Joseph James DeAngelo
© AP
Joseph James DeAngelo, charged with being the Golden State Killer, is expected to plead guilty this week.
Four decades after he started sneaking into homes, tying up victims, raping women and murdering couples, former police officer Joseph DeAngelo pleaded guilty Monday to 26 charges, admitting what pioneering forensic science had already proven — he was the sadistic Golden State Killer.

His acceptance of a plea deal spared him death, a reprieve the 74-year-old never offered more than a dozen men and women he shot and bludgeoned to death during a 12-year raping and killing spree during the 1970s and '80s. He only stopped, prosecutors believe, when he got old and was no longer spry enough to overpower victims.

The admission of guilt will secure DeAngelo's time behind bars, as he will be sentenced to life without parole.

DeAngelo was charged with 13 counts of murder, with additional special circumstances, as well as 13 counts of kidnapping for robbery in six counties, including Contra Costa County in the Bay Area. Investigators believe he was responsible for more than 60 rapes, including some in Santa Clara and Alameda counties as well, but the statute of limitations expired on those crimes.

Wearing an orange jumpsuit and a a plastic visor over his face Monday, DeAngelo was taken into large Sacramento ballroom in a wheelchair. On one side of the room stood his victims and their families, while law enforcement officials and prosecutors stood on the other side.

DeAngelo confirmed aloud he had accepted the plea deal.

Sacramento County prosecutors announced he would plead guilty to the 26 charges, as well as admit responsibility for other uncharged crimes, including raping multiple women.

The uncharged crimes that he's expected to plead guilty to occurred in Sacramento, Yolo, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, according to authorities. The crimes were mostly rapes that had surpassed the statute of limitations.

Last year, district attorneys in Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Orange and Ventura counties decided to pursue the death penalty. But with DeAngelo's advanced age and Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order halting executions, it was doubtful he would ever be put to death.

Monday's hearing was moved from a cramped Sacramento County Superior courtroom to a Sacramento State University ballroom to provide space for social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic and a large number of victims expected to attend. Those men and women will have their chance to address DeAngelo at a future sentencing hearing.

DeAngelo's depravity struck fear in the hearts of residents from Sacramento down to Orange County. He would target sleeping couples, break into their suburban homes in a mask, tie the man up and place dishes on his back as a makeshift alarm. He would threaten to kill couples before raping the woman. His crimes earned morbid monikers: Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker.

Over the years, investigators connected some of the Southern California murders with a series of rapes in the Bay Area and the Central Valley, and the suspect was named the Golden State Killer. Officials now believe he committed crimes in 11 counties from 1974 to 1986.

It was two years ago when investigators decided to use a family genealogy website that stored a massive database of genetic profiles from amateur sleuths looking to find long-lost relatives. They uploaded the Golden State Killer profile to and got a hit. A distant relative of DeAngelo's had uploaded a DNA profile and investigators mapped out family trees and slowly narrowed down possible suspects.

The genetic road map eventually led to DeAngelo, a grandfather living in Citrus Heights (Sacramento County). Police surveilled his home in a quiet residential neighborhood and eventually confirmed the match by pulling DNA from his car door and a tissue in his garbage.

The effort not only caught one of California's most notorious criminals, but it also launched a new era of crime-solving where genetic genealogy is used to crack dormant cases. That technique and DeAngelo's crimes garnered worldwide interest, launching a best-selling book, a six-part HBO documentary that premiered Sunday, podcasts and countless television shows.

Since his arrest two years ago, DeAngelo has appeared increasingly frail, losing weight and rarely showing any emotion.

DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn Police Department in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting. He had previously worked as an officer in Exeter from 1973 to 1976, not far from where the Visalia Ransacker robbed more than 100 homes in the Central Valley.
Matthias Gafni joined The San Francisco Chronicle as an enterprise reporter in February 2019. He investigates stories in the East Bay and beyond. For almost two decades, Gafni worked for the Bay Area News Group - San Jose Mercury News, East Bay Times and Vallejo Times-Herald -- covering corruption, child sexual abuse, criminal justice, aviation and more. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Davis. He lives with his wife and three kids in the East Bay.