Produced by Susan Mallie, Lourdes Aguiar, Lauren Clark and Gayane Keshishyan Mendez
"48 Hours"' investigation of The Golden State Killer previously aired on April 28, 2018. It was updated on August 22, 2020.
KRIS PEDRETTI | SURVIVOR [in court]: My safety was shattered as a masked man, DeAngelo, yielding a knife, told me he would kill me if I didn't do what he demanded
"was the most prolific serial predator in the nation. He attacked across the state from Sacramento down to Orange County across 15 jurisdictions," Investigator Paul Holes told CBS News correspondent Tracy Smith.
His trail of violence terrorized Californians for decades.
"He was the boogeyman," said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. "He was the man in the bushes that we didn't know who he was, and we didn't know when he was going to strike again."
JANE CARSON-SANDLER | SURVIVOR [in court]: Standing up in front of me was this man with a ski mask on … holding a large butcher knife. … It was sheer terror.
MICHELLE CRUZ [in court]: My sister was the Golden State Killer's final victim.
Investigators in California spent decades searching for an elusive criminal who terrorized Californians by committing at least 50 rapes and 13 murders.
"What's fascinating to me about this case, is that it's rich with so many clues." – Michelle McNamara
There was also one relentless amateur sleuth. Until her death in April 2016, true-crime writer Michelle McNamara was obsessed with the case.
"Michelle McNamara had a passion for true crime," said true-crime journalist Billy Jensen. "Michelle was hot on the trail of the Golden State Killer. She was writing a book about him. …And she was a mom and a wife to a comedian, Patton Oswalt."
"She had a mind for the details of true crime the way that other people have for baseball or me for films. She could recall the details of pretty much every late 20th and 21st century crime. It was just in her head," Oswalt explained.
"That's why I just don't think this is like pure sexual sadism. I think there was something else…" – Michelle McNamara
"She had such good insight and I think it's because other investigators had trusted her. They told her things that weren't in some of the original files. She … was tenacious about investigating the case," said Erika Hutchcraft of the Orange County D.A.'s Sex Crimes Unit.
"She thought she was getting real close to finding him," said Jensen.
It took over 40 years to make an arrest.
"We found the needle in the haystack," Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Shubert told reporters following the arrest of 72-year-old former police officer, on April 25, 2018.
And now, the voices of his victims will be heard:
JANE CARSON-SANDLER: DeAngelo, I want you to look at me. I want you to look at me, DeAngelo, and I want you to remember what I have to say.
PEGGY REX | SURVIVOR [in court] : In the early morning of July 17th, 1976, my life was changed forever. I was 15 years old.
SUSAN PETERSON| PEGGY'S SISTER: I was 16 years old at the time.
PEGGY REX: My god, [emotional] we were just high school kids.
MARY BERWERT | SURVIVOR [in court] : He raped me. He stole my innocence. My security. Threatened my life. Threatened the lives of my family. I was 13 years old.
KRIS PEDRETTI: You hid in plain sight, but you are now visible for everyone to despise, loathe, and abhor. … The devil can keep you company in your prison cell as he gnaws away at whatever soul you have left.
Patton Oswalt is a comedian and actor known to millions of fans. Yet he would tell you it was his first wife, Michelle McNamara, who was the true star of the family — something Oswalt sensed as soon as they began dating.
Patton Oswalt: I've met someone who is so much— so above my punching class in terms of intelligence and wisdom and empathy. …I was done for. She took a little bit of convincing.
But convince her he did in 2005.
Patton Oswalt: It was just like, "Oh, this is amazing."
Oswalt learned his new bride had some unique interests.
Patton Oswalt: You know, Michelle was always a writer. She had … published short stories and— and poetry. And … she was also always just fascinated with people – and — and just the messiness of a life.
Michelle was captivated by true crime stories, especially cold cases. In 2006, she started the blog True Crime Diary, where she profiled both recent and long-forgotten crimes.
Patton Oswalt: When she started that blog … you know, she was just off to the races.
The pair welcomed daughter Alice in 2009. But even as motherhood took center stage, Michelle hunted for cases and clues.
Patton Oswalt: Once everyone was asleep, she was on that laptop. … There is a breed of men and women that are just wired to pursue these people and keep going, you know, when other people woulda gone, "Oh, I gotta go live my life."
Soon, Michelle's online quest brought her face-to-face with one of the worst villains she'd never heard of.
Billy Jensen: When you hear Zodiac killer, you know what it is. You hear Jack the Ripper, you know what it is.
Billy Jensen is a true-crime journalist in southern California.
Billy Jensen: You hear East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker, nobody knows what that is.
The East Area Rapist Original Night Stalker — EARONS for short — not a very memorable name. One of the most prolific criminals California has ever seen.
Patton Oswalt: When she started looking at the devastation that this guy wrought. …You're taunting the police, you're taunting the population, and you're never caught?
Michelle McNamara had found her nemesis. Paul Haynes is a researcher who worked with Michelle.
Tracy Smith: Michelle called herself a citizen sleuth. What does that mean?
Paul Haynes: A private citizen who's not in law enforcement and who's not a private investigator, that is drawn into a crime and does their own … investigating based on, you know, the tools that are available to them.
Michelle started hitting the message boards of fellow online sleuths, hunting for everything she could learn about EARONS. Over one horrific decade he'd covered a lot of ground, seemingly starting as a rapist in the Sacramento area in 1976.
Paul Haynes: His M.O. is basically break into a house — in the middle of the night — and confront a sleeping couple by shining a flashlight into the eyes of the female and insisting that she tie up the male.
Then EARONS moved to southern California, where he used the same M.O. to break in and rape. But now, he'd leave no witnesses. All told, over 50 women were raped, and 13 people murdered before the attacker stopped in 1986 and seemingly vanished.
Paul Haynes: And, she began working on a feature for Los Angeles Magazine.
Michelle wrote an article about EARONS in 2013. She had details from bits of information she gleaned online and more explicit details from investigators on the case. The odd acronym EARONS was not a name many knew. So, Michelle decided to rebrand him, hoping to give him a higher profile.
Billy Jensen: Working with her editor at Los Angeles Magazine, they said, "You know what, this Golden State Killer, it shows just the breadth of him having hit Northern California, Southern California, and then sort of right in the middle.
With that, EARONS became the Golden State Killer. And Michelle would become a book author — signing a deal to write about him. Oswalt says they sacrificed family time so Michelle could travel extensively, by herself, to retrace the steps of the killer.
Patton Oswalt: It's one thing to read it on a piece of paper, but to actually walk it every day and see businesses and houses that were there, that are still there, you know, changes the writing. … I would go outta my way to try to give that to her.
Tracy Smith: So, you were really the Watson to her Holmes?
Patton Oswalt: Yeah, except Watson was way smarter than me [laughs]. If I was the Watson to her Holmes, I was the kinda Watson that just went and got, like, coffee or, "Can you go get me a turkey burger please?" "Fine, I'll get a turkey burger." And even — I would get that order wrong.
The obsession of hunting a serial killer took its toll on Michelle.
Patton Oswalt: I'd go … back in the back office and Michelle would just be there, just like, in tears because some — some road she had gone down had not panned out and then — it's like, "I now have to start back again from zero."
And she did, picking up new, promising leads in her hunt for the Golden State Killer. By April 2016, Michelle had been driving herself hard, hoping for a breakthrough. On the night of the 20th, she was exhausted from it all.
Patton Oswalt: I just remember this so clearly, saying, "You know, tomorrow just sleep 'til you wake up."
The next day, around mid-morning, Oswalt checked on Michelle.
Patton Oswalt: She was snoring. Remember I was laughing, like, "Oh, she's snoring." And then I — I brought her — I went and got her an Americano left it on her bedside.
By early afternoon, when Michelle still hadn't gotten up, Oswalt went to check on her again.
Patton Oswalt: She was dead. And I tried reviving her and it was just — you know. And then everything after that to me is — it just— I remember it as, like, screaming, and vomiting, and EMT guys, and friends.
Michelle McNamara had died at the age of 46.
Patton Oswalt: It was — It was April 21st — "Spring's coming, it's all good." And then literally within the space of three hours, just annihilation. Like — like, you're — this world that you're seeing in front of you is just — in cinders. It's just all — it's just cinders.
THE RAPIST'S MO
When Michelle McNamara died so suddenly, her husband, Patton Oswalt, and 7-year-old daughter Alice were devastated.
Patton Oswalt: I wanna talk to her so badly. I miss her so much. And I'm just sad all the time.
So, when he won an Emmy for writing a variety special just five months later, the moment was bittersweet.
Patton Oswalt to reporters backstage at the Emmys: "I'm not trying to say this is meaningless but it really does — everything seems like the lights have been turned down 50 percent on everything since she's gone."
Oswalt was still waiting for the L.A. County Coroner's office to find the cause of Michelle's death, but he'd reached an important decision.
Patton Oswalt: Her book needed to be finished. … It had so consumed her life and it was so much a part of her.
Larry Crompton: I thought she was one of the nicest people I had ever had the opportunity to meet.
Larry Crompton spent decades with the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department. Michelle met with him in the hope of tapping into his wealth of knowledge about the monster she was chasing.
Larry Crompton: He would walk through the area just like a normal person, so nobody would notice him.
Crompton tells the story of a white man of average height and slim athletic build, in his early 20s, who stalked his victims before striking, though they never knew it.
Larry Crompton: Would go in the house when the people weren't there and set that house up. And he would leave a window unlocked or a door unlocked so that he could go in.
Michelle learned the rapist would also hide tools for his attack.
Larry Crompton: One thing that the rapist would do is leave shoelaces or whatever to tie people up with.
When the rapist returned to attack, he'd come armed with a knife or gun, wearing a ski mask and gloves.
Tracy Smith: No fingerprints.
Larry Crompton: No fingerprints. …He would blindfold the victims. And — after tyin' them, he would take a towel and tear it up and use that for a blindfold.
Within a year, the rapist crisscrossed Northern California, striking at least 22 times. A few sketches were released, based on brief glimpses by eyewitnesses on the street as he got away every time. That knack for avoiding capture haunted Michelle.
Anne Marie Schubert: He struck so often, he hit so many times, it was so frequent.
Today Anne Marie Schubert is the District Attorney of Sacramento County. But back in 1976, she was just a local 12-year-old.
Anne Marie Schubert: I have very vivid memories of what — what he did to this community.
CBS News report: Each night they patrol the neighborhoods of Sacramento County's east side… "They call themselves the EARS patrol. EARS – short for East Area Rapist Surveillance.
Paul Holes was a cold case investigator with the D.A.'s office in Larry Crompton's old county.
Paul Holes: You have people who are scared. This was a community where they wouldn't lock their doors. … And now they're having locksmiths come out to install deadbolts. People were going and buying guns.
Michelle had flown to meet Holes, as well.
Paul Holes: That first day — we spent probably six hours in the car – between — you know, in the car and getting out and looking at the various scenes that I took her to.
To catch him, Michelle had to understand him. For the Golden State Killer, it seemed to be about the notoriety.
Anne Marie Schubert: He had complete control over this community. And he thrived off that. He thrived off the media attention.
In fact, he took cues from the press. Initially, he'd only attacked women who were alone. But then…
Larry Crompton: The newspaper mentioned that he had never hit a place with a man in the house.
Tracy Smith: And that –
Larry Crompton: He read that –
Tracy Smith: – was a challenge to him.
Larry Crompton: That was a challenge. And that's when he started with the men.
Immediately, the rapist started targeting couples. And he adjusted his M.O. as he went. After waking the pair, he'd insist the female tie up the male.
Paul Haynes: Then he would bind the female, and then reinforce the bindings on the male.
He'd lull the couple into thinking he was just there to rob them.
Paul Haynes: He would ask the victims where the money was, where the female's purse was. … He would ask the female to accompany him, to show him where it was.
As soon as the couple was separated, the rapist would set his true — and terrifying — plan in motion.
Paul Haynes: He would re-tie the female — in the living room of the house. He would return to the male, and stack dishes on the male's back. And he would tell the male, "If you move, I'll hear these dishes rattle, and I'll kill everything in the house."
Immobilized and emasculated, the man was then forced to lie there, listening to the rape occurring a room away.
Larry Crompton: How a man can deal with that, knowing that he could be the reason for his family to die, and then in his mind know, "But I can't do anything. … I have to shut up. … I can't save anybody," for him to live with that — very, very, very difficult.
The rapist toyed with his victims, often breaking off mid-attack and wandering into the kitchen.
Billy Jensen: He would go in; he would eat food in the house. … He would take things that weren't necessarily worth a lot, but they would be worth something to the individuals.
When it was over, the rapist slipped out silently, leaving his victims bound and blindfolded, afraid to move for hours. One victim remembers all too well.
Jane Carson-Sandler: What is he gonna murder us? Is he gonna kill us? What's he gonna do to us?
STATE OF FEAR
The identity of the Golden State Killer is a mystery that kept true-crime writer and amateur detective Michelle McNamara up all night.
Patton Oswalt: You know, she was filled with angst for the survivors, for the families.
Michelle had spoken to many victims, women like Jane Carson-Sandler. She was the rapist's fifth victim:
Jane Carson-Sandler: You're always looking over your left shoulder. Always.
Jane's horrifying ordeal began shortly before dawn in October 1976. Her husband had just left for work leaving Jane, then a student nurse and Air Force Reserve Captain, in their bed.
Jane Carson-Sandler: My son came and got — he was 3 years old. He came and got in bed with me to snuggle. And — right after that I heard the garage door close. … So, I knew my husband was gone. … And within … three minutes, I heard someone running down the hall. And they had a flashlight in their hand.
A man wearing a ski mask and black leather gloves burst into her room holding a large butcher knife.
Tracy Smith: What was going through your head?
Jane Carson-Sandler: What's he doing? Hopefully he's just going to — rob us and leave. So, I said, "Take our money. Take whatever you want." …And the minute I started to say something, he would say, in his clenched teeth, "Shut up or I will kill you." …He then proceeded to take shoelaces and tie our hands, our wrists and our ankles. And then he gagged us and blindfolded us, both of us. …Just fear. Fear.
When the intruder untied her ankles, Jane realized he was going to rape her. But Jane was focused on something else.
Jane Carson-Sandler: When I went to lean next to my 3-year-old son, he was gone. He was gone. … So, when the rape took place, I wasn't paying any attention to it. … Because all I was thinking about is, "Where's my son?"
After the rape, the attacker kept going in and out of her bedroom.
Jane Carson-Sandler: And at one point… I leaned again and my son was back next to me. So, he put him back. …And that was such a relief. Because I knew he was alive.
But the rapist wasn't gone. Jane could hear him in the kitchen rattling pots and pans.
Jane Carlson-Sandler: And then he would come back in the bedroom and say, "Don't you make a move, or I'll come back in here and kill you."
Finally, after what seemed to Jane like an eternity, there was silence.
Jane Carson-Sandler: I was still afraid to move. But it was getting light outside. …And I thought "we've gotta get out of here." …So, I hobbled around the backyard … to the gate in the front of the house, and then just screamed for a neighbor.
Jane and her son survived, but the carefree life her family had known did not.
Jane Carson-Sandler: I was afraid. "Is he gonna come back? Is he still stalking me?" You know, "does he live down the street?"
Tracy Smith: Did you ever think that it would happen to you?
Margaret Wardlow: Never ever. My mom always said she's too old. I was too young. …We wouldn't be victims.
But the rapist would prove them wrong. In November 1977, 13-year-old Margaret Wardlow would become one of the rapist's youngest victims.
Margaret Wardlow: I woke up to this flashlight in my face … I saw him in a mask. … I had my hands tied behind my back. He tied them extremely tight.
The attacker left Margaret's room, but she soon heard him upstairs in their kitchen. Margaret knew from newspaper accounts that the rapist would use plates as an alarm system placing them on the backs of household members that were not his intended target.
Margaret Wardlow: I knew if he came into my room, he was gonna rape my mom. And if he went into my mom's room, he was gonna rape me. And he went into my mom's room.
The intruder raped Margaret, but in her youthful defiance she refused to give him what she thought he really wanted.
Tracy Smith: You didn't wanna show him you were scared?
Margaret Wardlow: I didn't want to show him I was scared. I knew he got off on scaring people and having the control of fear.
In fact, the rapist would often call his victims after the attack. Investigators recorded one of his bone-chilling phone calls:
Phone call recording: "Gonna kill you. Gonna kill you. F—ing whore."
In 1977, investigators held a series of town hall meetings.
Larry Crompton: And in one of those meetings … a man stood up and said that "If he ever comes to my house, I'll kill him" — that he would "protect his wife, protect his family."
Just months later, that man and his wife were attacked. The rapist was probably at the meeting disguised as just another concerned citizen.
Desperate to capture him, investigators literally chased down thousands of leads. Larry Crompton went through the names of 6,000 paroled rapists.
Tracy Smith: Did you feel like you were constantly going down rabbit holes?
Larry Crompton: Oh, yes … There were — names that would come up that really looked good. And you would work 'em and work 'em and work 'em. And — nothing."
The rapes in Northern California stopped abruptly in 1979, with the attacker seemingly vanishing from the area. But the nightmare was about to begin for Southern California.
A KILLING SPREE
"I definitely think that there's something about the housing thing that seems interesting. There seemed to be a lot of new houses around where he hit and a lot of houses for sale." — Michelle McNamara
In July 1981, a realtor walked into a home in Santa Barbara County and made a grisly discovery. Inside were the bodies of Cherri Domingo and her boyfriend, Greg Sanchez. Cheri had been bound and bludgeoned. Greg Sanchez had been shot and beaten.
Debbi Domingo: I've always had this image in my head of what her last moments were like. The fear, the absolute terror that she had to have been going through.
Debbi Domingo, Cherri's daughter, was only 15 at the time. To this day, she lives with that painful image and with regrets.
Debbi Domingo: And the last thing I said to her was, "Why don't you just stay outta my life?" And I carried a lotta guilt for a long time because of … the last things that I said to her.
Domingo says their relationship had been turbulent in the weeks before the murders.
Debbi Domingo: She and I were fighting just like you wouldn't believe … She was doin' her best to be a good mom …she had never really dealt with a headstrong teenager and…
Tracy Smith: And you were a headstrong teenager.
Debbi Domingo: I was. … I was pushin' the envelope pretty bad.
When her mom tried to lay down some house rules, Domingo decided to run away. She'd been gone for about three weeks when she got a call from a neighbor.
Debbi Domingo: And she said, "you need to come home."
Tracy Smith: What were you told at the time about what happened to your mom and Greg?
Debbi Domingo: The best answer I ever got was, "Someone broke into the house and killed them." …I resigned myself to never ever knowing what really happened.
Debbi Domingo had no way of knowing that her mother and Greg's murders were the latest in a string of unsolved murders across Southern California. Over the span of a year-and-a-half, three other couples and a woman were killed in their homes … all in a strikingly similar brutal fashion.
In December 1979, Dr. Robert Offerman and his girlfriend, Debra Manning, had been murdered in Goleta. In March 1980, Lyman and Charlene Smith had been found dead in Ventura. Five months later, Keith and Patrice Harrington had been killed in Dana Point. And in February 1981, Manuela Witthuhn was found bludgeoned to death in Irvine.
Tracy Smith: So, you had a hunch that the Southern California homicides were related to the East Area Rapist.
Larry Crompton: Yes.
When Larry Crompton— who'd investigated the rapes up north — first heard about the murders, he knew almost immediately it was the same suspect.
Larry Crompton: I had no proof. But we looked at the reports and said, "It is the same." …the victims were treated the same way … and tied up the same way.
Crompton had always suspected the rapist would escalate to murder.
Larry Crompton: We knew that he wanted to kill.
But all he needed was the justification. That came after two couples in a row managed to escape during an attack. The assailant would never let that happen again.
Larry Crompton: The next time he murdered … And that's what he did after that.
Even though he was sure that Southern California was now under attack by the same suspect, Crompton couldn't convince the different jurisdictions that their murders were all connected.
Larry Crompton: One of the problems we had back then is that law enforcement agencies did not work together … And very little information went from one to the other.
Michelle McNamara believed the suspect used this to his advantage, moving from county to county killing without mercy.
"This was a crazed horrible psychopath … he was obviously very, very angry" — Michelle McNamara
The killer seemed to take a five-year hiatus after 1981. But in May 1986, he resurfaced again in Irvine … at another house that was for sale.
Michelle Cruz: Everybody always wants to know why. …Why Janelle?
Michelle Cruz's sister, 18-year-old Janelle Cruz, was the killer's youngest and last-known murder victim.
Michelle Cruz: I got a phone call, and it was one of my girlfriends. …And she said, "Your sister was murdered."
Cruz learned that Janelle had asked a male friend to keep her company that night.
Michelle Cruz: …maybe she was scared because she felt like maybe somebody was watching her.
Tracy Smith: And he said that they heard noises?
Michelle Cruz: They heard noises. She said, "Well maybe it's just … a cat outside. …And they went back to talking … before he ended up having to leave and go home for the night.
Larry Montgomery: That noise that she heard that night was probably accurate. He probably was in the side yard.
Larry Montgomery was the lead investigator on Janelle's case back in 1986.
Tracy Smith: What state was she in?
Larry Montgomery: She had been bludgeoned badly on the face … She was on her back. …In a position that looked like it's possible she had been tied up … It looked like she'd been sexually assaulted.
Montgomery's investigation into the murder was intense; still it went nowhere. But in 1996, the advent of DNA technology provided a break in the cold case.
Larry Montgomery: They were able to find DNA — and discovered that the DNA from Janelle Cruz's case matches the DNA in the Witthuhn case five years earlier … And then they started getting hits on other DNA in Ventura County, Santa Barbara County,
A year later, investigator Paul Holes' testing on the Northern California rape kits connected the rapes to each other. But the most important forensic discovery came in 2001, when the murders were finally connected to the rapes, officially confirming what Larry Crompton had long suspected.
Tracy Smith: What was it like for you to get that confirmation that your hunch was right?
Larry Crompton: It settled a lot in my mind. … And I really had a feeling that, "Yes, now they're going to catch him."
What followed was a concerted effort among all the jurisdictions to bring the violent rapist and killer to justice. Erika Hutchcraft from the Orange County D.A.'s Sex Crimes Unit worked on the case for over a decade.
Erika Hutchcraft: I thought when I first looked into the cases that it was like something you would study in a criminology course. … And it was horrifying but at the same time … you think "Oh I can make a difference … and contribute to the solving of the case."
Hutchcraft became consumed by this case, just like Michelle.
Erika Hutchcraft: I have never been the same since I started working these cases … It's like an obsession. …You know, so it's - -it's overwhelming at times, but it does change your life.
And this case has even changed the law in California. Since 2009 — largely due to the efforts of Bruce Harrington, the brother of one of the murder victims — all adults arrested or charged with a felony in California must submit a DNA sample for inclusion in the state database.
California maintains the third largest DNA database in the world, but investigators got no hits for the Golden State Killer. It seemed he had managed to even elude technology. But in 2018, that would all change.
Debbi Domingo: I believe that it's time for his reign of terror to end.
A NEW CHAPTER BEGINS
"The great tragedy of this case to me is that it's not better known … and frankly it should be solved. I mean, it just should be." — Michelle McNamara
In June 2016, two months after Michelle McNamara's death, the FBI used the 40th anniversary of the Golden State Killer's first attack to announce a renewed investigation.
FBI press conference: "Today, we're going to launch a national campaign to help identify the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer."
Jane Carson-Sandler: All of this attention now is — is being placed on this case.
Tracy Smith: Isn't there a piece of you that says, "It's been 40 years"—
Jane Carson-Sandler: Oh, yes. Why now? Right, why now? But I'm glad now.
After four decades, police felt the pressure of time running out.
Anne Marie Schubert: All the witnesses, all the original investigators, everybody's going to start passing away … it's now or never.
They also still believed the killer's DNA profile could be the key to unlocking this mystery.
Anne Marie Schubert: There is nothing that you can do to change your DNA. … it is the greatest tool of identification we've ever had.
"Thank God they have his DNA…" — Michelle McNamara
Anne Marie Schubert: It's a needle in a haystack, but the needle's in there somewhere. And it's our job to find it.
Erika Hutchcraft: We're all so dedicated and we work so much on this case and we — it becomes your life. Sorry. [cries]
Tracy Smith: That's OK. … Why do you think it gets to you?
Erika Hutchcraft: 'Cause I care. You know, I care. …I don't wanna ever stop caring. If you stop caring, then what good are you as a detective or a cop or a human being?
Nine months after Michelle McNamara passed way, the Los Angeles County Coroner released the cause of her death: a combination of powerful prescription drugs, along with an undiagnosed heart condition.
Patton Oswalt: …once she had passed everything in me was dead, except that was the one spark of, like, life force left in me… of a moving forward life force is, "Finish her book."
In February 2018, Oswalt saw all those years of Michelle's hard work finally come to fruition with the release of her book, "I'll be Gone in the Dark."
Michelle McNamara [video]: I'm optimistic … I know that it sounds crazy to be optimistic... but I am.
Tracy Smith: In your gut do you think he'll be caught?
Patton Oswalt: In my— in my gut I think he is gonna be caught. …because of what Michelle did and because of what all the cops did before her … I hope.
Then, incredibly, in April 2018 — almost two years to the day of Michelle's death — there was stunning news from Sacramento.
Norah O'Donnell | "CBS This Morning": Police in California believe they've cracked a 44-year-old serial murder case …
Anne Marie Schubert [addressing reporters]: The answer has always been in Sacramento. … For over 40 years, countless victims have waited for justice.
Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, — a cop in the 1970s — was arrested at his home. He had been fired from the police force in 1979 after he was accused of shoplifting a hammer and dog repellant. Divorced, his ex-wife is a lawyer. He has three adult daughters.
Anne Marie Schubert: His name was never on any lists that I'm aware of.
New technology was DeAngelo's downfall. The Golden State Killer's genetic profile had been plugged into the genealogical website GEDmatch.com and it returned a link to genetic material stored there by one of DeAngelo's relatives.
Paul Holes: We're dealing with distant relatives and we're literally having to follow trees. Looking …and then find individuals within that pool of people that fit the criteria we know about the offender. Roughly his age, geographic locations at certain points in time because we know where the offender is when he's attacking — physical aspects.
After painstaking work, investigators landed on DeAngelo as a likely suspect, but still needed his DNA to make a positive match. They hit pay dirt after collecting a sample of DeAngelo's DNA from something he'd discarded in public.
Paul Holes: At that point, we knew we had our man.
And it turns out their man had been hiding in plain sight — living in Citrus Heights, the same city where Jane Carson-Sandler was attacked in the 1970s.
Jane Carson-Sandler: I'm so glad it's over. I mean it's such a relief after all this time he's behind bars and he needs to pay for his crimes. He's just destroyed so many families.
For Margaret Wardlow, DeAngelo's arrest brought joy after a very long wait.
Margaret Wardlow: I was just so happy I haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face. … I called Debbi Domingo and she just couldn't believe it.
Debbi Domingo: She was the first voice that told me that they got him.
Now Debbi Domingo can finally put a face to her mother's accused murderer.
Debbi Domingo: You thought you were so smart, but you were wrong. You are not getting away with this.
In June 2020, DeAngelo cut a deal, appearing in court to plead guilty to 13 counts of murder and 13 counts of kidnapping with robbery. In order to take the death penalty off the table, he also admitted to over 160 uncharged crimes — including dozens of rapes.
This week, his rape victims and the survivors of those he murdered finally had their day in court, offering statements at DeAngelo's sentencing hearing.
KRIS PEDRETTI: As the evening began on December 18th, 1976, I was a normal 15-year-old kid. … He raped me, repeatedly. … At three different times that night, I thought I was going to die. … The next morning, December 19th, I woke up knowing I would never be a child again.
PEGGY REX: Good morning your honor, my name is Peggy. … I never got over the thoughts that he might return, that he may have kept track of me. … After 42 years, I still sleep with two phones and the keys on the bed when my husband is away. I still don't feel safe inside of a locked house.
As the court heard from the women DeAngelo attacked …
GAY HARDWICK: Your honor, I'm Gay Hardwick … Joe DeAngelo attacked us while we were sleeping. He kidnapped me from my bed.
The men DeAngelo victimized got their turn as well.
ROBERT HARDWICK: My name is Robert Hardwick, and this is my beautiful wife Gay. … He tied me up at gunpoint. … I could do nothing to protect her. … And I was a victim because I would have to live for the rest of my life knowing I was helpless to prevent this attack.
DeAngelo sat stone-faced throughout the statements, deliberately never glancing in the direction of his victims.
JANE CARSON SANDLER: My name is Jane Carson Sandler, and DeAngelo, I want you to look at me. … I may have been one of your victims, DeAngelo, but you know what? Now I am a survivor — thriver, and I've had a great life. I put my fears aside. I finished my nursing degree at Cal State. The same year of your attack. And then I spent 30 years in the Air Force, achieving the rank of colonel.
Forty years in the making, Cheri Domingo's daughter Debbi finally got to express her hope for her mother's killer.
DEBBI DOMINGO: Today I am in the room with the pathetic excuse of a man who will now, finally, be held accountable for his actions.
DEBBI DOMINGO: If I had my way he would be shivering, blindfolded, naked and exposed every moment from now on. I'll settle for caged, shackled, humiliated.
Michelle Cruz's sister Janelle was DeAngelo's final murder victim.
MICHELLE CRUZ: From now on, while he is withering away in prison, I'll be spending my days fishing on the river, enjoying my family and grandchild, eating out, relaxing in the comfort of my home, free. I will be free of the fear he put me through for so long.
The daughter of one of DeAngelo's victims had a special mention in her own statement for a certain author who was on a mission until the end.
PATRICIA COSPER: I am Patricia Cosper. … Joe raped my mom when I was 7.
PATRICIA COSPER: Michelle McNamara, crime writer, didn't give up. And law enforcement did not give up. … I see her as a survivor because she got him caught. Her spirit survived.
After all this week's voices had finally fallen silent, DeAngelo, himself, found his.
JOSEPH DEANGELO: I've listened to all of your statements, each one of them. And I am truly sorry to everyone I've hurt. Thank you, your honor.
As the book closes on the Golden State Killer, a new chapter begins for the survivors.
PEGGY REX: And now, finally, the end of this trauma is here.
KRIS PEDRETTI: Today, right now, I start my new journey.
DEBBI DOMINGO: Today the devil loses, and justice wins. Today I am not just a broken survivor of a cold case murder. Today I am a victor in the battle between good and evil.
Joseph DeAngelo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In November 2017, Patton Oswalt remarried.
for more features.