For 11 years in the 1970s and ’80s, the Golden State Killer stalked across California in one of the longest and most vicious crime sprees in U.S. history — burglarizing more than 120 homes, raping more than 40 people and murdering another 12.
His victims ranged in age from 12 to 41, including women at home with their children and wives in bed with their husbands.
But because his reign of terror largely predated the 911 system, surveillance cameras, DNA analysis and the internet, authorities were not able to catch the man also known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker.
That changed on Wednesday, when Sacramento authorities announced they had arrested a 72-year-old former police officer named Joseph James DeAngelo as the suspected Golden State Killer.
DeAngelo is charged with capital murder in four of the linked slayings, though investigators suspect he is responsible for many more. A police source told PEOPLE that DeAngelo was caught through “sophisticated” DNA analysis but said he was not on the radar of police until recently. (It is unclear if he has an attorney who could comment on his behalf.)
• For more on the Golden State Killer, watch People Magazine Investigates: Golden State Killer Caught, airing Friday at 10 p.m. ET and Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery
“Very possibly he was committing crimes during the time he was employed as a peace officer,” Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said Wednesday, “and obviously we are looking into whether he was on the job.”
Word of DeAngelo’s arrest after so many years came as a welcome shock to his victims and their loved ones.
Michelle Cruz, whose sister Janelle Cruz was killed in 1986, told PEOPLE she didn’t “even know what to think.”
“I am so excited,” she said.
Below are the names and ages of the 12 people murdered by the Golden State Killer, from 1978 to 1986. as well as some background about their lives before they died.
Janelle Cruz, 18
Janelle was the Golden State Killer’s last-known victim, beaten to death so brutally in her bed — on May 4, 1986 — that her blood soaked through her mattress and into the box spring.
She had been apartment hunting earlier, circling rental ads in a newspaper that was spread on the kitchen table when her body was found.
“Janelle was my best friend. She was always writing little poems and was going to go to college to be a legal secretary,”
younger sister Michelle told PEOPLE in an article published in November.
She went on to get a degree in criminal justice, spending dozens of hours a week researching potential suspects in Janelle’s murder.
Cheri Domingo, 35
Deb Domingo was 15 and rebelling — “breaking curfew, smoking, spending too much time with boys” — when she last spoke to her mom, Cheri, from a pay phone in downtown Santa Barbara in July 1981. Deb’s furious exclamation of “Why don’t you just stay out of my life!” before she slammed the phone haunted her for years.
But this fight with her mother also saved her life: Deb wasn’t home when the killer struck Cheri and her boyfriend, Greg Sanchez (pictured together above).
To cope with all her questions over the years, Deb, who now works as a state prison clerk, stayed in touch with the sheriff and with online crime-solvers.
“The internet community are the ones that have kept this case from sinking into the cold-case pit,” she told PEOPLE.
Keith and Patrice Harrington, 24 and 27
The Harringtons were killed in their home.
Katie and Brian Maggiore, 20 and 21
It was February 1978 and newlyweds Katie and Brian were walking their dog Thumper in Rancho Cordova and crossed paths with Golden State Killer.
By then a serial rapist, the Maggiores would become the first victims of the killer’s turn to murder. Brian and Katie were both shot dead.
“They were just starting their lives together,” Katie’s brother Ken Smith told PEOPLE. “I really hope the person is still alive; I would like this to be solved.”
Dr. Debra Manning, 35
Manning was killed with Dr. Robert Offerman at his condo in December 1979.
Dr. Robert Offerman, 44
Offerman was killed with Manning at his condo in December 1979.
Gregory Sanchez, 27
Sanchez was killed in July 1981 with his girlfriend, Cheri Domingo (pictured together above), in the home they shared.
Lyman and Charlene Smith, 43 and 33
Lyman and Charlene were killed in their Ventura home in March 1980.
Manuela Witthuhn, 28
In February 1981, Witthuhn was raped and killed at her house in Irvine, a few months before Cheri Domingo and Sanchez died.