DNA Helped Golden State Killer Investigators Find 'Needle in the Haystack' - NBC Southern California

DNA Helped Golden State Killer Investigators Find 'Needle in the Haystack'

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

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    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

    A tip from the public and DNA evidence pointed detectives to a man who was taken into custody overnight in the decades-old Golden State Killer case, authorities said Wednesday. 

    The tip followed renewed attention stemming from a book and recent documentary about the series of rapes, slayings and residential burglaries across California that began in the mid-1970s, law enforcement officials told NBC4. The tip and DNA evidence from two 1978 killings in Sacramento led to the arrest Wednesday of 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo, who appears to fit the description of the elusive California killer.

    "We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento," Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said Wednesday, when authorities announced the arrest.

    She said the "answer was always going to be in the DNA."

    Click the image to see a larger map of the Golden State Killer's crime spree.
    Photo credit: FBI

    The former police officer was arrested early Wednesday on suspicion of murder by police in Sacramento. DeAngelo was being held without bail in the Sacramento County Main Jail, according to records.

    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."

    NBC Affiliate KCRA said FBI agents and other law enforcement officials were outside a home in the Citrus Heights area of Sacramento County where property records showed DeAngelo lived for at least two decades. The suspect, also known as the East Bay Rapist, was described as a white male and thought to be currently between the ages of 60 and 75 years old, and approximately 5'10" tall, according to the FBI.

    The FBI said the killer is responsible for approximately 45 rapes, 12 homicides, and multiple residential burglaries between 1976 and 1986 in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles area. The crime spree appears to have started in the summer of 1976 with a series of burglaries and rapes in Rancho Cordova, a suburb of Sacramento. The suspect would pry open a door or window and awaken victims with a flashlight and then tie them up. At times, their attacker would call the victims on the phone later.

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

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    Investigators are trying to find "The Original Night Stalker," a man believed to be responsible for at least 50 rapes and 10 homicides throughout California in the 1970s and 1980s. Kim Baldonado reports from Goleta for NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2013.
    (Published Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013)

    The first Southern California victims were a husband and wife -- Keith and Patrice Harrington -- in Laguna Niguel. Their bodies were found in their home on Aug. 19, 1980, Tunnicliffe said. On Feb. 6, 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.

    The DNA tests in the late 1990s also helped investigators link the suspect to murders in Ventura and the Santa Barbara area, according to Tunnicliffe, who said the suspect appears to have been inactive from July 1981 through 1986 when Cruz was killed. Investigators theorize he may have been out of the country or in another state during that period.

    In 2016, the FBI announced a $50,000 reward and a national campaign to identify the killer.

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