Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo—who’s accused of terrorizing communities across California throughout the 1970s and 1980s—was charged with first-degree murder Monday in connection with what police believe was his very first killing, according to CBS News.
The Golden State Killer is suspected of committing at least 12 other murders and 45 rapes in 10 different California counties, earning him a series of names, including the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Diamond Knot Killer, and the Original Night Stalker.
“This community was terrorized by these rampant crimes,” said Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward during a press conference Monday. “In their tenacity, in their violent nature, and in the frequency with which they were occurring.”
DeAngelo, 72, now faces charges related to the murder of Claude Snelling, a journalism professor at College of the Sequoias. Authorities said the murder took place during September 1975, in Visalia, California—a small farming town where they claim DeAngelo progressed from being a “sadistic burglar” to a “notorious serial killer.”
In filing these charges, Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said authorities are confirming what they have long believed: that the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, and the Golden State Killer are one and the same.
“Though 40 years have transpired, and the fear in the community has subsided somewhat, these wounds never healed,” Ward added. “The community was never given justice, and the victims were never given justice.”
On September 11, 1975, a man entered Snelling’s home and allegedly straddled his 17-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Hupp. He then pressed a gloved hand over her mouth and a knife to her neck, according to an account of the murder in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, a book about the Golden State Killer and his crimes.
“You’re coming with me, don’t scream or I’ll stab you,” the man said. When Hupp resisted, he pulled out a gun. “Don’t scream, or I’ll shoot you.”
He began pulling Hupp outside, towards the back door. The noise alerted Snelling, who ran towards his killer, yelling, “Hey what are you doing, where are you taking my daughter?” The man turned and fired his gun, striking Snelling twice. The second bullet tore through his heart and both lungs. He died minutes later.
But he did not die in vain. The killer kicked Hupp three times in the face before sprinting away.
“He’s always been my hero,” she told CBS. “I would not be here today, I'm sure of it, if it hadn’t been for him.”
The handgun used to kill Snelling had been stolen 10 days earlier, in a burglary linked to the Visalia Ransacker. Salazar added Monday that the bike that the murderer used to escape was also missing property, snatched two days earlier from a nearby yard.
“In my heart,” Hupp continued, “I believe he’s the one, and that my father was his first victim.”
Authorities didn’t identify DeAngelo, an ex-cop who lived in the Sacramento area, as the Golden State Killer until this April, when advances in DNA testing allowed detectives to link him with a double murder in Ventura County. The Daily Beast was the first to report that DeAngelo was the suspect arrested on April 25.
Although there isn’t any direct DNA evidence linking DeAngelo to Snelling’s death, Salazar is confident that there’s enough evidence against him to press on with the conviction.
“We have been able to locate victims and witnesses that were able to identify Mr. DeAngelo as the suspect back in that time,” he told CBS Monday morning. He added that “Those crimes were ultimately tied to the murder of Claude Snelling by a firearm that was taken from one of the Ransacker burglaries.”
In Visalia alone, DeAngelo is suspected of committing approximately 100 burglaries, as well as the attempted murder of detective Bill McGowan during their December 1975 confrontation—but none of those crimes can be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations. Salazar confirmed Monday that Visalia police are not investigating any further criminal activity.
Authorities almost apprehended the Ransacker three months after Snelling’s death, Salazar said during the Monday press conference. During a surveillance stakeout that December prompted by a tip from neighbors, McGowan spotted a man breaking into a residence. When he confronted the intruder, the man fired shots, striking McGowan’s flashlight.
The suspect successfully escaped the encounter, Salazar added, but McGowan saw his face. That allowed investigators to develop a detailed composite. After the close call, the Golden State Killer left Visalia. Authorities believe he then moved to the Sacramento area, where he continued his crime spree and eventually became known as the East Area Rapist.
These charges, as well as two murder charges filed in April, are likely only the beginning of the investigation into DeAngelo’s alleged crimes. After 12 years of break-ins, rapes, and murders, the New York Times notes, the attacks finally abated in 1986, for reasons that still remain unknown. His last suspected crime was the rape and murder of 18-year-old Janelle Cruz in Irvine, California.
As the terror subsided and the case proved near-impossible to crack in the decades that followed, interest in the whereabouts of the Golden State Killer diminished.
The case heated up again briefly in 2001, the Times noted, when DNA successfully linked the murders in Southern California with the rapes that happened further north. It drew interest again in 2013, when crime writer Michelle McNamara, the author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, penned an article about the case for Los Angeles Magazine. In 2016, the FBI announced a partnership with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the crimes once more, announcing a $50,000 reward for information that could lead to arrest and conviction.
The breakthrough in the crime was a genealogical miracle, described by the Times as a “Hail Mary” from a district attorney investigator who had monitored the case for 24 years.
The investigator, Paul Holes, was about to retire. But first, he ran DNA swiped from a 1980 double murder in Ventura County through a genealogy website. That led him to DeAngelo’s relatives—and eventually, to DeAngelo himself. Investigators successfully matched DeAngelo’s DNA, taken from objects he left outside his home, with the 1980 sample. They believed they found their man.
Since his arrest, DeAngelo has been held without bail. He has yet to submit a plea in any of his criminal cases.
And although the Golden State Killer has not struck since 1986, DeAngelo’s arrest has left California residents—especially the families of his alleged victims—with a sense of peace.
“I’m just very happy he’s caught,” Hupp told CBS. “He’s a very evil person.”