WASHINGTON — On her way home after a day with her granddaughter, Carol Daly wasn’t expecting a call from Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
Daly had retired from her job as a detective with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office in 2001. When Jones called on April 24, she certainly didn’t expect to hear that an arrest was made in one of the biggest unsolved cases in her career – a string of rapes and murders in the Sacramento area – that went unsolved for over 40 years.
“Actually, my first impression was maybe someone got arrested and used my name, because that has happened,” Daly said of the phone call. “He said, ‘Carol, we want you to be one of the first to know we’ve just arrested the East Area Rapist,’ and I said ‘You’re kidding.'”
The East Area Rapist, also known as the Golden State Killer, terrorized California in the 1970s and 1980s. It is estimated he committed at least 12 murders and 50 rapes before stopping without a trace in 1986.
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office arrested Joseph DeAngelo, 72, as a suspect for the rapes and murders. Detectives tracked him down through a relative’s DNA that was submitted through a genealogy website.
Daly said DeAngelo was never a suspect until the DNA match.
“Never, in the 40 years of officers investigating this case, in all of the multiple jurisdictions … not once did his name come up on the radar,” Daly said. “We had suspects that matched the profile, that matched the physical description, and they were all eliminated. We’d get excited, then we’d get let down, for 40 years.”
She said investigators suspected along the way that the East Area Rapist had experience in the police or military. His crimes crossed jurisdictions often, making the case more difficult for investigators.
When DeAngelo was arrested, they discovered those suspicions were true; DeAngelo was a police officer for six years in the 1970s.
“Knowledge of police helped him avoid capture,” Daly said. “We had no idea [that he was police], it’s just that he knew everything we were doing.”
When DeAngelo was on his crime spree in the 70s and 80s, Daly said there was a tremendous amount of pressure on law enforcement to catch him. She said everyone was frustrated and tired that the sheriff’s office hadn’t apprehended him yet.
“Prior to this, Sacramento was just a little, quiet community. You didn’t have to worry about things,” Daly said. “Once the word got out about the East Area Rapist … locks flew out of the hardware stores, people were putting in alarms … gun sales soared.”
Daly said when the East Area Rapist stopped his string of rapes and murders, all of the detectives had theories about what had happened to him.
“A lot of people thought he was in prison or moved away,” Daly said. “I never felt he went to prison, [because] they do DNA on everyone in prison; I felt he lost his ability.”
She thought he was no longer strong enough to control his victims or agile enough to escape. During the height of his crimes, he was able to seemingly disappear into thin air when patrol officers spotted him, Daly said. If he wasn’t able to do that anymore, then she suspected he might have just stopped entirely.
“There were always cold case investigators following up tips, so it never went cold,” Daly said. But even without any leads or any new crimes, the East Area Rapist was still in the minds of his numerous victims.
Daly said she was able to give news of DeAngelo’s arrest to six of the victims, people she had remained in touch with over the years.
“‘I am going to be able to sleep tonight,'” was the response from one victim, Daly said. “After 40 years, to be able to say that ‘I am finally going to be able to sleep through the night’ was very telling about what the victims have gone through.”
Daly said not a night has gone by that she hasn’t thought about this case, either. She said it is a very different feeling to leave her house now, knowing that she won’t come face-to-face with the East Area Rapist.
“All these years, we’ve had this face, this young face, in the media, and all of these years, we always thought about someone who was young, who was agile, who was able to do all of these things,” Daly said. “And it was just so surreal to see him arrested and know that he’s just five years younger than me, he’s an old man.”
Regarding the legal case, Daly said she is confident DeAngelo will be convicted of the murders. The statue of limitations has passed for the rape cases, but she is certain the homicides will put him in prison after all this time.
However, she said some victims have expressed concerns about DeAngelo getting convicted and the DNA match holding up in court.
“I told them, ‘Don’t worry about it, this guy is not going to go free,'” Daly said. “I have total confidence in the current investigators.”
For Daly, the East Area Rapist case never closed, but it was starting to seem hopeless. She said just a few days before the announcement of the arrest, she had been emailing her former partner, Richard Shelby, about the case.
“If we don’t catch him by January of 2019, he’s never going to be caught,” Daly said she emailed to Shelby. Just days later, she got the call about DeAngelo’s arrest.
“It went like wildfire,” Daly said of news of the arrest.
WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.
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