California officials on Monday charged Joseph James DeAngelo, the accused Golden State Killer, in a 1975 slaying believed to have been his first murder.
The killing occurred in Visalia, the seat of Tulare County in California’s Central Valley, and was linked to a string of unsolved burglaries in the 1970s.
Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward and Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said in a press conference Monday morning that DeAngelo was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 45-year-old Claude Snelling, who was shot in September 1975 as he fought off an attacker who had entered his 16-year-old daughter’s bedroom.
“Based on the information detectives have uncovered, we have identified Joseph James DeAngelo as the sole suspect” in Snelling’s murder, Salazar said.
Investigators have long suspected that the so-called “Visalia Ransacker” and the “Golden State Killer” were one and the same, but both cases went unsolved for decades. That all changed in April, when detectives were able to track down DeAngelo using DNA evidence from genealogical sites. Police arrested him at his Sacramento home on April 24 in connection with at least 12 homicides, 45 rapes and several burglaries attributed to the “Golden State Killer.”
With Monday’s filing, Ward said, investigators have “officially linked” DeAngelo with both cases.
“In my heart, I believe he’s the one, and that my father was his first victim,” Snelling’s daughter, Elizabeth Hupp, told CBS on Monday.
At the time of Snelling’s death, DeAngelo worked as a police officer in the nearby town of Exeter. By the following year, he had moved and was working with the Auburn Police Department some 35 miles outside of Sacramento. That same year is when officials believe the Golden State Killer began his crime spree, committing dozens of rapes, murders and burglaries over the next decade.
Unlike with the Golden State Killer crimes, DeAngelo was linked to Snelling’s murder using witness testimonies and not with DNA, Salazar said.
“We have been able to locate victims and witnesses that were able to identify Mr. DeAngelo as the suspect back in that time,” Salazar told CBS. “Those crimes were ultimately tied to the murder of Claude Snelling by a firearm that was taken from one of the Ransacker burglaries.”