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5 Serial Killers Who Terrorized Orange County
The Golden State Killer is one of many who used Orange County, California as their hunting grounds.
While Orange County, California may have an idyllic, quintessentially West Coast landscape, for some, the area served as the setting of their living nightmares — and a hunting ground for cold, calculated killers.
The popular California county known for its inhabitants’ lavish lifestyles and popular reality TV shows has also been home to some of the most gruesome crimes to ever make headlines.
Below, we’ve rounded up five serial killers who terrorized Orange County and whose crimes went down in history as some of the most disturbing, violent acts to have ever been committed.
1. Joseph James DeAngelo
When it comes to famous killers who terrorized southern California, perhaps none are as well-known as Joseph James DeAngelo, the brutal rapist and murderer known by many other names, including the Original Night Stalker and the Golden State Killer.
Before his arrest in 2018, DeAngelo spent decades living a secret double life filled with vicious crime. While to outsiders he appeared to be a fairly normal police officer and, later, mechanic who had a wife and children, he spent his nights in the 1970s and 1980s plaguing various counties in California, including Orange County, by breaking into homes and raping and killing the inhabitants.
Although he has admitted to raping nearly 50 women and killing 13 people, DeAngelo is believed to have been responsible for dozens of other heinous crimes, including numerous burglaries and abductions. DeAngelo, at the age of 74, was sentenced to life in prison.
2. Richard Ramirez
While DeAngelo was known as the Original Night Stalker, another killer, Richard Ramirez, was also described as the Night Stalker for his violent crimes. Beginning in 1984 and lasting well into 1985, Ramirez embarked on a vicious crime spree, traveling throughout southern California and, like the Golden State Killer, breaking into people's homes and raping and murdering them, often mutilating their bodies. He was also known to steal valuables from the houses and sell them.
After police publicly identified him as a suspect, Ramirez was captured in 1985. The subsequent trial made headlines, with the unrelated murder of one of the jurors and Ramirez's disturbing courtroom behavior. Ramirez, who was known for being a Satanist and often referenced Satan during his crimes, famously shouted "Hail Satan" during one court appearance.
After being found guilty in 1989 of 13 murders, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries, Ramirez was sentenced to death. The punishment was never carried out, however, because he died in 2013 while on death row due to complications from B-cell lymphoma.
3. Rodney James Alcala
Rodney James Alcala was a child molester, rapist, and murderer who carried out his crimes in multiple states, including New York and California. Alcala has also been called the Dating Game Killer due to his appearance on "The Dating Game" in 1978, having, by that point, victimized numerous people.
He attracted many of his victims by claiming to be a fashion photographer, but once he had his targets alone, he would rape, brutally beat, and murder them. His crime spree came to an end with the abduction, rape, and murder of Robin Samsoe, a 12-year-old girl from Huntington Beach, California, after police identified him as a suspect and found her earrings in his storage locker.
After his arrest, authorities found hundreds of photos he had taken of his victims, and to this day, it is unclear how many victims he had.
One survivor, Tali Shapiro, survived her frightening encounter with the child molester, who was caught after an eyewitness saw the then-8-year-old get into Alcala's van.
He was convicted twice, but he successfully appealed his death sentence both times. During his third and final trial, he was found guilty of killing five girls and women, and in 2010, he was sentenced to death.
In July 2021, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed Alcala had died of natural causes at the age of 77.
4. Randy Kraft
When two California Highway Patrol officers pulled over a driver for a run-of-the-mill traffic stop in May 1983, they probably never suspected that they were taking the first step to solving a years-long mystery. Behind the wheel was Randy Kraft — and in the passenger seat was the propped-up body of Terry Lee Gambrel, a young Marine whom Kraft had murdered.
While Kraft was initially pulled over that day in Mission Viejo for a suspected DUI, an investigation revealed that he had raped and murdered numerous boys and men over the span of more than 10 years, beginning in 1972. He was found guilty in 1989 of 16 murders, although he is believed to have been responsible for many more rapes and killings.
Kraft kept sexual photographs of his victims, as well as a list of his victims, written in code, the latter of which earned him the nickname, the Scorecard Killer. He remains on death row.
5. William Bonin
William Bonin, a former truck driver, was nicknamed the Freeway Killer thanks to his heinous crimes. Between 1979 and 1980, Bonin, sometimes with the help of an accomplice, preyed on boys and men in Southern California, routinely picking up hitchhikers and then beating, raping, and killing them. He would then dispose of their bodies along various freeways.
Bonin's reign of terror came to an end in 1980 when police, who'd received a tip about Bonin that led them to shadow him, caught him in the act of raping a teenage boy in his van. He was arrested and later confessed to the abduction, rape, assault, and murder of 21 boys and men.
Bonin was found guilty of having committed four murders in Orange County and convicted of 10 murders in Los Angeles County, and he is believed to have been responsible for many more similar acts. After more than a decade on death row, Bonin died by lethal injection in 1996.
The Real Murders of Orange County premieres Friday, May 26 at 9/8c on Oxygen.
This article was updated in May 2023 to reflect the new season of The Real Murders of Orange County.