He went by many names. In Sacramento, he was known as the East Area Rapist. Southern California called him the Original Night Stalker. Others gave him the name Diamond Knot Killer and Visalia Ransacker. As he progressed to murder, he would become the Golden State Killer. All told, he committed over 100 burglaries, more than 50 rapes, and at least 13 murders from 1974 – 1986. Across the state of California, the same man was linked to the atrocious crimes. Investigators believed him to be a white male who stood about 5’ 10” tall and had a slender, athletic build, and type A blood, yet they couldn’t put a name to crime sprees – until April of 2018 when everything changed.
Written by: Tara Luther, Promega
Paul Holes, a former investigator with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, had been working the case for more than 20 years. He chased thousands of suspects and countless leads, but hadn’t been able to unmask the man who’d terrorized California. Nine months before he was set to retire, the unsolved cases continued to haunt him, and he wanted nothing more than to close this case.
In a conversation with a detective, Holes learned of a 2002 case in which Barbara Rae-Venter was able to identify a young kidnapping victim using her DNA and a genealogy website. After doing some research into a website called GEDmatch, Holes wondered if the same tactic might unveil the Golden State Killer.
Working together with a lawyer from the FBI and a pathologist from Ventura County, he was able to locate a DNA sample from a duplicate evidence kit. The lab converted the sample into a format readable by the GEDmatch site. Holes then created a fake profile on the site, uploaded the DNA information and waited. The analysis returned with 10 – 20 distant relatives of the killer. Knowing that tracing the lineages of these relatives back far enough would yield a common ancestor, so he and Rae-Venter went back to the early 1800’s to find a match.
Painstaking work over the next four months allowed the team to piece together 25 distinct family trees from the killer’s great-great-great grandparents, totaling thousands of family members. From there, they looked at men who were about the same age as the killer was believed to be, and also had connections to locations of the crimes, leaving them with two names. The team was able to eliminate one suspect by comparing it to a relative’s DNA, and after months of work, Paul Holes and his team finally had a name – Joseph DeAngelo.
Sacramento sheriff’s deputies put DeAngelo under surveillance and brought in an item he had discarded for a comparative DNA analysis. The sample confirmed DeAngelo was the man who had committed the unspeakable crimes, and on April 24, 2018, DeAngelo was arrested at his home.
Join us in Palm Springs as Paul Holes presents the keynote address at the 30th International Symposium on Human Identification. Hear first-hand how a little-used technique brought one of the most infamous serial killers to justice.
Registration opens Wednesday, February 6th!
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