SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The man suspected of being a notorious California serial killer who eluded capture for decades had been arrested by Sacramento police in the 1990s, years before he was connected to the killings, a newspaper reported Friday.
Joseph DeAngelo, now in jail as the suspected “Golden State Killer,” was arrested in a 1996 sting operation on allegations he had held up a gas station, the Sacramento Bee reported . Sacramento police had promised Super Bowl tickets to people facing outstanding warrants to lure them, and DeAngelo responded.
DeAngelo spent several hours in jail but the gas station charges were later dismissed. The Bee obtained court records linked to a $1 million civil lawsuit he filed against the gas station owner that outline details of the arrest.
It would be 22 years before police would arrest DeAngelo again, this time linking him to at least 13 murders and more than 50 rapes across California in the 1970s and 80s. He’s been awaiting trial on 26 charges in the same Sacramento jail since last April and has not entered a plea.
The case of the so-called Golden State Killer and East Area Rapist eluded investigators for decades; the suspect’s last known killing occurred in 1986. Investigators zeroed in last year on DeAngelo by using DNA and genealogy websites.
Sacramento Police Sgt. Shaun Hampton said police would not have had any way of knowing in the 1990s that DeAngelo was allegedly linked to the crimes. The department was not routinely collecting DNA samples at the time.
“The evidence wasn’t there, the technology wasn’t there,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any way we could have known, there was no way for us to identify this person by him simply being in our jail for a few hours.”
DeAngelo had prepaid for gas at a station when the pump malfunctioned, prompting him to go inside to seek a refund. The clerk did not understand him and reported him as an attempted robber, according to court records from a 1998 settlement conference in his civil lawsuit. Records didn’t show the terms of the settlement.
William Wright, DeAngelo’s attorney at the time, said he remembered DeAngelo as a “nice guy” who was upset about what happened at the gas station. He did not realize his client from 22 years earlier was the Golden State Killer until contacted by the newspaper.
“I’d seen the guy TV, but I never made the connection,” Wright said. “He was very pleasant when he was talking to me.”