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The arrest of Joseph DeAngelo in connection with the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer cases.

Media: San Francisco Chronicle

Editor's note: This story was written prior to April 25 reports of an arrest related to the crimes. 

When he broke into the Goleta condo of Robert Offerman and his girlfriend Debra Alexandria Manning on Dec. 30, 1979, he’d already committed dozens of rapes in Northern California.

He was pathologically meticulous. Law enforcement knew he stalked his victims, usually choosing single women who lived in one-story homes. In previous cases, he’d broken into the home when it was unoccupied to prep the scene, removing bullets from guns, disabling lights and learning the layout of the house.

But something went wrong that night. Offerman, whose hands were bound, managed to break free. Police think he attacked the intruder. He shot both Offerman and Manning dead.

MORE:  Suspect reportedly held in crimes linked to Golden State Killer and East Area rapist cases. 

When police searched the house the next morning, one detail stuck out to them: The couple’s Christmas turkey leftovers had been taken from the refrigerator and eaten.

The killer stayed for a snack.

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The man who killed Offerman and Manning remains one of the state — and the nation’s — most frightening unidentified serial killers. Known alternately as the East Area Rapist, Golden State Killer and Original Night Stalker, his statistics are hard to fathom: at least 12 murders and 45 rapes spanning from 1976-86. There were victims in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Sacramento, Yolo, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

Like most serial killers, his career was marked by rapid escalation. Police suspect him in more than 150 residential break-ins in the state. He probably started small, peeping in windows and breaking into empty homes. As he grew bolder, so did his crimes.

He likely lived, at least initially, in the Sacramento area, which he terrorized from 1976-78. He’d sometimes go out night after night, targeting houses mere yards apart to maximize fear in the neighborhood.

During that time, he developed one of his most sadistic signatures. If he chose a home with a couple living inside, he would sometimes incapacitate the man first, binding him with strips of towels or shoelaces and putting him face-down on the ground. He would get a stack of dishes from the kitchen, carefully balancing them on the man’s back. The killer would warn the couple that if he heard a plate drop — or even rattle — he’d kill them both. Then, he'd start raping the woman.

MORE: Police probe potential links between Golden State Killer and Australian murder spree

Because the Golden State Killer left so many victims alive, there are a patchwork of clues, each more chilling than the next. One Santa Barbara victim in 1979 told police he left her in the living room and stomped around the house, looking through the kitchen and chanting, “I’ll kill ‘em, I’ll kill ‘em” to himself. One investigator said it was like “a guy pumping himself up for an athletic endeavor.”

Sometimes victims said he left the room to cry in another part of the house. Occasionally he talked about his mother, once sobbing “mummy” over and over again. Trips to the kitchen were not uncommon; he paused during one rape to get himself a slice of apple pie.

He fed off his victims’ terror in another horrifying way: Calling their house, sometimes years later. A number of victims reported receiving an unusual number of wrong-number or hang-up calls shortly before the attack. Others picked up the phone to hear heavy breathing on the other end. In one call, he whispered, “Gonna kill you” to a rape victim. Police think the Golden State Killer got their phone numbers from prior break-ins; rotary phones in the 1970s had the home phone number printed on them.

And there's a letter. In 1977, the Sacramento Bee, city mayor's office, and KVIE 6 television station all received a poem called “Excitement’s Crave." Although it's never been conclusively determined to be the work of the killer, many believe it's authentic.

Part of it read:

Sacramento should make an offer.

To make a movie of my life

That will pay for my planned exile.

Just now I' d like to add the wife

Of a Mafia lord to my file.

Your East Area Rapist

And deserving pest.

See you in the press or on T.V.

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Original Night Stalker
From October 1979 to May 1986, he added the nickname "Original Night Stalker." During this period, he raped and murdered victims in Santa Barbara County, Ventura County and Orange County. This nickname is a play on serial killer Richard Ramirez’s nickname, "The Night Stalker," since in both cases the crimes committed by these men were similar in scope. Photo: Connor Radnovich / The Chronicle
Photo: Connor Radnovich / The Chronicle
Original Night Stalker

From October 1979 to May 1986, he added the nickname "Original Night Stalker." During this period, he raped and murdered victims in Santa Barbara County, Ventura County and Orange County. This nickname is a play on serial killer Richard Ramirez’s nickname, "The Night Stalker," since in both cases the crimes committed by these men were similar in scope.

The case, long overshadowed by more high-profile California killers like Zodiac or Richard Ramirez, has recently received a resurgence of attention, thanks largely to the work of true crime writer Michelle McNamara. McNamara dedicated years to researching the case and coined the moniker Golden State Killer; a book about the suspect, published posthumously after McNamara's sudden death in 2016, was recently released.

In 2016, the FBI and Sacramento law enforcement held a press conference marking the 40th anniversary of the first attack, hoping to drum up new leads.

"Obviously, with the 40th anniversary, this is a time we want to take to acknowledge this serial offender who was probably one of the most prolific, certainly in California, possibly in the United States, but also to let the victims know that we'll never give up," said Sgt. Paul Belli, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department detective assigned to the case.

This is what law enforcement believes they know about the Golden State Killer:

He was white and, if he’s still alive, he’s probably around 70 years old. Victims reported he was approximately 5-foot-9, had light-colored hair and was in good physical shape, as he was able to flee scenes on foot or bike. There are a few composite sketches of the suspect, but because he wore masks during his crimes, they could simply be innocent bystanders who were in the area at the time.

At at least one crime scene, he wore size 9 Adidas shoes, and he generally chose victims from upper-middle-class or affluent communities. He took souvenirs from his victims, like engraved wedding bands, identification cards and personalized cufflinks.

Retired Sacramento County sheriff's detective Richard Shelby, an original investigator on the East Area Rapist cases, thought the killer might have married and had children.

"He called one of the victims," Shelby said in 2001. "It was 1990 or 1991. She talked to him for a minute. She could hear kids in the background and a woman."

From May 1976 until the summer of 1977, he operated primarily in Rancho Cordova, Citrus Heights, Sacramento, Carmichael and Orangevale. In September, he was sighted in Stockton, before returning to the Sacramento area through the middle of 1978. From June to July 1978, there were attacks in Davis and Modesto. He took a three-month break, and then returned, this time in the Bay Area.

Concord, San Ramon, Danville, Walnut Creek, San Jose, Fremont and Rancho Cordova all reported attacks from 1978-79. Then, he moved further south, killing in the Goleta and Irvine areas before disappearing entirely in 1986.

The FBI urges anyone with a clue in the case to call their hotline at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324). You can also submit tips online