For decades, the Golden State Killer had eluded capture.
Suspected of committing 12 slayings, 45 rapes and more than 120 residential burglaries between 1976 and 1986, the criminal's trail stretched from Sacramento south to Orange County.
So when prosecutors announced the arrest of a suspect Wednesday, the news struck a deep chord among the relatives of victims and those who feared his next move.
"For over 40 years, countless victims have waited for justice. Over these years, hundreds of individuals have sought justice for these victims and their families. Many have dedicated their virtual entire professions to seeking this answer," Sacramento Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities arrested Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., a 72-year-old Citrus Heights resident, on suspicion of murder. A local and federal task force apprehended him late Tuesday evening, after tying him to the crimes through "surveillance and discarded DNA," said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
He is being held without bail, according to Sacramento County jail records.
DeAngelo was a police officer in Auburn during the 1970s but was fired after he was accused of shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent, according to a 1979 newspaper article. He is suspected of committing some crimes while he was still on the force.
Working the decades-old case became more than a professional commitment for prosecutors and investigators, Schubert said — it was a chance to bring justice to the neighborhoods they grew up in.
"For us here in Sacramento, it was a time of innocence in 1976. No one locked their doors. Kids rode bikes to school. Parents let children play outside," she said, adding that most parents' only rule was that their children needed to be home before dark.
But after the string of crimes, "it all changed."
"You can ask anyone that grew up here," Schubert said. "Everyone has a story."
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas told reporters that "the haunting question of who committed these terrible crimes" can now be put to rest.
"Joseph James DeAngelo has been called a lot of things by law enforcement. He's been called the East Area Rapist. He's been called the Visalia Ransacker, the Original Night Stalker and the Golden State Killer," he said. "Today, it's our pleasure to call him defendant."
In addition to the four people DeAngelo has been charged with killing, Rackauckas told reporters that DeAngelo was responsible for a series of attacks in Orange County, including the 1980 slaying of husband and wife Keith and Patrice Harrington in a Laguna Niguel home. Charges have not been filed in that case, however.
"It is time for all victims to grieve, to take measure one last time, to bring closure to the anguish that we've all suffered," said Bruce Harrington, Keith Harrington's brother and one of those who helped to finance the voter initiative Proposition 69, which expanded California's DNA database to include every convicted felon in the state. "It is time for the victims to begin to heal."
Ventura County Dist. Atty. Greg Totten also announced capital murder charges against DeAngelo for the March 1980 murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith in Ventura.
"It is the culmination of a decades-long, unrelenting investigation that singularly focused on bringing this rapist and killer to justice," Totten said.