Women who survived brutal assaults by a man known as the East Area Rapist in 1970s Northern California got their day in court Tuesday, when they and their family members began reading heartbreaking statements explaining how Joseph James DeAngelo’s attacks impacted their lives.
Several described living for decades with severe anxiety and lingering fears about being home alone at night. One woman flipped him off. Another recalled being terrified that her young children would wake to find their mother dead after her rape. Multiple people remarked on the small size of his penis, described by one man, whose mother was among the victims, as “very inadequate.”
DeAngelo, 74, sat still wearing an orange jumpsuit and a white mask, flanked by his attorneys as he listened to the impact statements. He will face sentencing this week, more than two years after DNA evidence revealed him to be the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who was referred to by several monikers ― the EAR, the Original Night Stalker and the Visalia Ransacker ― before investigators linked all the crimes to the same man.
A woman raped by DeAngelo when she was just 15 years old, who gave her name only as Peggy, said she was home alone with her sister when DeAngelo broke in, tied them up and blindfolded them in 1976.
“I still don’t feel safe inside of a locked house when home alone at night. I have to do a lot of self-talk to remind myself that I don’t have to worry about him anymore,” Peggy told the court.
Kris Pedretti, who was also 15 when DeAngelo attacked her, said her childhood ended with her rape.
“I struggled the next 41 years with extreme panic attacks, failed relationships, frequent job changes, unhealthy coping mechanisms and few friends,” she said.
The women and their family members are expected to spend three days reading statements addressed to Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman, who will hand down a sentence Friday.
“If I could speak directly to DeAngelo,” Pedretti said, “I would ask him, do you feel any remorse for what you did to me?”
Carol Daly, the only female detective on the team investigating the East Area Rapist for Sacramento County’s sheriff in the 1970s, read a statement for victim Kathy Rogers.
“Although it took time and work, I have never let his temporary control over me take control of my life,” Daly read.
Several family members of victim Debbie Strauss, however, said she was never quite the same person after the attack. Strauss’ daughter said her mother had wanted to be there in the courtroom ― “she was going to look him in the eye and tell him what he had done to her and our family” ― but she died of cancer in 2016.
Multiple women said their wrists and hands felt numb for months after the attacks because DeAngelo, a former Navy man and cop, had tied them so tightly. For many, the assaults lasted hours, as DeAngelo took breaks to rummage around their homes, steal things, drink a beer or fix a snack.
One male victim, Victor Hayes, took the stand to allege that DeAngelo had broken into his home and raped his girlfriend out of revenge, recalling an ugly run-in with DeAngelo in front of a liquor store where DeAngelo moved like he was going to kick Hayes’ dog.
“I told the dog, that guy kicks you, bite him,” he told the court. DeAngelo then “got nasty,” Hayes said. Around six months later, during the assault, DeAngelo personally threatened Hayes, saying he was going to “party with Sharon,” using the name of Hayes’ mother.
DeAngelo will spend the rest of his life behind bars. In addition to more than 100 burglaries, he is responsible for killing 13 people and committing nearly 50 rapes that spanned the state of California from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s.
He will avoid the death penalty as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to the 13 murders and 13 rape-related counts in late June.
Because the statute of limitations for all of the rapes had long ago run out, prosecutors charged DeAngelo with kidnapping to commit robbery for some of them; he had moved several of the women to different rooms in order to assault them while demanding money and valuables.
Having terrorized California for more than a decade, the Golden State Killer went quiet after the rape and beating death of Janelle Cruz, 18, in 1986. DeAngelo became a father for the second time in the months after, although precisely why he appears to have stopped his crime spree is a question that lingers in the minds of survivors and observers of the case.
Investigators finally cracked it by entering the Golden State Killer’s DNA information into an online database, leading them to far-flung relatives and, eventually, DeAngelo himself, arresting him in April 2018.
The Golden State Killer was born to a military family in 1945 and lived in several places around the U.S. and Germany before settling in the Northern California area.
He was engaged briefly to a woman named Bonnie Colwell, who broke off the relationship after feeling threatened by DeAngelo and noticing that he appeared to delight at her fear, she told The Los Angeles Times. Her name would come up in the investigation when a victim heard DeAngelo mutter, “I hate you, Bonnie,” during an attack.
In 1973, DeAngelo married a woman named Sharon Huddle and took a job as an officer with the Exeter Police Department, later transferring to the Auburn Police Department ― both in California. He was fired, however, after being caught shoplifting a can of dog repellant and a hammer. DeAngelo then took a job as a mechanic at a Save Mart located near the Citrus Heights home where he was living at the time of his arrest, estranged from his wife for nearly two decades.
Although neighbors described him as an active man who went for rides on his motorcycle, DeAngelo has appeared enfeebled in court, using a wheelchair and leaning on his attorneys for support. Prosecutors argued at a brief hearing Monday that the court should be shown prison video of DeAngelo working out as an able-bodied man, but Judge Bowman denied the request because attorneys for the defense were not using his physical condition to argue for a lesser sentence.
By David Aaron
November 22, 2020