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Crime News

The East Area Rapist May Be The Most Prolific Violent Serial Criminal U.S. History

He raped at least 45 people and killed 12, but he was never caught. Decades later, the FBI wants to change that.

By Jaime Lutz

In 1977, women in the Sacramento area were being attacked in droves by a man only known as the East Area Rapist. Police held town halls for concerned citizens in response to this audacious spree. At one town hall, according to Crime Watch Daily, a man stood up and said that he was shocked that any man could stand idly by while a monster raped his wife.

A few months later, this man and his wife became the East Area Rapist's victims. Eerily, the town hall had been photographed. Is the East Area Rapist among this crowd?

According to The FBI, the East Area Rapist—also known as the Original Night Stalker, the Diamond Knot Killer, and most recently as the Golden State Killer—committed at least 45 rapes, murdered 12 people and is responsible for at least 120 burglaries from 1979 to 1986. He’s one of the most prolific violent serial criminals in history—and he’s the subject of Oxygen’s Martinis & Murder podcast.

The East Area Rapist has never been caught by police, but he’s likely still out there—police say he would be between 60 and 75 today. In 2016, the FBI put out a $50,000 reward leading to information about his arrest.

His pattern of attack 

The killer began attacking teens and women who were home alone (or only with young children in the house), and switched a year later to targeting couples, which became his MO. 

It is thought that he would stalk couples for weeks trying to figure out their habits and home security before making his attack. When he finally struck, he would appear near the foot of his victims’ beds with a weapon in the middle of the night, often sans pants. He would force the woman to tie up the man, then he’d tie up the woman.

Then, he’d make the man lie on his stomach and put dishes on top of him, telling the man that if they rattled, he’d hurt or kill the woman he was raping.

After he was done, he’d sometimes stay in their house even longer, making himself a sandwich or having a beer, doing a little ransacking, and rummaging for small keepsakes like a photo before fleeing the scene. All the while, his victims would be lying still, fearing for their lives, and never sure when he had left the house.

Down the coast

In Northern California, the crimes occurred from 1976 through 1979. At some point in 1979, however, the killer moved down the coast, and police treated these Southern California crimes as the work of a different person, whom the press called “The Original Nightstalker.” 

The crimes dramatically changed, too. In Northern California, he killed two people—but only to evade being caught. In Southern California, he killed 10, capping off his rapes by bludgeoning the victims and their husbands to death. 

DNA didn’t prove that the crimes were connected until 2001.

What police know

The East Area Rapist always wore a ski mask when he attacked couples, so it’s hard to know what he looked like. Still, investigators believe he was a young, white man at the time of the attacks, close to 6 feet tall, with blonde or light brown hair.

He was slender and in good shape—as you’d have to be to psysically to attack so many people—but evidentially had an unusually tiny penis.

Apart from physical description, the FBI believes that it’s likely that the East Area Rapist started out as the VIsalia Ransacker, a man who burglarized about 80 homes before the East Area Rapist began his attacks.

“He may have an interest or training in military or law enforcement techniques, and he was proficient with firearms,” the FBI wrote in a statement last year

His phone calls

The killer would often call his victims before or after the attack, to taunt them or threaten them. He once called a victim and said “Merry Christmas, it’s me again!” 

Another time he called up the police to say “You’re never gonna catch me! It’s the East Area Rapist, you dumb fuckers!”

Once, in 1977, he called the sheriff’s department and told them “I am going to hit tonight. Watt Avenue.” Police put patrollers out, and sure enough, they saw a man in a ski mask riding a bike over the Watt Avenue bridge, but he was able to escape.

What's next

In June of last year, the FBI announced $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the East Area Rapist/Original Nightstalker. There are countless rape and murder victims and their loved ones who want this sociopath brought to justice. 

The FBI has identified his DNA, but it hasn't turned up any successful matches as of yet. 

"Detectives have DNA from multiple crime scenes that can positively link—or eliminate—suspects," an FBI statement said. "This will allow investigators to easily rule out innocent parties with a simple, non-invasive DNA test."

Still, the FBI is hopeful that the reward might get them closer to finding the identity of the East Area Rapist than ever before.

“Just like any homicide investigation,” said Sgt. Paul Belli, a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department detective, “our lifelines are people who give us information. It all boils down to people helping.” Individuals with information are urged to call 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324). Information may also be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov.

For armchair detectives who listened to the podcast, dive into Reddit or this East Area Rapist message board, check out the "Punishment map," see the intersection some call "ground zero," read his alleged communications and writings, and learn about the Visalia Ransacker.