Unsolved 40 Years Later: East Area Rapist

Time has the power to change many things.

But for the victims, and their family members, who suffered at the hands of the notorious East Area Rapist, some wounds never fully heal.

Janelle Cruz was only 18 when she was murdered in 1986.

"I don’t think the pain is going to go away," her sister, Michelle, said.

Investigators say that Debbie Domingo’s mother, Cheri Domingo, was killed by the same man in 1981 in Goleta, CA. Debbie says it’s a trauma she’s forced to live with every day.

“It really shattered who I was," she said.

In the late 1970’s, the East Area Rapist started as a prowler, burglarizing homes in Rancho Cordova neighborhoods. His crimes would progress by attacking women as they slept alone in their beds.

At the time, it was Sacramento County Sheriff’s Detective Carol Daly’s job to get the testimonies of victims.

"He is a very evil man," Daly told FOX40. "Everything you think of in a horror film was this guy."

The fear and panic grew so much, Daly began holding community meetings throughout the region to help keep people informed of the facts. News footage provided by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office features Daly, who shared self-defense tips for potential victims.

"By hurting him you're only going to make him madder,” Daly said. “You injure him enough to incapacitate him in any way you can."

Today, Daly says she’s still haunted by what the victims experienced.

"It was like they could never let go of it,” she says. "Every time they turned around there was another rape. I worked homicide for seven years. I worked some really horrific cases. There’s nothing that has stuck with me like this has."

As he eventually made his way down to Southern California, the East Area Rapist would come to be known as the Original Night Stalker and even later, the Golden State Killer. He shattered the concept of safety in communities up and down the state.

The case has also stuck with Contra Costa County Investigator Paul Holes. He’s been hunting the same criminal for over 20 years, and regularly visits one of the first places the East Area Rapist targeted.

"This neighborhood, Cordova Meadows, is a neighborhood where the East Area Rapist hit five times,” Holes said. "This is where he started, what I call 'Ground Zero.'"

Holes describes in detail the East Area Rapist’s well-documented mode of operation.

"He’ll wake the couple up. He's got a flashlight he’s shining it in their eyes. So in addition to having the ski mask, now they’re blinded by the lights,” Holes said. "And he will, through clenched teeth, threaten them, 'Do what I say or I’ll kill you.'"

Holes says that something else that’s distinct about the East Area Rapist’s technique is that after he tightly binds a couple’s hands and feet, he uses dishes he finds in his victim’s homes to torment them even further.

"He comes back with those and puts them on the male's back. He tells the guy, 'If I hear these, she’s dead,'" Holes explained.

Pieces of fine china are often reported stolen during these attacks. Police now believe the East Area Rapist used pouches similar to these to take whole sets of plate wear.

Pieces of fine china are often reported stolen during these attacks. Police now believe the East Area Rapist used pouches similar to these to take whole sets of plate wear.

Meanwhile, as the number of sexual assaults rises, investigators closest to the cases say that by 1978, the level of violence was beginning to escalate.

"He was becoming more and more angry," Daly said. "He was pushing the knife against the throat, his threats to kill."

The East Area Rapist would eventually come to be known as The Original Night Stalker, and eventually, the Golden State Killer. By 2015, thanks to DNA technology, he’s found to be responsible for 50 rapes, and 12 murders.

Police say that it’s a combination of updated resources, a series of brand new leads and good old-fashioned detective work that will help catch this elusive killer.

"I think we’re getting close," Holes said.

The case has been active for the last 42 years, and although interest in catching the East Area Rapist has intensified, original investigators, victims, and the suspect himself are all getting older. The clock is ticking.

Those most affected by what’s happened are still dealing with the fear, pain and loss. While that hasn’t faded, neither has hope.

FOX40 News is digging deeper on this story in a new podcast called EXPOSED, available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify.