The man who authorities said Wednesday is among the worst serial killers and rapists in U.S. history is a 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran, former police officer and grandfather who lived in a tidy, suburban California home with a neatly kept green lawn.
Joseph James DeAngelo was described Wednesday as an odd but decent neighbor in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights. Neighbors said he mostly kept to himself, but was quick to anger and could often be heard loudly cussing in frustration over a landscaping issue or other minor annoyance.
“You can tell he’s a very meticulous person,” said neighbor Kevin Tapia. “His house is always perfectly painted. His grass is always cut. He gets down around all the rocks on his lawn and is cutting to make sure it’s just perfect.”
Another neighbor, Natalia Bedes-Correnti, said DeAngelo appeared to be a “nice old grandpa” but he cursed loudly and often over misplaced car keys and the like. She said one of DeAngelo’s adult daughters and a granddaughter lived with him in the neighborhood where children ride their bikes home from school.
“He liked the F word a lot,” Bedes-Correnti said.
His history also shows a seemingly ordinary life for the man police are now linking to crimes committed by the suspect variously known as the Golden State Killer, the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker. Investigators towed away two cars, a Volvo and a Toyota along with a fishing boat DeAngelo kept in his three-car garage. Neighbors also said he owned a motorcycle.
Neighbor Barbara Wammer, 73, said DeAngelo built model airplanes that can be flown by remote control in the home he owned since 1983. She described him as a typical neighbor who was often outside working on his lawn. “There was no reason to be suspicious,” she said.
DeAngelo graduated from nearby Folsom High School in 1964 and joined the U.S. Navy.
A local newspaper in 1967 reported that DeAngelo served aboard the cruiser USS Canberra as a repairman off the coast of North Vietnam.
After returning home he enrolled in a nearby community college and then transferred to California State University, Sacramento, where he graduated in 1972 with a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice, school spokeswoman Anita Fitzhugh said.
Soon he landed a job as a police officer in the small Central Valley city of Exeter, 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of Fresno, where he served from 1973 to 1976, “around the time of the Visalia Ransacker cases,” another name affiliated with the same attacker, Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones said.
He married a Citrus Heights woman seven years his junior in 1973, according to a marriage notice in the Auburn Journal.
In 1976, DeAngelo took a job with the Auburn Police Department about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Sacramento.
“Very often serial killers are very interested in police work, they tend to have an obsession with it and they tend to study it,” said Scott Bonn, a criminologist and author of “Why We Love Serial Killers” and other similar books.
The Auburn Journal in June 1979 published a photo of DeAngelo in uniform preparing for the annual “Fuzz Ball” fundraising baseball game.
A few months later the department fired him after he was caught shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent.