By Claire Booth
Last week, I wrote about the Golden State Killer, a serial murderer believed responsible for a dozen slayings and more than 50 rapes throughout California in the 1970s and ’80s. Authorities recently arrested a suspect in the case – 32 years after the last homicide.
|Sketches of what the suspect looked like at the time of the crimes. This poster was released as part of a huge push by law enforcement in 2016 to bring more publicity to the decades-old case.|
Joseph James DeAngelo was taken into custody at his nondescript suburban home in Citrus Heights, California, a suburb of Sacramento. The 72-year-old has been charged with the 12 murders and is currently being held without bail. He hasn’t yet entered a plea to the charges.
Even before the arrest of a suspect, this case prompted an extremely intriguing question. Why did he stop? Why was the 1986 killing of Janelle Cruz the last one? The killer had an MO (premeditatedly casing and then breaking into homes, binding victims, raping them, and then killing them) that indicated he was motivated by serial desires. He perfectly fit the “classic” definition of a serial killer.
Strong theories at that point included that he was dead or that he was in prison for other, possibly unrelated crimes. He also could have moved, out of state or even out of the country. Any of those reasons would explain why the killings stopped in California.
DeAngelo fits none of these explanations. He’s not dead, he was not in jail or prison during this time period, and he worked for almost 30 years at a grocery distribution center that was mere miles from where the first East Area rapes occurred in the ’70s.
So what happened? If DeAngelo is indeed the Golden State Killer, why did he stop? It’s a bigger issue that experts have given a great deal of thought.
“It has been widely believed that once serial killers start killing, they cannot stop. There are, however, some serial killers who stop murdering altogether before being caught. In these instances, there are events or circumstances in offenders’ lives that inhibit them from pursuing more victims. These can include increased participation in family activities, sexual substitution, and other diversions.”
This comes from an FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit report that is based on a symposium with investigators, mental health professionals and forensic specialists. Other experts interviewed in response to DeAngelo’s arrest agree.
“These are not acts that a person is compelled to do,” University of California, San Diego, forensic psychologist and psychiatry professor J. Reid Meloy told the New York Times. “They are intentional and predatory. There is choice, capacity and opportunity that is exercised.”
There are a few examples to point to:
• Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, murdered ten people from 1974 to 1991 in and around Wichita, Kansas. He wasn’t caught until 2005. During police interviews, he admitted to engaging in auto-erotic activities as a substitute for killing.
• Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, killed 48 women in the Seattle area during the 1980s and 1990s, leaving their bodies near the Green River south of the city. He had been married three times. During the first two marriages, he killed regularly. During the third, which was a happier union, the killings dwindled. One pause between murders lasted eight years. He was arrested in 2001 and later confessed.
DeAngelo’s first daughter was born just after the 1981 killings of Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez in Goleta. The next Golden State Killer-linked slaying didn’t happen until five years later. If DeAngelo is guilty, would that life event have played into the gap between murders?
Of course there is another, darker, question hovering over all this. What if he didn’t stop? What if he just changed his MO enough to make connections to past crimes more difficult? Now that they have a suspect whose history and whereabouts they can comb through, authorities assuredly are looking into that very carefully.