Well, this is unfortunate.
I mean, the larger story is astounding and relieving and huge, but for me and my husband, there’s a little asterisk to it. Let’s just get over this little speed bump before moving on: Joseph DeAngelo, identified and arrested this week as the elusive and terrifying East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer, is not — I repeat, not — the same person as Joseph DeAngelo, my husband.
When the story broke, I was simply stunned. The East Area Rapist was part of my adolescence. I lived in the “East Area” back then, Carmichael, to be exact, and news of his capture instantly made me recall the fear that permeated our daily lives because of him. I was even further stunned, however, when I read his name.
I texted my husband to inform him that he may experience some collateral damage over the next few weeks, sharing the name of one of the most notorious serial killers/rapists in California history. He grew up in Pennsylvania, you see, and stories of the East Area Rapist’s ongoing monstrosities weren’t as in-your-face as they were here. Our lives, our thoughts, our behavior patterns — everything was colored by continually emerging horror. (Anyone else stack empty coffee cans behind the front door of your apartment in the ’70s so they’d crash and wake you up if someone broke in during the night?)
When Joe and I watched the evening news together the day the story broke, the shock of hearing his own name attached to these unspeakable crimes brought it painfully into focus. I’m sure all the other Ted Bundys out there can relate.
(Programming note: If you’re tempted to rib Joe about murders or rapes… Just don’t. It’s not funny. Additionally, this monster has no relation to us whatsoever. So, don’t go there, okay? Don’t be “that” guy/gal. Joking about anything that has to do with those times is about as funny as a dead baby.)
The late ’60s and the ’70s weren’t all peace, love and flower power. They were a boiling pot of human cruelty and misery; a spray of carnage and chaos. Against the ongoing backdrop of the Vietnam War, little drops of horror fell into our collective experiential pool, making huge, stunning ripples: Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated; the Kent State shootings; the evening news littered with images of coffins returning from Vietnam; and then… the granddaddies of serial murderers: Charles Manson and the Zodiac Killer entered our lives.
The late ’60s and early ’70s were when I first became aware of the news and the larger world, and it scared me senseless. I was pre-loaded to fret, fear and worry in 1974, when the East Area Rapist began terrorizing our neighborhood. I was a freshman in high school then, and everyone in the “east area” of Sacramento was psychologically held hostage. We feared being the next victim. Every single day. Fear permeated everything.
Mix into this gruesome cocktail the Patty Hearst kidnapping and the emergence of the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Hearst’s brainwashing at the hands of her captors and reemergence as a machinegun-toting bank robber in 1975 — right there in Carmichael. The SLA robbed the same Crocker Bank we went to, and gunned down an innocent woman right where we’d stand in line.
That same year, Manson Family member “Squeaky” Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, also in Sacramento. In the midst of all this, Ted Bundy emerged on the serial killer scene, challenging the East Area Rapist as the bogeyman monster of the time, simultaneously raping and killing multiple women concurrently with the East Area Rapist’s attacks.
We were all riveted to the evening news and front pages of newspapers in screaming-sized fonts, informing us of the latest slaughter. No wonder my perception of the world was that it’s endlessly, astoundingly, arbitrarily treacherous.
When I moved to Davis to go to college, the carnage train rumbled onward. In 1980, my heart was broken when John Lennon was assassinated. The same month, I learned that one of my high school friends was amongst the victims of serial killers Gerald and Charlene Gallego, who kidnapped young women to use as sex slaves and then murder when they tired of them. My friend, Craig Miller, was dating one of those girls. At least he wasn’t used as a sex slave… just marched into a field near Bass Lake and assassinated face down in the weeds.
Just after this, Davis residents Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins were murdered. They were last seen buying ice cream on their way to a party — at the same grocery store I was in, on the very same night, at the very same time. It’s not much of a leap to “it could have been me.” It wasn’t long after these murders that Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker) and Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) vied for the serial killer spotlight.
As I look back on those years, it seems like a montage of horror; a serial of serial murders. But then came the ’90s, and it seems that serial murder fell out of favor with white sociopathic males. Maybe mass shootings are serial murders, 2.0? You can slaughter scores of innocent people in mere moments with the pull of one semi-automatic weapon trigger and be home in time for lunch. Even our psychopathic killers are lazy and impatient now. Why do all that homicidal planning when mass shooting provides a one-stop-shop for killing many, many people?
Honestly, I’m unable to even make sense of the scope of human cruelty and carnage. Why, when we are capable of immense kindness, are we such horrible creatures? At least one horrible creature was captured this week, never to harm again. I suppose it’s some small consolation. However, his capture is a bitter reminder of my teenage conclusion: Life is endlessly, astoundingly, arbitrarily treacherous. Why? Because humans seem incapable of being better than they are.