terrorized the community for two years. In April, a suspect was arrested. What happened, and Who is he?
“He stalked his victims,” says Suzanne, who was 30 years old when the East Area Rapist struck her home in the mid-1970s. “He broke into our home, tied up my children, and raped and tormented and terrorized me for hours. He had a knife and gun. I was terrified. Just when I thought he was gone, he burst back in and stabbed the knife in the bed an inch from my face. He screamed that he had seen me move. He said he was going to cut body parts off my family and bring them to me. I felt in my heart that my children and I were going to die. Do you believe in evil? I do. It was in my house that night.”—From “Unsolved Mystery,” Sacramento Magazine, September 2003
For 42 years, the East Area Rapist evaded Sacramento law enforcement as he assaulted and murdered almost at will, from the eastern communities of Sacramento to Southern California. He seemed to come from nowhere and escaped to nowhere. He was the original boogeyman, the uncatchable criminal, the terrible menace behind the mask. But that all may have changed in April of this year, when Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department officers and FBI agents arrested 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo, whose DNA matches that of the East Area Rapist’s, now being called the Golden State Killer. DeAngelo was arrested in his home in Citrus Heights where he had lived for 38 years, in the middle of the community where he allegedly caused such mayhem, fear and pain.
If DeAngelo, a former Auburn police officer, is found guilty of these crimes, which include multiple rapes in Sacramento and numerous murders in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties, it will end the longest successful manhunt in Sacramento law enforcement and FBI history. The criminal who unleashed his own particular reign of horror, rape and murder was a cold-blooded terrorist. Although new facts continue to emerge about the case, it is already a wildly diverse story of a deranged psychopath who changed Sacramento from a small, trusting town of unlocked doors into an armed encampment where fear stalked the streets.
There is no trial date set for DeAngelo, and there may not be for some time as investigators are still looking for crimes he may have committed. In fact, it may be years before DeAngelo goes to trial because so much evidence is being gathered by law enforcement and so many legal issues must be resolved. While having a viable suspect in jail has relieved victims and buoyed law enforcement investigators, even a guilty verdict or plea will not answer all the questions this case has raised.
Chief among these: Who exactly is DeAngelo? And if he’s proven to be the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer, why did he embark on a singular pathway of destruction with such anger and viciousness? Did he truly stop his rampage in 1986, as records seem to indicate? How did he get away with it for so long? Did he, as one former investigator suggests, have an unwitting friend in the Sacramento Police Department, and did the two talk frequently about the upcoming strategies law enforcement was planning to use to catch the East Area Rapist?
The bizarre case involves everything from the use of 50 psychics and the world’s largest computer system to the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the passage of sweeping new criminal laws and, finally, a brilliant new discovery of the potential of family DNA ancestry sites to help solve crimes. Still to come may be legal tests that could determine how law enforcement is allowed to use those DNA sites. And, ultimately, California’s controversial death penalty law may be put to the test.
There is another crucially important part to this story, though—one that has been mostly overlooked in the barrage of media coverage. It involves the bravery, hard work and ingenuity—and sheer tenacity—of investigators. The case also played a role in the evolution of women as a force within local and state law enforcement agencies.
Carol Daly became one of the first female homicide investigators in California during the East Area Rapist case. She was assigned to question and accompany the rape victims to the hospitals, and she conducted town hall meetings to keep the public informed about the East Area Rapist's movements. "(Her) role in helping nearly every female victim in the Sacramento attacks was huge," says one victim. "She was so far ahead of her time."
One of the brightest lights to emerge from this story is Carol Daly, who became one of the first female homicide investigators in California during this case and who made historic changes in the way rape cases were handled.
In 1975, Daly went through the training at the FBI National Academy. About that time, law enforcement began to change its policies at the gun shooting ranges. Male officers had been expected to practice a “quick draw” action, where they pulled their guns from their holsters before firing, while female officers practiced pulling guns from their purses. Daly was soon adept at both.
“I loved the job immediately,” she says. “I felt such a sense of satisfaction that I was helping people. I guess you could say it became my ministry. I feel it was my faith that gave me the patience, wisdom and understanding to work with victims, to genuinely care about them and do what I could to help them put their lives back together.”
She couldn’t have known then how much her skills and her faith were about to be put to the test.
In the pre-dawn hours of June 18, 1976, Sacramento County dispatch received a frantic call from a young woman, who gasped that she had just been raped and was still tied up and feared her assailant might be coming back. Deputies responded to the call on Paseo Drive in Rancho Cordova to find a 23-year-old woman bound with thin rope. Her wrists and ankles were tied so tightly that her hands and feet were already a dark purple; she had barely been able to dial the phone. She was terrified; only later was she able to tell what had happened that night. She was the first official victim of the East Area Rapist. The assault would be repeated dozens of times with other victims in the east area of Sacramento over the next 18 months.
The woman told investigators she was awakened about 3 a.m. by a bright light shining in her eyes. Still mostly asleep, she wondered if she was having a nightmare. In front of her, holding a large knife in the air, was a man in a ski mask. He wore a dark T-shirt but no pants. He was erect. Terrified, she pulled the covers over her head. He was on her in an instant, swearing and threatening, throwing off the blankets and stabbing the tip of the knife into her temple. Talking in a guttural, violent voice through clenched teeth, he told her in graphic terms he was going to rape her, and he did.
Crime scene after East Area Rapist attack
“Although this is the first official case we considered the work of the EAR, he quite possibly did others before in the east area,” says Carl Stincelli, who was a young deputy with the sheriff’s department at the time. “Most of the odd behaviors the EAR would illustrate in subsequent attacks were present in this one. He occasionally broke into a house a couple times before the night of the rape. It was speculated he would feed the dog so it wouldn’t bark the next time they met. Sometimes he would kill it. He would first tell the victims he was just there for food and money, in an effort to calm them, but he would then scream, ‘Shut up!’ over and over if anyone tried to respond. He was into terrorizing his victims and gaining total control over them.”
Prowling and obscene phone calls were reported throughout the neighborhood before the attack. Those, too, would become common elements of East Area Rapist assaults.
The rape victims, who began to grow in startling numbers in late 1976, told investigators that the masked man often ransacked their houses after the rape. He would open every drawer and closet and throw items all over the room, making noise and tearing everything apart. He sometimes stuttered and usually talked between clenched teeth; he often seemed angry to the point of exploding. He was described as being between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 11 inches tall with a medium build, with dark hair and green or light-blue eyes. One description many rape victims agreed upon regarding the attacker—and this was relevant because it was often the only part of his body left uncovered—was that he had a small penis.
“Many victims said he also talked to himself a great deal while he was rummaging,” says Stincelli. “It was as if someone else was in the room or he wanted victims to think there was. He would frequently start sobbing and repeatedly said things like, ‘I’m sorry, mommy!’”
At first glance, his actions seem deeply psychotic, but Larry Pool, a senior investigator for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, who ultimately had as much to do with the final arrest of DeAngelo as any law enforcement official, says he believes the East Area Rapist’s actions were contrived. “All his antics during the rapes can be distilled into one word: misdirection,” he says.
Pool, who worked for several years for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, adds, “He was evil, clever and cunning, and everything he did was planned to throw people off his trail.”
During this early time, Daly was assigned to question and accompany the rape victims to hospitals. She helped make them a top priority for medical centers, and they were treated carefully and immediately upon arrival. She also helped further the development of rape kits. She was promoted to captain and then became the first female undersheriff of Sacramento County. She was later appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to serve as the chairperson for the Board of Prison Terms, becoming one of the most accomplished and influential women in California law enforcement. She was also named “top female cop” internationally and traveled to England for her award.
But in 1976 and 1977, it wasn’t Daly or anyone else in law enforcement who was in charge of fear in the city—it was the East Area Rapist. He raped and rampaged seemingly at will. At first, he raped only single women, alone in their homes, but when a local newspaper ran a piece pointing that out, he began attacking homes where couples, and often their children, slept. In a methodology that has been well-covered in media reports, he would break into the homes in the middle of the night, shine a flashlight into the eyes of the sleeping couple, make violent and perverse threats with a gun or knife or both, and order the woman to tie up the man with shoelaces or other ligatures. He would then tie up the woman and retie the man, often using the infamous “diamond knot.” Then he would place the man face down on the floor and stack dishes, such as cups and saucers, on his back and threaten, “If I hear those dishes rattle, I’ll kill everyone in the house!” Taking the woman into another room, he would rape her, then ransack the house and usually come back and rape her again. Sometimes he took money, and sometimes he didn’t, but he always took some souvenirs, such as one earring, and he almost always took the victims’ wedding rings.
As local media began to cover the rapes more closely, the communities grew anxious. The sheriff’s department began holding town hall meetings. Often, more than 500 people showed up. Daly conducted the meetings.
“Once, a man stood up in the audience and said this would never happen in his house or to his wife,” says Daly. “Less than a month later, the East Area Rapist broke into their house in the middle of the night, tied up the man and savagely raped the woman. It was the worst rape of them all. Clearly, the East Area Rapist had been at that meeting and took the man’s challenge personally.”
'That story, though, did not end there. “The fact is, out of the 20 couples victimized by the EAR, this couple was the only one that is still together today,” says Daly. “From the worst experience, they have made it the best. What they overcame to keep their love together is the greatest single piece of this entire story.”
Carl Stincelli was a young sheriff’s deputy who worked on the East Area Rapist case in the ’70s. “It was frustrating as hell,” he recalls, of law enforcement’s efforts to catch the rapist, who they suspect escaped by hopping back fences and disappearing into the dark parkway.
Although law enforcement had more than 7,000 suspects at that time, and had filled out more than 30,000 reports, they couldn’t catch the East Area Rapist.
“It was frustrating as hell, but you have to remember there was no 911 or video surveillance, portable radios, pagers or cellphones,” says Stincelli. “When we had problems with our dispatch radio, we had to use pay phones on the side of the roads. One thing we had was a series of sensor lights that could detect the vibrations of someone walking. We put those along the river and bike trails at night because we knew he was probably using them to travel in the darkness. We’d sit in a van out of sight, and we could tell if anyone was moving in the dark. We placed the sensors along the trail in plastic things that looked like animal poop so if the suspect saw them he wouldn’t get suspicious. We called it the ‘indigenous feces’ project.”
License-plate numbers had to be taken down by hand, and although tips flowed in by the thousands from the public, none of them panned out.
A higher tech effort came when the CEO of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, east of San Francisco, called law enforcement and said he was worried because his daughter was going to Sacramento State. He offered the sheriff’s department free use of the company’s computer system, which at the time was the largest in the world. The offer was accepted, but they still could not catch the East Area Rapist.
By 1977, every gun in every store in the county had been purchased by residents, a total of more than 6,000 firearms. Law enforcement officers were volunteering to work overtime every week, and special patrols searched the river parkways and other open areas the rapist was known to use in his nightly prowling.
While the added security had the ironic effect of greatly decreasing overall crime in Sacramento (burglaries dropped from 1,400 a month to 200, according to former sheriff’s investigator Richard Shelby), it did not stop the East Area Rapist. He continued to strike at will, including five times in May.
Then, in 1978, he suddenly vanished from Sacramento. He told at least one of his victims that he did not like the constant roar and searchlights of the helicopter, which was on loan to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
Linda O’Dell stands in the neighborhood where she was the 20th victim of the East Area Rapist.
His movements from that time onward were unknown at the time, but now investigators know he was a regular visitor to the East Bay, Stockton and Davis, where at least 19 attacks, with similar MOs, were reported.
Then, on Dec. 29, 1979, a seemingly unrelated crime was reported in Goleta, a suburb of Santa Barbara. Dr. Robert Offerman, 44, and his girlfriend, 35-year-old Alexandria Manning, a psychologist, were found shot to death in Offerman’s house. The killer shot Offerman three times and Manning once in the head before moving to their refrigerator and eating the rest of their turkey dinner. Their hands were tied with familiar knots. The East Area Rapist evidently had graduated to murder.
Santa Barbara law enforcement had a local suspect, but when that didn’t pan out, the case went unsolved. “It didn’t affect this area like the EAR’s crimes did in Sacramento,” says Bill Allen, a neighbor of Offerman’s and a retired prosecuting attorney. “Everyone thought it was a local crime. It was a complete shock when we finally learned it was the work of a serial killer.”
In the following few years, murders were committed in Ventura and Orange counties and then, 18 months later, a second double murder in Goleta. Most of these victims had been tied and then bludgeoned to death. At times, far more force was used than was necessary to kill the victims. A total of four men and six women were savagely murdered. It would be years before they were all linked together by DNA to one man.
The hunt for the East Area Rapist in Sacramento and the killer they now called The Original Night Stalker in Southern California ebbed and flowed after that. There were more than 15,000 suspects total. “At times, I felt we were a voice crying out in the wilderness,” says Pool. “I wasn’t sure we would ever catch this guy, but I knew we couldn’t give up trying.”
Margaret Wardlow was 13 when the East Area Rapist broke in and sexually molested her after tying up her mother.
In the 1990s, Orange County law enforcement received a large federal grant to fund its DNA and crime labs. Pool then went to work nearly full time on Orange County murder cases, traveling thousands of miles, checking tens of thousands of leads, even investigating criminals in Europe through Interpol and exhuming a possible suspect from a grave on the East Coast. Other investigators, such as Mary Hong, Larry Crompton and Paul Holes from the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department and Richard Shelby, Jim Bevins, Ken Clark, Paul Belli and others from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, continued to work on what would ultimately become one unified case. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert is often credited with helping persuade the FBI to reopen the case.
In 2001, a breakthrough occurred when Pool helped link the DNA found at the murder sites in Southern California to DNA in the rapes in Contra Costa County and then to the DNA left by the East Area Rapist in Sacramento. The modis operandi in each case matched, also. The findings stunned investigators; many even doubted that it could be true. But it was.
Still, even though they had connected the deadly dots, they still didn’t have the identity of the man responsible. In 2004, investigators got a break when Bruce Harrington, the brother of Patrice Harrington, one of the victims murdered in Dana Point by the Golden State Killer, spearheaded the passage of Proposition 69 in California. The new law made it mandatory for criminals committing certain crimes to give a DNA sample to an offender database. Harrington donated nearly $2 million of his own money to help pass the law.
Fingerprint cards courtesy of the FBI
Since that time, nearly 3 million DNA samples have been collected and more than 70,000 criminal investigations have utilized the nationwide Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). It has its share of critics, who have expressed concerns that DNA collection is a violation of privacy. Others point to the fact that in 2014, DNA databases helped investigators track down Sacramento’s so-called “Roaming Rapist,” who raped at least 10 women in the capital area. DNA was also used to capture Dennis Rader, the notorious BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) serial killer in Kansas. In 2010, California investigators used the database created under Proposition 69 to track down a Los Angeles man, Lonnie Franklin, for the murder of at least 25 women, making him one of California’s most prolific killers. He is currently on death row.
The cases were part of an FBI report that coincidentally dispels one widely held myth: “Contrary to popular belief, serial killers span all racial groups,” a recent FBI report stated. “There are white, African-American, Hispanic and Asian serial killers. The racial diversification of serial killers generally mirrors that of the overall U.S. population.” Rader is white; Franklin is African-American. All three men remain in prison.
The same FBI report also attacked another myth, that serial killers want to be caught. “As serial killers continue to offend without being captured, they can become empowered, feeling they will never be identified . . . It is not that serial killers want to get caught; they feel that they can’t get caught,” the report concluded.
In the case of the Golden State Killer, although there was plenty of his DNA available from victims, nothing showed up in the offender database, or anywhere else. As has been widely reported, it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that the evolution of the DNA ancestry boards grew to a point where law enforcement tried a database called GEDmatch, where nearly 1 million people had volunteered their genetic codes in hopes of discovering their relatives and ancestors. Investigation insiders say that DeAngelo had been a known suspect for at least six months before the DNA project was completed. While they did not say where the information linking him to the crimes originated, it is possible that it came from someone close to DeAngelo.
In an operation originated and run by Holes, investigators used traditional techniques to reach family members associated with the DNA collected from the Golden State Killer’s victims. They quickly narrowed down the “family tree” to one man, DeAngelo. Sacramento County Sheriff’s investigators followed him to the Roseville Hobby Lobby and obtained his DNA from the door handle of his car. More DNA, collected from his outside trash can on collection day, confirmed that his DNA matched perfectly with that of the East Area Rapist and the Golden State Killer.
On April 24, 2018, DeAngelo was arrested, perhaps ending a chase that lasted more than 42 years.
When the news broke, tears were shed up and down the state by victims and others. “I couldn’t believe it,” says Daly. “Several victims called me to ask it if was really true. It will take a long time for this to really sink in.”
DeAngelo cannot be tried for the rapes, only the murders, which have no statute of limitations. He has been arraigned on two counts of murder in Sacramento County, and he may face trial in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties, as well. The DNA ties may be strongest in Southern California. It may be in one of those counties where the initial trial takes place.
Some legal experts expect the legitimacy of law enforcement’s DNA sampling to be questioned by defense attorneys. Nobody from law enforcement told the GEDmatch owners they were using the site. Hundreds of DNA samples from crime scenes around the country have since been checked through this method, with at least 20 percent of them resulting in familial matchups, including the identification of one suspect in a 1987 double murder on the East Coast.
Larry Pool, who worked for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, says of the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist: “He was evil, clever and cunning, and everything he did was planned to throw people off his trail.”
“This could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court,” says one legal scholar. If that does happen, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s recent retirement from the court could prove significant to this case. Kennedy was active in Sacramento during the East Area Rapist’s rampage and theoretically would have recused himself from the case. Kennedy’s replacement could have a critical vote on this issue.
Despite the relief felt throughout the state, questions remain about who DeAngelo really is and what motivated him—if he is the Golden State Killer—to turn into such a monster. Is he brain-damaged? Was he terribly abused as a child? Or was he, as many have said, just born evil?
“I feel in my heart he was just born evil,” says Daly, whose feelings are backed up by behavioral experts such as Dr. Peter Yellowlees, a professor of psychiatry at UC Davis.
“Some people have a singular goal in life, and that is destruction,” says Yellowlees. “You can diagnose them all you want from a scientific point of view, but the bottom line is they are pure evil.”
The science is thin in this area, which is why some have suggested that, along with a DNA sample, certain violent criminals should also be required to have brain scans done and perhaps even donate their brains—after they have died of natural causes—to science so studies can be done to determine if these killers have similar brain abnormalities.
What is known of DeAngelo’s past only provides more strange twists to this story.
Neighbors in Citrus Heights said he was bellicose and angry much of the time, often stalking around in his backyard, screaming profanities at seemingly nothing. Many were afraid of him. Not long ago, he reportedly threatened to unleash “a load of death” upon his neighbors if they didn’t quiet their dog. Former Auburn police officers remembered him as “Junk Food Joe” because of his obsession with fast food and sweets.
He appears in the Folsom High School yearbook and reportedly joined the U.S. Navy after high school and spent time in Vietnam. He then attended Sierra College and Sacramento State, where he received a criminal justice degree. Ironically, Stincelli got a similar degree from the university during the same time. Little did he know he would soon be tracking a classmate wanted for multiple rapes and murders.
In May 1973, the footsteps of the Golden State Killer and DeAngelo began to intertwine. DeAngelo joined the police department in Exeter, a small town near Visalia, where shortly thereafter, a series of home break-ins began to occur. The “Visalia Ransacker” was never caught, but hundreds of homes were invaded, with drawers and clothes and items strewn about. On Sept. 11, 1975, a resident—Claude Snelling, a journalism professor at the nearby College of the Sequoias, surprised the burglar, who shot and killed Snelling. In December of that year, a Visalia police officer was shot and wounded by the ransacker. Most investigators believe the Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer are one and the same man.
In the spring of 1976, DeAngelo apparently returned to the Sacramento area, taking a job with the Auburn Police Department. Coincidentally or not, the ransacking in Visalia stopped, but on June 18 of that year, the home-invasion rapes began in the eastern suburbs of Sacramento. In early 1978, a young couple in Rancho Cordova, Brian and Katie Maggiore, were shot to death. Investigators suspected the East Area Rapist, but there is no DNA proof in that double murder.
In a bizarre occurrence early the following year, DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn Police Department for shoplifting a can of dog repellant and a hammer. It might have seemed suspicious to some because investigators had a strong theory that the East Area Rapist, who continually silenced dogs, was perhaps a cop, but no one questioned DeAngelo at the time. He then seemed to disappear.
Records show DeAngelo was married to a Sacramento-area divorce attorney, Sharon Marie Huddle, in 1973. Although they reportedly separated in 1991, they did not live far apart at the time of DeAngelo’s arrest. The peeping, prowling, raping, killing East Area Rapist would have had to be gone from his home for hundreds, if not thousands, of nights. Most husbands would find that hard to explain to their spouses. At the time of his arrest, DeAngelo’s daughter and granddaughter were living with him. The family is being cooperative with law enforcement, reports indicate.
What DeAngelo did from 1979 to 1989 is still unclear, but in 1989, he began working in Roseville for The Save Mart Companies, which operates and stocks more than 200 food stores in California and Nevada. He retired two weeks before his arrest.
Where was he in the lost 10 years? “One could speculate that he could have been a truck driver,” says Stincelli. “It would have given him a reason to have been in so many jurisdictions throughout California.”
A major question for law enforcement is did the Golden State Killer simply stop raping and killing in 1986, his last known murder? Despite popular belief, there are cases where serial killers have stopped for long periods of time. No other crimes have been assigned to him by law enforcement, although Stincelli says many are still being investigated.
If found guilty, DeAngelo could be in a position to have his case reopen debate over California’s death penalty, which has not been applied since 2006. The Golden State Killer’s last official victim, Janelle Cruz, was only 18 when he bludgeoned her to death in Irvine. He hit her so hard several of her teeth were found inside her stomach.
As of 2017, there were 747 people on California’s death row. “He may be too old now for them to consider the death penalty,” says Michael Vitiello, a senior law professor at McGeorge Law School. “If he is guilty, there is also a good chance he could plea bargain by agreeing to provide information about his crimes. It’s going to be an interesting case.”
Suspect Joseph James DeAngelo in his police uniform (left) and his booking photograph (right). Center: Composite sketch of the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist
One of DeAngelo’s relatives allegedly told a reporter that, as a child, DeAngelo had been forced to witness the rape of his young sister at a military base in Germany. An old newspaper report of DeAngelo joining the Exeter Police Department stated that he is the son of “Mrs. Jack Bosanko of Garden Grove and Joseph J. DeAngelo Sr. of Korea.”
“Much of his life is a ghost story right now,” says Daly. “I suppose it will come out in time, but regardless of what he suffered as a child, there is no excuse for what he did.”
The case, which began in Sacramento when Gerald Ford was America’s president, is unlike any other in California history. “It took a long time, but nobody gave up—ever,” says Daly. “It’s a powerful testament to law enforcement and to this entire community. In the end, it is the triumph of good over extreme evil that makes this story worth telling.”
Me, a Suspect?
IN 2003, I wrote a retro piece for Sacramento Magazine on the East Area Rapist, a then-unsolved case that in the mid-’70s had caused Sacramento to turn from a small, friendly town into a big city where the raw sound of the rotors of the sheriff’s helicopter ripped the silence every night.
Although the story did not contain graphic violence, it was true to the psychological terror the East Area Rapist caused in the community. Some at the magazine did not want to run it, for fear it would too greatly frighten readers. I was grateful that Krista Minard and Joe Chiodo fought for the story, though, and in the end, it ran in the September 2003 issue.
Retired Sacramento Sheriff’s investigator Carl Stincelli and I talked about the case occasionally, but other than that, it was mostly forgotten. In 2008, I moved to Santa Barbara to take over as executive editor of one of the larger business magazines in the country. Little did I know that the move and the 2003 story would later cause me to come under suspicion.
In 2016, the FBI reopened the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist case, and for a reason that remains a mystery, a particular sketch suddenly took center stage in the media and the ever-present Wikipedia page. Although East Area Rapist victims consistently said the man who assaulted them had dark hair and broad features, the sketch is of a blond, Nordic-looking “surfer boy.” Social media trolls, aided by a tabloid television show, soon picked up on the ubiquitous sketch and paired it with the picture of me they found on the back jacket of a book I wrote that was published by Simon & Schuster. The book, “Fatal Deception,” is an exposé on how some international companies knowingly poisoned hundreds of workers with asbestos. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the East Area Rapist case.
Suddenly, though, my distant resemblance to the blond-haired “killer” in the sketch, my connections to the case and my having lived in two of the more than one dozen cities where he struck in California (including Santa Barbara) gave the bumbling internet sleuths all the clues they needed.
For the next two years, I received a number of disturbing and threatening anonymous phone calls, and the online libel grew like poisonous mushrooms. It was upsetting to my friends and family. Some of the phone calls weren’t so funny, but others were like scripts from bad sitcoms. One woman called and wondered if I could just “confess” to her so she wouldn’t have to come all the way to California to “get” me. “All I want is the $50,000 FBI reward,” she said. Another caller said he had narrowed it all down to me, but he hoped we could stay Facebook pals.
There are a number of authentic photographs of the suspect arrested in April, Joseph James DeAngelo, and sketches of the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer by eyewitnesses, yet few ever appear. His victims have expressed anger about this.
After DeAngelo’s arrest in April, I appeared on ABC’s “20/20” special on the case, and the network handled it professionally. The online accusations died away, and I am able to put a finish on this story after 42 years. It is impossible to write this, though, without thinking of the victims—who have shown immense courage and strength and still may have a trial to endure. This should be their time. —Michael Bowker