Joseph James DeAngelo at his arraignment (dailymail.co.uk)
It’s 1:45 on the afternoon of Friday, April 27th in Sacramento, California, when a monster is wheeled into a crowded courtroom.
He sits in a daze, slow eyes glazed over and rising only halfway to meet his surroundings. His mouth, agape, drips a strand of drool. At first glance you’d think him a victim – the aging codger looks tortured, frightened, out of sorts and disoriented, and he maybe is all of these; but a victim he is not.
When addressed he responds in near-silence, barely hissing single-word replies of a high-pitch tone not unlike that of a wounded cat.
It’s all an act. It always has been with him.
For the first time since the mid-1970s, Joseph James DeAngelo does not have a fence to hop over or a glass door to quietly slide open. He’s not wearing a gray cloth mask with small slits for his eyes and a hole for his mouth; his face – in all of its dumbfounded glory – is finally sweating unmasked under a light for all to see. Instead of dark clothing to blend into the night, DeAngelo dons a jumpsuit whose neon orange demands the attention of everyone. And, perhaps most importantly, he is wearing pants – no more standing menacingly in open doorways, with hairy legs and an infinitesimal pecker exposed.
The script he had once used for over a decade has been rewritten – reality no longer follows his pen. The jig is up, the show is over – yet his act still goes on. But the bluff is called. Paul Holes, a retired investigator with twenty-four years’ experience pursuing DeAngelo, expresses doubt: “No, no, no, no. This guy was moving around like a young 50-year-old. He was riding his motorcycle, bombing down the freeway at over 100 miles per hour. Stop signs are optional for this guy.”
DeAngelo’s neighbors say they had seen him building furniture just days ago. This is a man who is only “inactive” if compared to how active he had once been, forty odd years ago.
But you don’t have to be a neighbor or to have pursued him for two decades in order to see that Joseph James DeAngelo is full of crap. All you need to know is the long and terrible story which only recently got its much-needed happy ending.
The Golden State Killer, the Visalia Ransacker, the Diamond Knot Killer, the East Area Rapist, and the Original Night Stalker. These were the names given to Joseph James DeAngelo – names used to describe a carnal beast terrorizing small cities up and down California in the mid-‘70s-and-‘80s. Before he played the victim being wheeled toward deserved fate, Joseph James DeAngelo had been a monster. He stalked women – teenagers, widows, estranged wives and single college girls – often for days, possibly weeks – studying their routines and learning the moments of which they were most vulnerable. After the crime was committed, authorities might find boot prints dug into the mulch outside the bedroom windows of his victims. He drove by their homes nightly, turned his head and sped away if spotted, and the very second those women, those wives, those teenage girls were by their lonesome, no friend or parent or significant other to offer potential aid and defense, he would strike.
By the end of his spree in 1986 he had committed at least fifty rapes and taken more than twelve lives, which don’t include the ones left broken in his wake.
None of the names or titles used to describe Joseph James DeAngelo rings quite as true as “monster.” It’s an unfortunate truth that many monsters get away, and he was one of them, having managed to evade capture thanks to a weird mix of luck and know-how. Of course, considering that the recent uncovering of his identity also resulted in the discovery that he had been a cop during the bulk of his crimes, one can see how he had given authorities the slip with such ease.
But time caught up with the Golden State Killer. The future brought with it technologies which rendered the monster near-obsolete. As put by Michelle McNamara – a woman who spent her last living years neck-deep in an obsessive investigation of the cold case – in an open letter to the Original Night Stalker in her book, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, “The world hummed with connectivity and speed. Smartphones. Optical-text-recognition technology. Customizable interactive maps. Familial DNA…. Virtual windows are opening all around you. You, the master watcher, are an aging, lumbering target in their crosshairs.”
It’s sort of poetic, then, that a small team of investigators would finally nab the East Area Rapist using simple yet efficient twenty-first century technology. DNA taken from an old crime scene was sent to one of the internet’s many genealogy/ancestry websites, and from there it was a cakewalk: first you get a list of relatives branching from said DNA, then you narrow down potential perps (those of the right age, sex, and residence). You surveil the top suspects, snatch some of their discarded trash, and compare DNA samples. And then voila – it’s a 100% match. The evidence is ironclad: Joseph James DeAngelo is your guy. The monster has a new name now.
After that he’ll be apprehended, questioned, and he’ll deny everything. He’ll play victim; desperate and befuddled. Having been stripped of all his power means he’ll have to retreat somewhere – but there is nowhere to go. No more quick escapes. Only confinement. So he hides inside his own head, feigning distress, pretending to have been wronged. It’s been suggested that his sluggish behavior at the arraignment was due to him having been drugged, likely as a means of suicide prevention. But even without the help of sedatives, his behavior would have undoubtedly been no different. He still would've put on his old act, though this time changing the tone of the lead villain.
The show must go on. Once he had acted as the predator brimming with faux-virile confidence. Reduced to nothing, he plays the part of the prey; the harmless old man. But the truth is that underneath both masks beats the heart of a coward. And when the arraignment ends on the afternoon of Friday, April 27th in Sacramento, California, the monster named Joseph James DeAngelo, bound to a wheelchair and awaiting justice, will be nothing more than a coward.