How Police Caught The Suspected Golden State Killer Decades After The Case Went Cold

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After a 40-year search, authorities say they've finally identified and apprehended the suspected Golden State Killer, a man accused of committing 12 murders, 45 rapes and 120 home burglaries in California during the 1970s and '80s. The suspect was arrested on Wednesday morning, according to ABC 7 News, and is now in police custody. But given that he eluded authorities for decades, how was the suspected Golden State Killer finally caught?

Law enforcement identified the suspect as Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former police officer. He was reportedly arrested by Sacramento police on Wednesday morning in Ventura County, California on two murder charges. He's currently being held without bail in Sacramento County Main Jail, according to the local sheriff's department.

"The answer is, and always was going to be, in the DNA," Sacramento County District Attorney Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a press conference Wednesday. "We all knew as part of this team that we were looking for a needle in a haystack. But we also all knew that the needle was there." Schubert said that over the last six days, the city's DNA analysts "found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento."

Sacramento Sheriff Scott R. Jones said that "discarded" DNA evidence was key to identifying the suspect, while Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten lauded the "brilliantly executed apprehension of DeAngelo" by Sacramento law enforcement.

The first crime attributed to the Golden State Killer — also known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and the Diamond Knot Killer —was the 1976 rape of a woman in her home in northern California. Over the next five years, dozens of additional rapes, 12 homicides and over 100 home burglaries in northern and southern California were linked to the Golden State Killer. For reasons that remain unclear, he appears to have stopped his crimes abruptly in 1986.

The perpetrator was initially known as the East Area Rapist, and committed his first wave of crimes in northern California. He appears to have located to Southern California around 1979, however, when a spat of similar rapes and murders were reported around Los Angeles and Santa Barbara that fit the general pattern of the northern California crimes. It wasn't until 2000, however, that investigators were able to formally link the two crime waves with DNA evidence, suggesting that the same man — the Golden State Killer, as he soon came to be known — was responsible for both.

“He covered his trail very well,” Paul Holes, a former investigator for the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office who worked on the case, told the Today Show in March. “What he didn’t account for was DNA technology.”

In addition to various law enforcement figures, Wednesday's press conference also featured a speech by Bruce Harrington, whose brother and wife were killed by the Golden State Killer in 1980.

"It is time for all victims to grieve, and to take measure, one last time," said Harrington." To bring closure to the anguish that we've all suffered for the last 40-some odd years. It is time for the victims to begin to heal — so long overdue."

After his family members' deaths, Harrington became an activist focused on expanding and promoting the use of DNA databases in criminal investigations. In 2004, he successfully lobbied California voters to pass Proposition 69, which requires that a DNA sample be taken from everybody arrested for a felony in the state. Previously, only people who had been convicted of one of 30 specific felonies were required to submit DNA evidence to law enforcement.