In 1977, at a public forum about a series of rapes in Northern California, a man expressed doubt that a serial rapist could assault a woman in front of her husband without him retaliating. Months later, the man's wife was raped while he was home. "I can't positively say, but I think the rapist was in the meeting that night," a former detective tells the Washington Post. It was this penchant for "psychological terror" that kept Paul Holes hunting the Golden State Killer for almost 25 years. The investigator's victory came only months before his retirement. Holes used data points from the killer's DNA, taken from the scene of a 1980 rape and murder, to find his great-great-great grandparents on GEDmatch. From there, detectives spent four months tracing their lineage from the early 1800s, using police databases, census records, and obituaries.
In the end, they had 25 family trees and a branch leading to a 72-year-old ex-cop living near Sacramento. Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. is now suspected in 12 murders and at least 45 rapes, with more possible. Simi Valley police chief David Livingstone says the 1978 rape and murder of 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht, whose 4-year-old son was smothered in his bed, has "similarities" to the Golden State Killer's crimes. A woman also claims DeAngelo raped her in Exeter, where DeAngelo worked as a police officer, in 1973 or 1974—years before the first crimes police attribute to him, per KXJZ. "I was struck by the lengths this predator would go to to instill fear in his victims," says another detective on the case. "It was psychological terror."