The California grandfather suspected of killing a dozen people and raping more than 50 women lived a quiet life as a warehouse worker and a suburban homeowner obsessed with lawn care, neighbors and acquaintances said.
Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer whose law enforcement career ended after he was busted for shoplifting in 1979, had a modest three-bedroom home in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights. He graduated from nearby Folsom High School, served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and worked for 27 years at a cavernous supermarket distribution warehouse.
Now 72, he has been accused of being the Golden State Killer who terrorized suburban neighborhoods in a spate of brutal rapes and slayings in the 1970s and ’80s. The case baffled investigators for decades.
Sierra Creech, 17, said she was friends with DeAngelo’s granddaughter and spent almost every weekend for six months at his home. DeAngelo wasn’t around much and told her he was always at work. The girls, who were about 8 or 9 years old at the time, were supervised by DeAngelo’s daughter.
“Nothing was odd. Everything was normal. He was just nice,” Creech said. She has not seen the family in nine years, she said, because the girl’s mother prohibited their friendship after they cut each other’s hair.
Her mother, Candace Creech, said she was spooked to learn that the man who used to pick up and drop off her daughter was accused of such heinous crimes.
“Scares me to death,” Candace Creech said. “I’m shocked. You just don’t ’know. It’s really shocking. I started crying and picked her up from school because it’s scary.”
On Thursday, investigators searched DeAngelo’s home, looking for class rings, earrings, dishes and other items that were taken from crime scenes.
Authorities were seeking weapons and other items that could link the suspect to the crimes, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Belli said. He declined to say what, if anything, investigators had found.
Investigators backed two vehicles, a motorcycle and fishing boat out of the home’s three-car garage and installed tarps to block prying eyes and news cameras.
DeAngelo has been charged with eight counts of murder in three counties after being linked to the crimes through DNA. Authorities said other charges could be filed.
Most of the attacks, predominantly sex assaults but also two slayings, occurred in the three years he was an Auburn police officer in the Sierra foothills outside Sacramento.
The attacks on sleeping women — and sometimes their partners — in middle and upper-middle-class subdivisions east of the state Capitol shattered the security of an area where people didn’t lock their doors and children rode bicycles to school and played outside until dark.
Sales of locks surged. Lights burned all night. There was even talk of vigilantes with CB radios patrolling streets.
“It all changed,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who was 12 at the time of the crimes. “The memories are very vivid. You can ask anyone who grew up here. Everyone has a story.”
Betsy Reamer remembers looking out the front window of her Danville, California, home in 1979 when she saw something startling out of the corner of her eye: A masked man on a bicycle, coming down a hill on the street outside.
She called police, who responded with in minutes and asked her to provide a detailed description of what she saw. She could not remember many details they sought, such as the color of the bike and the mask.
For the next two years, until the family moved, she was nervous letting her children play outside. She frequently double-checked that she’d locked the doors and every window before she went to sleep at night.
“It just reinforced the fear — and it was never the same,” she said. “We never had the level of comfort that we did when we first moved there.”
After she learned that DeAngelo had been arrested, she dreamed about what she saw all those years ago.
“It was astounding to me. I hadn’t thought about it for so many years,” she said. “I had flashbacks — nightmares — last night thinking back to that moment.”
Authorities refocused their attention on the case two years ago on the 40th anniversary of the first known attack.
Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones said detectives with “dogged determination” were able to get a sample of DNA from something DeAngelo discarded, though he wouldn’t say what the item was. The genetic material was not a match, but there were enough similarities that investigators got a second sample, which proved conclusive.
Until recently, DeAngelo had never been under suspicion. He built remote-controlled model airplanes and took meticulous care of his house and manicured lawn, neighbors said.
Natalia Bedes-Correnti said the suspect appeared to be a “nice old grandpa” who lived with an adult daughter and granddaughter. But he also had penchant for cussing loudly when he was frustrated.
“He liked the F word a lot,” Bedes-Correnti said.
Deputies monitored his comings and goings for several days and took him by surprise Tuesday afternoon as he walked outside.
As he was being arrested, he told officers he had a roast in the oven. They said they would take care of it.