'Golden State Killer' Suspect Identified as 72-Year-Old Ex-Cop Who Was Fired For Allegedly Stealing
The Golden State Killer was linked by DNA and method to 12 murders, 45 sexual assaults and more than 120 burglaries from Sacramento to southern California’s Orange County
At a Wednesday press conference, police identified the suspect as Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, a former police officer in both Visalia and Auburn who was fired for allegedly stealing and last worked as an officer in 1979.
A police source previously told PEOPLE DeAngelo had been living Citrus Heights, a Sacramento suburb, and police said at a press conference that he has adult children. He was booked into jail early Wednesday, according to jail records.
DeAngelo is charged with capital murder in four killings: The Feb. 2, 1978, slayings of Brian and Katie Maggiore and the March 1980 slayings of Lyman and Charlene Smith.
But police believe he killed many more people. Over a 10-year-period — from 1976 to 1986 — the Golden State Killer was linked by DNA and method to 12 murders, 45 sexual assaults and more than 120 burglaries from Sacramento to southern California’s Orange County.
The police source tells PEOPLE that DeAngelo was caught through “sophisticated” DNA analysis, but says he was not on the radar of police until recently. At the press conference, police said DeAngelo was linked to DNA evidence over the past six days.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said that authorities surveilled DeAngelo and recovered “discarded DNA” that allegedly confirmed the suspect’s connection to the killings.
Jones said, “Very possibly he was committing crimes during the time he was employed as a peace officer, and obviously we are looking into whether he was on the job.”
According to jail records, DeAngelo is being held at the Sacramento County Mail Jail. He is 5-feet-11-inches and weighs 205 lbs., according to the records.
The killer’s victims ranged in age from 13 to 41 and included women at home alone or with their children or husbands.
The attacks began in Sacramento in 1976 with the June 18 rape of a woman in the Rancho Cordova-Carmichael neighborhood.
• For more on the Golden State Killer, watch People Magazine Investigates: Golden State Killer Caught, airing Friday, April 27 at 10 p.m. and Sunday, April 29 at 8 p.m. on Investigation Discovery
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The attacker wore a ski mask and would pry open windows and doors of homes of single women or couples. Once inside, he would enter the bedroom and shine a flashlight into his victims’ eyes.
In 2016, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert described to PEOPLE the killer’s distinctive, meticulous method:
“He wore a mask and he was very good at what he did. He would pick out more affluent communities. There were claims he would target homes that were up for sale. Oftentimes it was a husband and wife at home. He would come prepared. He would have shoelaces and a mask.
“He would bring the shoelaces with him and then he would tie up the husband and put him on his stomach, and put teacups or plates on his back and take the woman off and rape her. He did that with the man because he could then hear the guy if he moved. It was very distinctive.”
‘We Were Looking for a Needle in a Haystack’
In 2016, authorities began publicizing the search nationally in advance of the 40th anniversary of his first attack.
“The answer is out there somewhere,” Schubert told PEOPLE in 2016. “It is a case that needs to be solved because these women and these families deserve the answers and the person if alive needs to be brought to justice. It has been 40 years of this.”
At the press conference, Schubert said, “We all knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack but we all knew the needle was there…. We found the needle in the haystack and it was right here in Sacramento.”
After the arrest, Jane Carson Sandler, who survived a sexual assault by the killer, told PEOPLE, “I am speechless. Almost sick to my stomach because I am so excited. It is a dream come true.”
Michelle Cruz, whose sister Janelle Cruz was killed in 1986, told PEOPLE, “I don’t even know what to think. I am so excited.”
According to jail records, DeAngelo is ineligible for bail.
It was not immediately clear if he has an attorney who could comment on his behalf.