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Why Did The Golden State Killer Stop Killing?
Typically, serial killers don't just stop. But, that's just what police believe Joseph DeAngelo did.
The Golden State Killer, if police are correct, stopped killing altogether in 1986 after slaughtering a dozen people. He also took a five-year hiatus between his 11th and 12th victims.
Earlier this month, police arrested former police officer Joseph DeAngelo, who was subsequently charged with four of the 12 murders. Police believe he could be the Golden State Killer, an elusive murderer whose tactics and behaviors are baffling.
The Golden State Killer’s pattern was unusual, according to Dr. Scott Bonn, criminologist and author of “Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World's Most Savage Murderers."
“Most of them [serial killers] don’t have long cooling off periods between their killings that last for years," he told Oxygen.com.
Why? Because it’s an addiction, according to Bonn.
“Serial killing is almost like a drug addiction. It’s a compulsion. They have to have it and they do it again and again until they are caught or killed.”
As with addiction, there is an escalation period. Police believe that the Golden State Killer and the Visalia Ransacker are one and the same, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Visalia Ransacker burglarized about 100 homes in the small California city of Visalia in 1974 and 1975. One of those burglaries turned deadly on September 11, 1975 when journalism professor Claude Snelling was shot outside his home after he chased after the ransacker, according to the Visalia Times Delta.
In 1976 and 1977, the Golden State Killer raped multiple women and teen girls. Then, on April 2, 1977, he began attacking couples. He would physically restrain and tie up both people and then rape the woman. After a dozen attacks on couples, he began killing. On Feb. 2, 1978, he murdered his first of many couples. It seemed like a natural, albeit gruesome, progression, one that follows the typical pattern of a serial killer. But, suddenly in 1981, he stopped killing. He took a break for five years before killing for one last time in 1986. He didn't kill again, police believe.
That is rare. The only other aberration that Bonn could think of, a serial killer that had a similar pattern to that of the Golden State Killer, was the BTK Killer, who killed ten victims over a period of almost 30 years.
“In his case, he was able to sustain himself through auto-erotic fantasy,” Bonn said. “He would relive his crimes in a way to control his urges without killing again but that’s unusual.”
Like with BTK, though, the Golden State Killer may have relived his crimes and acted them out in other ways. He was known to make prank phone calls to terrorize some of his victims for decades, as recent as 2001.
“It would be a way of maintaining control, especially over these same people,” Bonn explained. “There are different categories of serial killers and there is a category called power-control killer which is what BTK was, and I think this guy has aspects of that. He had a law enforcement background. I think he was a control freak and he was able to get a feeling of that same sense of intimidation and dominance without killing, through harassing phone calls. I think it probably gave him a fix of that adrenaline.”
Why else could he have stopped?
Bonn mentioned that in 1981, police said that a man fought off a person that could have been the Golden State Killer. He said it’s possible that this scared him enough to stop killing for five years. His next and last victim was Janelle Lisa Cruz in 1986.
“It’s conceivable that he was intimidated and given pause by that encounter in 1981 and then by 1986 and his urge to kill became overwhelming enough he had to kill again.”
By then, if the killer was DeAngelo like police suspect, he would have been 40 years old. That may have been too old.
“It’s absolutely true that criminals tend to age out of crime especially if the crimes they commit are violent in nature which of course rape and robbery and serial killing is,” Bonn told Oxygen. “Physically, he may not have been up to it anymore. I think that’s a possibility.”
The Golden State Killer used physical strength in his crimes. He didn't just attack young women who were alone. He attacked couples. He was also known to jump fences and climb into windows.
Co-hosts Mike Morford and Mike Ferguson have created over a dozen episodes on the Golden State Killer on their podcast Criminology.
Morford told Oxygen.com that he is baffled because if DeAngelo is, in fact, the man behind the 12 murders that means his last two murders happened on years that DeAngelo’s daughters were born.
“Two of his daughters were born those years so it makes me wonder if there is a tie-in to the mother being pregnant or the births. It’s awfully weird that those two years during a five-year span when he killed are when daughters happened to be born. That’s something that will be interesting to look back on to see if there’s some sort of association with that.”
"He had two children and killed for the last two times while his wife was pregnant both times, five years apart," Pilleri told Oxygen.com. "Maybe there's something about that which gave him the aggression to do that and maybe something about being a family man or seeing his kids had him stop for the most part."
Reenstierna said that during the later part of his killing career, he had some close calls.
"Maybe he got a little too close to the flame," he said. "Because he had kids and a family, that could have slowed him down and make him eventually stop."
Paul Haynes was the lead researcher for "I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer,” Michelle McNamara's book, which has drawn widespread attention to the case.
“Haynes said [at CrimeCon in Nashville last weekend] that he [the Golden State Killer] would sit and wait to stalk his victims and sit and wait in their bedrooms,” Pilleri told Oxygen. “Towards the end of his killing career, it seemed like he had practiced setting up himself up for complete stillness which is sort of what he is doing right now: sitting in a wheelchair and not saying anything. That’s just something he trained himself to do. So, if he trained himself to be a disciplined killer, I’m sure he was able to train himself in not killing if he had something that was worth losing like his family or his freedom.”
Billy Jensen, a journalist, who also contributed to Michelle McNamara's book, is looking into whether the serial killer stopped killing at all. He is investigating DeAngelo's vacation history to see if there are any other potential crimes that could be linked to him. Jensen has reached out to the public for help.