To Kevin Tapia, his longtime next-door neighbor Joseph James DeAngelo appeared to be a “crotchety old man” who was “a little bit different,” with a pristine front yard and a tendency to boil over at others.
DeAngelo kept odd hours, Tapia says, working at night in his garage and — strangely — he could sometimes be heard screaming obscenities to himself.
“When we were kids, he would yell at us because he thought we were looking over the fence at him,” Tapia remembers.
Another time, when a broken water valve leaked from Tapia’s family’s property into DeAngelo’s backyard, the older man “came up banging on the door and screaming at my mom about something simple instead of just saying, ‘Did you know it was broken? Can you fix it?’ He was aggressively screaming.”
But in all the years in the neighborhood, Tapia never once suspected DeAngelo could be the Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker and one of the country’s most notorious murderers.
Like others who’ve known DeAngelo for years as their neighbor, Tapia says he was “shocked” by the news this week that DeAngelo is accused of being responsible for the Golden State Killer’s 12 murders, 45 sexual assaults and more than 120 burglaries committed in California between 1976 and 1986.
“No one thinks their next-door neighbor is a serial killer,” Tapia says.
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DeAngelo — a 72-year-old mechanic and former police officer with three adult daughters — is charged with capital murder in eight of the Golden State Killer slayings. It is unclear if he has retained an attorney who could comment on his behalf. He has not entered a plea.
Police say he is suspected of at least four more homicides, but charges have not yet been filed. Authorities say he was caught through “innovative” DNA technology but was not on the radar of police until recently.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said DeAngelo was “very surprised” when he was arrested outside his Citrus Heights home on Tuesday.
Before DeAngelo was taken into custody at 5 p.m., authorities “developed a plan” to wait for him to come outside, Jones said.
“And so when he came out of his residence, we had a team in place that was able to take him into custody,” Jones told reporters. “He was very surprised by that. It looked as though he was searching his mind to execute a particular plan he had in mind … but he was not given the opportunity.”
A History of Run-ins With Neighbors
Tapia and other neighbors who spoke with PEOPLE say DeAngelo’s temper was a known trait — as were his blow-ups.
“One time I was out mowing the lawn and he ran out of his house and ran up the hill and he jumped on the fence and he started screaming at me to stop mowing my lawn,” recalls Sonja Gorman, who lived behind him. “It scared me. Why is anyone that upset? I didn’t want to pay for a lawn service so I was mowing it before I went to work. It was not unreasonable. It was probably about 7:30 in the morning.”
Another time, according to Gorman’s son, Grant Gorman, their family received an anonymous threatening message about their pet Rottweiler, complaining that it barked too much.
If it didn’t stop, this person warned, the Gormans were promised “a load of death.”
Despite the lack of a name or number, Grant says his dad “instantly” recognized the caller as DeAngelo.
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“He asked Joe if he did it, and Joe admitted to doing it,” Grant claims. “A lot of expletives later, they walked away from each other. It was a heated moment.”
DeAngelo’s house turned into a “no-go zone,” given his demeanor, Grant says.
As Tapia did, Sonja Gorman recalled DeAngelo’s recurring habit of working through his anger publicly.
“He was always angry,” she says. “He would be talking to himself and angry in the backyard. … He used to talk to himself in the backyard and walk in circles.”
Others in the DeAngelo family were not so forbidding, however. “The children were fine,” Sonja says. “His wife seemed nice, but he wasn’t a friendly person. It wasn’t good. We weren’t comfortable around him.”
The last time Sonja remembers seeing DeAngelo was a week or two ago: “It seemed like he was always home and doing improvements on the house all the time.”
Tapia says he last saw DeAngelo a few weeks ago riding his bike around the neighborhood. DeAngelo stopped him and they chatted briefly because DeAngelo said he had a question for another neighbor who was handy with motorcycles.
DeAngelo was “cordial,” remarking on how quickly Tapia’s children had grown, Tapia says.
For all of his off-putting and aggressive behavior, the idea that DeAngelo could be a killer has come as a surprise to Sonja — the way such revelations of a local’s suspected dark side often shock other residents.
Sonja was a college student during the Golden State Killer’s string of rapes. “I remember all of that, and then to find out he was the person who lived behind me — I raised my children right there. I had his daughter and him to the house,” she says.
“The ramblings of that crazy man I knew as a young man turned out to be much more than whimsical memories,” says Grant, Sonja’s son. “It was a really dangerous situation we were in and we didn’t know about.”
Now that DeAngelo has been arrested, unexplained behavior in the neighborhood is cast in a darker light.
Tapia wonders if he had anything to do with several cats that have mysteriously disappeared “in the last three or four years.”
“[It] makes you raise your eyebrows, when you think of serial killers and animals,” Tapia says.
Raising a question with no comforting answer, Sonja says: “I can’t fathom how he hid in the community.”