On Wednesday, April 25, police in Sacramento County announced they had arrested a 72-year-old man they believe to be responsible for more than 50 rapes and 10 murders in California. The so-called Golden State Killer has also been known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Nightstalker, and the Diamond Knot Killer. Today, it's not just law enforcement who feel satisfied: Thousands of amateur sleuths, including myself and Michelle McNamara, spent countless hours poring over this case.
As with many people, my interest in the case started years ago, on my couch. I caught an Investigation Discovery documentary about the criminal known by the acronym EAR-ONS (e.g. the East Area Rapist who was later known as the Original Night Stalker). I could not believe the ruthlessness of this man, from his brutal crime spree to his taunting of law enforcement. I went on to read Sudden Terror, one of the first of a number of books on the case — and from there, I was hooked.
"As with many people, my interest in the case started years ago, on my couch."
Hunting EAR-ONS became a hobby I pursued outside of my day-to-day career. I'm a licensed mental health counselor in Pennsylvania, and I specialize in trauma, depression, and anxiety. I am also a former United States soldier. In 2013, I felt compelled to create The Original Night Stalker/East Area Rapist Facebook page.
There were so many bizarre elements to this man's crimes. Who makes dinner during the commission of a crime? Who targets both men and women? Who stands around outside without pants on as though he had no care in the world about being caught? Who can commit so many crimes, leaving DNA behind, and is never caught?
Today, more than 40 years after the Golden State Killer first struck, we finally have a suspect under arrest: Joseph James DeAngelo. There are still so many questions to be answered: What will happen to him now? How was he able to evade capture all these years? Is he the Visalia Ransacker, after all? Most importantly: Is it really him?
So, so many of us have spent hours reading books about his crimes and engaging with other amateur sleuths on message boards. We have discussed the case at length with our family and friends, who may or may not have wanted to know these details. We have created Facebook pages and websites to help solve this case.
We've spent hours on something that our family and friends did not understand. I've scared my boyfriend so many times with this case that we laid together holding each other tightly over the smallest sound in the house. I've had acquaintances decide to stop talking to me anymore after I've expressed too much interest in a case. I had a former boss tell me that he was afraid of me because I knew too much about murder.
"Once all of the loose ends are tied up in this case — if they are — will we find other cases to pursue?"
For us, today is the end of an era. It is a satisfying — if unexpected — closure to a hobby many people believed to be bizarre.
And what happens now, I wonder? Once all of the loose ends are tied up in this case — if they are — will we find other cases to pursue? Will another rampant criminal be so hated that thousands of people from all over the world will team up to find him?
Today, we are left with a mixed bag of feelings. The satisfaction of knowing that he has finally been caught goes hand-in-hand with a sense of loss. Where do we go from here?
I believe all of the people I've met through hunting EAR-ONS to be good-hearted folks. My guess is this: We will find another “hobby” that helps others or seeks justice. We will find another way to make the world safer.