|Height||5 ft 10 in (178 cm)|
|Weight||180–200 lb (82–91 kg)|
Time at large
|Suspect in custody|
The Visalia Ransacker is a nickname given to a serial prowler, voyeur, burglar, and murderer who operated in Visalia, California in the mid-1970s. He is suspected to have committed around 120 crimes. In most of his crimes, the Ransacker would break into a single-family home and tear apart the interior while stealing only small items. Within the law enforcement community, it is believed that the Ransacker's crime spree began in March 1974 and ended in late 1975, the majority of his crimes having been committed near the College of the Sequoias. There is increasing evidence that the Ransacker moved away from Visalia shortly after he committed his only murder, then eventually became the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker, now referred to as the Golden State Killer. In 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested as a suspect in the case, and was later charged with 1st degree murder.
The first recorded ransacking was on Tuesday, March 19, 1974 when $50 of coins was stolen from a piggy-bank. Most of the Ransacker's activities involved breaking into houses, rifling through or vandalizing the owner's possessions, scattering women's underclothes, and stealing a range of low-value items, while often ignoring banknotes and higher valued items in plain sight. The Ransacker would also often arrange or display items in the house. Items emptied included piggy banks and coin-jars, and stolen items often included Blue Chip Stamps, foreign or historic coins, and personal items (such as single-earrings, cuff-links, rings, or medallions), but also included six weapons and various types of ammunition. Multiple same-day ransackings were common as well, including 12 separate incidents on Saturday, November 30, 1974.
- scaling fences and moving through established routes such as parks, walkways, ditches, and trails
- attempting to pry open multiple points of entry, particularly windows
- leaving multiple points of escape open, especially windows as well as house, garage, and garden doors
- moving removed window screens onto beds or into bedrooms
- placing "warning items" such as dishes or bottles against doors and on door handles
- wearing gloves (given the absence of fingerprint evidence)
After a spree of 18 months, the Ransacker's crimes took a darker turn on September 11, 1975. On this date a man, who is strongly believed to be the Ransacker, broke into the home of Claude Snelling (45) at 532 Whitney Lane (now South Whitney Street). Snelling, a journalism professor at the College of the Sequoias (and who had previously chased a prowler discovered under his daughter's window around 10:00 p.m. on February 5, 1975) was awakened around 2:00 a.m. by strange noises in his home. Upon leaving his bedroom, Snelling shouted and ran through the open back door and confronted a ski-masked intruder in his carport attempting to kidnap his daughter, who had been subdued with threats of being stabbed or shot. Snelling was then shot twice, staggered back into the house to his wife, and later died. After the shooting the assailant fled the scene, leaving behind a stolen bicycle at 615 Redwood Street. After the murder, Beth Snelling (16), a cheerleader at Mt. Whitney High School, underwent hypnosis in order to gather further details. The Visalia Police Department also committed more resources to apprehending the Ransacker, and a $4000 reward was posted. Nighttime stakeouts were set up near houses that he had previously prowled, but the ransackings continued.
Around 8:30 p.m. on December 12, 1975, a masked man entered the back yard of a house at 1505 W. Kaweah Avenue, near where the Ransacker had been reported to frequent. When Detective William McGowen (on stakeout inside the garage) attempted to detain the man, the suspect shrieked, removed his mask, and feigned surrender after McGowen fired a warning shot. However, after jumping the fence to house 1501, he also pulled out a revolver with his left hand, and fired once near McGowen's face, shattering his flashlight. Nearby officers rushed to aid McGowen, and the shooter was able to escape. Items collected as evidence included the flashlight, tennis shoe tracks, and dropped loot (Blue Chip stamps, and a blue sock full of coins).
The Visalia Police Department (alongside the Tulare County Sheriff's Office and California Highway Patrol) investigated, and slowly pieced together all of the reported incidents. Some incidents were not immediately reported, given their "trivial" nature, i.e., stealing coins from piggy banks, or because nothing of value seemed to have been taken. However, given the voyeurism, the personal nature of the thefts, the focus on girls' photos or women's clothing, the deliberate ransacking behavior, or the theft of one of a pair of items, a darker motive seemed to be at play. Further, given the number of Mt. Whitney High School students targeted in incidents, the location of crimes around the College of the Sequoias, and eyewitness reports, investigators suspected a student may have been involved,  and 21 of the 37 main suspects listed by police by late-1975 were teens. Despite physical analysis, and the unusual presence or use of hand lotions, no sign of "masturbation discharge" was detected at crime scenes. Size 9 Converse tennis shoe prints and pry marks from various crimes also matched each other. Similarly, ballistics matched the .38 Miroku revolver stolen on August 31, 1975 with shots fired by its owner during practice, to the one used to kill Snelling. Following the second shooting, the Ransacker was not believed to have committed another major crime in Visalia, and the investigation remains the most expensive in Visalia's history.
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The Ransacker was described as young, Caucasian, male, around 178 cm, and 82–91 kg. He was physically fit, and able to run, bicycle, and scale garden fences with relative ease. He also appeared to be left-handed, and skilled with using weapons. He also seemed obsessed with personal trinkets over items of higher monetary value.
It is possible that several earlier reported prowler and voyeur incidents in Visalia starting from mid-1973, an attempted rape on October 9, 1974, or a rape/kidnap on April 3, 1975, were also the work of the Ransacker. Other similar burglaries and ransackings in the Exeter area, dating from as far back as 1968 are also speculated to be connected based on MO similarities. Similarly, MO links are being made to the 1972-1973 crime spree of the 'Cordova Catburgler', and a couple of crimes after the McGowen attack may also be linked. There is also some speculation that other incidents, such as the deaths of Mt. Whitney High School students Jennifer Armour (aged 15; disappeared November 15, 1974; found dead November 24, 1974) and Donna Richmond (aged 14; killed December 27, 1975), could also be related.
Connection to the Golden State Killer
Several months after the McGowen shooting, a prolific burglar and serial rapist, then called the East Area Rapist and now dubbed the Golden State Killer, began invading and attacking people in their homes roughly 200 miles (320 km) north in Sacramento County, California. Based on witness descriptions of the Rapist and the method of operation used to carry out his crimes, Detective McGowen attempted to link the Ransacker crimes to the sexual attacks in the Sacramento-area. Both the Ransacker and the Rapist were described as young-looking, physically fit white males in their twenties.
In terms of modus operandi, both the Ransacker and the Rapist pulled cold and hot prowl burglaries on single-story, detached homes in the middle of the night. Neither the Ransacker nor the Rapist took valuable items from the homes they burglarized, but often focused on personal items. Additionally, both the Ransacker and the Rapist carried and used firearms, both created multiple potential escape points by removing screens and unlocking/opening windows throughout the house, and both used items from within the household to create a series of alarms to detect movement. Both were also known to use stolen bicycles and local geography for movement. Both wore ski-masks and tennis shoes.
Based on such evidence, it is strongly suspected that the Ransacker and the Rapist are the same person. In all, the Ransacker is believed to be responsible for one murder and more than 100 burglaries in Visalia, while the Rapist/Killer committed 12 homicides, 51 rapes and more than 120 burglaries across California. However, unlike the Golden State Killer case, no current DNA link exists. In a 2017 interview, Contra Costa County DA cold case investigator Paul Holes was skeptical of the link between the two, based on credible witness descriptions, but upon identification of DeAngelo, he is now certain that the Golden State Killer was also the Visalia Ransacker.
Police made a breakthrough in the case on April 24, 2018, confirming that 72-year-old Citrus Heights resident Joseph James DeAngelo had been arrested the night before for two of the Original Night Stalker killings. During a news conference in Sacramento, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas stated that DeAngelo's case included suspected links to the Ransacker. It was also mentioned that DeAngelo had served as a police officer in nearby Exeter between May 19, 1973 and January 1976 before moving to Auburn. Fellow officers in Exeter at the time regarded him as a serious, aloof, and ambitious loner who may have actually ended up investigating some of his own crimes. His connection to the region may extend earlier than 1973, given that his sister is known to have moved to the area in 1969. Similarly, he is known to have trained at the College of the Sequoias prior to his time in Exeter.
A similar media session held by Visalia Chief of Police Jason Salazar confirmed that DeAngelo had served in Exeter during that time. Salazar stated that while there is no DNA linking DeAngelo to the Central Valley cases, his department has other evidence that will play a role in the investigation, and that he was "confident that the Visalia Ransacker has been captured." Though the statute of limitations for the burglaries have expired, DeAngelo was formally charged on August 13, 2018 with the 1st degree murder of Claude Snelling in 1975.
- Shuper, Miles. "Police Seeking To Link Rapist, Snelling Slayer". Retrieved 8 December 2017.
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- Ep. 8 The Visalia Ransacker, Part One, retrieved 2018-04-21
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- 12-26-75. "12-26-75 - Golden State Killer". 12-26-75. Retrieved 2018-04-21.
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- Ep. 10 The Visalia Ransacker, Part Three, retrieved 2018-04-22
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- Ep. 11 McGowen Shooting, retrieved 2018-04-22
- Pedersen, Gary (December 11, 1975). "Prowler Fires at Officer, Escapes". Visalia Times-Delta. Archived from the original on December 3, 2017. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
- Ep. 12 Donna, Jennifer, and the VR, retrieved 2018-04-22
- Ep. 15 What's Next?, retrieved 2018-04-23
- "The Visalia Ransacker - Incidents". www.visaliaransacker.com. Retrieved 2018-04-21.
- Ep. 16 PS Where Are My Pants? | 12-26-75, retrieved 2018-06-08
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- McNamara, Michelle; Oswalt, Patton; Flynn, Gillian (2018). I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. HarperCollins. pp. 88–91. ISBN 9780062319807. Archived from the original on March 28, 2018. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
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- Parvini, Joseph Serna, Richard Winton, Sarah. "As a young cop, Golden State Killer suspect was aloof, ambitious, 'always serious'". latimes.com. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
- "Visalia Ransacker suspect was a 'black sheep,' described as a loner in Exeter". Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register. Retrieved 2018-05-01.
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- The Visalia Question
- 12-26-75 - podcast using evidence to link various Visalia and Exeter crimes to the Ransacker
- Police Seeking To Link Rapist, Snelling Slayer, Visalia Times-Delta, 18 May 1977, pp. 1A and 8A. By Miles Shuper
- Crime map
- Discussion Board about the East Area Rapist-Original Night Stalker-Golden State Killer-Visalia Ransacker