• Jim Leach


Updated: Aug 17, 2018

A 72 year old former police officer, Joseph DeAngelo, has been arrested in California. It is alleged he is responsible for 50 rapes and 12 murders beginning in 1976 and lasting until

1987. It is reported police tracked the killer through a genealogy website after he submitted his DNA to the site. It is unknown exactly what information led investigators to the website.

He is believed to have committed up to 120 burglaries in the Visalia California between 1974-1976, earning the burglar the nickname the Visalia Ransacker. The Ransacker liked to steal jewelry and was known to place dishes in a way they would serve as an alarm if someone came in the house while he was doing his business. In later years the Golden State Killer exhibited these same characteristics.

The burglar was known to invade numerous houses in the same neighborhood and hit different homes on consecutive nights. In at least one incident he broke in the same house on different nights. The first time he stole the wife’s underwear and jewelrybut the second time he broke in, nothing was determined to be missing.  During this time period one woman in the neighborhood of the burglaries discovered shoe prints in her yard and the fence gate was left open. In another possibly related occurrence, homeowners found messages written with body fluids on their bedroom window. One woman in the area received silent hang up telephone calls at 8 p.m. every night for a week. The phone calls stopped about the same time the murders began.  It appeared as though he liked to utilize drainage ditches and river levees to sneak up on the residences.

In 1976 DeAngelo went to work for the Auburn CA. Police Department about 75 miles from Sacramento.  Sacramento County suffered almost four dozen rapes from 1976 – 1979. In one case a thirteen year old girl was raped and just a few blocks away a woman was raped while her husband was forced to watch. This sexual predator was dubbed the East Area Rapist. Apparently the rapists “cased” his victim’s homes prior to his attacks. He was known to disable lights and door locks and in some instances hide any weapons that might be used against him. He jumped off roofs and cleared fences to evade capture.

If these crimes were committed by the same person, and apparently authorities believe they were, the criminal fits a commonly observed pattern of evolution in the life of a serial killer. The offender’s crimes may be a means to achieve some sort of sexual gratification by acting out his fantasies. The crimes typically begin with burglaries or maybe arson fires. Most people remember the serial killer David Berkowitz, The Son of Sam killer, because of his murders but he was also known to have set dozens of arson fires. After a while these acts “get old” and don’t provide the rush this individual is trying to achieve and he progresses to sexual assaults.  When he reaches the point where rape doesn’t provide the gratification he seeks, he can turn into a full blown serial killer. These acts of violence are unbelievably vicious and may include bondage, cannibalism, decapitation, sadism, torture, and of course, complete dominance and control.

Many times serial offenders are separated into two broad categories. Some are classified as organized while others are described as being disorganized. Generally speaking, crimes committed by an organized offender are well thought out and planned for a specific target. Many times this offender will collect souvenirs or mementos from his crimes so that he can be reminded of what was done. A disorganized offender typically comes into contact with the right victim in the right situation at the right time, and the attack occurs. The burglaries and rapes described above indicate more of an organized personality. Jewelry and women’s underwear taken in a burglary indicate the collection of souvenirs. Studying the victim’s residence prior to the crime so that lights and locks can be disabled show intensive planning. Writing messages in body fluids and hang up, silent telephones calls are tactics to instill fear in victims. Forcing a man to watch while his wife is raped is obviously an act of dominance and sadism.

The first murders attributed to DeAngelo occurred in Cordova Meadows, CA. in February of 1978. A married couple were shot and killed while walking their dog.

In another instance a college professor was shot and killed trying to rescue his daughter from her abductor.

According to media reports, in 1979, DeAngelo was cited for shoplifting a hammer and some dog repellent. These items could be tools to help him commit his disgusting crimes. Perhaps instead of buying these items, he enjoyed the thrill of stealing them.  When approached about these minor thefts, he became very emotional and put up a fight. He was convicted of shoplifting, placed on probation fined one hundred dollars, and fired from the police department. Following these events he moved back to southern California.

Beginning in 1981 there were a series of murders in southern California continuing until 1986. Investigation indicated the same murderer was responsible for them. The media named the killer The Original Nighstalker. The victims were shot or beaten to death. The final known victim was an 18 year old woman who was raped and bludgeoned to death. In some of the murders, husbands and boyfriends were also killed.

DeAngelo’s mother was a waitress and his father was a welder. He was a Navy veteran and served in Vietnam. In 1973 DeAngelo became a police officer with the Exeter California Police Department which is located about midway between Sacramento and Los Angeles. He was 27 years old. In the same year the killer got married and the marriage produced three daughters and grandchildren. He and his wife separated several years before his arrest.

He worked as a mechanic in a warehouse and was described by co-workers as a “regular Joe”. He retired in 2017 and declared he was going to “do a lot of fishing”. Even though he and his wife were separated, some of his children and grandchildren lived with him. Neighbors are quoted as saying he kept his lawn in “meticulous” condition. The killer drew permanent lines on his driveway to make sure he parked his boat in the right position.

DeAngelo is said to have had anger problems for decades. Once, in 1994, in a dispute involving a barking dog he threatened to “deliver a load of death” to his neighbor. He was known to throw temper tantrums over such things as losing his keys. Acquaintances say he calmed down in the last few years. In recent years the murderer has been described as being “portly”.

Why did the murders stop in 1987? Maybe he reached the level where the killings didn’t satisfy his needs. Perhaps he discovered another way to achieve gratification. It is possible his physical condition prevented him from engaging in intense physical activity.  It could be he will tell us since many of these sadistic killers enjoy talking about their crimes once they are caught.

The author, Jim Leach, formerly served as Director of Criminal Investigations for the Tennessee Highway Patrol. His first book, “You Can Tell ME, a simple guide to effective interviewing”, can be found at

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