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Newsletter: Play Next: The origins of the ‘Man in the Window’ podcast

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“Man in the Window”

Good morning, and welcome to the first edition of the Play Next newsletter.

We’re here to take you behind the scenes of The Times’ podcasts, share recommendations from the podcast world and hear from you.

Launching Today: For decades, the Golden State Killer eluded police and terrorized California. Now, a suspect is in jail and awaiting trial. How did the violence go on for so long? And is there anything to be learned from the investigation that eventually used DNA technology to help authorities identify the suspect?

The new podcast “Man in the Window” examines these and other disturbing questions. Hosted by Times staff writer Paige St. John, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, this six-part narrative dissects decades of crime and police work during the hunt to capture and identify the man charged with murders and kidnappings across California.

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Among the evidence collected in the cold case are fingerprints lifted from crime scenes, shoe treads
Among the evidence collected in the cold case are fingerprints lifted from crime scenes, shoe treads, and DNA.
(Federal Bureau of Investigation)

We’ll also hear directly from the attacker’s victims — some speaking out in detail for the first time — as St. John breaks down the trivializing of sexual violence during the 1970s and ’80s that led police to overlook some of these rapes and attacks.

Listen to the first two episodes now, and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. »

Q&A

We spoke with reporter Paige St. John about the origins of this series.

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When did you start reporting on the Golden State Killer?

Paige: I was part of the team of Times reporters who rolled out this story the instant Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. was arrested. We hit it hard every day for the first few weeks. It is a sprawling story, with victims across the state, and reporters visited those communities that were terrorized decades ago, to talk to those who remembered the events, and to the detectives who worked the crimes.

Why did you decide to make this a podcast?

Paige: My focus at first was to profile the man accused in these crimes. For law enforcement, DeAngelo came out of the blue. He was never a suspect and had lived a quiet, largely unnoticed life. But in the course of that reporting, I was struck by the powerful stories of the women I interviewed — his first fiancee, his alleged rape victims, the woman who saw DeAngelo as a beloved brother.

And I was blown away by the era. The 1970s were hostile to victims of sexual violence. Rape was lightly treated, seldom discussed, and victims suffered in silence. That social climate is so vastly different from today’s beliefs that I felt people needed to hear it — be immersed in it — to understand what was going on. Sacramento has a huge public treasure in the city’s archive of old television news footage, without which this immersion would not have been possible.

But the final and greatest incentive to bring this story to life as a podcast is the voice it gives all those women — those who were willing to speak about their experience and their struggles — and all those many more women of that generation who never could.

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What can we look forward to hearing about?

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Paige: Listeners will find some surprises. There’s the voice and story of Bonnie, the woman who broke off her marriage engagement with Joe. There’s the grief of one of Joe’s lifelong friends, who looked at him as a brother.

And there are untold details of the criminal investigations — the turf wars and the roles politics and fear of publicity played in decisions what and even whether to investigate. We get a rare glimpse into the struggles of victims to cope with trauma. And we see there are surprising consequences when crimes half a century old are suddenly brought back to life.

What made the crimes unique during that time in California?

Paige: What is disturbing is that the crimes were not unique. Serial rape was common. Sacramento had half a dozen serial rapists in the early ’70s, and that was nothing unusual. Los Angeles’ Pillowcase Rapist attacked some 100 women. San Jose’s own Pillowcase Rapist was locked up for 20 rapes and 100 other attacks and incidents of peering into windows. He did five years, was released, and began raping again in Sacramento.

This was also a time of serial killers — beyond Charles Manson, for instance, you had Sacramento’s so-called Vampire Killer, who drank the blood of his victims.

The 1970s were extraordinarily violent.

What else can you tell us about your investigation? What surprised you most?

Paige: First, as I gathered records of each and every crime, I was stunned by the sheer amount of violence. How is it possible for a single person to have 106 victims — and yet not be visible? What kind of inner life can hide that much rage and bloodshed? I am no closer to an answer.

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The original case detectives were very candid with me, sharing their frustrations as they tried to navigate the obstacles to their investigations. I was not at all surprised, but I was moved by the depth to which they care about this case and want to find something that would give the victims justice.

I was surprised by the intense rhetoric of the times. We tend to think today’s public debate is unusually heated, but the slurs of the ’70s are an equal match. And I was more than a little amused to find photos of undercover police officers, astride bicycles, in their bell-bottom jeans.

Read Paige St. John’s “Man in the Window” series here. It’s full of in-depth articles, investigative reporting and interactive crime maps.

Do you have a question for the host? Email us at podcasts@latimes.com.

Picks of the Week

Each week, Times staff members share their personal podcast recommendations with you. Here’s what Paige Hymson, a podcast producer for the L.A. Times, is listening to now:

“Uncover: Escaping NXIVM,” CBC Podcasts: I’ve been listening to a podcast by CBC’s Josh Bloch, where he uncovers some of the most intimate details about the alleged ex-cult NXIVM. I listen during my commute to and from work and I am constantly enticed by hearing a firsthand account from a former member of the cult. The podcast includes in-depth access to many reliable sources and dissects the human realities behind joining a cult. I keep listening, because the interviews are so personal as they paint an image of what it really felt like to be inside NXIVM.

“Gladiator,” Boston Globe: This podcast tells the story of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez and shares personal experiences from the people who knew him best. It looks into secrets and information about his tragic life. I listen to this podcast because it shares a side of a well-known story that I’ve never heard before. Because of the intimate details and interviews from friends and family, I feel like I am right there in the story. The audio helps me to better understand the circumstances that eventually led to the destructive breakdown in Hernandez’s life.

“White Lies,” NPR: Set in Selma, Ala., during 1965, this podcast takes me back through history as it details the murder of a white reverend who was visiting Selma during the civil rights movement. More than 50 years later, the hosts return to the city where it all happened to investigate why no one was ever held responsible. I learn a lot from this podcast as it confronts the past and exposes how laws during that time period kept this murder from being solved.

Coming Up

Next time on “Man in the Window”: The climate of fear in Sacramento created by the East Area Rapist takes a toll. And then the rapist — threatening to kill — aims his crosshairs at the detectives pursuing him.

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