The Capture of the Golden State Killer – the unusual methods that solved a case decades old

The Golden State Killer was the name given to the perpetrator of at least 12 murders, more than 50 rapes and over 100 burglaries in California between 1974 and 1986. The crime remained unsolved until April 2018 when authorities arrested 72 year old Joseph DeAngelo, a former police office, on 8 counts of first-degree murder.

The story of DeAngelo’s capture is an incredible accomplishment for the local law enforcement. It’s a great example of how modern day technologies can be used to solve crimes decades old, finally bringing justice for the victims, and in this case, both living and deceased, but how exactly did they catch a suspect who hadn’t committed any crimes in over 30 years?

The use of DNA to identify a suspect of a crime is obviously a valuable tool when the suspect is a repeat offender, but very rarely does it identify someone unknown to the police, which happened in this case. Investigators had followed hundreds upon thousands of leads, but DeAngelo was never one of them. An ex police officer, DeAngelo only became the main suspect after investigators used personal genomics website GEDmatch with DNA previously connected to a Golden State Killer crime scene.

The DNA matched with 10 to 20 distant relatives of the Golden State Killer, leading the team of investigators to construct a large family tree. From there, they identified two suspects who would have been in the area during the crimes, the correct age and fitting the descriptions of perpetrator. This left DeAngelo as the main suspect. To definitively test the DNA with that of DeAngelo, investigators needed to obtain DNA from the man himself. To do this they collected items from his bins outside his home and from the drivers side door handle after they followed him to a carpark outside of a department store. Both samples were a match.

This entire process took about 4 months to complete, but wasn’t the only recent re-vamp of the investigation. In both 2011 and 2016, further information on the crimes were released, including new composite sketches and victim testimonies. In 2016, law enforcement announced a $50,000 (£37,445) reward for any information that would lead to the conviction of the Golden State Killer at a press conference in Sacramento, but no substantial leads were given. It wasn’t until investigators decided to adopt the unusual method of tracking DNA through a genealogy website that they received any breakthrough in the case. Within a week of collecting and testing the DNA, DeAngelo was arrested.

Recently, search warrants and arrest documents have been released to the public, painting an even more terrifying picture of the 72 year old. You can take a look at the entire search warrant and affidavit on the link below, but please be mindful, some of the document includes retellings of his heinous crimes. 

Sadly, despite the recent changes in Californian law ending the statute of limitations for reporting rape, because his crimes were committed before this new ruling DeAngelo cannot be charged with the rapes or burglaries. He does, however, face 12 murder charges, which will no doubt be enough to send him to jail for the rest of his life.

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