‘I knew the victims’ pain’: the pioneering detective who took on the Golden State Killer

The Guardian – by Dani Anguiano – Sun 16 Aug 2020

Forty years ago, Carol Daly was the only female detective investigating the attacks. This week, she will attend his sentencing.

She had waited decades for the call.

There had been a time when chasing the trail of the Golden State Killer had dominated Carol Daly’s life. But by April 2018, Daly, a 79-year-old former detective with the Sacramento county sheriff’s department, had long ago forced herself to step away, determined to spend time with her husband and grandchildren instead.

She had kept in touch with old colleagues, of course, and was in regular contact with some of the serial killer’s survivors. Over the years, she had spoken to dozens of them, first in hospitals, then in their homes and at gatherings across the Sacramento region.

When the Sacramento county sheriff on the other end of the line told her authorities believed they had finally identified a suspect, a 72-year-old former police officer named Joseph James DeAngelo, in the string of rapes and murders, Daly thought of those victims first.

“You have got to contact them right away,” she told the sheriff, “before they hear it in the media.”

“Start making calls,” he responded.


Forty years earlier, Daly was the only female detective on a team investigating a series of attacks in Sacramento by an assailant dubbed the East Area Rapist. From 1976 to 1979, families reported the man entering their homes at night, holding couples at gunpoint, raping teenage girls and women whose children slept nearby. The attacks transformed the region. Lock, alarm and gun sales surged, the San Francisco Examiner reported. The burglary rate even dropped as people were too afraid to break into homes, Daly recalled.

Daly, who was one of the first women to join the department in 1968 when female officers wore skirts and high heels and carried their guns in their purses, worked the case from the beginning.

She interviewed the victims about the attacks and their lives in often lengthy conversations, looking for a common thread and uncovering what the perpetrator did and said in the time he spent in their homes. They told her how he’d stay in their homes for hours, assaulting them repeatedly and pretending to leave before startling them again. In some cases he left plates stacked on the backs of bound boyfriends or husbands, threatening to kill them if he heard a sound.

“He was a horrendous, awful, awful man,” Daly said. “It was very, very difficult interviewing victims, taking down all of the details.”

Daly joined a taskforce that would work to solve the case for several years. But progress in the investigation was slow, hindered by the wide geographic spread of the crimes and jurisdictions’ unwillingness to work together. “Nobody wanted to share information because they all wanted to be the one that solved the case,” Daly recalled.

The culture of the time slowed the investigation, too. Rape was still classified as a misdemeanor and perpetrators typically spent just a few months in jail, which Daly believes could have deterred some victims of the East Area Rapist from reporting attacks. Women, overwhelmed with shame, struggled to verbalize what had happened to them – even while talking to her.

When Kris Pedretti was sexually assaulted in her home days before Christmas 1976, at age 15, her parents told her not to tell anyone what happened, and she felt great shame about her attack for most of her life. With the statute of limitations passing on some of the attacks, Sacramento officials disposed of some of the rape kits, a move Pedretti describes as akin to a “second assault”.

When, by the late 70s, it became clear the East Area Rapist had moved on to other jurisdictions, Daly asked to be moved back to homicide. “The sheriff put a sharp team together, and he had his most experienced investigators working on the case, and we didn’t solve it,” she said.

She went on to have a three-decade career with the department, retiring as the undersheriff of the county, the only woman to hold that position. Over the course of her time with the sheriff’s department she worked difficult homicide cases, but none touched her like the crimes of the East Area Rapist. “We couldn’t bring closure, and I knew the pain the victims lived with.”

It would take decades for law enforcement to connect the rapes of the East Area Rapist in central and northern California with murders that took place in southern California later on and were attributed to a perpetrator called the Original Night Stalker.

Victims waited almost another 20 years for a suspect to land behind bars. Investigators eventually used DNA from the attacks and the open-source genealogy website GEDMatch to connect DeAngelo to the crimes.

DeAngelo, a US navy veteran of the Vietnam war and father of three, had worked as a police officer in communities near where the crimes occurred. He pleaded guilty to 13 murders and 13 kidnapping-related charges and admitted to dozens of sexual assaults that he couldn’t be charged with in June 2020, in a plea deal that spares him from the death penalty. He will be sentenced this week in a Sacramento court.

DeAngelo’s victims are expected to speak out in three days of testimony, revealing in intimate details how he affected their lives and the lives of their families.

Daly will attend this week’s hearings, which are mostly restricted to the victims and their supporters. Six have asked Daly to sit in the courtroom while they speak, and one has asked Daly to speak on her behalf. She has become close with some of those affected, hosting and attending gatherings on important milestones and after hearings, and watching what she describes as their transition from victims to survivors.

“The best thing for me out of all of this is getting to know these beautiful women and hearing their stories over the last years and seeing how they’ve conquered [this] and what they’ve done with it,” Daly said.

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Posted by Teri Perticone


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