Early Bird Rapist
The Sacramento Home Invader
Early Bird Rapist
"The Early bird rapist had a grudge"
During the mid-1970’s in Sacramento, California, the vicious East Area Rapist began a crime spree that lasted some three years. Shortly before he perpetrated his first attack, there was another serial rapist who had been active for several years and was responsible for numerous rapes and attacks in the Sacramento area. It was later determined that a copycat had become involved with the investigation, and may even have committed some of the original crimes. It was long suspected that both the Early Bird rapist and the copycat might have been connected or were the perpetrators of the subsequent East Area Rapist attacks, however this was later discounted. Frustratingly, the investigation lacked enough evidence for any solid convictions, and both would escape justice.
There were numerous serial rapists, burglars and home invaders active in California during the early 1970’s, and many of these crimes went unsolved for decades, some cases have never been adequately closed. Beginning in late-1968, a criminal known as the Exeter Ransacker began a series of burglaries that coincided with those of serial burglar known as the Visalia Ransacker, both of whom are suspected of being the same individual. When the crimes in Visalia stopped, the East Area Rapist (EAR) became active from June 1976 until 1979, committing upwards of 50 rapes and burglaries against lone women and couples. One of the investigators who worked on the EAR task force was detective Richard Shelby, who later wrote a book about the case called Hunting a Psychopath.
In chapter 3, he describes being handed reports “of forty-one victims of a serial rapist known locally as the Early Bird Rapist. He had been active from 1972 to February 4, 1976.” In Chapter 25, Shelby describes EBR as “5ft. 9 inches tall, in his thirties, with a stocky build and a paunch. He preferred to strike in apartment buildings.” At the time there was much confusion over this series of rapes, and those committed by a later copycat, who became known as the ‘Early Morning Rapist’ (EMR). However, the confusion arose from many reports at the time which referred to both serial rapists by the Early Morning nickname, but there were clear distinctions between the two criminals. A composite was made of the EBR, which was published in the Sacramento Bee during the height of his crime spree.
The article states, “the crimes have been committed in the North area of the county in the early morning hours, between midnight and 6 AM during recent months. The suspect forces his way into the victim’s residence, usually an apartment, at knife-point. He threatens the victim with the knife and forces her into sex acts. When leaving, the rapist removes money and some personal item from the victim’s purse. The suspect is Caucasian, 25 to 30 years of age, 5 feet, 8 inches tall, weighs 170 pounds and has brown hair. His hair is thinning on top and starting to recede at the front hairline. It is worn collar length. He is husky.” On February 27, 1974, it was reported that the EBR, referred to as EMR in the article, had been responsible for two assaults after the Bee had placed him on the Secret Witness program which offered a reward for his capture.
These attacks were described by Sheriff’s Detective Captain Jerry Saulter as being committed against two women in the same apartment during the early hours of February 26, near Hurley Wat and Howe Avenue. The article states that these attacks are believed to be the work of the same individual who began a series of rapes in June 1973, however most sources attribute 1972 as the time when the earliest rapes occurred. The attacks were perpetrated against two women, aged 22 and 25, after a man had forced his way into the apartment and threatened them with a long bladed knife. He then tied the hands of one victim behind her back with her stockings and then took turns forcing them into sex acts. Afterwards he stole $5 from a purse and took a plastic glass. It was announced the Bee would pay $1,500 for information leading to the arrest of the suspect.
According to Shelby, the Early Bird suspect was positively identified, however during that time there was no DNA evidence which could implicate someone, making it much more difficult to arrest and hold a suspect. “Our strongest evidence was the suspect’s van seen at the scene and a identification of a DDL photo by a 12-year-old girl,” Shelby said. “All else was flimsy but convincing. Besides it all came from his associates. I chose to turn down a judge’s offer (twice) to sign a warrant. I was right for as soon as it became known we were onto him all of his associates stopped assisting and went to his defense. He was a carpet layer from a town near Sacramento. He moved to White Fish MT. to escape prosecution. Soon after he left the EAR began his campaign of terror. We did not know about the EAR at the time of course but you can bet his attorney would have used that series in his defense when it became known.”
The motivation for the crimes of the Early Bird Rapist is also known to investigators, who suspected he harboured a deep-rooted hatred of the Sac PD. “The Early bird rapist had a grudge against the Sac Sheriff’s Dept. and not women in general. His grudge began when two Sac Deputies arrested him and an accomplice for possession of stolen property. Once when he thought a victim’s boyfriend was a Sheriff deputy, he sat down and waited for him. He fancied himself as pretty tough and assumed he could whip anybody he encountered.” stated Shelby. In April 1976, the Early Bird Rapist suspect, who lived in a near by mountain town suddenly uprooted his family and moved to Montana. This suspect was identified by driver license photo line-up and was conducted by Deputy Ron Smith, Sac Deputy.” The last rape attributed to the EBR happened on February 4, 1976, after that the suspect moved to Montana and was never arrested for these crimes.
It is possible and high likely that the media often confused the crimes of the EBR with those of the EMR, as both rapists were active around the same time. It is possible that June 1973 was when the Early Morning Rapist began his copycat crimes. He was described as the son of a prominent Sacramento resident, and managed to involve himself with the earlier EBR investigation. He was apparently allowed to roam freely throughout the Sac County Sheriff’s Department Investigations unit and had an all consuming interest in those rapes committed by EBR which aroused the attention of Det Shelby. He was apparently very interested in the EBR crimes, and according to Shelby, actually committed some of the crimes attributed to the “early 70’s rapist”. The copycat rapist was believed responsible for committing 36 rapes, and would also evade justice because of a lack of evidence.
Shelby describes him as the son of a prominent local, and the father and son, allegedly EMR, were frequently around the offices of the Sheriff Department. This led many to suspect that EMR and the later East Area Rapist were one and the same. It was long suspected that EAR had knowledge of police procedure, and had a CB Radio tuned into the police band, which helped him to avoid areas that had a police presence. The EAR would also telephone his victims, to gloat or threaten, and somehow had access to telephone numbers, even when they had been changed. Similarly, EAR seemed to realize when the iodine fingerprint test was introduced as he started keeping his gloves on during the assaults and it was believed he was aware of other rapists operating at the same time, and would steer the police in the wrong directions.
Some suspected the EMR and EAR were either the same person, or at the very least knew each other. During the Maggiore double murder in February 1978, which was later linked to the EAR/ONS, investigators believed they were looking for two suspects were seen in the area and witnesses provided descriptions of two men, one of whom was believed to have been the EMR. The EMR suspect, described as a kid, was eventually given a polygraph by Detective Arnie Petty, which he failed badly. Shelby claims there was no evidence, physical or circumstantial, as well as no DNA evidence which would link this this son of a prominent resident to the crimes. As a result he was never charged and walked free. The EAR was eventually identified through DNA Genealogical testing as Joseph James DeAngelo, and was found responsible for the crimes of the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist and the murders attributed to the Original Night Stalker.