Relative's DNA from genealogy websites cracked East Area Rapist case, DA's office says
Sacramento investigators tracked down East Area Rapist suspect Joseph James DeAngelousing genealogical websites that contained genetic information from a relative, the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office confirmed Thursday.
The effort was part of a painstaking process that began by using DNA from one of the crime scenes from years ago and comparing it to genetic profiles available online through various websites that cater to individuals wanting to know more about their family backgrounds by accepting DNA samples, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi.
The investigation was conducted over a long period of time as officials in Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert's office and crime lab explored online family trees that appeared to match DNA samples from the East Area Rapist's crimes, Grippi said. They then followed clues to individuals in the family trees to determine whether they were potential suspects.
The process finally came to fruition last Thursday, when the investigation focused on the possibility that DeAngelo might be a suspect, a suspicion bolstered by the fact that he had lived in areas where the attacks occurred and was in the right age range, Grippi said.
Schubert said in an interview at her office that the April 19 determination that DeAngelo might be a suspect set the investigation into high gear.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones' investigators set up surveillance on DeAngelo in his quiet Citrus Heights neighborhood and obtained his DNA from something he discarded.
The crime lab began testing the material and Schubert said she got a call last Friday night from Grippi while she was at a high school fundraiser telling her that the DeAngelo DNA matched that found at decades-old murder scenes in Ventura and Orange counties.
"I was at a dinner at Cristo Rey High School and Steve Grippi called me," she said. "And so I probably used a few words I wouldn't put in a newspaper, but basically said, 'You'd better not be lying to me.'"
The sample provided "overwhelming evidence that it was him," Schubert said, but she decided they wanted a second sample, which sheriff's officials recovered.
The results from testing that second sample came in while Schubert was in her office Monday night, she said.
"The second sample was astronomical evidence that it was him," Schubert said, adding, "There were a whole lot of holy s--- moments."
Authorities began moving quickly to plan the arrest.
"We wanted to be able to move quickly because it wasn't like he was in custody somewhere," she said, adding that she didn't tell all prosecutors with unsolved crimes around the state in an effort to keep the discovery secret.
"Not all the DAs knew at the time that the arrest was made," she said. "I think it's a fair statement that it was closely held.
"There were concerns about public safety in terms of if he figured out something was going on."
DeAngelo was arrested outside his home Tuesday afternoon and booked into the county jail on two charges of murder in the February 1978 slayings of Katie and Brian Maggiore in Rancho Cordova.
He is expected to face charges in 12 homicide cases in Sacramento, Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties stemming from a rape and slaying spree that authorities say stretched from 1974 through May 1986.
DeAngelo faces arraignment in Sacramento Superior Court on Friday, but authorities still must determine where he ultimately will stand trial and whether he faces death penalty prosecutions. Some of the murders were committed at a time when the death penalty had been ruled unconstitutional, but others are eligible.
Schubert said she wants to meet with prosecutors from the counties where DeAngelo is suspected of murders and plan a joint prosecution similar to that used in the Luis Bracamontes cop-killing trial that ended with a death penalty sentence on Wednesday.
Bracamontes killed deputies in Sacramento and Placer counties in 2014, and was jointly prosecuted in Sacramento by Rod Norgaard from Schubert's office and Dave Tellman from the Placer DA's office.
"It makes sense to do it in one county," she said, adding that the case could be moved to Southern California because 10 of the 12 murder victims were killed there.
"The majority of the murders happened down in Southern California, so I'm comfortable with wherever it's going to be as long as everybody gets to be a participant," she said.
Prosecutors also must grapple with whether to file rape charges against DeAngelo because for many cases the statute of limitations has expired.
Sacramento prosecutors do not currently plan to file such charges. In Santa Clara County, where the East Area Rapist was linked to two rapes in San Jose in 1978, the district attorney's office said it would not seek to prosecute DeAngelo because the statute of limitations had expired.
But other jurisdictions are considering it, including Yolo County, where authorities said Thursday they are investigating three rapes in Davis nearly 40 years ago they suspect were committed by DeAngelo.
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig indicated in a written statement he would seek to prosecute DeAngelo in connection with the Davis attacks, the first prosecutor in the state to announce such plans.
Reisig said his office would work with Schubert, the FBI and Davis police “to solve the Davis rapes, vigorously prosecute the rapist and achieve some sense of justice for the victims, family members and the Davis community.”
Contra Costa County's district attorney is working with police agencies there to investigate whether DeAngelo committed nine sexual assaults in that county between 1978 and 1979, DA spokesman Scott Alonso said.
Alonso said the statute of limitations may present a challenge. He said the office is evaluating cases with the county sheriff and police in Concord, Danville and Walnut Creek, where attacks linked to the East Area Rapist occurred.
"I think we're very interested in pursuing justice for the victims in these cases and pursue what we can file under the statute of limitations," Alonso said. "We want to see justice for these terrible crimes."
The East Area Rapist is believed to have killed 12 people, raped at least 51 and burglarized hundreds of homes from 1974 through May 1986 along the length of California.
News that a suspect had been arrested in the 44-year-old mystery set off a frenzy of calls to the DA's office from news outlets around the world, and left Schubert reaching out to victims and investigators who had spent decades working to solve the case.
Schubert, who grew up in Sacramento and was 12 when the attacks began, said her brother recalled their father buying a gun because of the rapes and that her mother slept with a knife under her pillow.
The realization that the case might finally have been solved - and that it involved a man who had lived in Sacramento undetected for decades - comes 18 years after Schubert convinced her bosses in the DA's office to let her begin a cold case investigations unit and two years after she formed a statewide task force to focus efforts on the case.
"It's just surreal, so many years of people waiting...," she said. "It’s a big deal. It's a moment in time that I don't think anybody's going to forget...Everybody here understands the significance of this case."