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In The Footsteps of a Killer: The Writer’s Cut

Ten murders and 50 rapes. That’s one way to describe the crimes of the Golden State Killer, a serial attacker who terrorized California from 1976 to 1986. What that tally doesn’t reveal is the psychological horror this criminal—known by authorities as the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker—inflicted on many of his victims. Writer Michelle McNamara brings the Golden State Killer’s most twisted sins to light

Ligatures on the floor. Note the towel near the bed. The Golden State Killer often threw towels over his victims’ heads as a head covering/blindfold.


Rancho Cordova, 1976

The Golden State Killer’s first attack—on June 18, 1976, in Rancho Cordova, just east of Sacramento—in many ways resembled the 49 that followed. The 23-year-old victim woke to a man in a navy blue T-shirt and white ski mask standing in her bedroom doorway. He wore no pants and was erect. She thought she was dreaming until he leaped onto her bed. “If you make one move or sound, I’ll stick this knife in you,” he whispered, pressing the blade into her right temple. Later, after he’d tied her up with electrical cord from her hair dryer and raped her, she waited until she was certain he was gone and backed up to the telephone, pressing “0.”

Sacramento investigators had no idea how many times in the next two years they’d encounter the same scene, how they had only to see knotted shoelaces on a shag rug and a crying victim with deep red indentations around the wrists to predict the rest. Prowling or break-ins in the area often preceded an attack. Victims received hang-up or crank phone calls before and after the attacks. Scratches, similar to pry marks, were often found on window screens in the area; some investigators came to believe they were code for which houses to hit. The attacker was young (18 to 30) and lean and athletic, able to jump roofs and hop tall fences. Most victims first became aware of him as a masked figure next to their bed, shining a flashlight in their eyes and whispering angrily at them through clenched teeth. “I just want food and money for my van,” was his lie.

His tenth victim was playing the piano when he materialized, a man in a red ski mask, at her left side. As with other victims, he professed interest in money but took little of value. He tied her hands behind her back with shoelaces he’d stolen earlier from her sister’s shoes. He had her masturbate him with hand lotion, a habit of his, while he quizzed her on her sexual history. The victim was a virgin. He raped her anyway. “Oh, isn’t this good?” he asked. He held a knife to her throat until she said yes.

In the first moments of an attack he seemed almost frightened, several victims reported to police, until he had them tied up and was in complete control. He seemed unable to have intercourse. There was a lot of fidgeting, getting up and leaving the room, then returning. He never put his full weight on his victims but draped their legs around him and rarely touched them. He liked to make them use crass words. Sometimes a blindfolded victim would be asked to identify what she was hearing. “What does it sound like?” he’d ask as he masturbated. One victim decided to try a bit of reverse psychology and told him he was a good lover. He stopped abruptly and said no one had ever told him that before. People made fun of him because he was small, he said.

Several victims reported that it felt like he had a particular script in his mind that he wanted to follow and he grew agitated when anything interfered with the scenarios he had constructed. “I’ll kill you,” he threatened them. They believed him. He might have been acting out a scene in his head, but for his victims the terror was in not knowing how it was going to end.

When Sacramento police were quoted in the media as saying the Golden State Killer only targeted women and girls at home alone, he responded by attacking couples. When a man rose at a crime prevention meeting at Del Dayo Elementary School and questioned how men could fail to protect their wives, he and his wife became victims—case number 21 in the files.

By May 1977 the fear in Sacramento was palpable. Hardware stores were completely sold out of guns, locks, and alarms. Helicopters buzzed overhead. One woman from Rancho Cordova recalled how her family tied tambourines to their doors and windows. “Crazy with fear. It was all anyone talked about,” victim number five remembered. She listened as friends exchanged rumors about the kinky things the rapist made his victims do, and said nothing.

The tips flew in from possible witnesses, a well-intentioned but confusing stream of information. There were several reports about a white station wagon, possibly a Chevrolet. Someone else thought it was gray. A vehicle with a noisy exhaust pipe or muffler was frequently noted. A two-tone Ford Mustang. A light-colored Volkswagen Bug.

The victims provided glimpses. Most felt he was around five feet nine, with a slim to solid build. One saw a belt buckle with two revolvers lying on top of each other. Another, under hypnosis, reported a tattoo of a black bull’s head with white horns on his forearm. The ten-year-old son of one victim saw his eyes and nose in the light and said the man had very white skin and very blue eyes. And possibly a funny gait, as if he were bowlegged.

On July 6, 1979, a man in Danville, a light sleeper, woke to see a stranger a few feet from him in his bedroom, putting on a ski mask. He leaped out of bed. “What the fuck are you doing here?” he said. The intruder was wearing a dark blue ski mask with raggedy, homemade-cut eyeholes.  The man got up close to the intruder and locked eyes with him.  Later, under hypnosis, he described the intruder’s eyes as deep-set and boyish, with large irises and strangely full lashes. The intruder never uttered a word while the man yelled at him. He just blinked slowly and stepped back. But the man and his wife were aware of the Golden State Killer and knew he carried weapons. Not wanting to risk being attacked, they fled.

After that, the Golden State Killer seemed to disappear.

NEXT: Excerpt II: A Narrow Escape



Three chain store-brand running shoes investigators considered in their search for the Golden State Killer’s shoe type.


Goleta, October 1, 1979

A blinding flashlight woke the couple. They couldn’t see the intruder, but they heard his clenched-teeth whisper—he wanted them to turn over on their stomachs. He ordered the woman to tie up her boyfriend.

“Tie it tight or I’ll kill you,” he threatened. He tied the woman up himself.

“Where’s the money?” he growled. The voice sounded young, as if he were forcing it into a low tone. They could hear drawers being opened and then slammed shut.

“One move, motherfucker,” he said to them.

He led the woman into the living room, where he roughly laid her facedown on the floor behind the couch, throwing a pair of her tennis shorts over her head as a blindfold.

She heard him enter the kitchen and begin to rummage around. He was chanting three words to himself. “I’ll kill ’em, I’ll kill ’em, I’ll kill ’em,” the intruder chanted a dozen times to himself in the kitchen—almost like, as investigator Larry Pool of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department later put it, “a guy pumping himself up for an athletic endeavor.” The words terrified her.

The woman managed to remove the bindings from her feet and escaped screaming out the front door. In the chaos her boyfriend, bound in the bedroom, was able to hop into the backyard. When he heard the intruder coming for him, he dropped and rolled behind an orange tree, just missing the frantic, searching beam of the attacker’s flashlight.

The couple’s neighbor, an off-duty FBI agent, caught a glimpse of the suspect fleeing the scene, a young man in a Pendleton shirt pedaling furiously away on a stolen silver Nishiki 10-speed. The neighbor gave chase in his car but lost sight of the suspect in the 5400 block of San Patricio Drive, when he dumped his bike and a black-handled steak knife and ran between houses.

Three dollars in change from the bedroom dresser was the only thing he had taken. The couple could only provide the most general description of their attacker: White male. Dark hair above the collar. Maybe five feet ten, five feet eleven.

After that misfire, none of his later victims survived to describe him.

NEXT: Excerpt III: A Break-in Turns Deadly



A shoe impression from the scene of a Golden State Killer attack.


Goleta, December 30, 1979

The bodies were in the bedroom.

On the morning of December 30, 1979, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call at 767 Avenida Pequena, the condominium of osteopathic surgeon Dr. Robert Offerman. Offerman’s good friends William and Joan Oakley had arrived for a scheduled tennis game with him and his new girlfriend, Alexandria Manning, and found a sliding-glass door open at the condo. They stepped inside and called out to Offerman but got no response. William crossed the living room and peered down the hallway toward the bedroom.

There’s a “girl lying on the bed naked,” he reported back to his wife.

“Let’s go,” Joan said, not wanting to interrupt. They began to leave.

But after a few paces, William stopped. Something wasn’t right. Hadn’t he called out to Offerman loudly? He pivoted and returned to the bedroom to take a closer look.

When the deputies arrived, Joan Oakley was standing out front crying.

“There are two people dead inside,” she said.

Debra Alexandria Manning lay on the right side of the waterbed, her head turned to the left, her wrists bound behind her with white nylon twine. Offerman was on his knees at the foot of the bed; he clutched a length of the same twine in his hand. Pry marks indicated the offender used a screwdriver to force his way inside the home, probably in the middle of the night when the couple was asleep. Flashing a gun, he may have suggested he was there to rob them: Two rings belonging to Manning were found hidden between the mattress and bed frame.

The attacker most likely tossed the twine at Manning and demanded she tie up Offerman, which she did, but not tightly. Investigators believe at some point, perhaps after the offender was finished tying Manning’s wrists, Offerman broke free from his bindings in an attempt to fight back.

Neighbors reported that at around 3 a.m. they heard a burst of gunfire, which was followed by a pause and then another shot. Offerman was shot three times in the back and chest. Manning’s single wound was to the upper left back of her head.

The book on Offerman’s nightstand was Your Perfect Right: A Guide to Assertive Behavior by Robert E. Alberti. It was the holidays. A green wreath with red flowers hung on the front door. There was a pine tree in a bucket in the entryway. As authorities processed the crime scene, they stepped around a turkey carcass wrapped in cellophane that had been discarded on the patio. They concluded that at some point the killer had opened the refrigerator and helped himself to Dr. Offerman’s leftover Christmas dinner.

Whoever the killer was, he’d been on a restless hunt that night. Investigators could track the star-shaped pattern from his Adidas tennis shoes as he circled Offerman’s condo. They noted the trampled flowerbed at 769 Avenida Pequana, the vacant condo next door. Inside was evidence of squatting, most notably in the bathroom; a length of nylon twine was left behind.

Reports came in of ransackings and break-ins in the neighborhood in the hours before the murders. When a couple who lived on Windsor Court, a half mile from Offerman’s condo, pulled up to their house at around 10:15 p.m., they spotted a man running through their living room toward the back door. As they came inside they heard him jump the rear fence. A white male in a dark fisherman’s hat and dark jacket was all they could say for sure. He’d brutally punched their poodle in the eye.

This was Goleta, a then unincorporated neighborhood at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, eight miles west of downtown Santa Barbara. The area, close to UC Santa Barbara, wasn’t completely immune from crime, but violence was rare. Serial violence even more so.

In the days after the murders investigators continued to discover pieces of nylon twine dropped in various locations: on a dirt trail alongside San Jose Creek, on a lawn on Queen Ann Lane. They couldn’t be certain when the Queen Ann Lane twine had been left, though; just doors down from there lived a couple who had narrowly escaped Offerman and Manning’s fate just two months before.

NEXT: Excerpt IV: A Method to Murder




Ligatures used by the Golden State Killer in an attack in Northern California in the 1970s.


Goleta, July 27, 1981

In July 1981, he struck again.

A neighbor of Cheri Domingo’s heard a voice in the middle of the night, a woman speaking to someone in a controlled, unemotional way, something along the lines of “take it easy.” That was probably the last thing Domingo ever said.

Domingo, a Natalie Wood look-alike, was house-sitting for her aunt in the 400 block of Toltec Way, a quiet cul-de-sac street. A realtor found the bodies of her and Gregory Sanchez, the ex-boyfriend with whom she was still friendly, on the morning of July 27. Sanchez had a bullet wound in his face and multiple blunt-force trauma wounds on his head.

Investigators later theorized that the conspicuous scraping sound the bedroom door made against the shag rug had alerted Sanchez to an intruder. It appeared he’d fought with the killer.

Domingo was found lying facedown on the bed, nude and covered with bedding. There were ligature marks on her wrists and ankles.

She suffered massive blunt-force trauma to the head, much worse than Sanchez. An outline in dust of a crowbar in the tool shed suggested the weapon.

One detective familiar with the case recalled the woman’s voice, steadying and deflective, overheard by the neighbor. “She pissed him off,” he said.

This time the killer took the ligatures with him. He was adapting, eliminating evidence.

NEXT: Excerpt V: His Last Victim




Irvine resident Janelle Cruz, who was slain at age 18.


Irvine, May 5 1986

Things were looking up for Janelle Cruz. The cutting that had drifted from her arm to her wrist and landed her in two psychiatric hospitals was behind her. A recent ten-month stint in the Job Corps in Utah had been successful. She was back home in Irvine, working part-time as a cashier at Bullwinkle’s pizza. It was a Sunday night in May, her family was out of town, and the striking 18-year-old—a cross between Brooke Shields and Mariel Hemingway—was visiting with a male friend when they heard a noise in the backyard. Janelle looked out her bedroom window but saw nothing.

Probably a cat, she said.

Fifteen minutes later they heard another noise, this time from the attached garage. Janelle dismissed it as the washing machine. It was 10:45 p.m. The friend, a little spooked, said he had to be on his way. He left.

The next afternoon a realtor showing the Cruz home to a prospective buyer discovered Janelle’s body in her bedroom. She had been raped and bludgeoned, most seriously to the forehead, probably with a pipe wrench that was missing from the backyard.

Janelle’s 17-year-old sister, Michelle, was vacationing in Mammoth when a friend called to tell her about the murder. For a moment she misheard.

“Janelle was married?!” she said.

Michelle may have had on her mind a long white dress with a shawl their mother had recently bought Janelle during a family trip to Palm Springs.  The dress had sparked discussions about Janelle’s dreams of one day getting married. In the weeks before her daughter’s murder Diane Stein was optimistic about Janelle’s outlook.  “Life,” she told filmmaker Cameron Cloutier in a taped interview, “was going to happen again.”

The trip to Palm Springs is an especially warm memory. They laughed. They shopped. Janelle modeled the long white dress in the store and talked about details of the wedding she’d have one day.

Stein looks down. Her smile tightens. “We buried her in that white dress,” she says.

Source material for this excerpt was provided by Cameron Cloutier, who's in the process of developing a feature film about Janelle Cruz's murder.


NEXT: Excerpt VI: A Delayed—and DeadlyDiscovery




VI: A Delayed—and DeadlyDiscovery
Brian and Katie Maggiore

February 2, 1978

The young couple liked to walk their miniature gray poodle, Thumper, through their Rancho Cordova neighborhood in the evenings. That night USAF Sgt. Brian Maggiore, 21, and his wife Katie, 20, had no idea the danger that had been brewing just east of them along the American River in the hours before their walk. They didn’t know about the spate of prowls and burglaries, a flurry of activity with all the hallmarks of the unidentified man whose reign of violence in and around Sacramento was at its peak: the East Area Rapist. A little after 9 p.m. Brian and Katie left with Thumper for their walk through the Cordova Meadows subdivision.  The East Area Rapist was moving that way too. Two blocks from the Maggiore’s home, in the backyard of 10154 La Gloria Drive, the couple intersected with him.

What sparked the confrontation is unknown. Did the East Area Rapist chase them into the yard? Did Brian, who was 6’1”, 220 pounds and a former offensive tackle on his high school football team, spot something suspicious and decide to intervene? Were they chasing after Thumper?

A witness looking out an upstairs window at the La Gloria residence saw the East Area Rapist chasing the couple through the yard and into an adjacent backyard, 10165 La Alegria Drive, through a section of blown down fence. The witness watched as the EAR raised a handgun and fired at Brian and Katie, who were fleeing him.

Neighbors reported the sounds of gunshots, glass breaking, and screaming. Shortly after the gunshots two witnesses saw the EAR jump the gate on La Alegria and fall into some bushes. He picked himself and ran west toward La Loma Drive.

One witness described the EAR as briefly wearing a ski mask and holding a gun in his hand. He wore a brown leather jacket, gathered at the waist that had a peanut shaped stain on the lower right side of the back. He had dark, quiet shoes. Other witnesses reported odd encounters with a similarly dressed suspect as the man headed northeast away from the crime scene.

Brian and Katie Maggiore, who had been high school sweethearts in Fresno, were found shot to death in the backyard of 10165 La Alegria Drive. Thumper was found in the backyard swimming pool of the La Gloria residence.

The Maggiore murders aren’t always included in the list of the East Area Rapist’s crimes. But most investigators working the case, including Det. Ken Clark with the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, believe the EAR was responsible. They cite several reasons for their belief.

The Cordova Meadows neighborhood was the location of several EAR sexual assaults. The EAR-style burglaries and prowls in the hours preceding the Maggiore murders suggest he was in attack mode that night. Most intriguingly, a single pre-tied shoelace was located in the yard near where Brian and Katie were shot.  Police believe after killing the couple the EAR went to put on his ski mask and inadvertently dropped the shoelace from his pocket. The homeowners didn’t recognize the shoelace, and its knot was consistent with the EAR’s knots.

The shooting deaths a year and a half later of Dr. Robert Offerman and Alexandra Manning, in Goleta, show that the EAR used his firearm defensively when things didn’t go his way. Brian and Katie Maggiore may have interrupted him while he was stalking a victim, and he went on the attack. One detective noted that Alexandra Manning and Katie Maggiore were both shot in the head in a similar, execution-style manner.

Naysayers point to the fact that some witnesses reported seeing two men together acting suspiciously around the time of the murders.

Det. Clark has an answer for that.

“A lot of cockroaches come out when the lights are turned on,” he says.