Prosecutors in Northern California on Monday announced a new murder charge against a man suspected of being the notorious "Golden State Killer," closing a murder case in Tulare County that has gone unsolved for more than four decades.
Joseph DeAngelo, 72, was charged in the fatal shooting of Claude Snelling, a 45-year-old journalism instructor at the College of the Sequoias, in 1975, prosecutors in Tulare County said.
Snelling died while trying to protect his daughter from an apparent rapist, prosecutors said. Snelling was shot when he tried to confront the ski-masked gunman who was dragging his daughter away in their backyard, The Associated Press reported at the time.
The man fired two shots from a pistol at Snelling, then released Snelling's 16-year-old daughter, kicked her in the face and fled, Lt. Dale Treece, of the Visalia Police Department, said, according to the AP.
DeAngelo, a former police officer, was arrested in the Northern California city of Citrus Heights in April after authorities say they linked him to cases in Sacramento through DNA.
Detectives linked DeAngelo to the Snelling slaying and believe he is the "Visalia Ransacker," whose 18-month home burglary spree of 100 homes shocked the Visalia community for over 18 months in 1974 and 1975, Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said.
The gun used to kill Snelling had been stolen from a home during a burglary in Visalia a month earlier, Salazar said.
The bicycle the gunman used to get away was recovered a block away from Snelling's the day after the crime. The bike had been stolen from a nearby yard two days before murder, the chief said.
The timing of the ransackings and Snelling's killing match the time that DeAngelo was a cop for the city of Exeter, about 10 miles away from Visalia, from May 1973 to August 1976, Salazar said.
The methods that the "Visalia Ransacker" used matches the "Golden State Killer," Salazar said.
He'd break into homes in the evening by prying open doors or windows. He stole keepsakes and left valuables, he'd leave items on doors or doorknobs to alert him of returning residents, and he'd eat or prepare food during his crimes, the chief said.
Victims told police they received strange phone calls weeks after the crimes, Salazar said. He prowled locations and planned escape routes and often used a bicycle to get away.
On Dec. 10, 1975, months after Snelling was killed, police believe they spotted the man responsible while doing surveillance to try to capture the "Visalia Ransacker."
The man shot at an officer during a confrontation with police in a backyard.
The bullet struck the officer's flashlight and the shooter got away. The officer saw his face and was able to give investigators a detailed composite sketch.
Afterward, the ransacker went underground and no further crimes that fit the pattern were committed in the city of Visalia, Salazar said.
A few months later, the "East Area Rapist" began terrorizing east Sacramento from 1976 to 1979, the time when DeAngelo was a cop for the nearby city of Auburn, Salazar said. He left the Exeter Police Department in 1976.