DNA from a tissue left in a trash can gave authorities the sample they needed to arrest a former police officer suspected of being the Golden State Killer that has managed to remain uncaught for over four decades, court documents revealed on Friday.
The DNA was collected on a car door handle when Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputies followed suspect 72-year-old Joseph DeAngelo to the Hobby Lobby parking lot in Roseville on April 18, the court documents say.
“A swab was collected from the door handle while DeAngelo was inside the store,” the affidavit from sheriff’s Det. Sgt. Ken Clark says. “This door swab was submitted to the Sacramento DA crime lab for DNA testing.”
Two days later, the swab was confirmed to match genetic material left behind at murder scenes in Southern California, officials said. As an extra step to confirm that DeAngelo is indeed the killer, investigators collected multiple samples of trash from the trash can outside DeAngelo’s home in Citrus Heights. A piece of tissue provided enough DNA to run a test, and again the DNA matched.
According to authorities, the evidence gave them the strongest link between DeAngelo and the string of crimes that occurred during the mid-1970s and 1980s. DeAngelo is suspected of committing at least a dozen murders and roughly 50 rapes in 10 counties in California.
Police had been investigating for over 40 years and began zeroing in on DeAngelo earlier this year by comparing data from genealogy sites to DNA samples collected at the double murder of Lyman and Charlene Smith in Ventura County. Investigators used the data to identify potential relatives of the Golden State Killer and eventually identified the suspect himself.
DeAngelo was a police officer in Exeter and Auburn in 1973. Six years later, he was fired for shoplifting a can of dog repellent and a hammer, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said.
“Very possibly he was committing these crimes during the time he was employed as a peace officer,” Jones told CNN. “Obviously, we’ll be looking into whether it was actually on the job.”