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From the Archives: DNA links Northern California rapes to Southland killings

A serial killer believed to be responsible for as many as 10 unsolved slayings in Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties from 1979 to 1986 apparently got his start a few years earlier as the notorious East Area Rapist of Northern California, officials said Tuesday.

New DNA evidence revealed Tuesday links the killer – dubbed the Original Nightstalker by local detectives – to at least 44 rapes committed from Sacramento to San Ramon during a three-year period in the 1970s.

“Unfortunately it’s still a faceless person,” said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Still, Amormino said, the DNA link is exciting news.

“Now more and more information is going to come out,” he said. “There is lots of work to do – the most exciting news would be to match this up to a suspect and bring him to justice, and I believe this brings us closer to doing that.”

Sheriff’s detectives believe the killer is responsible for the beating deaths of Patti and Keith Harrington in their Laguna Niguel home in 1980. The other slayings occurred in Irvine, Ventura and the small community of Goleta, near Santa Barbara.

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In Contra Costa County, where many of the earlier rapes occurred, authorities have kept semen samples from those investigations in the hope that a suspect would eventually be found.

The Homicide Report: A story for every victim »

“Fortunately, we had some people here with foresight enough to hold on to the evidence even after the statute of limitations ran out,” said Paul Holes, supervising criminalist for the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office.

When the new DNA technology became available, Holes said, he talked to a now-retired investigator in the rape case and he speculated that the rapist had moved to Southern California in 1979. A series of phone calls, Holes said, eventually led to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which had retained DNA samples from the murders, and the match was made.

“It’s a breakthrough from the standpoint that the investigators down there all of a sudden have 44 new cases where investigations were done,” Holes said. “Now the homicide investigators have a history of the early offenses – we’re all hoping that it leads to [the killer’s] apprehension.”

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