Between 1974 and 1975, a man police dubbed the Visalia Ransacker broke into 101 homes in the small Central California city. Police now believe Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo was behind the ransacking, although he has not been charged with any of those crimes. The serial prowler was known for burglarizing homes only while the occupants were away, and he didn't usually take anything of value. Often stealing smaller mementos like photographs, single earrings or medallions, the Ransacker would sometimes stay in the homes long enough to enjoy a snack. According to one law enforcement source, the ransacker had a particular fondness for ice cream.
Though he seemed relatively harmless at the time, the Ransacker's prowling took a deadly turn in the fall of 1975. Around 2 AM on the morning of September 11, he broke into the Visalia home of 16-year-old Elizabeth Snelling, where she lived with her two brothers and parents, Arlene and Claude Snelling. Elizabeth (now Snelling-Hupp) told Oxygen's "Golden State Killer: Main Suspect" about the night she was almost abducted by the Visalia Ransacker.
"I woke up to a man laying [sic] on top of me with a ski mask on," said Snelling-Hupp. "And I was very groggy at first, and I was thinking that it was maybe one of my younger brothers. Then when I heard his voice, it was kind of this low, whispery growl, and he said to not scream or he would stab me to death."
She continued, "He said I was coming with him, and that's when I saw the gun. He led me out of the hosue and he told me to shut up or he would kill me. That's when I looked in the house and I saw my dad had come through the kitchen."
Claude then let out a roar and charged toward his daughter's abductor. The Ransacker pushed Snelling-Hupp to the ground before shooting Claude twice.
"And then the guy pointed the gun at me, and I just was crouched in a ball and put my head down and just knew it was going to be over. And instead, he started hitting me in the head with the gun and kicking me, and then he took off running," Snelling-Hupp told "Golden State Killer: Main Suspect."
On the way to the hospital, Snelling-Hupp's father died. About two months after Claude's murder, the ransacking abruptly ended, and many believed the suspect had left Visalia. It wouldn't be until years later that detectives began to link the Ransacker to The East Area Rapist based on multiple witness descriptions and the suspect's method of operation. Now commonly identified as The Golden State Killer, the serial attacker ultimately committed 12 murders and upwards of 50 rapes. Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo has not been charged with Claude Snelling’s murder.
Following one of The East Area Rapist's assaults in Danville, California, police brought in bloodhounds to trace the assailant's scent. According to LA Magazine, the bloodhounds led authorities to a location where the scent abruptly disappeared, indicating the attacker may have entered a getaway car. At the scene, a few items were discovered that police theorized may have unintentionally fallen from his vehicle.
One particularly chilling find was a notebook that contained a hand-drawn map that had the words “Come from Snelling” written on the back. Many theories have spawned from this reported discovery, and one is that Snelling may refer to Elizabeth Snelling or her father Claude.
The Golden State Killer suspect DeAngelo has not been charged with the break-ins attributed to the Visalia Ransacker or the murder of Claude, though police believe it is the first known murder committed by the Golden State Killer.
To learn more about the case, watch "Golden State Killer: Main Suspect" on Oxygen.
[Photo: Elizabeth Hupp]
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