joseph james
© Sacramento Police Department
Joseph James Deangelo, known as 'The Golden State Killer,' is seen in this police booking photo, April 25, 2018, after being apprehended.
A 72-year-old former police officer has been arrested in the decades-old "Golden State Killer" case in California, according to officials in Sacramento.

The "Golden State Killer" is believed to have killed at least 12 people, raped at least 45 people and committed multiple home burglaries in the 1970s and 1980s in crime sprees throughout California.

His "reign of terror," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said Wednesday, spanned from the Sacramento area in Northern California down to Orange County in Southern California.

The suspected serial killer, Joseph James DeAngelo, was surprised when he was confronted by officers and arrested on Tuesday afternoon in Citrus Heights in Sacramento County, said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. DeAngelo was taken into custody without incident.

DeAngelo's name never came up in the investigation until last week, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said.

It was discarded DNA that confirmed, "We had our man," Jones said at a news conference Wednesday.

"We found the needle in the haystack," Schubert said.

DeAngelo, who has adult children, was a police officer in Exeter in central California from 1973 to 1976, officials said. He was then a police officer in Auburn in Northern California from 1976 to 1979 until he was fired, officials said.

DeAngelo was fired in 1979 after he allegedly stole a hammer and a can of dog repellent, The Associated Press reported, citing Auburn Journal articles from the time.

© Rich Pedroncelli/AP, FILE
In this June 15, 2016 photo law enforcement drawings of a suspected serial killer believed to have committed at least 12 murders across California in the 1970's and 1980's are displayed at a news conference in Sacramento, Calif.
"For over 40 years, countless victims have waited for justice," Schubert said. "Over these years, hundreds of individuals have sought justice for these victims and their families."

An arrest warrant was issued Tuesday and a complaint was filed charging DeAngelo with two counts of murder with special circumstances for the murder of a Sacramento couple in 1978, said Schubert. He was also charged with the capital murders of a couple killed in March 1980 in Ventura County, California. The crimes span 10 counties; charges are expected in more counties soon.

Bruce Harrington, whose brother and sister-in-law were killed in 1980 allegedly by the "Golden State Killer," said at the news conference, to the "ladies who were brutally raped in these crime scenes, sleep better tonight. He isn't coming through the window. He's now in jail and he's history."

The terror started with burglaries and rapes in the Sacramento suburbs in summer 1976.