The Tale of the Golden State Killer
| IOP Desk - 12 Jun 2019

California(United States), June 12, 2019: It's a well known fact that there is no dearth of serial killers in the United States of America. Over the decades several cases of serial killers have come which had a astounding level of ghastliness. One such case published by The California Sun is that of Bonnie Colwell and Joe DeAngelo which can unnerve even the bravest of all.

It was her sophomore year. Bonnie Colwell worked as a lab assistant in the science department, responsible for a small menagerie of rats, rattlesnakes and orphaned birds. She had brought two of her charges, a young great horned owl and a starling, to practice flying.

The owl, not yet fledged, grabbed Bonnie’s shoulder as the starling launched from the top of her head and wildly into the air, only to return to the safety of the teenager’s loose hair.

The spectacle drew the attention of a stocky, grinning man Bonnie had never noticed before. Joe DeAngelo was thick-muscled and dough-faced, with an odd jounce to his gait. He was five years older than the 18-year-old sophomore. He made a beeline across the open space to her.

Soon, the 23-year-old Vietnam War veteran was showing up at the science lab where Bonnie worked, joining conversations with her and other students. By the end of the first week, he asked Bonnie out.

She said yes to this easy talker, a suitor with an appealing swagger and a penchant for muscle cars.

To Bonnie, he was an energetic and worldly Vietnam vet, an impression strengthened by the fingertip he said was clipped by a bullet during river patrol in the Mekong Delta. Stray fire, he explained coolly.

From Joe, Bonnie learned the rituals of bullfighting on late-night television. He taught her how to lean into canyon curves as she sat behind him on his Honda motorcycle, her nose buried in the smell of English Leather, and how to drive his royal blue Road Runner with the growling engine.

He handed Bonnie a Browning .22 rifle and took her dove hunting by the American River, and she followed nervously as they jumped the fence onto a defense contractor’s property to illegally spear frogs. She once saw Joe shoot a vulture out of the sky.

Joe became Bonnie’s guide to life outside her sheltered, sometimes stifling home. He coaxed her to take risks and to experiment, to scuba dive (which she did) and join him in the pitch-black holes of wells (which she refused). He pushed further, ignoring her boundaries of fear and discomfort. He had an air of superiority, as if he was above the rules. Bonnie saw in him both the light and the dawning dark.

Soon, there was a ring and an engagement. And a night of terror.

Almost half a century later, Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 73, stands accused of being one of America’s most prolific serial killers. The ex-cop turned truck mechanic is said to have unleashed an extended spasm of violence in the 1970s and ’80s: Nearly 60 home invasions; 50 rapes; 13 murders. At least 106 victims. When and if there is a trial — the multi-county case is years from going to a jury, and DeAngelo is noticeably deteriorating in jail — prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty. He has not entered a plea.

Prosecutors say he ranged across the state, from Sacramento to Orange County. At every stop in his alleged evolution from burglar and prowler to dog killer, rapist and serial murderer, they say, he escaped detection to start anew under another sobriquet: the Cordova Cat Burglar, the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Creek Killer, the Diamond Knot Killer, the original Night Stalker.

In the long sweep of crimes, dogs were bludgeoned to death in the same manner as people — with a log. He locked children in bathrooms or tied them to a headboard while he repeatedly raped their mothers.

Attacks sometimes lasted hours; he raped and sodomized women again and again. He tortured men, their hands and feet bound so tight the skin turned black. He promised to bring them the ears of their wives and girlfriends if the perfume bottles he balanced on their backs should topple. He hovered over his blindfolded victims in silence, watching.

Bonnie was at home in Italy, helping two American friends navigate the country’s train system, when DeAngelo reentered her life in April 2018.

Her former husband called.

“What was the name of the guy you dated before me?”

“Do you mean Joe DeAngelo?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” her ex-husband said. The county prosecutor had just called him. “I need to let you know they are arresting him as the East Area Rapist.”

Even before she returned to the United States, Bonnie was hunted by reporters, her private life suddenly public, her travel blog and Facebook pages repackaged as an instant book on Amazon. Her children devised elaborate plans to get her past the waiting television crews and into a hotel. Satellite trucks clogged the driveway outside her home, near Sacramento.

The shock deepened and became more personal when she learned that during the course of the 37th home invasion, after the rape and sodomy of a Davis woman, the attacker broke down and wept on his victim’s pillow.

“I hate you, Bonnie,” the woman told police her rapist sobbed that night in July 1978. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.”

Forensic psychologists say serial killers are driven by complex forms of mental illness, and that the Golden State Killer followed a textbook path of sexually driven perversions that probably began in boyhood. None of that mattered after a retired case investigator, courting the media and book and TV deals, pointed to Bonnie as the likely source of the killer’s rage, the woman who “dumped him.”

The low point came when the London Daily Mail ran a story with Bonnie’s photo and the lurid headline:

“Is this the woman who broke the Golden State Killer’s heart and sparked his murderous rampage?”

onnie came from a family of academic achievers. Her father was a tough principal at a high school for second-chance students in Sacramento. Her mother was a former teacher. Her three brothers were class presidents at a small country school amid the rolling farms in the foothills north of Sacramento. Bonnie was class treasurer. An academic standout, she played the piano and once a week drove with her girlfriends to console the recovering Vietnam veterans at a Navy hospital in Oakland.

Boys didn’t pay much attention to her at Del Oro High School. By the time she arrived at Sierra College, Bonnie was bright and inexperienced. Dating Joe represented a kind of unshackling.

DeAngelo had just finished four years in the Navy, three of those on tour in Vietnam. The story he told Bonnie about losing his fingertip conjured images in her mind of a hardened four-man boat gliding through the jungle with machineguns, and cast him in the same favorable light as her convalescents in Oakland. But Joe saw no such action. Navy records show he served as a carpenter aboard large ships that shelled Viet Cong strongholds from a safe distance. His fingertip, a family friend said, was sliced off when Joe didn’t get his hand out of the way of a rolling drum below deck.

Bonnie was the kind of honors student professors asked to tutor others. Between college classes she worked as a lab assistant, tending to animals and preparing lecture aids for the science faculty. DeAngelo was studying political science and had no reason to be in the building. Soon, though, he was at her side, sitting for hours while she mounted slides, chatting his way into her heart and then into her large family.

DeAngelo’s own family past was fractured and rootless. He grew up following his father to military bases in Germany and across the United States. By junior high they had landed in Rancho Cordova. Joe’s father, an Air Force officer, bought a small tract house with mortgaged furniture; even the children’s bunk beds and the radio were on loan. But childhood friends never saw Joe’s father around, and when the Air Force transferred him to Korea and then Florida, his wife and four children stayed behind.

Joe’s mother, a waitress at Denny’s, started seeing a traveling welder with a wife and children of his own in Southern California. The job of minding the younger siblings — fixing their meals, washing their clothes, getting them to school — fell to Joe. He had epic shouting matches with his mother.

Joe DeAngelo yearned for the warmth and stability of family, said a childhood friend, Judy. So he adopted hers.

Joe started coming round as a schoolmate of Judy’s brothers. In no time, he was calling Judy’s parents “Mom” and “Pop.” They treated Joe like their 10th child, even put his class picture on the shelf next to the rest of the kids. The boys had the run of Rancho Cordova, not yet an incorporated town, half of it still in abandoned grape vineyards. They jumped fences, ran canals, gigged frogs and shot rabbits. Joe beat up a jerk at school.

He took one of Judy’s girlfriends up to a cabin, where he proposed; the young girl rejected him. He sneaked sips of sloe gin from a bottle in his pocket. He worked on cars.

Judy’s mother sat Joe down with the rest of the boys for discussions about girls. She thought of him as her sixth brother. Judy’s oldest sister became the closest thing to a confidant. But in the nearly 50 years she and her siblings knew Joe, he never really talked about himself or his feelings.

It never crossed Judy’s mind, living later as a young woman in her parents’ Rancho Cordova house during a rash of Peeping Tom activity, that the hooded face she saw at her window one night, paralyzing her with fear, could be DeAngelo.

Joe’s best friend was Judy’s oldest brother. He quit high school his senior year to enlist in the military. The next year, Joe did the same. He wanted to fly planes, but the Navy put him in the galley, then below deck as a mechanic. DeAngelo spent the next unremarkable three years at sea, on the Canberra andthe Piedmont, then a year in the Naval Reserve before being honorably discharged back to California. His mother had now married the welder, and Joe moved in with them in the hills outside Auburn.

At Sierra College, DeAngelo did not come off as a particularly strong student; Bonnie tutored him to a passing grade in astronomy. Classmates thought the pair an odd match not only in intelligence but also style. Bonnie favored the brainy lyricism of Simon and Garfunkel. Joe moved to a singular soundtrack: the acid lust of the Doors.

Her friends saw Joe as someone trying hard to fit in with the younger students. But he was considerate and easygoing. He laughed a lot. He draped his thick arms around people he’d just met. He gave off a whiff of James Dean badness, slouching in jeans and a T-shirt, with suede ankle boots.

Bonnie’s father, Stan Colwell, had been a tough truant officer before being promoted to principal at a second-chance high school. He did not approve of an older man dating his teenage daughter. He had rigid ideas about the roles of men and women and their paths in life, putting him at odds with the rapidly changing times. There was often tension in the family farmhouse when Colwell clashed with the increasingly independent daughter.                                                                                                                 

Image credit:DailyMail



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