His attacks dot up and down California — as far north as Sacramento and down through Santa Barbara and Orange County — but in the 40 years since the attacks began, the Golden State Killer has never been caught. In fact, the public hardly knew he existed until recently. One crime expert, Mike Morford -- who calls himself "True Crime Guy" -- hopes to change that.
For more than a year, Morford has been tracking the mysterious killer, whom the Los Angeles Times reports raped at least 45 women and murdered 12 individuals, and he's met with the Golden State Killer’s victims.
Police and the public began to connect the crimes to one man in the 90s, but the FBI's 2016 statement still leaves many unanswered questions.
“When I first learned about this case, I noticed he had a much higher victim count than other serial killers in California,” Morford told Oxygen.com. “There were a lot of people in California who didn’t know who this guy was.”
So far, Morford says after a year of heightened attention and work, the killer's identity remains a mystery.
The killer is known for following his victims weeks before attacking, CBS reports, allegedly placing prank calls to them in a muffled voice — breathing heavily into the phone or making threats — and sometimes stealing small objects from their homes. When he finally attacked, it was almost always at night, using shoelaces tied with a distinctive diamond knot, according to the FBI. He targeted women of any age, from 13 to 41, who were usually home alone or walking alone at night, as well as couples.
Morford estimates the killer may have been as young as 17 years old when he began attacking women.
He also says the scope of his crimes remained out of the public eye for so long because of the wide variation in the locations of the attacks — he’s gone by the Original Night Stalker, the East Area Rapist and the Diamond Knot Killer before being branded the all-encompassing name of Golden State Killer.
“He’s had multiple names. But in the last couple years, they started calling him the Golden State Killer, so that’s good it kind of encompasses all of his crimes,” Morford explains. “There’s a greater chance he might be caught, hopefully by word of mouth and shining a spotlight on him.”
In the 70s, a serial rapist began to terrorize and attack women in Rancho Cordova with his first assault in 1976, The Sacramento Bee reports. He quickly became known as the East Area Rapist. The attacker hit multiple counties in northern California without being caught by police. By 1980, however, attacks started happening outside the region. A man killed a couple walking outside in Irvine. More murders and assaults began popping up, unsolved, and this time, the public gave the killer the name of the Night Stalker.
Finally in 1990, technology had caught up to the unknown perpetrator. DNA evidence found at the scene of his crimes in northern California matched DNA found at the scene of his crimes in southern California. According to CBS, the DNA match wasn’t enough to identify him, but it was enough to shed his separate identities as the East Area Rapist and Night Stalker, and the unknown man became known to the public as the Golden State Killer.
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sgt. Paul Belli told the Associated Press in 2016, “This serial offender was probably one of the most prolific, certainly in California and possibly within the United States.”
The still-unidentified killer’s crimes spanned 14 different police agencies, not including any additional burglary he may have committed.
In 2016, the FBI announced a new reward of $50,000 to anyone who could identify the Golden State Killer. He is described as likely a 60-to 75-year-old white male, approximately 5’10” with light brown or blonde hair. The FBI said he may have been trained in the military or have a history in law enforcement, and the reward notice warns, “People who know the subject may not believe him capable of such crimes. He may not have exhibited violent tendencies or have a criminal history.”
Talking with the victims who survived, Morford said it’s a unique experience. Many have come forward to help identify the killer, handing out fliers and talking on panels aimed at getting the word out to the general public.
“It’s not like seeing something on TV, you actually get to be with these people who were affected and hear their story,” Morford said. “It puts a face to the crime.”
Listen to episodes of Oxygen's Martinis & Murder podcast for more details.
[Photo: FBI Handout]