When someone harms us or someone we love, the need for justice burns like an inextinguishable fire. Two wrongs may not make a right, but a dozen brutal homicides are certainly worth an extraordinary sentence. Just try to tell any victim of the Golden State Killer otherwise.
At last, in 2018, after 40 years of excruciating mystery, the notorious criminal was identified. Yet, when the man the world had been fearing for decades was finally arrested, the only question onlookers could ask themselves was: Are the methods the police used to catch him ethical?
Anyone lucky enough to live in California during the ’70s and ’80s would tell you it was a golden era. But even in these groovy years, beach babes and Berkeley bums alike were looking over their shoulder for one man.
The Golden State Killer, or the East Area Rapist as he was known at the time, terrorized over 15 counties in California during his active years. He was a prolific criminal, but it was his “signature” style that he was really known for.
Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio
Typically, he would single out women who were either home alone or home with their children. After raping the woman, he would murder her and often burgle the house while the kids hid in a closet.
At a certain point, he began attacking couples. He would place a tea cup and saucer on the victims’ backs and threaten murder if he heard it rattle. Usually he killed them both anyway, as he infamously did with one couple by bludgeoning them to death with a firewood log.
Between 1974 and 1986, it’s estimated that the Golden State Killer committed 120 burglaries, 45 rapes, and 12 murders. Then, 34 years ago, all activity related to the serial criminal suddenly stopped. The hopeful theory was that he died, but without any confirmation, locals weren’t exactly sleeping easy.
Just because there was no fresh blood didn’t mean that the wounds from over a decade of trauma suddenly healed. Every time a new crime was reported that familiar chill ran up Californians’ backs. For one woman, however, the mysterious criminal piqued her in a different way.
Center for Sacramento History
Michelle McNamara was never a victim of the Golden State Killer, but she was the person that gave him that grim moniker. McNamara was a true crime author, and she took a keen interest in the evasive killer from the very start.
After so many incidents it was extremely unsettling that police never even came close to catching the man behind these heinous crimes. Fortunately for the justice-seekers, it just took McNamara’s unyielding curiosity to crack the old cold case right open.
The Sacramento Bee
She began writing letters to local newspapers when people started to take interest in her research. Not long after beginning her personal GSK investigation, McNamara was approached with an opportunity to legitimize her efforts in the form of a book deal.
Fate reared its ugly head, however, when McNamara died from an accidental overdose before she ever finished the book. Nonetheless, her husband knew how much this meant to his late wife, and he hired a team to put the final pieces together.
The book, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer was published in February of 2018. It sky-rocketed to the top of all the best seller lists. Clearly, McNamara wasn’t the only one curious about these unsolved crimes.
New York Times
In fact, due to all the buzz about the book, investigators actually decided to re-open the case. Only this time, they had some new tools and advanced technology on their side that weren’t around back in the ’80s.
Allen J. Schaven / Los Angeles Times
Police retrieved some DNA from one of the crime scenes and ran it through an ancestry website, just as any civilian user would. They didn’t expect a serial killer — one who possibly died in the ’80s — to have an existing sample in the bank. That’s not what they even needed.
Using this giant database police were able to find several distant genetic matches and create a “tree” back to the killer. Over the course of a few days, they narrowed their search down to one suspect. The biggest surprise: he was alive and living right there in California.
Randall Benton / The Sacramento Bee
On April 24th 2018, just two months after McNamara’s book was released, police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo from his home in Sacramento. His neighbors, who described him as the “suburban grandpa” were in shock. The old man next door was also the most notorious killer in California.
DeAngelo was 72-years-old at the time of his arrest. He had three grown daughters and had been married since 1973, although, his wife Sharon Huddle, had become estranged since the early 90s. They are all still alive but have refused to comment.
Joseph James DeAngelo and Sharon Huddle via Daily Mail
The breakthrough of using DNA sites for criminal investigation has rattled the world in more ways than one. No one was sorry to see justice served to the Golden State Killer, by whatever means possible. Though it does bring up many questions about privacy.
Bobby Jones / U.S. Air Force
Since the beginning, sites like 23andMe and Ancestry.com have claimed that their clients are protected. Their mission is to bring relations together and educate people about their genetic history. Now, former hobbyists are making way for high-profile investigators.
NWITimes / Daily Mail
With police tapping into these databases, 60% of Americans can be tracked with DNA, regardless of whether or not they’ve submitted their own sample. If a third cousin you’ve never met submits his DNA, you’re officially in the system. This has a many people feeling uncertain.
About 80% of Americans believe police should have access to these databases for violent crimes, but that number drops down to 40% approval for investigations into non-violent cases. But violent or not, with these DNA stores available, investigators now have more liberties than ever before.
Serial killers hold a strong psychological fascination in our society, and the questions that these criminal cases raise about humanity and morality are equally enthralling. However, when it comes to justice and how to get it, the answers become much more difficult.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
The story of Rodney Alcala was one of the most intriguing and disturbing criminal cases in history. It all began in 1968, as he left the Army after suffering a nervous breakdown.
He was ordered to seek out medical attention where he was diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder. Following the diagnosis, he joined UCLA School of Fine Arts to pursue photography.
While in school, he was able to work through his antisocial personality disorder, and he eventually graduated. All seemed normal. Yet, shortly after leaving UCLA, the very first of Rodney’s heinous crimes would occur…
Not long after his graduation, Rodney successfully tempted Tali Shapiro, an eight-year-old girl to accompany him to his Hollywood apartment. Luckily, a passing motorcyclist noticed the strange interaction and contacted the police.
By the time the cops arrived and broke into Rodney’s apartment, they found Tali had been beaten and raped. Unfortunately, Rodney was long gone by then. The police now had a manhunt on their hands.
Rodney was immediately added to the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. He was at large, and he posed an enormous threat to whomever he came in contact with. There was no telling how many more victims he would hurt until police captured him.
In order to evade arrest, Rodney changed his name and got a counseling job at a children’s art camp in New Hampshire—a particularly horrifying thought, given his diagnosis and his crimes.
Incredibly, two children who were attending the New Hampshire art camp recognized Rodney’s picture on an FBI poster, and their parents quickly alerted authorities. Not long after, he was arrested. However, the police faced one huge roadblock…
Tali Shapiro’s family had relocated to Mexico, and her parents refused to allow her to testify in the case. This allowed Rodney to plead to the much lesser charge of assault. After only 17 months, he won parole and was set free.
In 1977, Rodney now a free man, traveled to New York City where, just a week after arriving, he killed Ellen Jane Hover. She was a 23-year-old woman who was the daughter of the owner of Ciro’s, a popular upscale nightclub.
In 1978, authorities—who had no idea that Rodney had killed Ellen just a year earlier—questioned him as a potential suspect in the notorious Los Angeles Hillside Strangler case. After thorough questioning, Rodney was eventually ruled out.
Throughout 1978, Rodney convinced hundreds of girls that he was a professional fashion photographer and snapped explicit photos of them for his “portfolio.” Many of these women ended up victims of assault and battery.
Rodney auditioned to be a contestant on the popular TV show The Dating Game, and he passed the audition.Along with two other men, he competed for a chance to date a woman named Cheryl Bradshaw. And somehow, he won.
Cheryl Bradshaw was so unnerved by Rodney’s demeanor that she refused to go on the actual date. It would end up being undoubtedly the luckiest decision of her life. Still, Rodney wasn’t finished terrorizing women.
Not long after his game show appearance, the body of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe was discovered in the Los Angeles foothills. And friends of the young girl reported they’d been approached by a man who fit Rodney’s description.
Apparently, Rodney had approached the girls asking to take their photograph. The testimonies were undeniable. Rodney was arrested in late 1979 and sentenced to death. However, another roadblock sprung up…
Rodney was brought to trial—and received death sentences—on two separate occasions. But because the jury was improperly informed about his criminal past, both verdicts were overturned.
He was brought in a third time when his semen matched DNA samples taken from two separate crime scenes in Los Angeles. This evidence finally proved to be his downfall…
The DNA evidence eventually led to his conviction for the murders of four other female victims: 31-year-old Charlotte Lamb, 27-year-old Georgia Wixted, 18-year-old Jill Barcomb, and 21-year-old Jill Parenteau. The jury also nabbed him on two more counts from decades earlier…
During this third and final trial, Rodney was found guilty on all counts of murder, including those of Cornelia Michel Crilley and Ellen Jane Hover, two other cases from the 1970s. All the pieces had finally come together.
Courtroom officials found Rodney’s entire trial extremely peculiar. He opted to interrogate himself for five hours straight, sometimes rambling incoherently. However, in the end, his efforts to prove his innocence failed.
The urge to kill innocent people and ruin the lives of their family members will never be understood. Thankfully, Rodney now sits in California’s State Prison in Corcoran awaiting appeals for his death sentences.
Over the course of history, there have been many infamous serial killers who have terrorized towns and cities across the world. Jeffrey Dahmer, however, will go down as one of the most violent and despicable to have ever lived.
Dahmer was nicknamed the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” and he terrorized the citizens of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, between the years of 1978 and 1991. Thankfully, in 1992, his reign of terror came to an end after police finally caught and arrested him for his crimes.
Dahmer was sentenced to 16 consecutive life sentences in prison for murdering, raping, and sometimes eating the corpses of 17 young men and boys over the course of 13 years. His actions were truly some of the most depraved the world had ever seen…
Dahmer was sent to the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin, to serve his sentence. Many were overjoyed that this monster was finally going to be shut away from society to pay for the heartache and suffering he caused so many families.
Columbia Correctional Institution was a tough place full of violent offenders who had little to lose, and fellow prisoners didn’t take kindly to new inmates who had committed atrocities like Dahmer. Even though they were also criminals, what Dahmer did was cowardly and vile in their eyes.
Dahmer’s sentence came to an abrupt end in 1994 for a reason that might shock you. A fellow inmate at the prison named Christopher Scarver knew about Dahmer’s twisted history of violence, and one night, he cornered the serial killer while they were alone.
Using a metal bar, Scarver beat Dahmer to death. Dahmer tried to scream out for help, but there was no one around to hear. Even if there was, it was likely the police wouldn’t even have intervened immediately. They, too, thought Dahmer was the lowest form of criminal.
For a number of years, Scarver kept silent about the details of the murder; he knew that if he spoke up, he would become deeply embroiled in a world of controversy. He was already in prison, so the last thing he needed was more unwanted attention.
Recently, however, Scarver decided to speak out about what happened the night he killed Dahmer. He knew plenty of people wanted details, so he explained what happened the evening of the bludgeoning…
Scarver explained that Dahmer always liked to taunt the other prison inmates by doing twisted things like fashioning severed limbs out of prison food and leaving them where other people would find them. This was not amusing to the inmates, so animosity began to build between Dahmer and the prisoners he taunted.
Dahmer’s passion for disturbing people clearly didn’t begin while he was behind bars. One of the most terrifying things that was noted about him was his complete lack of empathy for his victims and the victims’ families.
This was a man who ruined so many innocent lives, and the way he carried himself told everyone that he didn’t feel one bit of remorse about what he had done. It was as if he believed his crimes were completely justified.
Spending years behind bars usually gives inmates time to think about the hurt they’ve caused, and many of them do feel sorry for what they’ve done. According to Scarver, Dahmer was not that kind of person.
Scarver, along with most of the inmates at the Columbia Correctional Institution, despised the sight of Dahmer, so one night, he decided he was going to teach the Milwaukee Cannibal a lesson. It was a lesson the other inmates and prison guards felt Dahmer needed…
Scarver, like the other inmates, typically kept his distance from Dahmer, but one evening, he and another prisoner found themselves unshackled and in Dahmer’s presence while the toilets got a routine cleaning. It was the only chance Scarver had to make a move.
Not only were the three men unshackled, but they were all completely unsupervised, which Scarver thought was no coincidence. It was almost as if the guards willingly gave him a chance to inflict harm upon Dahmer, and he did not squander it.
During the toilet cleaning, Scarver followed Dahmer to a staff locker room; he stayed silent so Dahmer didn’t suspect anything. He’d stolen a rusted iron bar from the weight room and hid it in his sweatpants, and as soon as Dahmer’s back was turned, he struck him repeatedly over the head until the infamous killer died.
While Scarver received additional prison time for Dahmer’s murder, many feel that it was simply justice for the atrocities that Dahmer had so eagerly committed. Few people seemed upset at what Scarver had done. In fact, many inmates commended the killing.
Scarver knew the repercussions he was going to face, but he also knew that Dahmer was a monster, and he wanted him to pay for what he had done. Even if he hadn’t murder Dahmer, at some point, it’s very likely another inmate would have attempted it.
Blogspot / Heal Worlds
It’s difficult to explain what turns a person into a serial killer. Experts have looked into Dahmer’s childhood experiences, and there can be some conclusions drawn from them, but one thing is for sure: the world will always remember the horror that was Jeffrey Dahmer.
Most evil people aren’t born that way. It is the circumstances of their upbringing and their life experiences that change them for the better or sometimes, for the worse. Even history’s most reviled people were once children.
When we think of figures like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer we don’t think of them as innocent children just struggling to grow up. Instead, we think about the horrible crimes they committed and the lives they took before they were apprehended.
Looking at this school photograph it is almost impossible to believe that the little boy would grow up to be one of America’s most infamous serial killers. This is an early school photograph of David Berkowitz, otherwise known as the Son of Sam, taken long before the killing spree that would make him infamous.
Berkowitz was born on June 1, 1953 as Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, New York. Berkowitz was the product of his mother Elizabeth Borden’s three-year affair with a married man. Elizabeth was terrified that having a child would make her less attractive to her lover, so after just a handful of days, she put Berkowitz up for adoption.
Luckily for him, Berkowitz was very quickly adopted by a lovely married couple from the Bronx named Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz. They soon realized their son was exceptionally intelligent, however, he also seemed quite troubled.
As Berkowitz grew, he was constantly getting in trouble for petty theft and for bullying. When Berkowitz’s adoptive mother died of cancer when he was just 14, his father remarried and Berkowitz grew to hate his new stepmother. As soon as he was 18 he fled home to join the U.S. Army.
Berkowitz served for three years in the army. Once his service ended he found himself lost, alone, and searching for answers. He tried to hunt down his birth mother, but their reunion only made him feel more angry and isolated.
Berkowitz’s anger stoked, his thoughts finally turned to true violence. On December 24, 1975, he attacked a teenage girl named Michelle Forman with a massive hunting knife. Michelle was able to escape and survived the attack. Berkowitz, meanwhile, escaped all suspicion.
To keep a low profile, Berkowitz moved to Yonkers just outside of NYC. But in July of 1976, armed with a gun, Berkowitz spotted Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti, kissing in a parked car. He shot them both. Lauria died at the scene while Valenti survived with scars both physical and emotional.
Now the floodgates had opened for Berkowitz. For two years he would continue to murder innocent strangers, terrifying an entire city and earning his first nickname from the police. They called him the .44 Caliber Killer, after the type of gun he used.
By 1977 Berkowitz had killed two other people and had left others wounded. Then on April 17, he changed his pattern. After fatally shooting Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani while the couple sat in their car, he left a note behind at the crime scene.
The note Berkowitz left was addressed to New York City police Captain Joseph Borelli. Berkowitz’s handwriting was like that of a child’s, and his messy block letters made sure to get his message through loud and clear: He was the murderer and he would be back.
Murderpedia / Son of Sam
Also included in this note was a new nickname for Berkowitz, one of his own choosing: The Son of Sam. Many of the women Berkowitz had attacked had long dark hair, this prompted women across the city to cut and dye their hair in the hopes of escaping his notice.
Tragically, cutting and dying her hair did not save Stacy Moskowitz. She and her boyfriend Robert Violante were attacked in their car on July 31, 1977. Moskowitz was fatally shot, while Violante survived. This time, however, a man named Tommy Zaino witnessed the entire attack.
Find A Grave
Thanks to a description provided by Zaino, the police finally felt like they were getting closer to making a real break in the case. Then a local came forward saying she had seen a man acting strangely in the area when Moskowitz and Violante were attacked.
Thanks to this woman’s description, the police were able to narrow down their search to one block. Eventually, they located Berkowitz’s car and inside they found a rifle, maps of the different crime scenes and a note directed to a police officer named Timothy Dowd.
On August 10, 1977, David Berkowitz was finally caught by the police where he admitted to all of his crimes. Berkowitz also admitted that the “Sam” in his notes was a former neighbor. He claimed that Sam’s dog was possessed by an evil spirit who made Berkowitz kill young women.
Because of his strange claims and bizarre behavior, there was concern that Berkowitz would not be mentally capable of standing trial. However, in the end, the judge ruled him competent and Berkowitz was sentenced to 25 years for every person he killed.
In 1987, just 10 years after Berkowitz was caught and sentenced for his crimes, he claimed to have converted to Evangelical Christianity. He also refused to go to any of his parole hearings claiming that he was guilty and so should serve the full sentence.
In 1990, Berkowitz made the news once again, saying that just before he began the murders he had joined a Satanic cult which forced him to commit the crimes. He went on to say that only three of the murders were his doing, the rest were committed by the alleged cult.
The police reopened the Son of Sam case in 1966 to investigate Berkowitz’s claims of cult activity. Though police have been unable to find any evidence that Berkowitz had an accomplice of any sort, the case remains open and is a source of much fascination.
David Berkowitz started a website from prison where he posts bible verses and apologies to his victims. His newly acquired faith is still very important to him. What’s going on beneath the surface, however, no one really knows except Berkowitz himself.