SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A former police officer is suspected of being an elusive serial killer who police say committed at least 12 homicides, 45 rapes and dozens of burglaries across California in the 1970s and 1980s, officials announced Wednesday. Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested Tuesday, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said.
Sacramento County jail records show DeAngelo was booked overnight and was ineligible for bail. The FBI says it has a team gathering evidence at a Sacramento-area home linked to DeAngelo.
Despite an outpouring of thousands of tips over the years, his name had not been on authorities' radar before last week, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said.
"We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we also knew that needle was there," Schubert said. "We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento."
In the last six days, DNA analysts at the crime lab offered up a break in the case, and a warrant was issued for DeAngelo in two 1978 murders in Sacramento County, Schubert said. Schubert said the "answer was always going to be in the DNA," and the connection came in the slayings of Brian and Katie Maggiore.
She said the case forever altered a time of innocence in the community.
"For anyone that lived here in this community in Sacramento, the memories are very vivid," Schubert said. "You can ask everyone who grew up here -- everyone has a story."
Countless victims have waited decades for justice, she said.
DeAngelo was employed as a police officer by two different departments, in Exeter, California, from 1973 to 1976 and in Auburn from 1976 to 1979, when he was fired, Jones said. The termination came after he was arrested for stealing a can of dog repellent and a hammer from a drug store, according to Auburn Journal articles from the time.
Jones said it's believed DeAngelo committed the crimes during the time he was employed by the departments, but authorities are still looking into whether he committed any crimes while on duty. In a statement, the Auburn Police Department confirmed his employment and termination and voiced its commitment to supporting prosecution.
"We will pull out all the stops for our Sacramento-area law enforcement partners in this horrific and historic case," the statement said.
Jones said officials conducted surveillance on DeAngelo and used a discarded item to make the DNA match to the string of crimes. He said officials got information about his routine and developed a plan to wait for him to come out of his residence, and when he came outside, a team took him into custody.
"He was very surprised by that," Jones said.
Jones said DeAngelo has adult children, but wouldn't comment further on his family. He said authorities have interviewed his family members, and the arrest came as "quite a shock" to them.
Alameda County District attorney Nancy O'Malley said officials have linked the rapes, murders and robberies to DeAngelo either through DNA or through modus operandi. The crimes stretch across 10 California counties, Schubert said.
Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten said he has charged DeAngelo two counts of murder for the March 1980 killings of Lyman and Charlene Smith in their Ventura County home. The charges include special circumstances of multiple murders, murder during the commission of a rape and murder during the commission of a burglary.
Totten says prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the former police officer. He said the crime spree "literally struck terror" in the hearts of residents.
"We will, God willing, hold this man fully accountable for his crimes," he said.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus said DeAngelo is accused in his county in the 1980s murders of Keith and Patrice Harrington, the 1981 murder o Manuela Witthuhn and the 1986 murder of Janelle Cruz.
"Finally after all these years, the haunting question of who committed these terrible crimes has been put to rest," Rackauckus said.
Bruce Harrington, the brother of murder victims Keith and Patrice Harrington, who were beaten to death in their Dana Point home, applauded law enforcement for their commitment to solving the "staggering" crime spree.
"Sleep better tonight, he isn't coming through the window," Harrington said. "He's in jail, and he's history."
Jane Carson-Sandler, who was sexually assaulted in California in 1976 by a man believed to be the so-called "East Area Rapist," said she received an email Wednesday from a retired detective who worked on the case telling her about the arrest.
"I have just been overjoyed, ecstatic. It's an emotional roller-coaster right now," Carson-Sandler, who now lives near Hilton Head, South Carolina, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I feel like I'm in the middle of a dream and I'm going to wake up and it's not going to be true. It's just so nice to have closure and to know he's in jail."
"48 Hours" investigated the case in the episode, "The Golden State Killer. The late true crime writer Michelle McNamara, the wife of comic Patton Oswalt, was on the hunt for the killer and writing a book on the case at the time she died on April 21, 2016. The broadcast featured Oswalt's first in-depth television interview about his wife's reporting on the case. The book, "I'll Be Gone in the Dark," was published in February.
Jones said he's fielded questions from "all over the world" about the new book, but he said it didn't lead to the arrest.
"The book kept interest and tips coming in, but other than that, there was no information extracted from the book that led to the arrest," Jones said.
As the assailant committed crimes across the state, authorities called him by different names. He was dubbed the East Area Rapist after his start in Northern California, the Original Night Stalker after a series of Southern California slayings, and the Diamond Knot Killer for using an elaborate binding method on two of his victims.
Most recently called the Golden State Killer, he has been linked through DNA and other evidence to scores of crimes.
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