Southern California

Capital Murder Charges Filed Against Suspected ‘Golden State Killer’ in Southern California

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested early Wednesday on suspicion of murder by police in Sacramento

What to Know

  • The FBI said the "Golden State Killer" is responsible for approximately 45 rapes, 12 homicides, and multiple residential burglaries
  • In 2016, the FBI announced a $50,000 reward and a national campaign to identify the killer
  • The sister of Janelle Cruz, one of the killers last victims, said she received word of an arrest Wednesday morning

Capital murder charges were filed against the suspected "Golden State Killer" in connection with the March 1980 murders of a Ventura County couple, officials said Wednesday.

The charges were filed against 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo, a former officer from the Auburn Police Department, who was arrested Wednesday in Sacramento after a tip from the public and DNA evidence pointed detectives to the suspect, said Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten.

He was charged in connection with the bludgeoning killings of Lyman and Charlene Smith. He was a lawyer. His wife was a court clerk.

The charges include two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances of multiple murders, murder during a rape and burglary, Totten said.

"This 1980 murder has long been a source of fear and angst," Totten said.

The case terrorized California in the late 70s and 80s and left 12 victims dead and 50 women raped across the state.

Investigators linked him to four murders in Orange County.

"We've always believed, at least for many years, that this case would begin and end with DNA," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said. "... Our team is going to work hard to make sure he never gets out."

The emergence of DNA technology in the late 1990s helped local law enforcement link the suspect to four unsolved murders in the Southland, according to Irvine police Sgt. Sarah Tunnicliffe.

"James DeAngelo has been called a lot of things by law enforcement. He's been called the East Side Rapist; the Visalia Ransacker. The Original Night Stalker. The Golden State Killer. Today it's our pleasure to call him defendant," Rackauckas said. 

The first locally known victims were a husband and wife -- Keith and Patrice Harrington -- in Dana Point. They were newlyweds, married just four months. 

Their bodies were found in their home on Aug. 19, 1980 by the Keith's father, two days after they had been killed. They were slain in the gated community of Niguel Shores. There was no forced entry. 

On Feb. 5, 1981, Manuella Witthuhn was found dead in her Irvine home. The last known Orange County victim -- 18-year-old Janelle Cruz -- was found on May 5, 1986, in her Irvine home.

"It is time for the victims to begin to heal, so long overdue," said Bruce Harrington, brother of Keith Harrington. "For law enforcement, bravo, bravo, bravo. Their tenacity, their patience, their unrelenting focus. .... Today is also a reaffirmation of the power and the public safety that's associated with forensic DNA technology."

Harrington worked with the Orange County District Attorney's Office in 2004 to secure the passage of Proposition 69, which expanded the state's criminal DNA database to every convicted felon in California.

The sister of Janelle Cruz, one of the killers last victims, said she received word of an arrest Wednesday morning. Janelle Cruz was killed in 1986 in Irvine. She was only 18 years old.

"I'm so excited and overwhelmed," said Michelle Cruz. "I'm feeling very blessed today and now I will be able to breathe again."

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