Joseph James DeAngelo: Police officer turned rapist & serial killer

Joseph James DeAngelo

Joseph James DeAngelo: Police officer turned rapist & serial killer

Joseph James DeAngelo is an American robber, serial killer, and serial rapist who committed murders, sexual assaults, rapes and robberies. His crimes left a deep impact on many lives.

He conducted more than 100 robberies, murdered at least 13 people, and raped 50 women before their partners. He received many famous titles, including The Visalia Ransacker, The East Area Rapist, and The Original Night Stalker.

People called him by these names because authorities could not identify him for decades. So, people remembered him using these names.

Joseph was a police officer who turned out to be a serial rapist and killer in the 1970s


Joseph James DeAngelo was born in 1945 in Bath, New York. He has three siblings. His father was Saverio D’Angelo, a U.S. Army sergeant based in West Germany.

Joseph was a broken child of a family as he witnessed his sister being raped by two airmen there. His father also abused him in his childhood.

However, his family relocated to Sacramento, California where he attended high school from 1959 to 1964. Afterward, he earned an associate degree in police science from Sierra College and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from California State University, Sacramento.

Joseph became engaged to nursing student Bonnie Jean Colwell, a classmate at Sierra College in May 1970. However, she ended the relationship in 1971 after he became manipulative and abusive.

Bonnie Jean Colwell, ex-fiancee of Joseph James broke up with him due to his abusive behavior

He also served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. He worked as a police officer in Exeter from 1973 to 1976. He began a crime series there as the “Visalia Ransacker” and investigated his crimes while in a robbery unit. It was one of the reasons authorities could not arrest him for decades.

He received this title as he conducted massive robberies in Visalia, California. A ransacker is a person who steals items in a forceful and damaging way.

But his time as a law enforcement officer came to a rapid end in 1979 when he was fired from the Auburn Police Department after being found stealing a hammer and dog repellent.

Police expelled Joseph from the Auburn Police Department following his robbery in 1979

Criminal Activities of Joseph James DeAngelo

Joseph began participating in illegal activity in the early 1970s. He robbed almost a hundred homes in Visalia between 1974 and 1975. His criminal approach consisted of breaking into houses, searching people’s stuff, and taking tiny objects.

However, these actions did not seem like much compared to his later crimes, which were the start of a dark trend. The violent behavior of Joseph intensified in September 1975 after he shot and killed Claude Snelling.

Claude was a journalism professor at the College of the Sequoias whom Joseph murdered when he tried to stop him from kidnapping his daughter. This murder increased the violent nature of Joseph following the severity of crimes including rapes and murders.

Image of Claude Snelling Professor whom Joseph murdered in 1979

The East Area Rapist

Joseph also earned the title of “East Area Rapist” who terrorized the area of Sacramento and its neighboring cities between 1976 and 1979. During this time, he committed multiple robberies and at least 50 rapes.

Joseph organized raped and robbery attacks by using a well-thought-out strategy and brutal conduct. Before breaking in-house, he would usually check out houses in advance, become familiar with his victim’s routines, and turn off security systems.

He would usually tie up spouses or lovers and put dishes on their backs. Meanwhile, he threatened to murder everyone if he heard the dishes shaking during raping women. He used to rape women brutally.

His victims ranged in age from 13 to 41. His first rape victim was Phyllis Henneman in 1976. He also raped Jane Carson-Sandler in 1976 in Citrus Heights, California, and Margaret Wardlow in Sacramento in 1977. His other rape victims have not been revealed.

Margaret Wardlow, rape victim of Joseph while testifying against him in court

Joseph James DeAngelo as Serial Killer

Joseph moved his illegal activities to Southern California in the late 1970s. He earned the title “Original Night Stalker” due to his horrific criminal activities in the nighttime in the region.

He committed more sexual assaults and at least 13 murders between 1979 and 1986. He targeted the majority of couples for beating, murdering, or sometimes raping but also killed single people.

He usually shot and beat couples in their houses after binding and intimidating them. These attacks were extremely savage, which indicates a marked increase in his violent conduct.

His murdered victims are couples including Brian and Katie Maggiore, Dr. Robert Offerman and Debra Manning, and Charlene and Lyman Smith.

Others included Keith and Patrice Harrington, Cheri Domingo, and Gregory Sanchez. Claude Snelling, Manuela Witthuhn, and Janelle Cruz are among his single murderers.

Joseph James DeAngelo
Known victims of Joseph James DeAngelo

Click here to read an interesting story of Zodiac Killer: Horrible Mysterious Murderer of five people

Legal Proceedings

Law enforcement organizations from all around California put up endless efforts for decades to find the person (Joseph) responsible for these horrible atrocities.

His case remained unsolved despite massive efforts, which included the use of then-state-of-art forensic technology. DNA evidence did not establish a clear connection between the Original Night Stalker and the East Area Rapist until 2001.

Still, Joseph’s identity remained a mystery for an extra 17 years. The breakthrough happened in April 2018 when detectives recognized him as a suspect using genetic genealogy. They found James by matching DNA from crime scenes to a relative’s online genealogical profile.

Joseph James DeAngelo
California police arrested Joseph in 2018

Arrest and Conviction

A turning moment came in the story of James when California Police arrested him on April 24, 2018, in Citrus Heights, California. The dismissed policeman faces eight charges of first-degree murder charges.

In the following months, charges and accusations were made against him by law enforcement officials including rape and kidnapping.

However, he entered a guilty plea to 14 charges of kidnapping with intent to rob on June 29, 2020. But authorities could not charge him with rape offenses, most probably due to lack of evidence.

Joseph also confessed to rape and other crimes at the time of his sentencing hearings. Sacramento Superior Court gave him a life sentence without the possibility of release on August 21, 2020. Currently, he is serving 26 years of a life sentence without parole in an undisclosed prison in California.

Joseph James DeAngelo
Joseph James DeAngelo is currently in secret jail in California

Reason behind crimes of Joseph James DeAngelo

Joseph said in his brief statement during a June 2020 court hearing:

He carried out his actions as he listened to the voice inside his head.

Joseph James DeAngelo

This mysterious comment raises the possibility that he was motivated by internal compulsions, but he did not provide more details.

However, many factors including psychological issues, anger, and sexual desires may instigate him committing crimes. Particularly, his aggressive behavior towards women and their rape may come from his personal relationships and rejections.


The survivors and victims’ relatives experienced mixed emotions of relief and sadness upon learning of the arrest of Joseph. Deep emotional scars were left behind by the consequences of his actions and the long-term time he spent avoiding justice.

His crimes shook the nation and the state of California forever. Even though Joseph intends to spend the rest of his life in jail, the victim’s memory serves as a constant reminder of the lasting effects of his crimes.

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