In July 1979 the East Area Rapist vanished from Northern California where he had conducted a reign of terror, committing over fifty attacks since June 1976. The masked intruder began by raping lone females but soon became more brazen and started targeting couples, often using diamond knots to secure his victims. The rapes were always committed during hot prowl burglaries where the rapist would steal personal effects before escaping. By late 1979, Southern California would experience the emergence of a dangerous and murderous criminal who soon became known as the Original Night Stalker. The killer would target both couples and lone females, securely binding the victims with the distinctive diamond knot before either shooting or bludgeoning them to death. Suspected of ten murders, these crimes along with those of the East Area Rapist and the Visalia Ransacker would eventually be connected to one individual through DNA, making him one of the most prolific criminals in American history.
Southern California is well known for it's warm sunny weather and picturesque pacific coastline where hundreds of thousands flock each year to enjoy the sun, sea and sand. From the thrill-seekers looking to find the best surfing spots at Long Beach and those heading to Los Angeles "the city of Angels", home to the walk of fame on Hollywood Boulevard to the gringos looking to cross the Mexican border into Tijuana, the Golden State is the very definition of the All American Dream. However, by 1979 a vicious killer would surface and begin a reign of terror on the communities of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange Counties, ending in a lasting nightmare for the families of his victims.
The Goleta Incidents (September/November 1979)
The first hunting ground of this killer was the city of Goleta in Southern Santa Babara County, and would see the escalation of a predator who was now fully determined to murder in order to satiate his lust for power and control. On 5 September 1979 a 21-year-old woman was alone at her home on Berkeley Road, when she noticed a man watching her through her window whilst she was getting ready to go to bed, and he promptly ran off when he realised he was seen. The victim contacted police and the incident was later reported in the Goleta Valley News. Just after 02:00am on 1 October 1979, a young couple at 5425 Queen Ann Lane in Goleta were awoken by an intruder shining a flashlight in their faces. He ordered the two out of bed and the woman was forced to tie up her husband at knife-point, and then she herself was bound with twine. The masked man then began to ransack the house, and was soon pacing up and down whilst talking to himself. The couple became alarmed when they overheard the man saying, "i'll kill em, i'll kill em" over and over to himself. When he left the room, the couple took the opportunity to escape and soon the woman's screams caused the man to abort his attack and flee. The couple reported to police they had several instances of a prowler about the property during the previous month of September.
Unbeknown to the authorities in Southern California, a similar incident happened on 05 July 1979 in Danville, Contra Costa County. During this incident, a masked intruder entered the home of a couple and the husband woke from his sleep at 04:30am. He saw in the doorway of the master bedroom, the figure of a man wearing a dark blue vinyl jacket and ski-mask. He was holding shoelaces which dangled from his gloved hands. The husband immediately got up and confronted the man, "who the fuck do you think you are?" he asked him, "what the fuck are you doing here?". As he stepped forward, the masked man took a step backward. When the husband continued to scream at him, his wife awoke. Due to the publicity surrounding the East Area Rapist case, the couple had prepared for such an eventuality and as rehearsed, the husband blocked the path of his wife so she could run downstairs and they both run out the sliding glass doors at the back of the house. The wife began shouting for help and a neighbour called the Sheriff. The couple had a narrow escape but were able to provide detectives with a description of the masked suspect. This would be the last known sighting of the assailant known as the East Area Rapist in Northern California.
On 7 November 1979, another Goleta resident reported to police that she had received a midnight call from a man threatening to kill her. The 28-year-old woman lived at Dartmoor Avenue and told police the man sounded very much like the same person who had called her the previous week and made similar threats. Later that month on 28 November, two homes were broken into on Berkeley Road and ransacked between 10:15am and 3:30pm, however nothing of value was stolen. Other residences on Merida and Hanna drives, which was just south of Berkeley Road were also broken into and ransacked during the same day.
The modus operandi of these particular crimes were well-known in Northern California as the work of two distinct and unsolved crime sprees. A spate of burglaries where little to nothing of value taken was consistent with an offender known as the Visalia Ransacker, a prolific burglar who committed over 120 ransackings in San Joaquin Valley from April 1974 until early 1976, whilst threatening phonecalls and rape of the female victim were the calling cards of the East Area Rapist, who operated from June 1976 until July 1979, and would sometimes contact a victim before and after an attack, often making threats to revisit them. The burglaries and nuisance calls in Southern California where the Northern crimes were largely unknown, were considered isolated incidents, but nothing could prepare detectives for what was to come.
The Murder of Robert Offermann and Debra Manning (30 December 1979)
On the evening of 30 December 1979, 44-year-old Dr. Robert Offerman and his 35-year-old girlfriend Dr. Debra Alexandra Manning were enjoying a quiet evening together at Offerman's condominium at Windsor Court, Goleta. Offerman worked as an orthopedic surgeon and Manning a pyschologist, and whilst the two were in a relationship together, Manning had only just finalised her divorce from her previous husband, who also worked as an orthopedic surgeon. At some point that evening both were brutally murdered. When their bodies were found it presented a confusing scene for investigators who were unsure if the deaths were part of a botched robbery or simply murder. Manning was on the bed with her hands tied behind her back, she had been shot dead. Officers found her jewels stuffed down the side of the bed, possibly by Manning herself who attempted to hide them from the intruder.
Offerman was found slumped on his knees, one hand still tied with bindings, whilst the other was free, with one bullet in his chest and three more in his back. It appeared to detectives that Offerman had managed to break free and lunge at the killer, who then shot him to death. Neighbours reported hearing what sounded like gunshots, which they believed at the time were early new years eve celebrations. There was little evidence left by the killer, but because of paw prints found through-out the house, it was believed he brought what appeared to be a three-toed White German Shepherd dog to the residence, which was fed left-over turkey, whilst a blue-green flake of paint was found on Debra Manning's left big toe.
There was no DNA evidence from the crime, primarily because Manning had not been raped, possibly because the killer was interrupted when Offerman escaped, then the killer panicked and decided to kill Manning outright rather than take the chance someone might have heard the gunshots. A bike belonging to the next door neighbours son was stolen that same night, presumably by the killer who used it to escape then discarded it several blocks away from the crime scene. The empty condo next-door was also broken into and officers found twine inside, which was found to be the same material which had been used on the couple from the aborted attack on 1 October 1979, who narrowly escaped their potential killer.
The property at Berkeley Road where the female resident reported seeing a prowler watching her was located close to the Manning/Offerman condo and it was later learned that during the previous day on 29 December, residents in Goleta reported to police that five burglaries were committed in the same neighbourhood from 16:00pm onwards. Detectives explored into a potential link between the East Area Rapist and the murderer of Offerman and Manning, but could not find enough evidence to connect the two offenders. The theory was discounted because of the escalation from rape to murder, with most investigators believing the East Area Rapist to have been imprisoned for some unconnected crime or was possibly dead.
The Murder of Lyman and Charlene Smith (13 March 1980)
On Sunday 16 March 1980, 12-year-old Gary Smith arrived on his bicycle at the family home to mow the lawns to earn his allowance. His father, 43-year-old Lyman Smith was an attorney and soon-to-be appointed judge, whilst his step-mother 33-year-old Charlene worked as an interior decorator and sold decorative jewellery at tupper-ware parties. The couple had only been married for 5 years and it was believed the union was fraught with arguments, which the neighbours would usually complain about. When Lyman's son arrived at the couple's home at 573 High Point Drive, Ventura County, he found the front door unlocked and proceeded inside where he found his father and step-mother dead in the master bedroom. When police arrived they discovered the couple had been tied-up and viciously beaten to death with a large firewood log that had been taken from the side of the house, and had been dead for several days. Some of Charlene's personal jewellery was missing and presumably taken by the killer, who placed the bed sheets over the bodies before he left the residence.
The coroner determined the Smiths were murdered on Thursday 13 March, several days before their bodies were found, and that Charlene had been raped before her death. It was the belief of detectives that due to the severity of the attack on the Smiths, the killer would have been covered in the victims blood. The killer had tied their hands and feet with drapery cord, using a distinctive diamond knot on Charlene's wrists which immediately caught investigators attention because of how intricate the knot was to tie. This led investigators to begin referring to the perpetrator as the "Diamond Knot Killer" and every effort was made by forensics to determine what exactly happened on the evening on 13 March. The sequence of events were as much a mystery as the murders of Offerman and Manning, and police were unsure who was killed first, or even how the killer gained entry to the property, which was always kept locked. Neighbours reported hearing a muffled scream at around 2-3am, but no-one saw a suspect enter or leave the property.
Detectives from Ventura were not actively looking to link the murder of the Smiths to the same killer of Robert Offerman and Debra Manning in Goleta. It was believed the killers used different MO's, with the Smith being bludgeoned to death with a piece of lumber, whilst the doctors were shot to death. Meanwhile Charlene had been raped before he death while Manning had not been. This use of different methods would set the Goleta murders apart, with investigators believing it an isolated incident. There were several suspects in the Ventura murders, with Charlene's ex-boyfriend considered a potential suspect along with several of Lyman's former business partners who had lost significant amounts of money in previous ventures. One such business acquaintance who lost a considerable amount was Joe Alsip who's fingerprint was found on a drinking glass in the Smith house. Under questioning he admitted he was there the night before the murder, but denied any involvement.
The Murder of Keith and Patrice Harrington (19 August 1980)
Several months later another couple were murdered in their Orange County home under similar circumstances. On 19 August 1980, 24-year-old Keith Harrington and his 27-year-old wife Patrice were found dead at their home on Cockleshell Drive, Dana Point. There was evidence that both victims had been tied-up before being savagely beaten to death. Once again there was no evidence of forced entry, however this time the killer covered the bodies with bedsheets before bludgeoning the Harrington's with some type of metal object which was removed from the crime scene along with the ligatures used to bind the victims wrists and ankles.
The removal of this evidence led some detectives to suspect the killer was attempting to conceal a connection between this crime and that of the murders of the Smiths. The coroner found that Patrice had been raped by the intruder who had left a circular contusion on her shoulder which, was consistent with a bite mark. The Harrington's had only recently been married three months previous and had not lived at the property for long, which belonged Keith's 62-year-old father Roger. Patrice worked as a nurse at Irvine and Keith was a medical student at UC Irvine, and both were well liked in their professions with no known enemies.
The Murder of Manuela Witthun (06 February 1981)
The District Attorney filed charges against Joe Alsip for the murder of Lyman and Charlene Smith and the pre-trial eventually became the longest in the country's history. There was very little evidence against Alsip, besides his bitterness towards Lyman Smith over their failed business and his fingerprint pulled from a glass at the scene. The case against him was eventually dismissed and the real killer eluded capture. The following year, on 6 February 1981, 28-year-old Manuela Witthuhn was found bludgeoned to death in her Columbus, Irvine home. In an all too similar scenario, the victim had been tied up and raped before the intruder beat her to death with some type of weapon before covering the body with bedsheets. The ligatures used to bind Witthuhn's wrists and one ankle and the item used to murder her were nowhere to be found, presumably taken by the killer to conceal evidence.
Police did find a screwdriver with 5 different types of paint at the crime scene, which may have been brought by the killer to gain entrance to the property and it was found that the tape from Witthuhn's answering machine was missing, also presumably taken by the killer. The victim had been home alone at the time of her murder, whilst her husband David was hospitalised with a viral infection. The television from the home had been placed outside in the garden, and detectives believed this was done to make it appear to be a botched robbery which escalated to murder. The autopsy found Manuela had been aggressively raped, and the coroner found a bruise on her buttock which appeared as though someone had punched her there aswell as several small scratches and marks around her mouth which seemed to indicate she had been gagged.
For investigators who were still attempting to connect the murders in Southern California with the rapes committed in Sacramento, the matter of the missing tape from Witthuhn's anserwing machine was significant. The perpetrator in the East Area Rapes was almost complusive in his stalking of victims, often contacting them before and after an attack. This contact was mostly through phone-calls made directly to the victims at their homes, and the rapist displayed an uncanny ability of keeping track of the many different victims he wished to victimise further.
Detectives who believed this was the same individual behind the East Area crimes suspected the killer had left an incriminating message on Manuela Witthuhn's answering machine prior to her murder and removed the recorded evidence along with the ligatures and murder weapon. The killer was covering his tracks, and the murders in Goleta, Ventura and Orange County had not yet been definitively linked to one suspect, despite the common signature which showed the killer craved control over his victims. Still, the consensus was that the murders were not connected and had been committed by different individuals who were possibly involved with the female victims. With no suspects in the Witthuhn murder, it became a cold case.
The Murder of Gregory Sanchez and Cheri Domingo (27 July 1981)
It wasn't long before another double murder occurred in Santa Barbara County with all too similar hallmarks to the Offerman and Manning case. On 27 July 1981, the bodies of 27-year-old Gregory Sanchez and 35-year-old Cheri Domingo were found at 449 Toltec Way when a real estate agent came to check on the house which was up for sale. The Sanchez residence was only several blocks away from Robert Offerman's condominium at Windsor Court and was located in a quiet residential cul-de-sac. Sanchez and Domingo had previously been in a relationship, then broken up several months prior but remained good friends. The victims were found in the master bedroom, with the bedsheets placed over the bodies to prevent blood splatter when the killer bludgeoned them to death. Greg was found slumped in the closet with clothes placed on-top of his body, having been beaten upwards of 24 times about the head before or after he was shot once in the cheek. It did not appear he was bound at any point, and had possibly lunged at the killer who shot him or beat him to death before turning his attention towards Cheri, who was found naked on the bed with ligature marks on her wrists and ankles indicating she had been hogtied.
As with previous cases, the murder weapon and ligatures was missing from the crime scene. Neighbours recalled hearing what sounded like a gunshot at around 03:25am, then what they thought was a scream followed by incessant dog barking for a further 45 minutes. The sequence of events baffled detectives because Cheri Domingo had been raped by the killer, who had bound her intricately in a hog-tie position which would take some considerable time to orchestrate. Officers were unsure if Greg had surprised the intruder, possibly realising it was the same individual who murdered Offerman and Manning and deciding to fight back before he was bound and subdued. If the killer shot Greg Sanchez before he tied Cheri, he would have been taking a great risk that neighbours wouldn't report the noise to police, and it seemed a more likely scenario that Greg was brutally bludgeoned to death before the killer proceeded to tie up and rape Cheri, then bludgeoned her too and then finally shot Sanchez to make sure he was dead.
Unlike most of the other murders committed in Southern California, there were several witnesses to unusual events prior to the murder on Toltec Way. That same evening at around 09:45pm, a neighbour saw a man standing behind a large tree and at approximately 10:00pm another neighbourhood couple saw a man following them, who at one point was approx 6 to 10 feet behind them. They described him as young looking, 5'11", slender, with blond neck length hair. In what would be a significant lead, a mother and daughter were jogging in the area at 11:00pm when they saw a white male standing on the sidewalk behind the Sanchez/Domingo residence. The man appeared to be in his late 20's or early 30's, with neatly cut blond hair and had a German Shepherd dog with him.
This was a clear link to the Offerman and Manning murders, because the perpetrator brought a large dog thought to be a German Shepherd with a missing toe with him to the residence. The two Goleta murders were very similar, with Greg Sanchez also appearing to challenge his killer, much the same way Robert Offerman had done so before his death. This time however the killer had enough time with the female victim to act out his fantasy, securely binding her with cord in what detectives described as an intricate hog-tie which would have take time, something the killer did not have in the Manning murder. After this crime, the suspect became known amongst investigating police as the "Night Stalker".
For those who believed the East Area Rapist and the Night Stalker were once and the same, there was soon confirmation he was still alive. On 21 October 1982, the 24th victim of the East Area Rapist who was attacked on 1 October 1977 received a threatening phone-call almost 5 years after she was raped. The victim was certain it was the same person, who proceeded to tell her, "Hi, its me again, remember me?... I'm going to come over and fuck you again... you're going to suck my cock again". Over the next several years there were no similar murders committed in Southern California from late 1981 through until 1986. Some investigators believed they had seen the last of the killer dubbed the "Night Stalker", and that he would never be caught.
On 24 August 1985, 25-year-old Richard Ramirez was captured in connection with a series of murders committed in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas in what the press nicknamed, "The Night Stalker" murders. Ramirez was eventually found guilty of 13 counts of murder, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of burglary. Although he had no involvement in the Ventura, Santa Barbara and Orange County murders, he was now infamously known as the "Night Stalker", a nickname the press attributed to him before he was identified and apprehended. Because the crimes of the un-apprehended serial killer preceded those of Ramirez, the suspect in those murders now became known as the "Original Night Stalker".
The Murder of Janelle Cruz (04 May 1986)
Eventually the "Original Night Stalker" would return to Southern California and kill again after a five year hiatus. On Sunday 5 May 1986 a real estate agent arrived at the home of the Cruz family at around 5pm because the house was up for sale and found the body of 18-year-old Janelle Cruz. She had been violently raped and beaten to death by an intruder who had covered her body with the bedsheets to prevent blood splatter during what was a vicious attack. Janelle's mother and step-father were on vacation in Mexico and she spent the previous evening of the 4th at home with a male friend who left the property around 10:45pm. Neighbours reported she left the house soon after and returned at 11:15pm. Marks on her wrists and ankles seemed to indicate Janelle had been tied up prior to her death, and the killer had removed the ligatures along with the murder weapon. She was found almost completely nude, with her bra pulled down to her waist and her head covered with the blanket. Her killer had beaten her about the forehead in a frenzied attack which left blood around her neck and shoulders and her step-father told police he believed a missing pipe-wrench had been used as the murder weapon.
For seasoned investigators who were familiar with the case, this murder was a clearly identifiable crime which they instantly attributed to the Original Night Stalker, with both the modus operandi and signature present. It answered the question many detectives had concerning the fate of the unidentified offender, however they were still no closer to pinpointing a prime suspect. After the 1986 murder of Janelle Cruz, nothing more was heard from the Original Night Stalker, he had simply vanished once again, just as the East Area Rapist had done many years before. By 1991 there was another confirmation that the perpetrator of the East Area crimes was still alive when he contacted another of his victims.
One of the earliest attacks which occurred on 18 October 1976 during the evening two victims were attacked one after the other, where a lone female was tied up, blindfolded, gagged and raped twice and sodomised at her home in Carmichael. This seventh victim had moved home and changed her phone number, but the Rapist was still able to make contact, asking her "Do you know who this is?". She told police she spoke with her attacker for one minute and stated she could hear a woman and children in the background, leading to suspicion that he had started a family. Detectives speculated what might have become of the Original Night Stalker, with some believing he was jailed for an unrelated crime or the possibility he had been killed by a home owner whilst attempting a home invasion.
Several avenues of investigation were explored, such as the three-toed German Shepherd dog which was seen by witnesses during the Sanchez/Domingo murder and was present during the Offerman/Manning murder. Officers were able to locate the dog but the lead went cold and it was believed the killer had taken the animal without the owners knowledge. Numerous suspects were considered and then eliminated via DNA from the investigation, which had been preserved from the crime scenes. By 1997 the progression of DNA profiling had advanced to the stage where the samples taken from the various Southern California crimes were definitively linked to a single individual.
The only exception was the Offerman and Manning case, where no DNA was left by the perpetrator so no comparison could be made. By 2001 DNA samples from the Original Night Stalker crimes were tested against samples taken from three of the East Area Rapist attacks, the results came back and what some investigators suspected, the Original Night Stalker and the East Area Rapist were the same individual. And it was strongly suspected the same person was responsible for the crimes in Visalia.
On 6 April 2001 the Sacramento Bee published an article which revealed this revelation to the public, and that same day a victim of the East Area Rapist received a call from someone they identified as the perpetrator. The fourteenth female victim had been home alone of the evening of 8 March 1977, when an intruder broke in and proceeded to tie, blindfold, gag and rape her before rummaging through the house for approx 3 hours before leaving. She recognised the man's voice when he asked her, "Remember when we played?".
This was significant because it proved the offender now implicated in both the series of rapes and murders was still alive, and had either stopped committing crimes or had moved to a different state and was still operating. Detectives were still actively hunting the suspect, even visiting death row in an attempt to locate the Original Night Stalker, who quite possibly was incarcerated. Speculation continued as to the whereabouts and fate of the killer, who was now also suspected of committing a spate of over 100 burglaries from April 1974 until early 1976 by an offender who became known as the Visalia Ransacker. This would make these linked crimes, which were being referred to as the Golden State Killer case, the work of one of the most prolific criminals in American history.
The Arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo (24 April 2018)
The Sacramento police department announced a break in the case on 24 April 2018 when 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested in connection with the Golden State crimes. The arrest was the culmination of a DNA match obtained from the killer's profile from one of the rape cases which was linked via the website GEDmatch. Investigators then search through distant relatives of the DNA profile until they identified DeAngelo as the source of the DNA left at the crimes scenes. DeAngelo was a former officer with Exeter Police in Tulare County from 13 May 1973 until early 1976, during the spate of burglaries and murder of Claude Snelling which were committed by the Visalia Ransacker. Visalia and Exeter are within close proximity to one another and DeAngelo would have had inside knowledge of the case to stay one step ahead of the police investigation.
In early 1976, DeAngelo requested a transfer to the Auburn Police Department, which coincided with the aftermath of the attempted murder of Detective William McGowan by the Visalia Ransakcer that happened on the evening of 10 December 1975, and was the last known sighting of the perpetrator. Auburn is located just North-East of Sacramento and De'Angelo began his posting was not long before the East Area Rapist started his reign of terror throughout Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto and San Jose. By 11 May 1976, Officer DeAngelo was promoted to Sergeant and placed in charge of investigating burglaries and methods to prevent them. He served with the Auburn police throughout the entire series of rapes attributed to the East Area Rapist until he was arrested on 2 July 1979 for shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer from a Citrus Heights drug store. During this incident, DeAngelo was physically restrained by the security staff of the 'Pay & Save' at 6059 Greenback Lane after he attempted to escape. On 5 July 1979, the last official East Area Rapist attack occurred in Danville, during which both victims managed to escape before the female was raped.
On 21 July 1979, DeAngelo is cited for the shoplifting charge and the following month on 29 August, he is fired from the Auburn County Police Force for the shoplifting offence. By this time the East Area Rapist attacks had ceased, and in Southern California the Goleta assault happened on 1 October 1979 where both victims were able to escape and raise the alarm. DeAngelo is sentenced to 6 months probation and a $100 fine on 31 October, whilst later that year the Original Night Stalker began his crimes when he murdered Offerman and Manning. From 1990 until his retirement in 2017, he worked as a truck mechanic for the Roseville distribution centre.
DeAngelo was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder for the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker crimes, which included the murders of Brian and Katie Maggiore, who were shot and killed on 02 February 1978, as well as the murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith, Keith and Patrice Harington, Manuela Witthuhn and Janelle Cruz. On 10 May 2018 he was charged with four additional counts of first degree murder. These related to the Goleta murders of Robert Offerman and Debra Manning and Gregory Sanchez and Cheri Domingo. Eventually DeAngelo was charged with a thirteenth murder on 13 August 2018, that of Claude Snelling who was shot and killed by the Visalia Ransacker on 11 September 1975 and if convicted, he faces either the death sentence or life without parole.
Written by Nucleus