SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — James Huddle always hoped the rapist who terrorized the Sacramento suburbs in the 1970s and prompted him to buy a pistol for protection would be caught.
But Huddle was stunned to learn the man arrested was his former brother-in-law, Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., who once discussed the rash of rapes with him.
“It was true shock and awe in the family,” Huddle told The Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s still just going crazy in my mind. It’s one of those kind of things that only happens to other people until it happens to you.”
For those who knew DeAngelo and those who still have vivid memories of the frightening period when a masked prowler struck week after week in Northern California, raping dozens of women and killing a couple, news that the so-called East Area Rapist was behind bars was still sinking in.
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DeAngelo, 72, a former policeman, has been charged with eight counts of murder. He is suspected in 13 killings statewide and about 50 rapes and likely to face other charges, authorities said.
Most of the killings occurred in Southern California after DeAngelo was fired from the city of Auburn’s police force in 1979 for shoplifting. After DNA linked the killings to some of the rapes, the suspect was dubbed the Golden State Killer.
As investigators continued their search of DeAngelo’s house for class rings, earrings, dishes and keepsakes the culprit stole from crime scenes, Candace Creech and her teenage daughter showed up in the Citrus Heights neighborhood out of curiosity.
Sierra Creech, 17, was friends with DeAngelo’s granddaughter and spent almost every weekend at the house for about six months when she was 8 or 9 years old. DeAngelo’s daughter looked after her because he was at work, but Creech said there was nothing unusual about him.
Still, her mother was spooked to learn that the man who used to pick up and drop off her daughter is accused of such heinous crimes.
“Scares me to death,” Candace Creech said.
Betsy Reamer hadn’t thought about the frightening period for years until her son, an AP reporter, told her Wednesday about the arrest.
She was immediately reminded of a sleepless night in 1979 when she looked out the front window of her Danville home and saw a man in a ski mask riding a bicycle. He matched the image she’d seen on the news of the serial rapist who had already hit two homes in town.
Reamer shook her husband awake and called police, but no arrest was made.
The incident rattled her for the next two years they lived in town and it changed her behavior. She was nervous letting her children play outside and frequently double-checked if doors and windows were locked.
On Wednesday night, the masked bicyclist appeared in her dreams.
“It was astounding to me. I hadn’t thought about it for so many years,” she said. “I had flashbacks — nightmares — last night thinking back to that moment.”
In addition to rampant fear, there was intense suspicion.
Some friends even started night-time vigilante patrols in hopes of spotting the attacker, said Gregory Eberly, who was in his late teens at the time. His friends began the patrols, although he never participated.
“The more rapes that happened, it just started to turn everybody into (thinking), ‘Who is this guy? Is it your neighbor? Is it the guy at church?'” he said.
News of the crime wave was everywhere and it was a frequent topic of conversation at the time.
Huddle didn’t think anything was unusual when DeAngelo asked him what he would do if he encountered the rapist.
“I think I told him, ‘I already got a gun,'” Huddle told the AP. “I don’t think he was surprised by what I said.”
Huddle said he is stunned thinking now about who he was talking to.
“Pretty crazy,” he said. “I was clueless.”
Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press photographer Rich Pedroncelli in Citrus Heights contributed to this story.