Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested after investigators voted DNA from his home for evidence from some of the crimes, district attorney Greg Totten told reporters.
The suspect seemed taken aback when he was arrested this week in connection with a crime shootout involving ten years and at least ten districts across California, said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
"We all knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we all knew the needle was there," Sacramento Public Prosecutor Anne Marie Schubert said at a press conference at the Criminal Investigation Bureau.
"It's fitting that today is National DNA Day, we found the needle in the haystack and it was right here in Sacramento."
The suspect charged with murder charges is being held without bail in Sacramento.
"We too often forget talking about the victims, and today we've at least taken the first step towards closing the victims of these horrible crimes," said Jones.
DeAngelo is a former police officer from Auburn, California, who was released in 1
"He most likely committed these crimes when he was employed as a peace officer," Jones said.
The suspect was also known as the "East Area Rapist" and "The Original Night Stalker".
The first recorded rape was on June 18, 1976. The victim, Jane, was dozing in bed with her 3-year-old son after her husband went to work. Then she was suddenly awakened.
A masked man stood in the door of the bedroom holding a big butcher's knife and shining a torch on her face.
He tied Jane and her son with shoelaces and blindfolded them and gagged them. After taking her son off the bed, he loosened Jane's ankles.
"And then I knew what he was there for," said Jane, unwilling to share her last name.
Jane's rape sparked the hunt for the man the authorities claim to have raped and killed in California over the next decade.
More than 40 years have passed since his first documented attacks began in and around Sacramento, Northern California. In this case, no suspects were identified or identified. The police had only minor details about his appearance, along with a sketch of an almost victim.
When the Sacramento rapes were first reported, it was always women alone or with their children. But in 1977, a year after Jane's attack, the list of victims had expanded into couples in their homes.
The police believe East Area rapist Brian and Katie Maggiore have killed after the couple-who They saw him before he broke into a house in Rancho Cordova, California, just before Sacramento, in February 1978. These were his first known murders.
"We thought he would never stop, but then, two months after the murders in Maggiore, the East Area rapist left our jurisdiction, it was as if he had been blown up," said Carol Daly, a retired detective from the Sheriff's Department of Sacramento County.
At that time, a serial assassin began terrorizing Santa Barbara County in California, more than 300 miles south of Sacramento, and the police did not notice it at the time, but the attacker's crimes follow the same pattern as Sacramento's East Area Rapist, who attacked women and couples in Southern California from December 1979 to May 1986, where he became known as the Original Night Stalker.
"These are some of the most terrible cases I've had to investigate," said Erika Hutchcraft, an investigator from the Orange County District Attorney's office. "You are not a one-time, you crime of passion, but these are almost passionless crimes, very cold, very violent."
Even with such a distance between Sacramento and Southern California, northern detectives who had heard of the original Night Stalker believed he was the same offender as the East Area Rapist.
"Over the years, we've heard of murders in Southern California, and we thought it was the East Area Rapist," said Larry Crompton, retired detective for the Sheriff Department of Contra Costa County. "But he would not leave fingerprints, so we could not prove that he was the same person except his MO, we did not know anything about DNA."
Once DNA tests were available to the investigators, they were able to confirm that the same man had committed three of the attacks previously attributed to the so-called East Area Rapist, according to Paul Holes, who handled the case for the county prosecutor of Contra Costa County examined.
"Then I stretched out in Orange County" in southern California, he says, "just to see if you know if the East Area Rapist DNA matches the Original Night Stalker."
DNA evidence indicates that the East Area Rapist was the same perpetrator as the Original Night Stalker.
"The sheriff's department has never given up this investigation," Detective Paul Belli of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said back then. "This person ruined a large number of lives and he should be held accountable."
"We have his DNA," Holes said. "If we find the right guy, we'll know we have the Golden State killer, which is a solvable case."
Note: Unless otherwise stated, the interviews in this story are from the HLN series "Exposing a Murderer".